Delta Gets a Cranky Jackass Award for Misleading One Way Award Travel

Let me make something very clear: Never, ever book one way award travel on Delta. Not only is the value poor compared Cranky Jackassto other airlines, but their screwy system overcharges you above and beyond that. It’s so misleading, that I’ve decided it’s Cranky Jackass-worthy. Now, let me explain.

We had a Cranky Concierge client last week, let’s call her Dr Ann Elizabeth Amanda, who needed to go from Portland to Providence one way just a couple days later. The fares were in the $600 range and she just wasn’t going to pay that. Dr Ann Elizabeth Amanda has a lot of miles on Delta, so she figured she would just use them for the one way trip. She called Delta and was told it was 40,000 miles, so then she called us.

Now, I would rarely if ever suggest using miles for a one way trip on Delta. See, unlike American and United, Delta doesn’t actually offer one way awards. You have to pay the full amount as if it were a roundtrip. As a casual program member, you might not realize that because on the Delta.com website, they give you an option to look up one way awards. They just don’t tell you the cost is the same.

Sure enough, when we looked up award availability for the one way trip, it showed 40,000 miles which is the equivalent of what they call a “medium price award.” There were no low price seats available, which would have cost the industry standard 25,000 miles. Here’s a screenshot:

Delta One Way Award Ripoff

So at this point, it’s only mildly shady in that those who don’t know the program may be duped into thinking this is actually a one way award. But here’s where the shadiness goes off the charts.

To get a one way award, Delta simply looks at the award level you’re in and uses the roundtrip value. In this case, that’s 40,000 miles for a medium award. But Delta actually lets you combine award levels to make a complete roundtrip ticket by using half the amount of each award. We knew this so we pulled up the award calendar and opted for a roundtrip flight. When would the return occur? It would just happen on the first day that a low price award was available. That, unsurprisingly knowing Delta’s availability levels, wasn’t until September.

What happened now? The price magically dropped to 32,500. That’s right. Half the medium award (20,000) plus half the low price award (12,500) saved Dr Ann Elizabeth Amanda 7,500 miles and she got an extra return flight out of it that she could either throw away or use at a later date. Don’t believe me? Here’s the screenshot:

Delta Roundtrip Award

Now that is downright wrong. You can understand now why I say never, ever book a Delta one way award. I would say it’s not worth using your miles for a one way award on Delta in nearly all circumstances, but on those rare occasions when it needs to be done, you might as well book the roundtrip because it may very well save you miles.

Pretty awful stuff, Delta.

41 Responses to Delta Gets a Cranky Jackass Award for Misleading One Way Award Travel

  1. Don Nadeau says:

    Because Delta allows a stopover on its award tickets, Dr. Amanda may have been able to add a flight to someplace she actually wants to travel beyond Providence.

  2. Sanjeev M says:

    So their system has the one way capability. This is just plain stupid. I’m pretty sure that people not familiar with booking airline tickets would be downright confused.

    Totally unrelated notes, the Delta site lists the total mile amounts, flights, times, and aircraft very cleanly compared to say, the ugly Continental website.
    Also, I just flew British Airways to India during the strike last week and there was nothing different (I even got a free World Traveller Plus upgrade)

    • SKD says:

      I am not sure which Continental website you are looking at Sanjeev! Everytime I have searched and booked travel awards on CO, not only does the site show mileage requiments, flights, times, aircraft types, on time performance records, seat availability, it automatically displays a calendar for several weeks clearly showing main and premium cabin award availability right there on one screen!

      • Andrew says:

        I will second that. I have had nothing but success booking award flights on Continental. The site is incredibly simple, and, like SKD says, the calendar at the top of the screen automatically shows you what days you could fly for less miles. And not only that, I almost always get a round trip ticket for 25,000 miles, and even with several aircraft, connection, and partner options.

  3. A says:

    In the pre-Delta days NW allowed one way travel. Burned up many of my WorldPerks miles by doing using 12,500 miles on one way hops around the country visiting friends and family.

    Now my question, is $600 really that unreasonable for a trans-continental flight from and to non-hub airports w/out a 2 week advance purchase? Not being a R/T price I can see why it looks steep, but for a flight leaving in “a couple days” that seems acceptable. I know people in LA and NYC get spoiled with those bargain basement $200 flights from LAX to JFK, but those are huge markets with tons of O/D traffic. Portland and Providence? Not so much.

    • CF says:

      Nope, $600 isn’t unreasonable at all. She just didn’t want to pay it and would rather use miles. She wasn’t upset with the price; she understood how it worked and had no issues with that.

