Delta Air Lines to alter reward program; other airlines may follow

If you are saving up reward miles to pay for a trip on Delta Air Lines, you might want to book the trip before the airline switches to a new format that could raise the number of miles you need for the most popular destinations.

For travel on or after June 1, 2016, Delta said the number of miles needed to book a flight may rise based on destination, demand and “other considerations.”

But don’t expect the airline to disclose the exact reasons why fares will vary from day to day.

Southwest Airlines adopted similar changes to its reward program, taking effect last April.


The move — the latest by airlines to reduce the value of reward points — is sure to frustrate travelers, who are already relying less and less on loyalty reward programs to pay for airline tickets.

“What’s disturbing about this is the complete lack of transparency,” said Tim Winship, publisher of the rewards program monitoring website “Nobody knows what these other variables might be.”

Several recent surveys have shown that confusing rules and stipulations hidden in tiny print are among the biggest frustrations travelers have with loyalty programs.

That may explain why a 2013 survey by Deloitte found that travelers ranked the importance of loyalty reward programs 19th among an airline’s best attributes, behind comfort, staff attitude and check-in convenience.

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Delta spokesman Anthony Black defended the reward program, noting that many flights won’t rise in cost because of next year’s changes.

He added that the airline also recently launched a flight sale that lets travelers use a combination of reward miles and cash to fly to many destinations within the contiguous 48 states.

Other airlines may consider converting to Delta’s new system but not until they see if the changes are a success, said Brian Karimzad, director of the reward monitoring website

“I think other airlines are going to sit back and take a look,” he said.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.


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