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The Move That Put Delta in the Hot Seat With Frequent Fliers

Jason Steele

Earning credit card rewards in the form of frequent flier miles isn't very easy these days. Card issuers must clearly inform their customers how many miles they will earn for various transactions, but it has been up to airlines to inform their customers how many miles they need for tickets to various destinations. Now, that appears to be changing.

On Feb. 6, Delta Airlines removed its award chart from its website. In its place, it offered the following statement:

"With the launch of the all-new Award calendar, it's now easy to search for and see prices for Awards online. Search for the price of an Award like you search for airfare today. The expanded search capabilities and calendar at Delta.com provide more choices and an easier-to-read and more accurate view of Award prices."

Delta's new award tool displays the mileage required for an award flight as a calendar in five-week increments. The now-removed chart listed the range of miles needed, by region, to redeem for flights around the world, which some users say they used as a guide for cost verification and planning. So what does this mean for customers who are used to consulting the award chart?

Frequent Fliers Respond

The decision to remove the chart from the Delta website left some customers — especially the frequent fliers and award travel enthusiasts — confused and angry. Delta disclosed the details of its 2015 SkyMiles program back in March of 2014, including a new, five-tier award chart that took effect at the beginning of this year. But after nearly nine months of anticipation, the new award chart was erased from the site just weeks into the new year.

Many Delta fans didn't hold back their feelings about the change, saying the new tool alone is not transparent enough without the award chart to compare flight costs to.

René de Lambert of the blog Delta Points wrote, "Delta does not respect you enough to tell you what it should cost for an award ticket anywhere in the world. They do not want you to understand that you are very possibly overpaying for those valuable SkyMiles…"

De Lambert, who began his blog in 2011 as an unabashed fan of Delta and its SkyMiles program, says the unprecedented removal of Delta's award chart presents some major problems to users of Delta's SkyMiles credit cards, which are issued by American Express. "Without an award chart, you don't know the minimum or maximum number of miles necessary to get you where you were going."

Delta spokesman Anthony Black told Credit.com the decision to remove the chart from the Delta website was due to a lack of interest from users.

"There is a segment of people who rely on award charts, but the overwhelming majority doesn't look at the charts," Black said.

Black also pointed to recent positive changes in the SkyMiles frequent flier program. For example, Delta is now making more award space available at the lowest mileage level and allows one-way award seats. Delta's removal of the award chart hasn't impacted customers using their rewards for travel, according to Black — there were roughly twice as many award tickets issued in January 2015 than there were during the same period in 2014. In addition, Delta finds that about 90% its of award travelers are looking for domestic, economy class award tickets for 25,000 miles, and it contends that only a small number of its 94 million SkyMiles members were interested in viewing the award chart.

Do You Have Alternatives?

Customers unhappy with Delta's decision to remove the award chart from its website have options.

There are several alternatives to earning miles with an airline-branded credit card. One popular option is to earn reward points in programs that allow transfers to miles with several different airlines. For example, Chase offers its Sapphire Preferred card that earns Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to several different carriers, and Citi's ThankYou Premier and Prestige cards have a similar feature.

In addition, cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards and Barclaycard Arrival Plus offer two miles for each dollar spent, and their miles can be redeemed for a penny each as statement credits toward any travel reservation.

Americans love to earn credit card rewards, but you may want to know how many miles you need to collect to earn a reward. By understanding the most recent developments in frequent flier programs, you can choose the best credit card for your needs.

Note: It's important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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