  4. Jim says:

    Cranky, as a suggestion, you may want to find a different way to display your visuals. It would help if your readers could see an expanded picture. As it stands now, when you click on the graphic, it takes the reader to another one of the same size, rather than something larger.

    • Andrew says:

      When I clicked on them it took me to the flickr page, which then let me zoom in. Not sure if it’s just the browser I’m using though…

  5. gobluetwo says:

    @Jim, clicking the pic takes you to the flickr page with a small image. just above the image is a button with magnifying glass that says “all sizes.” click that and you’ll get the large image.

    On topic – yes, shady indeed! DL miles are super easy to come by (20,000 for a free 30 min bosley hair restoration consultation!), but are equally reduced in value when trying to book awards.

  6. Jordan says:

    The award ticket search tool on delta.com is very commonly scrutinized (hourly at times, it seems) on FlyerTalk, and even the company has been forthcoming that the feature, well, sucks. I have plenty of experience looking for award travel, finding ridiculous results, logging out, waiting an hour, logging back in, and finding totally different results for the exact same search inquiry. That’s pretty inexcusable, and they’ve made noises about overhauling/fixing it sometime this year.

    That being said, it could be that the technology just sucks, and they aren’t really trying to screw their customers (disclosure: I’m a Diamond Medallion and DL shareholder, so I’m a little biased I guess). But whether they are being sneaky or just plain lazy when it comes to improving their search tool, I agree that the Cranky Jackass award is warranted in this case (and many thousands of other cases).

  7. Of course, the extra 7,500 miles cost her $5, which is probably all that they are worth in the first place! :-)

  8. I read something within the last couple of weeks about a survey of airlines and guess which airline was hated most for their mileage program. If you guessed Delta you would be correct.

  9. JayB says:

    Cranky, Not that big of a blog today, about DL’s one-way awards, but you did manage to get in:

    “screwy system,” “overcharges you, “so misleading,” “mildly shady,” “shadiness goes off the charts,” “duped into thinking,” and “downright wrong.”

    I agree with you. And, in my humble opinion, these terms apply just as equally to every other airline’s frequent flier award program: its fares, fare sturctures, and inventory management designs: and that blessed of all blessed designs, “unbundling.”

    Sure, just being competitive. But, I’ll bet if we ever got down to a single operating carrier in this good ol’ US of A, everything would still be just as convoluted as it is today. It’s in the water, I guess! Just hopeless!

    • Artie says:

      @JayB – how do you figure that the cranky jackass terms apply just as equally to other programs? Most of my award travel flying is done on American and I find their system to be extremely easy to use with tons of availability, sometimes even more so to the smaller airports I usually have to fly to.

      One of my favorite benefits of the AA program is that I can change the dates of my travel as many times as I want – which was great when I was in school in the Caribbean because as long as a flight was available (and it always was), I could move my date of travel. I have almost always found flights either on the day I need to travel or right around date of travel. This excludes, of course, busy travel times, when I would expect flights to be booked, even for payment.

      I will concede I do NOT like the new penalty for booking too close to travel date. But with the help of a very kind AA agent on the phone, I was able to get around that by booking my travel for a date beyond the penalty and then just calling to “change” my travel date to when I actually wanted to travel within the penalty date.

      I have almost 70,000 miles on Delta accumulated over the years. Literally YEARS that I have not been able to use them because there are never flights available, or they are available cheaper on American. As such, I have no loyalty to Delta. I do, however, book travel on American, even when slightly more expensive. So, one could argue that Delta’s stinginess does cost them paying customers.

      Listen, America Airlines is not perfect and I would be laughed out the room if I claimed it was. But let’s not lump every program together as terrible – it is a free benefit that airlines don’t have to offer; but the ones who offer it well, like I would argue American does, don’t deserve to be lumped with the rest.

      • chris says:

        AA does a pretty good job of awards on SOME domestic routes but TATL availability on JFK-LHR is a real PITA to get.

        I wouldn’t suggest DL is the best when it comes to award availability but they don’t block partner flights (UA) and are “competitive” when it comes to one way awards w/CO & US

        • Smail says:

          DL does block partner flights online. Good luck finding Euro or Asian SkyTeam partners via delta.com. And if you call in, you have to prompt the agents to go looking for them. Continental, imho, does the best job at showing partner availability online.

      • JayB says:

        I feel a little less “hopeless” knowing that someone has something nice to say about a frequent flier program. And, I’ll bet a few others have had a nice experience as well.

