Namely, the airline just stopped sharing how much a mileage ticket should ideally cost and can now charge whatever it pleases for award travel.
Typically, airlines publish something called an award chart that specifically lays out how much a ticket from point A to point B should cost. In the United States, for example, an economy flight from Chicago to Los Angeles on most legacy carriers should cost a minimum of 25,000 miles round trip. On days with fewer seats available, that rate may rise up to 37,500 or 50,000 miles (or they won’t sell seats at all) but the fact remains: consumers know how much the least expensive mileage ticket should cost and therefore they know the value of their miles. American publishes its award chart here while United’s is here.
What Delta effectively did was remove those award charts from its site — the former page now just has some basic information and a picture of a nice lady painting something. To price out an award ticket, passengers are encouraged to work through the booking engine and receive a live quote. What Delta offers is what you get.
To be clear, the cost of an award ticket hasn’t changed from Delta’s previous standard. Though the airline has never been leaders in great award inventory, it’s still possible to find a few mileage tickets out in its network for 25,000 miles.
What Delta has effectively done is unpinned its currency from both the airline industry and any defining metric at large. On American, you know that one trip across the country will yield 5,000 miles, or 1/5 of an inexpensive mileage ticket. Now, on Delta, you don’t know that — rates can go up or down indiscriminately without a defining guide. Today, those 25,000 miles could be worth something. But tomorrow they may not. We’ll never know.
For the future of passengers subscribed to Delta’s SkyMIles program, this doesn’t bode well. But it’s also important to remember that this is also part of the airline’s overall strategy. With Delta’s recent changes to revenue-based mileage accrual and elite status, it’s clear that Delta is overhauling its program to cater to fewer, higher-spend travelers less sensitive to high costs and high reward prices. Everyone else is just collateral.