Delta SkyMiles is often considered in the frequent flyer community as the worst in class. The list of reasons is rather long (or should I say, longest) that includes:
- Frequent mileage devaluation
- Ease of accrual
- Difficulty in redeeming
- High number of miles required for awards
- Poor customer service while booking awards
- Broken award search engine
- Poorly trained agents (I mean, really poor)
- Highly restrictive rules for changes and cancellation within 72 hours of travel
- Lack high quality partners
- Need to do a long sell while booking awards on several partners
- Poorly developed back-end system
- Lack of award seats at low level, especially international routes and other popular domestic routes
- Lack of complete award chart (at least until recently)
- Poorly interpreted and implemented award blackout dates for partners, e.g., Korean Air (lets focus on this one for the sake of this article)
While there are few positives also about Delta SkyMiles, but they much fewer:
- Can include a stop-over and an open-jaw, even for itineraries wholly within the US
- No quick-ticketing fee (unlike other most competitors that charge a hefty fee for bookings made within 21 days of travel)
Now, lets take a look at Korean Air's award blackout dates. As we see in the table below, if you want to fly from North America to the regions listed using Korean Air, Korean Air has only 62 days out of 366 days in the year 2012 that are in the blackout list. For travel to North America from the same regions, it is only 63 days that form the blackout dates. Point to be noted here that there are only 2 days out of them that overlap. Thus, you have more than 300 days that you could use Korean Air, using Korean Air Miles or Korean's other airline partners like Alaska Air's Award Chart for Korean Air. This means, you have less than 20% days that fall under the blackout dates or only 1 out of every 5 days.
Now, lets look at Delta's (not published anywhere by Delta!) blackout dates for Korean Air. A quick glance at the table below and you will wonder why does this table look so different and how come this table has 141 days in 2012 that are blackout dates. Well, the quick answer is, Delta did not bother to look at the finer details of the award blackout dates as given by Korean Air. Instead of designing these blackout dates by the regions as has been done by Korean Air, Delta just chose to implement all of Korean Air's blackout dates, system-wide. Perhaps, people at Delta had a hard time in understanding the geography of regions given in Korean's blackout table and instead chose to take an easier route.
What do we have here then? We have 141 days out 366 that are blackouts as compared to a mere 60 or 62 as governed by Korean Air. That makes it almost 40% of the days in the year that fall in under the blackout dates, or 2 out of every 5 days.
Whats interesting is, Delta does not even published this list of blackout dates. A lot of people find it rather amusing that most of the times they call DL, they are informed by the award reps that the travel dates fall within the blackout dates.
Next you encounter a situation when this happens and you know that Korean Air does not have that blackout date, do not try to argue with the reps, you will get nowhere and just end up wasting your time. Or may be, you should argue and realize Delta's best in class SkyMiles award program.
My personal opinion, I absolutely dread talking to Delta's customer service. My longest call has been 4 hours trying to fix an award issue that DL had messed up. My longest day on phone with DL trying to fix a problem for DL award, a record total of 11 hours on 4 separate calls! Oh boy, I do have some patience! Believe me, I have felt like crying, shouting out loud, pulling my hair, banging my head against the wall, jumping out of the window and what not...
Don't mean to bash DL as I do like some of their award rules like the stop-over plus an open-jaw rule. And by now, having spent hours and hours on phone as well as learnt all the tricks dealing with DL and finding an award, I can proudly boast that I have mastered DL awards like the one posted here.
PS. If any reader needs any help with using DL SkyMiles for their awards, I would be happy to help and guide them.