Uh Oh: Delta Expands Basic Economy On More Award Tickets

by Miles Jackson

Late in 2018, Delta began experimenting with basic economy on award tickets for a select number of routes. Now, it looks like Delta has gone full speed ahead with basic economy awards on most U.S. and Canadian flights.

Delta Basic Economy Restrictions

Here is a quick rundown on a Delta basic economy ticket. 

As you can see, basic economy fares restrict Delta passengers from seat selection, make them board last, and further block Medallion members from potential complimentary upgrades. Award redemptions which restrict seat selection and potential upgrades are a form of reverse incentive economics.

Reverse Incentive Economics 

Delta CEO Ed Bastian (along with CEOs of American and United) seem to be proud of the fact that basic economy is such a poor product that people would be willing to buy up. Keep pricing the same, make the product worse, and naturally, customers will pay more to get what they were accustomed to previously.

Delta President Glen Hauenstein has echoed this sentiment in interviews.

Many customers don’t want basic economy when they see what exactly it is. Really, the success of that product isn’t how many people buy it, in our mind. But it’s how many people don’t buy it and choose another product.

Now, Delta feels the time is right, as summer peak travel season approaches, to put basic economy as the lowest award level for many more routes.

Delta Expands Basic Economy Awards

The Thrifty Traveler  has reported a Delta spokesperson as saying that basic economy now applies to the cheapest awards for most Delta flights within the U.S. and Canada, effective March 5.

What This Really Means

With these changes, Delta will makes its cheapest awards a basic economy offering. That means more restrictions at the same award pricing. This will apply to domestic and Canadian routes, including Hawaii.

Hawaii is a route where awards have been historically held to higher redemption levels compared to the rest of the U.S. Delta faces more competition to Hawaii and fare pressure coming from Southwest Airlines’ entrance in the market.

Delta will likely use their basic economy strategies for both revenue and award tickets to more aggressively counter Southwest’s low fares.

Example: Delta Awards to Hawaii

I looked at flights to Hawaii, from Atlanta (ATL) to see what the rates are for award redemptions.

Delta’s Award Calendar Atlanta – Honolulu

The lowest roundtrip award fares are 44,000 SkyMiles and $11.20 in fees.

Lowest Awards Are Basic Economy Fares

For the 44,000 you get basic economy and there is a connection. A Main Cabin award will run you 60,000 SkyMiles, a whopping 16,000 miles more for simple comforts like seat selection.

Atlanta to Honolulu Nonstop Award Prices

74,000 SkyMiles will get you a basic economy award and a Main Cabin award will run you 80,000 SkyMiles.

Will Delta Launch Basic Economy Awards For International Routes Next?

It’s probably just a matter of time before we see Delta force basic economy into the transatlantic award ticket landscape and beyond. Loyalty to Delta means having to pay more to avoid basic economy, exactly what Delta is betting on. More SkyMiles mean less potential liability on the books for future redemptions.

If you want to book award travel and leave the details (and stress) to someone else, contact Juicy Miles. They can assist you in getting the best redemption rates.

Delta Boeing 777 main cabin SkyMiles awards Australia

Will Delta launch basic economy on long haul flights like on the 777?

The Upshot

Delta continues to squeeze their loyal frequent flyer members for more miles. However, the in-flight experience is arguably better than both American and United. Both Bastian and Hauenstein seem okay with a business model where flight experience trumps loyalty program value.

What happens when loyal flyers have used up their SkyMiles? Credit card rewards are a more liquid commodity, and Delta may find its loyal fanbase jumping ship to cards which provide more redemption options. At least in that way, consumers could respond immediately to devaluations and take their business elsewhere.

Some credit card products that allow points transfers to various airline programs and have portals for points redemption for travel:

Will you pay the difference in miles to avoid basic economy on award tickets?

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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Gene March 8, 2019 - 10:20 am

This should surprise no one. The screwing of long-term Delta customers will not end until SkyMiles are with nothing. Then, the profits and bonuses and executives will vanish. Few more years to go…

Miles Jackson March 8, 2019 - 11:51 am

Delta management does seem intent on taking SkyMiles to a one cent par value as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there are still award redemptions to be had periodically which provide greater value.

Gene March 8, 2019 - 4:02 pm

@ Miles — For sure, and I try to redeem for these when they appear. I will hate Delta management less once I use up pur miles on these.


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