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‘Skymiles' and ‘excellent value' are three words that don't often share space in a sentence these days. The frequent flyer program for Delta Air Lines has a recent history of unannounced changes to its award pricing (having stopped publishing an award chart in mid-2015) and is fast building a reputation for lacking transparency and respect for its members.
The frustrating aspect of all these negative changes to SkyMiles is that while Delta has stripped a lot of value out of the SkyMiles program, both Delta and a number of its international partners have made big improvements to their hard product, with Delta now considered the best in-flight experience of the U.S. legacy carriers.
So with a first-rate in-flight experience, but a frequent flyer program lacking the transparency and value of its opposition, what is the best way of maximizing the value of Delta SkyMiles?
Building a Usable Balance of Delta SkyMiles
One of the big advantages to earning SkyMiles is Delta offers fans plenty of ways to accumulate miles, both through its Amex co-brand credit card and via a couple of strategic partnerships that allow members to transfer points from flexible rewards programs.
If you regularly fly Delta, the co-branded cards offer benefits such as first checked bag free and priority boarding, providing some of the same benefits as Delta elite status without having to fly the miles.
Delta co-brand credit cards:
- Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
- Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express
- Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card
- Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
- Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
It's also possible to transfer points into SkyMiles from a number of different rewards programs such as Marriott Rewards and Diners, but the only two offering genuine value are:
- Marriott Bonvoy – Transfer at 3:1 ratio and receive an additional 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points transferred.
- American Express Membership Rewards – Transfer at a 1:1 ratio to SkyMiles
How To Receive Top Value with Delta SkyMiles
The good news for Delta fans is that it's still possible to extract top value from Delta SkyMiles if you understand the current award pricing structure, have an understanding of Delta's routing and partners and know where to source a healthy balance of Delta miles. The best redemptions with SkyMiles used to be international business class fares, including partners of Delta, where the cost of a ticket in cash is relatively high compared to the number of miles required for the same flight.
The best redemptions with SkyMiles used to be international business class fares, including partners of Delta, where the cost of a ticket in cash is relatively high compared to the number of miles required for the same flight.
Late in 2016, Delta dropped an award pricing bomb and raised the rates on a number of international business class awards, while dropping the cost of round-trip economy awards to some destinations. Then again midway through 2017, Delta gutted partner awards, making it significantly more expensive to fly partners than fly Delta metal. The value mix is now spread between short domestic flights, roundtrip economy awards, and international business class flights.
By being flexible, planning ahead and having a healthy balance of SkyMiles, you position yourself well to succeed in receiving getting value with SkyMiles.
Examples of Excellent Value with Delta SkyMiles
Business Class – Continental U.S. to Asia
SkyMiles has many Asia-based airline partners including Korean Air, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern Airlines and Garuda Indonesia. While not all of these airlines offer service to the United States, Delta themselves has an extensive route network and reasonably priced business-class awards starting at 80,000 SkyMiles one-way. Flying the same route on a partner award will currently set you back 95,000 SkyMiles each way.
One of the benefits of redeeming for flights on Delta metal is the flat $5.60 fee charged on award tickets. Delta passes on any surcharges, fees, and taxes on partner awards which can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Every day across the five-week period we checked had awards available at the lowest price level and sometimes over multiple routes.
A similar business-class ticket paid for with cash would set you back over $3,000, returning a value of just under 4¢ for each mile.
Economy Class – Continental U.S. to South Pacific
One of the few awards to drop in price at the end of 2016 was economy flights across the Pacific. You can fly return to Austalia with Delta partner Virgin Australia for 90,000 in economy, down from 100K return this time last year.
Availability is good, and although the idea of spending over a dozen hours parked in an economy seat is not desirable, you are getting roughly 1.8¢ value for each mile which is a fair return with Delta.
Availability is scarce up the front of the plane, but you may be able to snag a one-way business class ticket for the 14-hour ultra long-haul across the Pacific on Virgin for 95,000 SkyMiles. Until the changes late in 2016, this route in business presented fairly good value at 80K miles one-way, however, now prices in at 95K each way, and that is only if you can nab one of the (very!) few seats that open up at this rate, as you can see below.
Business Class – Continental U.S. to London/Europe
Another unannounced change to Delta's award pricing last year was flights to Europe increasing to 70K in business. London has always been one international destination where you could have great success redeeming SkyMiles, and at 62,500 SkyMiles for a one-way business class ticket from the continental U.S. to Europe, it was top value.
From September 2016, that award rate went up to 70,000 miles.
Still, amazing value when compared to the cash price of the flights (close to 8¢ per mile) but it leaves a sour taste knowing that you're paying an inflated rate that came with no advanced notice.
Almost every day has flights with availability at the lowest price for four people! Pair this with connections from SkyTeam members Air France, KLM, and Alitalia to get the most out of those miles. Keep in mind that award availability may vary within Europe.
Main Cabin – Within the Continental U.S.
25,000-mile main cabin round-trip redemptions are out there, but Delta has introduced award prices at even lower rates. At 5,000 SkyMiles one-way, you might be tempted to cash in your miles instead of paying out of pocket for a flight from Atlanta to Washington.
The same flight prices out at $86 which gives you roughly 1.7¢ per mile value.
Redeeming SkyMiles for these short-haul flights might not represent the absolute best value you can achieve, but you should always consider it if you have the miles. There are many destinations in the U.S. that price out under 10,000 miles one-way.
An Example of A Poor Value with Delta SkyMiles
Just as there are ways to receive excellent value, if those destinations aren't where you want to travel, you'll look elsewhere. If you want to redeem your SkyMiles for a flight from the U.S. to South Africa, be prepared to pay up.
Looking at the entire SkyMiles availability calendar, there are awards from Atlanta to Johannesburg as low as 95K, but they are few and far between. Those 325,000 SkyMiles are almost enough for two round-trip business class tickets from the U.S. to Europe with a big chunk of miles left in your account, and that is only one-way!
Remember, Delta doesn't publish an award chart; these prices could (and regularly do) go up for any of these awards at any time without notice. Our favorite strategy with points and miles is earning and burning — collect your miles and redeem. Your points and miles don't earn interest sitting in your account; make the most of them.
If you're looking to build up your balance with SkyMiles or have a potential trip in mind check out the offers available with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express.
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