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The Topsy Turvey World Of Delta Rewards

by Jason Steele

Delta fliers have been on a roller coaster ride for years now. They went in and out of bankruptcy in recent years, and they have just completed their acquisition of Northwest. They are now the largest airline in the world, and they are starting to do some confusing things.

The thing that Delta, and Northwest fliers have been wondering is whether the combined airline would impose the best or the worst policies of each carrier on the new combined entity. Based on all of their recent changes, it seems like there is no rhyme or reason to explain what’s happening.

Fees Go Up, Fees Go Down

Delta had been the lone hold out among the major airlines in not charging the dreaded “first bag fee.” This week, they have announce that they will no impose a $15 fee for your first bag, ostensibly because Northwest does. At the same time they are reducing their fee for the second checked bag from $50 to $25.

Fuel Surcharges Eliminated

This is about the most welcome piece of news. Fuel surcharges are a despicable practice, especially when they are imposed on frequent flier awards. Many travel bloggers have speculated that no airline will reduce these surcharges, even with the price of fuel at far lower levels than when the charges were imposed. It is comforting to see this actual happen at Delta.

Old Fees Gone, New Fees Are Here

Gone is the $3 curb side check in administrative fee. New, is the charge for a seat assignment in coach, arrgh! Now, when you redeem and award or purchase a ticket, your are blocked from choosing a many seats without paying $5-$25. That fee is per leg, not per flight, so you could end up paying this fee two, four, or even six times depending on your itinerary.

All of these changes take place on tickets purchased today, for flights on or after December 5th. See Delta’s site for more information.

What Does This Mean To Reward Card Fliers?

As you might guess, this is a mixed bag. You can’t help but like the dropping of the fuel surcharge on award tickets. For international awards, you would not have noticed a bag fee anyways. For domestic awards, the new first bag fees will add up on family ski trips, but you might even end up a little ahead if you had intended to check two bags.

Overall, the combined entity is doing some confusing things as it irons out the differences in the two airlines policies. A good way to stay up on all things Delta is The Ticket blog. I was reading this way back when I was a Delta Frequent Flier living in Atlanta. Although the blog is technically geared toward Atlanta based travelers, Delta and Atlanta are so synonymous, they are practically the same entity.

If you are a Delta, or Northwest customer, you are going to have to fly through Atlanta some day. As they say in the South, when you die, you have to change planes in Atlanta to go to heaven..

Some Other Delta Reward Travel Tricks

Delta is fairly unique in that you can use your miles for one way travel. This is an advantage when booking a round trip very far in the future. Say you will be taking a trip for a month. Since your best shot at getting an award seat is by booking it 331 days in advance, you can book the out bound exactly 331 days in advance, wait a period of time equal to the duration of your trip, and then book the return 331 days early as well.

Screwy Upgrades

The Delta website’s awards chart shows some fairly reasonably priced upgrade awards. They mention briefly that upgrades are available from “some fares”. What they don’t say, is what fares are upgradeable. It turns out those are only the higher fare classes. For example, I priced a flight overseas that came out to $1200 in coach. In order to purchase an upgradable seat, the same ticket was $2800. In reality, this is far worse than even United’s co-pay upgrade program! After I did the math, it made sense to just use the miles to get a business class award.

Northwest People Take Note

I know that this is a lot of info about airline rewards on a single airline, Delta. The reality is, that the Delta/Northwest merger has concluded. These two are now the largest airline in the world, and reward card holders who fly either airline need to fasten their seatbelts for turbulence ahead.

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