        If you go back to the ’81 frameframe and, like many of us, signed up to AAdvantage and every other FF program, filling in your flight card and giving it to the gate agent so you would get those miles, waited for that wonderful page-after-page monthly update report, and then in the mail got that heavenly paper certificate you took off to your local, even airport ticket counter, to get those “TOTAL PRICE: $0.00″ tickets to Hawaii, I’m sure you’ve had many different types of experiences. Some good; some not so good. But, one thing I never considered the award tickets was that they were “a free benefit.” I don’t consider the award tickets free, just something I paid for as part of my “loyal” buying. [I know, "Bags Fly Free," and I like WN's ads, but really, "free?"]

        In any event, if I’ve already paid for these awards as part of my “loyal” buying, why can’t I dictate the terms of use? Simple terms (if a seat’s unsold, you can have it) and not 22 different levels of redemption, and every manner of legalize you can imagine…. Dreaming, I know!

  10. chris says:

    In all fairness, do Continental or US allow one way awards either?

    • Andrew says:

      But US, for example, doesn’t let you book a one-way award ticket online. They have a link to click if you want to book a one-way award ticket that pops up a box saying “One-way award travel reservations are available for the same number of miles as a roundtrip award travel reservation” and that one-way award tickets can only be booked by calling their reservations number.

      Delta, on the otherhand, lets you book one-way online just as you would a round trip, as Cranky detailed.

    • CF says:

      We’ve talked about this on Twitter already, but I’ll address it here too. If they don’t want to offer one way awards, that’s their own prerogative. I wish they did, but that’s not Cranky Jackass-worthy. As Andrew said, US (and Continental as well) will not allow you to book a one way award online. So they’re being very up front.

  11. Barry says:

    Things could be worse.

    Remember the days when all cheap fares were round-trip? As travel agents (originally trained in those days [by the airlines themselves, no less!] to be customer-friendly and interpret rules to the passengers’ benefit), we would of course book our clients the cheapest round trip with a fictitious throw-away return flight (sometimes to/from a half-the-distance point).

    Worked great until the airlines shifted from being friendly & accommodating to mean/aggressive and transferred their priorities and resources from passenger/agency service to ‘auditing’ tickets instead. If they discovered a client had only flown on the outbound flight, the fare would be reassessed at the one-way fare level (often an increase of several hundred dollars) and the agent would get a debit memo for the difference (a practice that continued even after the end of commission payments meant we were working for the airlines for zero remuneration!).

    If the passenger was a frequent flyer with that airline and had attached his/her number on the file to collect points on the segment flown, the existing balance on his/her account would also be zeroed out as a further penalty.

    Score:- airline makes hundreds (possibly thousands) of dollars in additional revenue and future obligations, passenger is mightily pissed off and your friendly and helpful High Street travel agency watches his business go down the toilet.

    Just got to hope Delta doesn’t ‘reassess’ the award level when they discover Dr Ann Elizabeth Amanda didn’t fly back to Portland and cancel all her miles (and sue Cranky Flyer Concierge service for fraudulently ‘gaming’ the system!) I wouldn’t put it past them – it’s the same principle.

    • Sean S. says:

      Theres nothing “mean” about it; its no different than buffet restaurants these days charging you extra if you leave food on the plate. You’ve wasted their product that could have been sued to serve another customer. Same goes with “faking” a round trip and just going one way. I’m almost reflexively pro-consumers, but in this case consumers who fraudulently abuse the system are the one’s responsible for the “deals” coming to and end. Thanks alot for booking all those fake one ways!

      • David M says:

        Airlines already compensate for people who don’t show up for the flight by ovebooking the flights.

  12. nealio says:

    I appreciate Cranky bestowing this award on Dulta, anything the media can do to put pressure on managment to fix their well known award policies and IT is appreciated by customers that generally like the airline’s service.

  13. Jim Sack says:

    Ah, when American Express gave two-for one miles and travel to Europe was 50k miles. AE cut their awards in half and Delta has nearly doubled what they demand for a ticket. 90k in May 2010 to Frankfurt. I was told that I had started late so all the cheaper tickets were gone, a lie. I tried an hour later for March of 2011 and they were also 90k. I will not renew my card and my loyalty to Delta has evaporated.

