SkyMiles members may have noticed a small, but disturbing little addendum in the October newsletter. Under “program updates,” a polite little paragraph reads as follows:
“Effective March 16, 2004, mileage level requirements will increase for redemptions of certain Travel Awards and upgrades, including continental U.S./Alaska/Canada First Class and continental U.S./Alaska/Canada-Hawaii First and Economy Class Awards.”
They’re right. There have been some changes. As of March 16, the current 30,000-mile economy trip to Hawaii will jump to 35,000 miles. The first-class trip jumps 15,000 miles, from 60,000 to 75,000 miles.
Within the continental U.S., the 25,000-mile award stays the same, but the first-class award jumps 5,000 miles.
And, as you may have suspected, that’s not all.
A number of international awards in business class have also been increased. Trips to Central America, Northern South America, and Europe/North Africa will increase by 10,000 miles each. Awards to Southern South America jump 15,000 miles (to 90,000); awards to India go up 20,000 miles (to 120,000); awards to Southern Asia increase by 25,000 miles (to 120,000); and awards to Northern Asia take the biggest jump — 30,000 miles to a total of 120,000 miles.
Finally, first-class awards to Northern Asia have increased to 140,000 miles, as have first-class awards to Southern Asia.
In Delta’s defense, it should be noted that these levels are not outrageously beyond industry standards, though they are notably higher than those of Continental, for example.
And award level increases are really not as surprising as they are disappointing. After all, with all the non-flying means of earning miles (credit cards, rental cars, etc.), there’s little question that the airlines’ outstanding mileage liability has grown.
Does this portend an overall increase industry-wide? Not likely. Remember that there haven’t been any significant increases in the level of capacity-controlled awards in the past five years. What’s more, if, after following Delta’s lead on elite-qualification changes, an allied partner like Continental were to raise its award levels, you can be sure that the wheels of anti-trust machinery would be set into motion.