If you were paying attention yesterday, you no doubt know that Delta has removed their brand new 5-tier award charts, in effect since January 1, 2015, from their website. The award engine is still pricing out awards according to the new chart, but by denying that there's is an official award chart, they've also removed the ability to challenge the award engine: the price you see is now the price you get.
There's no question that this is abhorrent behavior on Delta's part. I find some of the reactions a tad overblown, however ("Delta’s Missing Award Chart Is the Death of Aspirational Travel").
If I can venture into the realm of speculation, here's what strikes me as the most obvious explanation for the decision to remove published award charts from their website: Delta's new award charts were too complicated, they were producing unfamiliar results, and Delta's phone lines were being swamped.
You already have to call in too often
Although the Twitter team can handle a lot of simple requests, it's already necessary to call Delta a ridiculous amount of the time. Same-day standby, same-day confirmed, applying upgrades, and booking awards on many of their partners all require phone calls.
No one understood the new award charts
There was already no way to easily and accurately price an award in advance. Partner award space still booked at Level I, but if it was combined with a domestic leg in Level II-V, the entire award reprices at a higher level. Here's an award that just doesn't make any sense according to their published award chart:
There is no entry on their award chart for a one-way flight to Europe in Business costing 130,000 SkyMiles. What seems to have happened here is the partner award on Air France is pricing out correctly at 62,500 SkyMiles, then a Level 4 BusinessElite ticket between LAX and JFK, for 67,500 SkyMiles was plugged in on top. But their award chart never did and never could reflect that fact.
Their phones were swamped
A complex published award chart, combined with an award engine that generates results incompatible with that award chart, meant that people were calling in to book even simple awards. Poorly trained agents would attempt to explain the situation, and after 15 or 20 minutes on the phone, the customer would hang up in frustration, keeping Delta from even recouping the telephone booking fee.
It's bad, but it's not a mystery
Delta was faced with a genuinely fraught business decision. Having decided to adopt and implement their insanely complicated award chart, and having invested in making their award booking engine work passably well, they found all that effort was wasted and they were instead facing longer and longer hold times at their call centers.
They could have abandoned the new award charts, which would have been an embarrassing retreat away from the revenue-based redemption system that's their ultimate goal. They could have hired more call center employees, although that's not cheap or necessarily easy to do. Instead they did what must have seemed like the least bad solution: remove the award charts, tell people the price the award engine comes up with is "the" price, and hope customers eventually stop calling.
So I don't think there was any nefarious plan to keep people from being able to accurately price their awards out in advance. That was already impossible, with or without published award charts.
My solution: earn low, redeem high
I have a Suntrust Delta SkyMiles World Check card, so my miles are about as cheap as they get. If you have an American Express Delta co-branded credit card and access to cheap manufactured spend, you may still find it worth earning SkyMiles in the interest of diversifying your mileage holdings.
But the days of earning SkyMiles by flying on Delta-operated flights are over, and the removal of published award charts has exactly no bearing on that fact: that was the result of revenue-based earning.