Delta tests out offering most restrictive tickets to frequent flyers

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Delta Airlines Airbus A330-200 airplane with registration N851NW is seen landing at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Frequent flyers who like to pick their seats may need to shell out more miles for their next award ticket.

Delta Air Lines has been quietly offering its most restrictive tickets to loyal travelers on some routes. Since last month, Delta has been offering SkyMiles members no-frills basic economy award tickets, along side those for standard coach class and first or business class. Passengers booked in basic economy are barred from making changes to their tickets and from selecting a seat ahead of time, and also board last.

Delta was the first among the three biggest U.S. airlines to offer basic economy fares in 2012. American Airlines and United Airlines rolled out their own versions of the bare-bones fares last year. Executives have not been shy that they measure the success of this fare class by how many passengers book the higher fare to avoid the basic economy restrictions.

The frequent-flyer miles required for a free ticket varies by route and demand, but a search for Dec. 14-21 trip from Detroit to Charleston, South Carolina, was 47,000 Skymiles in basic economy and 50,500 for a regular coach ticket.

“It seems like a really risky move,” said Gary Leff, a travel and loyalty program specialist who noted the new offering in his View from the Wing blog. A ticket purchased with miles is “supposed to be an experience, not a pain.”

If the SkyMiles member chooses the basic economy award ticket on Delta’s website, a window pops up reminding the loyalty program member of the basic economy restrictions, much like it does if the traveler simply bought the ticket.

Delta is currently presenting the basic economy option on nonstop and connecting flights from Minneapolis to Phoenix and flights to and from Charleston from within the U.S. and Canada.

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