Rookie Wednesday: SkyMiles value and perceived value. At what point are you flushing points or getting a bargain?

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RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

points guy tweetBrian a.k.a. “The Points Guy” used to be a pro-Delta guy. At events like the Chicago Seminars he would cover Delta, that I now talk about each year, and defended Delta staunchly about why SkyMiles had real value as well as Delta medallion status. Now, yeah, really not so much.

He recently took a trip to Istanbul and burned a VERY large pile of $kyRubles for a last minute award redemption. He tweeted about it, and Delta even tweeted him back. I think the Delta social media team should have maybe looked at his post before responding to his tweet as he goes on to say:

“While I never thought I would be spending 147,500 miles for a ONE-WAY award, considering I banked the SkyMiles so cheaply and I value my time highly (especially when traveling with a fun group of friends), I didn’t lose any sleep over getting gouged.” – The Points Guy

Ugg. That, my friends, is a LEVEL 5 award ticket according to the award charts that Delta does still use but hides from our view. But did Brian get real value while “getting gouged” by Delta for his last minute award redemption?

delta survey screenshot

I do not have a screen shot (clearly) but according to Flyertalk there is a Delta survey floating around asking members what a 25,000 SkyMiles award should be worth in dollar value and the choices were:

  • Less than $125
  • Between $125 – 250
  • Between $250 – 375
  • Between $375 – 500
  • More than $500

The bottom line is Delta is trying to gauge what a SkyMile is worth in the heads of the consumer. That is basically half a cent (or less), or 1 cent, or 2 cents each, or some other number. This really bothers me beyond belief on so many levels but we all know that Delta accountants now run the loyalty program.

To me what Delta should be focusing on is not the raw point value of a SkyMile but the dream of saving a set number of points to fly 1st class (well OK business class). To have that chance to fly off to some exotic location for some big event in your life. Delta should sell the dream, not the number. Why? If Delta is just going to sell a number they will lose  BIG TIME!  There are just too many other programs that will simply crush Delta on value at cents per mile. But back to the point of point value.

Brian said he felt like he got real value because the one-way ticket, in which he burned 147,500 points for a LEVEL 5 SkyMiles award, would have cost him $6,000 to buy. OK, I get that. But I think “most” people, me included, would never dream of spending $6,000 of our own money for a one-way ticket! Heck, my entire MQD spend for 2015 with all my flights added up on Delta will likely not break $6,000 total and that even includes bump vouchers. My point is that for most of us saying that there was 4 cents per point value for this redemption is just unrealistic. Plus, for me, there would be the personal moral outrage of even considering burning SkyMiles at LEVEL 5 no matter what the reason since there are always other options.

But one key point to take from his post is, if you are willing to be a little flexible on travel, you can get real value. Brian said he could have flown connecting via Russia and found a better award price. No matter what it cost me to earn my SkyMiles (or even transfer from another partner like SPG or AMEX Membership rewards) I do my absolute best to never ever book anything but LEVEL 1 awards. Yes, I sometimes, if the routes and times are perfect, will consider some LEVEL 2 but that is it. More than that I just use other points. I have my toleration level where I say enough is enough and this is also why I collect ALL points, not just SkyMiles (well I no longer actively collect SkyMiles but you see my point).

one way business class ticket paid from got to sbn

But recently I flew with my very elderly mom from Sweden to the USA (I will have the review up later on). We had some unique issues and could not pick firm dates of travel and that can cost you either more points or time. In fact, thanks to being a Delta Diamond, I changed my flights for free again and again when issues came up. As it turned out we did get just the flights I wanted (well almost) and were able to break up the trip with a less than 24hr stopover on the way to have a chance to rest. The awards were all 62,500 points each at LEVEL 1 business class SkyMiles awards. Yes, we did have to pay some ridiculous taxes because the trip originated in Europe as a one-way award but that is the way it is (for now).

I could, when you look at what my tickets would have cost, say:

“Hey, take a look at this. I would have paid nearly $10,000 for these three tickets and I ended up getting over 5 cents value for my SkyMiles spending 187,000 total for the three tickets.”

Sorta true, but I would never have spent $10,000 of my own money for the tickets anyway so that is not really an accurate evaluation. I would have, if I had to, found a cheaper way to buy tickets in business class on another airline if necessary. Or, I would have just booked an award on another airline if I had not been able to find a Delta redemption at a LEVEL 1 or 2 award. However, the bottom line here to take away is that I did get value from the flexibility with my elite status and got nice business class seats for a LEVEL 1 award redemption. That is value for my points. Flexibly and not over spending when you do spend your points is key to me.

Ultimately what is a SkyMile worth? That is a personal choice and many factors go into the mix (no matter what others say “they” value a SkyMile). My personal choice is to book SkyMiles awards at the lowest levels no matter what. If I cannot find that value I look elsewhere rather than overspending. If you cannot find that value yourself, I hope you will use ADAM to help you rather than flush any points from any program down the drain! – Rene




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  1. I’m a loyal platinum medallion. I haven’t flown outside of Skyteam in years. Because I need to qualify and don’t bother finding alternate ways to generate the MQMs, I don’t really use my miles. Their value to me is that I have them if I need them. If there’s an emergency somewhere, or if I want someone to tag along with me wherever I’m going–that’s where they work [for me]. There’s incredible value in either getting where I need to go right away (for little cash), or having a great time because I have a travel companion. If I want to fly to Paris in business, I’ll do it, and I’ll pay for it. I realize I’m in the minority on a blog like this, but this is how Delta works so well for me.

  2. I’m I have children so my travel windows are dictated by the county I live in and University my son attends.

    I try to get the most value and I do take into consideration that my primary aspirational travel is ATL SCL which is an ~10hr flight out of ATL. All other carriers are connecting. Delta does have less expensive redemptions with it’s partners but adds 6 or more hours to the mix. I have to put value in taking less time to get from A to B. 77, 500 for direct 10 hour flight or 60K for an almost 18hr connecting flight. I choose find value in the extra 17.5K expenditure.

  3. @Garrett – Surely, that is where Delta dictates to you the real cost of “leisure travel.” You might be squandering some aspirational travel opportunities. Today a penny, tomorrow?

    @Andrew G – Where I see your argument, time and a ‘reasonable’ alternative with a higher cost in SkyMiles may be warranted and in your situation worth it. However, for a lot of frequent flyers, we have worked hard for those miles, and many will not part with any more than necessary.

    There is a value in saving them, to each of your points.

    René’s point here is (or should be) well-taken. He is trying to give us a mindset that runs contrary to where Delta (and the RA DreamTeam) wants to drive us! There is a flyer who ‘bids’ $1300 on every bump volunteer request; he is trying to run counter to Delta’s discounting of so many things…miles, vouchers, perks, complimentary upgrades on TRANSCON flights, etc…

    Travel becomes very personal…and we do not band together well as a group or class of flyers…but if you have a voice, a vote…vote value and make that vote heard!

  4. I value SkyMiles at about 1cent +/- I only do low redemptions, ex-USA for my kids. It’s worked out pretty well, since we have a lot of trips within any year. So, I always check awards; if they are not reasonable, I then buy a revenue ticket. My son (18) flew almost exclusively on low awards 2014 to 2015.

    I also agree, it’s crazy when folks say “this ticket is worth $10,000.” Nope, it’s worth what you will pay. Point in fact, about to pull the trigger on AMS-HKG-DPS-HKG-AMS for €1698 all-in roundtrip in CX business class. I would say, I value a roundtrip business class ticket from €1800 to €2500. Why? Because that is the most I will (personally) spend on a business class ticket. And, all tickets are on my own dime.

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