Forget about SkyMiles for a minute and let me be clear – I like flying Delta. And not just because their largest hub is less than a 20 minute Uber ride from my front porch. The airline runs like a well-oiled machine most of the time, and being an ex-airline ops guy, they get the things right that I appreciate most. I rarely worry about a delay when I book a Delta flight. Sometimes they happen, but things almost always work out as well as they possibly could. Delta people are almost always polite and helpful. In the few instances a year that I check a bag, I’ve never waited an excessive amount of time at baggage claim. In Atlanta, I rarely wait at all because the bag is almost always on the belt when I get there. All things equal, when I have a choice in a market, and I often do, I will book Delta first.

But Everything Isn’t Equal

CrankyFlier has smartly covered this in detail, but I’m going to share my own thoughts and experiences here. The bottom line – Delta has tweaked its pricing to require a roundtrip purchase for access to its lowest fares. I don’t know if this is in every market, but it’s certainly the case in one I priced about 3 weeks ago. Those of you that have been around since before Southwest was the biggest domestic airline will remember the days when roundtrip purchases along with a Saturday night stay were the standard to get the lowest available fare. The theory was that business travelers wouldn’t put up with Saturday night stays and would just pay whatever to come home. That’s sometimes true, but I know more than a few who didn’t hesitate to stay a couple extra days in whatever town they were in because that was often cheaper than paying an exorbitant airfare. While I’m certain that some other forces were at play, I’m of the humble opinion that the growth of Southwest Airlines, which prices one-way, and probably some other “low cost” airlines too, led the big dogs to slowly drop their roundtrip requirement over time. Sometime in the last few weeks, Delta decided to see what it could get away with.

It’s Only Raleigh

My mother is having some minor surgery next week, and being an only child and relatively decent son, I wanted to be there to help. Three weeks out from the day I needed to fly, I priced a one-way trip to RDU. There were a few reasons for shopping one-way, but the primary one was that I did not have full assurance of when I would be able to return. Delta priced at around $250, one-way, from ATL to RDU. That’s OK for a roundtrip price, but a tad high for a one-way 3 weeks out. I took a look at Southwest, and their price for the same route was $129. Needless to say, that’s what I booked, but I was still curious so back to I went. I entered a theoretical roundtrip for the same departure day and a return the following weekend, and it priced at…..around $250. I ran a few more searches from Atlanta and discovered the same phenomenon in other markets, all Florida-leisure types, but the fare differences seemed less stark in most. Granted, a fluid schedule is a good reason to book Southwest, if for no other reason than avoiding an annoying $200 change fee, but when things firmed up a couple days later, I would have gladly booked Delta if their pricing had been reasonable. Further, I’d risk the change fee just to notch another segment if I were still chasing status. Instead, I just booked another one-way return on Southwest for, you guessed it, $129.

It’s Only Money – My Money

Airlines are like life, different strokes for different folks, but I won’t hesitate to pay a few dollars more for a Delta flight. They usually offer the best service in most markets I travel to, but they are not the only option in Atlanta. While I’m well aware that I’m just one traveler and Delta is not likely to miss my few dollars in this case, this is not the only flight I’ll be taking to Raleigh and a host of other places this year. As I said, I like flying Delta, and I’ll even tolerate some measure of fare difference to book them. However, the quickest way to land on MJ’s no fly list is to become a pain in the a$$ to do business with. Personally, I’m hoping this new (old) roundtrip requirement doesn’t fly for long.

-MJ, May 7, 2016