It seems like I’m doing some rendition of this post almost quarterly now, covering the not good, the very bad and the really ugly status of Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flyer awards program. My despair grows precipitously.
There have been a few respites this summer in the form of shockingly good SkyMiles award sales, generally in economy class. Those moments feel like small gasps in the vacuous wake of a sinking ship. “Jack, don’t let go! Jack!”
After a couple of years of confusing and wildly bipolar fluctuations in transatlantic award prices, it appears Delta has settled on two new baseline price levels for awards, and they are not pretty. Main cabin awards this fall have settled out at a balmy 105,000 miles per passenger, one-way.
That is 3.5 times the advertised base mileage redemption rate for main cabin seats on this route.
Want to fly Delta One? If you have to ask the mileage price, just take out one of those personal loans and use it to pay cash instead. This hurts to type: 280,000 SkyMiles.
These prices appear persistent across all east coast to Europe city pairs I’ve tested, including some of the airline’s most heavily served routes including New York to Amsterdam and Atlanta to Paris.
So-called Level 1 prices from the U.S. to Europe remain 30,000 miles in the main cabin and 75,000 miles in business, but the only route I was able to find those rates–occasionally–was New York to London.
My decision to remain loyal to Delta is quickly turning from comedy to tragedy. If I had only flown United for the past three years, my pool of 200,000 miles would get me to Bangkok and back, in business class, at least on some dates this coming month.
On American or Alaska Airlines metal I’d have earned enough in the same period to fly there and back in first, and then some.
I used to have a repertoire of handy tricks for disposing of SkyMiles effectively. The vital signs on those aren’t great at all.
- Abundant Aeroflot Availability: Gone
- China Airlines secret one-ways: Now exceedingly rare
- Travel via Madrid on AirEuropa: nearly impossible to book, if space is available
- Jet Airways Toronto to Amsterdam flight: ok, but do I really want to do this???
- Wait for Virgin Australia seats to open in the last week: where’d they all go?
The Bigger Picture: Awards are Dead
During the last quarterly earnings call, Delta President Glen Hauenstein said something that made my spine shiver.
“SkyMiles members will have the ability to pay with miles by the end of 2018.”
As I wrote before, I already have the ability to pay with miles, vis-a-vis the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (thank you very much, Mr. Hauenstein). The fact that they are extending this “privilege” to the rest of the SkyMiles cohort is a nasty portends.
In both the economy chart and Delta One chart above, round-trip flights are significantly cheaper when booked using pay-with-SkyMiles, effectively converting the miles to cash at 1¢ a pop.
Round-trip SkyTeam tickets between Miami and Amsterdam run about $850 in the main cabin and $4,500 in business in October, so we’re talking 85,000 SkyMiles and 450,000 SkyMiles respectively under the pay-with-miles scheme, considerably less than the listed award prices.
The Future: Look Elsewhere
If Delta continues down this path of encouraging SkyMiles pay-with-miles redemptions at wholesale trash-bond rates, they will undoubtedly forfeit much of at least one revenue stream: American Express Membership Rewards.
At these rates, no-one should ever, ever, ever, ever, ever transfer American Express Membership Rewards points into a Delta SkyMiles account under any circumstance other than to augment and dispose of whatever existing SkyMiles balance one might have.
For now, Virgin Atlantic flights to London appear as the only reasonable transatlantic option, albeit with a hefty surcharge tacked on. China Eastern and China Southern flights still make occasional, though rarer, appearances going eastbound.
Even when paying with miles/points makes sense, American Express offers a 25-percent better conversion rate through its own travel portal.
Given my current experience and the current outlook, I can no longer recommend Delta SkyMiles to anyone, for any reason. Fly Delta a lot? Maybe consider the Platinum SkyMiles card, but only for the free companion ticket.
Look for frequent flyer miles somewhere else. Anywhere else, really.