Frequent Flyer

Latest Changes Test SkyMiles Members’ Loyalty

Yesterday, Delta published a handful of announcements that will do little to appease SkyMiles members who find the airline’s new-for-2015 mileage program confusing and unrewarding.

Yesterday, Delta posted a handful of announcements on its website that will do little to appease the many SkyMiles members who find the airline’s new-for-2015 mileage program confusing and unrewarding.

First up, this:

We know your miles are important, so we want to provide the most notice possible regarding Award price changes. For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other considerations. But most Award prices will remain unchanged. To see the best availability and deals, search at least 21 days prior to departure and use our Award Calendar by selecting “flexible days” when searching for a flight.

Related: 7 Ways to Get a Free Upgrade

So, as has been expected, SkyMiles award prices will be variable, presumably changing according to supply and demand, the way published airfares do. So for planning purposes, what should program members expect prices to be? No help there from Delta, not even a range of prices. You’ll have to work through the airline’s booking app to determine how many miles are needed for that award trip between Los Angeles and Seattle, on August 2, at 2 p.m.

The lack of transparency here is deeply unsettling. There’s no set value-per-mile on the award side of the program, so there’s no way to make a global assessment of the program’s value. Delta is free to set prices however it likes, hardly a consoling prospect.

Adding to the unhappiness: “Miles needed to upgrade will increase, and to provide greater access to these upgrades, we’ve expanded the eligible types of fares.”

How much more expensive will upgrades be? Again, no disclosure from Delta. As for the increase in upgradeable fare types, there will be three newly eligible fare classes: L, U, and T.

Is there any good news from Delta? How about this: “Compared to last year, we’ve increased Award availability by more than double at the lowest prices to make it easier for you to use your miles.” Sounds good, until you recall that for the past few years, Delta has been among the stingiest of U.S. carriers for low-level awards. And in any case, all we have is Delta’s word that award-availability has improved.

Related: 9 Unusual Travel Tricks That Really Work

SkyMiles members remember Delta’s promises in 2008, when the airline added a third category of award prices and pledged to make more award seats available at affordable prices. That promise was never fulfilled, creating a trust deficit that has grown even deeper in the intervening years.

So Delta’s “Just trust us” admonitions are likely to fall on deaf ears. As Reagan counseled in foreign policy with U.S. adversaries: Without verification, no trust.

On the good-news front, beginning on July 21, Delta will award elite-qualifying miles for the purchase of Preferred Seats, Delta Comfort seats, and paid upgrades. Which in a program specifically designed to reward spend is only to be expected.

Related: The 10 Best Ways to Use Your Miles and Points

There is also a nugget of good news for Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion elites: the ability to redeem regional upgrades on transcon routes, also from July 21. Of course, that’s after Delta suspended elite transcon upgrades, so it’s two steps back and one step forward.

Delta’s SkyMiles program does have one redeeming feature: Miles don’t expire. A good thing, since it could take a lifetime to understand the program, much less earn a free trip.

Reader Reality Check

Is SkyMiles any reason to be loyal to Delta?

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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