Edit (the next morning after I posted this): Turns out it isn't just me, but it's also not as nefarious as I was hoping it wasn't. Delta has acknowledged that there's an error and they are looking into it... And while they haven't confirmed to me directly, sources inside the company are implying that they're very sorry for the inconvenience. I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS. I'm sure I must be doing something wrong here, since it can't possibly be true that Delta is suddenly blocking online access to partner awards. Surely this little turd of a blog wouldn't be the first place to uncover that, right?
Let me back up. I've been tinkering with Delta.com a lot lately, playing with different searches and routings the same way you'd try to learn and practice a musical instrument. And every time I mess around with it, something weird happens. First it was the pricing quirk that causes saver awards to get buried in the search results under ridiculously priced standard awards. Then it was not being able to find any China Airlines awards despite there being plenty of availability on ExpertFlyer.
Tonight, though, I realized that I can't get any partner awards to show up. Delta is still showing awards on their own metal, so this isn't a general issue with their search results. Even routes that routinely show availability (like SFO-LHR on Virgin Atlantic) are coming up empty. And here's the thing - if you search a route that Delta doesn't fly directly, the search engine chokes. SFO-LON brings up this shitty screen (as does SFO to anywhere in Europe, since Delta doesn't fly long haul from here):
It's not just partner awards, though. Delta actually won't show you any transatlantic awards with connections, regardless of whether or not it's on Delta. For example, take SFO-SLC-CDG. Searched separately, you can find space on SFO-SLC and on SLC-CDG, but the search engine will no longer combine those two legs into a single award. It's not an SFO issue either - repeating the ORD-AMS searches that I did last month in my post about that pricing quirk leads to the same error message. Last fall, I flew SFO-SEA-AMS, with both legs on Delta; now, searching SFO-AMS to try to find that itinerary leads to the same error message. I've tried different browsers and searching while logged out as well as logged in, and I can't get the fucking thing to work.
I searched multiple cities between the US and Europe - the only ones that don't error out are Delta hubs. In places like JFK where both Delta and Air France serve the same route, the only flights that display are Delta's. It's as if the search engine has the "non-stop" and "Delta only" options hard-coded into the search, regardless of how you set up the search parameters.
Here's what's weird, though - this is just for international flights. Searching SFO-ORD (a route that Delta doesn't fly directly) yields the expected calendar of awards with stops. Changing ORD to any city in Europe leads to the error, though. That's why this seems like less of a bug in the search engine and more of a deliberate attempt to shut off availability on partners or domestic connections that feed Delta long-haul routes. (I should also point out that this is only an issue with award searches. If you search for a cash ticket, you'll find the normal array of flights, both on partners and on Delta.)
So I say again... what is going on here? Did Delta suddenly change how you search for awards and not tell anyone? Hopefully Delta's phone agents can see the whole picture and not just Delta non-stop awards; otherwise my stash of SkyMiles just got a whole lot less useful. And here's what really pisses me off - Delta has joint ventures with Air France and KLM and owns more than half of Virgin Atlantic (via their own 49% plus 3rd-party ownership stakes), so there's no reason whatsoever why they should suddenly make it impossible to book awards on those carriers using SkyMiles.
As stupid as I'll look if it turns out that I forgot to check the "Delta doesn't suck" box on the advanced search page, I'm hoping this problem is due to my own incompetence rather than Delta's quest to be the most customer-unfriendly loyalty program ever devised.