It’s time for another Ask Cranky, and this one can serve as a warning to anyone who is price-sensitive. You might want to rethink using Delta.com if you’re willing to take a more roundabout routing to get a lower fare. I’ve slightly altered the original email for clarity. Here’s the gist of it.
I am finding the more Delta alters its website and search functionality, the more it appears to remove lower fare options that usually involve longer, abnormal connections. In short, I’m finding myself booking more [Delta] travel on Expedia or an affiliate site because delta.com won’t list the routing. And, as you know, if you try to price segment by segment on [Delta’s] website, you’ll end up with something astronomical.
Here’s my latest example:
Sunday, March 25
[Phoenix to Anchorage] one-way
[Delta] directly will sell me a $275 one-way with a double connection. Using Google Flights, I see [Delta] publishes (but does not list on its website) $221 [Phoenix-Minneapolis/St Paul-Anchorage]. And the [Minneapolis/St Paul] connection is 45 minutes! It’s nowhere to be found on Delta.com. And the fare is standard coach – not Spirit-class.
As I wrote at the top, I’ve been finding myself booking this way more and more. And maybe the bigger issue, I no longer just go to Delta’s website and merrily book away – I am always cross checking another source. I recently found Expedia cheaper for a [Tucson-Austin] one-way where [Atlanta] wasn’t listed on Delta’s site but was on Expedia for $150 cheaper (granted, it’s a longer connection but I pay my own way).
This seems to fit the pattern for the Hauenstein-run Delta machine. As little transparency as possible, blasted with the idea that everything via Delta is the best deal.
To tackle this one, I had to start by seeing it for myself. We’re well past the original date of travel now, but I looked right when the email came in and I snagged some screenshots. Surely enough, this came up as the lowest fare on Delta.com.
When I checked in Sabre, the system we use to book at Cranky Concierge (and it was available on other websites), I did see what Raj was talking about.
So why is Delta hiding the routing with the lowest fare? Is this some nefarious plot to force travelers to pay more if they’re stupid enough to only use Delta.com and not comparison shop? I asked Delta for comment, and my guess was confirmed. This is a circuity issue, and while I think Delta needs to fix it, it doesn’t sound like the airline feels the same way.
You probably don’t need a map to know that flying from Phoenix to Anchorage via Minneapolis goes far off the most direct routing. Nonstop it’s about 2,500 miles from Phoenix to Anchorage, but going via Minneapolis is over 3,700 miles, just about 50 percent longer in terms of mileage. For those with a visual bent, here’s a map from the Great Circle Mapper.
Sometimes airlines don’t like people finding deals on these out-of-the-way routings, so they block low fares from pricing via routing rules. There’s a mechanism that allows airlines to restrict which routings can be used by fare. In this case, Delta has chosen not to restrict Minneapolis as a connecting hub on any of its Phoenix to Anchorage fares. For those who are really curious, here are the permitted routings.
308* 1. PHX-SLC/SEA/PDX/MSP/LAX/DTT/CVG/ATL-ANC
If you think Minneapolis is bad, trying going via Atlanta, because that’s definitely allowed here. So are double connections. But back to the point… since the rules allow connections via Minneapolis, that’s why travel agents and third party sites show that option. But Delta seems to have made a decision to restrict the number of options it shows on Delta.com even further. One way it can do that is by suppressing circuitous routings from displaying. The same kind of thing would likely apply to the Tucson – Atlanta – Austin route that Raj mentioned in his note.
There is good reason to do this. I remember when we were launching a new pricing tool on americawest.com long, long ago, if we didn’t restrict what we showed, there would be some goofy routings. Early tests, for example, showed an option from Phoenix to Vegas flying via New York. That’s obviously a stupid option, and it wasn’t cheap, so it was just clutter. You want to suppress those, and so we did. But what Delta is doing is different.
Is this routing out of the way? Sure. But it’s cheaper. And even more damning, it’s also more attractive than other options that Delta was willing to show. This one via Minneapolis had a total elapsed time of 10 hours and 9 minutes. That’s much longer than the option via Seattle which was only 8 hours and 14 minutes, but Delta was also showing an option leaving at 11:15am, going through Seattle, and arriving Anchorage at 8:35pm. That’s 11 minutes longer than the Minneapolis one, and the departure/arrival times were roughly the same. It gets worse. There’s a garbage option on Delta.com that leaves at 6:20am, has 3 hour+ layovers in both Los Angeles and Seattle, and gets to Anchorage at 8:35pm. That takes a painful 15 hours and 15 minutes.
Why are these terrible options showing up? Well, they’re not as circuitous as the Minneapolis connection. The problem is that the Minneapolis option is better and it’s cheaper. Delta is making a mistake by suppressing it.
I’d argue that Delta needs to fix this. It should put a little more rigor into the restrictions it puts in place, because if it doesn’t, people will just start booking elsewhere. If it really doesn’t want to sell that ticket via Minneapolis, it should do so by altering the routing rules, so that it won’t have a good fare. Unfortunately, my interaction with Delta didn’t give me any hope that there was an interest in addressing this issue. So if you’re looking to fly for cheap and you don’t care about going out of your way, you might want to rethink using Delta.com.