Lucky noted (from a post by René) a disturbing change to the wording of delta.com yesterday — it appeared that without notice Delta eliminated mixed-cabin awards, which would have signalled another elephantine Skymiles devaluation. I reached out to Delta and was assured that the change is not as sinister as we imagine. Mixed-cabin rewards will still be available…to an extent.
What is a Mixed-Cabin Award?
A mixed cabin award is the mixing of two or more classes of service on a single reservation. For example, when trying to construct an international award reservation, often business will be available on the longhaul flight, but only economy class on the domestic flight. Delta has traditionally allowed the mixing of economy class and business class at the same level, pricing the award at the higher business class level.
It is not as straightforward as that, because Delta has five-award levels within each cabin of service and the economy and business levels must also match, but for simplicity consider a situation like this — say you need to get to Tokyo from Los Angeles and find saver business class space from Portland to Tokyo but no saver business class space from Los Angeles to Portland. In the past, Delta has allowed you to add on the LAX to PDX segment in economy class if it available and will not charge you any extra miles for it. Something like this:
Delta.com Did Change from “Yes” to “No” Without Notice
Overnight, we saw the following change —
Thus, I think the speculation was logical that Delta was jettisoning this benefit and would charge, in the example above, an extra 12.5K miles for the first flight. Would it even allow domestic first class (R) and business class (O) to be mixed on a single award? The wording suggested NO.
Why was this a logical deduction?
Flying Blue, the loyalty program of Air France/KLM does the same thing. Mixed-cabin awards were once available by signing and faxing in a release form (remember, Flying Blue Lives in the Stone Age), but now are no longer available — all flights must be in business class on a business class award, even if we are talking about a one-hour domestic or intra-European flight as part of an intercontinental premium cabin award.
Avianca’s LifeMiles program also has a strict policy requiring all award segments to be in the same class of service, even if you are booked in the highest cabin available on each flight!
Delta Assures Us That These Mixed Cabin Awards Will Still Be Bookable at Prevailing Price Levels
I reached out to Delta for comment and was assured that there are no plans to eliminate the ability to mix economy and business class on a one-way award. In other words, pricing will remain as before and an economy class flight and business class flight may still be combined as long as the award levels match.
Are you confused?
You should be! If you are not familiar with the Skymiles award structure (now no longer even published!), trying to explain it would be like trying to explain to a lawyer about how the Lane-Emden Equation implicates Magnetic White Dwarfs (the subject of my wife’s thesis…).
Users of delta.com will notice that mixed cabin rewards are no longer permitted in the sense that if you search for a round-trip award and choose economy class for the outbound itinerary, you will only be able to choose economy class on the inbound. If you choose business class on the outbound itinerary, you will only be able to choose business class on the inbound itinerary.
Now within that classification, there still may be “mixed awards” like the LAX to PDX economy class connecting to PDX to NRT in business as referenced above. But what is not possible anymore on delta.com due to purported “technical limitations” is booking one-direction as an economy class award and the other direction as a business class award.
Why It Matters That Mixed Cabin Round-Trip Itineraries are Restricted on Delta.com
Delta claims this is not really an issue because if you want to travel business class in one direction and economy class the other direction, there is no problem — you just book two one-way awards in the desired cabin.
The problem is Europe, where Delta tacks on fuel surcharges if your trip originates there. Say you want to travel in economy class to Europe and business class back on Virgin Atlantic between JFK and LHR. If you book the trips separately, you pay 30K miles and $5.60 in taxes on the outbound. But on the inbound, if you book it as a separate award, instead of paying just the government taxes (which are pricey enough already), you pay a fuel surcharge on top of that for “originating” in Europe.
£351.66 (538 USD) is not chump change!
Book it as a round-trip award and you are looking at only a tad over $300 in taxes/fees.
Further, if you book two one-way awards and have to chance or cancel the trip, you are looking at two $150 fees instead of a single $150 change or cancellation fee.
Here’s a hint — at least for now, you can call Delta Reservations and still book the “mixed-cabin award” Delta is referring to on its website change of verbiage. Book one direction in economy and the other in business and the award should properly price out.
The changes do not appear to be as bad as imagined — rather they are more a formal acknowledgement of what has already occurred on delta.com, the inability to book a round-trip award in one direction in economy class and the other in business class.