  14. Pingback: Delta’s Absurd and ILLOGICAL One-Way Award Pricing - View from the Wing

  15. Sally says:

    I used to fly to Montreal from Florida via Northwest (RSW – DTW – YUL). Their website was very easy to navigate telling me on one screen how much the mileage would be in each class of service and giving me an option of levels of service on the outbound and another on the inbound. Last year I flew first class using mileage via Delta (Northwest). The first leg of the outbound was fine, RSW to ATL, but ATL to YUL was in a one class of service plane and of course on the return, YUL to ATL same thing. What a complete rip-off of miles. Also now Delta is telling me the miles I brought over from Northwest will expire in 2011. Makes me long for re-regulating the airlines again!!

  16. Since it’s bad mouth Delta mileage day, I’ll just toss this in from decades past. In the mid 80’s when DL merged/bought Western Airlines, I had miles in Western’s program. That was many years ago and what did I know and I just figured those miles were gone. Years later I found out from talking with someone from DL that Western miles moved over to Deltas program. I said what happen to mine and was told “oh well to late now”. So DL mileage issues are not something new.

    • SKD says:

      And remember while adding expiration dates to Skymile miles, Delta promised, by using language akin to “we value your loyalty and assure/promise you that the ‘original’ miles will NEVER expire”? It did not take them long to do an aboutface on the ‘promise’. AA made a smilar promise and has kept that promise to this day. Kudos to AA! Delta’s Million/Two Milion Miler program used to say “Lifetime Silver/Gold Medallion Status”, now it says “Silver/Gold Medallion Renewable every year” or some such langauge. How can you trust a company like that?

      • Right SKD, USAIR was like that when they took over PSA. They said all those PSA miles would never expired. So what is it now 2 or 3 years ago they said it’s use it or lose it time. So I donated all my USAIR miles to one of the charity’s they help.

        And you are right AA has kept their word on the AirCal miles not expiring (for now anyway).

  17. PF says:

    Did you consider Southwest for your client? On southwest.com you can book PDX to PVD, one-way, no advance purchase, for $449 or $474. Lots of schedule options with one connection.

    • CF says:

      Yeah, they were either full or the timing wasn’t good. I can’t remember the issue. (I don’t think she wanted to spend $500 either.)

  18. MeanMeosh says:

    Here’s another Delta policy that deserves a Cranky Jackass – they tack on an extra $50 penalty when you change a nonrefundable fare issued through a travel agent. I found that out the hard way this morning when I had to cancel a trip.

    I had to give up Delta many moons ago when they abandoned their DFW mini-hub (much to my chagrin, since I’d enjoyed pretty decent service from them), but more and more, I’m glad I did.

  19. Rob Marais says:

    I like Delta for the most part. Most of my travel is on Delta, and their service level IMHO is miles ahead of any airline out of Boston. I really like the automatic upgrades on domestic flights for Medallion members, and in that regard Delta has treated me very well. But the award travel engine on the Web is a joke, as is Delta’s policy on miles for one-way award travel. We Medallions keep raising a stink about such on FlyerTalk constantly. I wonder if Delta upper management listens, and I wonder (if they don’t) whether I should status match and shift my allegiance elsewhere.

  20. Sami says:

    DELTA’s frequent flyer program is a JOOOOOOKE.

    1. Try using a 60,000 mile award in the summer to Europe. IMPOSSIBLE unless you dish out 120,000 miles. On CO / UA I can somehow get a seat by being flexible at 55,000 miles. On AA at 60,000 miles.
    2. One way awards are a FRAUUUUUD. I was told they had OW Awards. They told me I needed 120,000 miles in NOVEMBER for a OW Award from Geneva to New York.
    3. Money magazine just had an article that showed a 19% success rate on obtaining a DELTA award vs. 55% on AA / UA / CO etc.
    4. The Delta AMX card is a joke. Huge fees and in Europe many don’t take it.
    5. When they increased European Awards to 60,000 miles from 50,000 they did not announce it. So I got stuck. Luckily I had AA miles.
    6. I have 59,000 miles at DELTA. At 60,000 I will use an Award and scram.
    7. No Award Chart on their website for AWARDS FROM EUROPE.
    8. Agents USELESS. To look for an Award availability they must look DAY BY DAY. I was told …..”we don’t have the time to check every day.” Other airlines can see availability for the whole month.

  21. greg says:

    Delta is not even competitive with their rivals by not allowing one-way award tickets for 12,500 miles min. It reveals an old-school mindset that people travel in round-trips or “open jaws” and even uses the ages-old open jaw calculation if you try to put together two one-ways for a multi-stop.

    This is the exact opposite of where the innovators have gone long ago, showing the kind of stubbornness that sneers at customers like Mr. Potter. They did as much when I emailed them about it. They have no plans to change this. So I simply won’t fly them any longer even when Delta flights show up that are move convenient, as one did just this morning.

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