Everybody knows the first three words of literary genius Alexander Pope’s famous rhyme, “Hope springs eternal” from his work, An Essay on Man.  I never thought the great man’s poem would pop into my brain while I was trolling for a Delta SkyMiles award ticket, but it did.

The now-hackneyed phrase is often used out of context of the second verse, which goes like this:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never is, but always to be blessed.

Those three words of the lead stanza of Pope’s ditty, written 1732-34, were skimmed off and became a proverb almost at once.  The entire work goes much deeper. Hardly as superficial as the single phrase “Hope springs eternal,” An Essay on Man has been interpreted as man affirming faith in his deity.

In the sharp words of the second verse, Pope is scolding mankind for not appreciating what we are already blessed with (“Man never is”), instead forever pining to be blessed with whatever it is we hope for.

Pope’s humbling second stanza words came to mind, oddly, this week when I searched for a Delta SkyMiles award ticket from Raleigh to New Orleans in November over four days to visit an old friend who is about to buy the farm (her way of describing dying from cancer).  Not much hope sprang from my breast as I began fishing at the Delta website, especially because I was using my sister’s gift of all the miles in her SkyMiles account. It was a meager 23,000 miles.

With so few miles to work with, I had reason to lack hope and assume the worst, that is, no way could I find an award ticket to the Crescent City. Delta has, after all, slashed the value of frequent flyer miles and jettisoned its award charts from public view.  Though I appreciated my sister’s generous gesture, I didn’t begin looking with much confidence.

Contrary to all my assumptions, however, plenty of SkyMiles award travel itineraries RDU/MSY were showing for the week I needed for just 19,000 miles roundtrip, plus $11.20 in taxes.  I was able to book the exact dates and nearly the exact times that I preferred. Frankly, I was shocked.

Another revelation awaited when I chose my seats—all in main cabin because this was the cheapest award travel mileage ticket on the route:  Delta’s upgrade robot had automatically upgraded me to Comfort+.  The bot even got all but one of the four seat assignments correct (aisle in the bulkhead row).

Delta’s IT department seems to have been busy improving their auto-upgrade systems to account for customer preferences.  Or maybe I just got lucky with the seats.  The main point is that I was upgraded to Comfort+ on the least allowable mileage award for main cabin travel.  (Delta’s system even asked me if I wanted to be placed on the first class upgrade queue, though I am not holding my breath on that one.)

The ease with which I was able to book the travel I needed with such paltry mileage got me curious, so I started testing other city-pairs, such as RDU/SEA.  The least miles for an award ticket to Seattle was 23,000, and a goodly number of award itineraries came up in my searches across a spectrum of dates.

Astonishing, I thought, which brought Mr. Pope’s poem to mind, that is, the second stanza about how we all hope to be blessed while never appreciating that we already are.  I’ve groused about Delta’s diminution of its SkyMiles program and its high-handed disappearing act with the award charts because, by all appearances, it was a big fat devaluation, pure and simple.  It was that, and we all know it.

Nonetheless, I admit that my assumption about their program overhaul being all bad was wrong.  SkyMiles is definitely not transparent any more on the macro scale that it used to be.  However, individual city-pair searches can reveal reasonable mileage award value, depending, I am sure, on dates.  For instance, I didn’t check, but I doubt I’d find any 23,000 mile round trip itineraries RDU/SEA on offer around Thanksgiving.

For 19,000 miles round trip on my first try, I’ll take it, and, yes, I feel blessed that the renovated system worked for me…this time.

Only this time?  Well, perhaps I am not yet ready to affirm my faith in the SkyMiles gods. I guess Pope was right after all, because I already find myself hoping rather than trusting that SkyMiles will work for me the next time I need to book award travel.

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