Reflecting on the value of the new Delta SWU vs. 20,000 miles Choice Benefits

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Now that we have had a few days for the new SWUs to sink in and consider just what they mean for us, especially for Platinum Medallions, I thought I would take a look at the potential value of the Regional ones since the value of the Global are truly HUGE and don’t really need to be broken down. I mean, upgrading a coach class international ticket to business is almost always going to be of great value. But what about domestic ones?

This is just one example, and what you should take from this is that if you have them in your arsenal you now have to consider many more facts in the final equation of what is the best value for each trip cost wise and earnings wise.

Remember also that with SWUs you earn at the purchase fare class NOT the flown class so that comes into play. Since I am in South Bend I am going to use that in my example. Also, I am looking at this from the viewpoint of either a Platinum or a Diamond as we both can choose 4 of the new Regional as our PM choice benefit.

cost in miles sbn-slc 1st class delta saver low level

For the sake of argument I have picked days I could find low level or saver seats. If you are paying more than this level of award it busts this comparison and makes the SWUs worth more. But say I want to fly this March to ski in Utah for a week and go SBN-DTW-SLC-DTW-SBN round trip. In business class, at that point, it will cost me 50,000 points each for my wife and I. If you only value a Skymile at 1 cent each then the “cost” is $1000 for the trip and you earn nothing back but you fly in 1st (other than on the CRJ parts). Had I picked coach award tickets it would have only cost 25,000 each and we could have had a shot at a free upgrade as we are both GM+ but as we know GMs upgrade shots are 50-50 depending on days and routes.

cost to fly sbn-slc delta paid then use swu regional upgrade

Now I could have instead, if I had the new Regional SWUs, and there was availability, purchased two coach tickets, for $920 total and earned 8914 for me and 7924 for Lisa (plus MQMs too) for a grand total of 16,838 Skymiles for the two of us worth $168 thus net cost $752 for the trip. But what if I just purchased 1st class? In this case it would have cost me $1320 but I would also earn 20,302 Skymiles for the two tickets worth $203 thus net cost $1117 for the two tickets done this way.

So the net value of using the SWUs for this trip, 2 outbound and 2 on the return, is $365 all in for my choice benefit choice for the year on these flights round trip.

Now let’s go one step further. If I had taken 20,000 Skymiles as my Platinum choice benefit instead of the 4 SWUs, I would only have to have spent 80,000 of my own Skymiles to make this trip. My cost would have then been just $800 for the trip in Skymiles. Or, I could have also spent 132,000 of my own Skymiles, done the pay with miles, and EARNED Skymiles and MQMs for the trip and again with the 20,000 Skymiles as my Choice Benefit reduced the cost of the trip down to 112,000 Skymiles but I would have earn Skymiles back thus again lowering the price of the trip in net Skymiles. So in this case, earning more MQMs could make this a better choice (since I have a Delta AMEX and can use Pay with Miles and fly 1st class on points and earn points back)!

Sorry if this makes your head hurt a bit but that is just how complicated the Skymiles program is now and the choices, if you really break them down, can impact you on cost vs. earning vs. net value for each choice. I am not complaining, I like choice, and if you are a PM or DM flyer you should know “our” program inside and out anyway!

I hope you see my point in this that after 01MARCH2014 just picking the Regional upgrade certificates as the obvious choice may not be so obvious. Now as I already stated, this is comparing low or saver seats and some low cost coach vs. first class seats. When the difference is much greater between coach and first then the value of the Regional SWUs goes up much more. For Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean & Bermuda flyers the use of the Regional can also be of great value, but the cost vs. free upgrades should always be considered. – René

PS – I will be under water
most of the day/eve so
it will take a while
to get to questions & comments!


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  1. What – pay with miles counts just like buying tickets? you earn miles, MQMs? Does it count as MQDs?

  2. Just hit PM for first time. I always fly alone. Mostly JFK-LHR + some domestic. Should I pick swu now or after march? Trying to figure best strategy

  3. I’m confused about your terminology or maybe it’s Delta’s fault: SWU=System Wide Upgrade which means it’s good anywhere they fly, in otherwords global. Regional should mean within a contiguous award region, but it doesn’t it just means on flights that they allow it.

  4. @Gordon – it all depends or your fare class. If you are buying K+ domestic and M+ class international then you get more under the current SWUs so pick before 01MARCH. If you tend to buy LUTVX ie cheap coach then wait and as post shows think about miles vs certs.

  5. I think the changes to the global upgrade certificates stink. I am a diamond who flies internationally 10-12 times a year. I already use most of my certificates each year due to company policy to purchase upgrade able fares. I might fly personally international every two years. Now I will be stuck in coach after I burn through my two trips worth of upgrades. I almost never don’t get an upgrade domestically and even if I don’t who cares. Domestic first is pretty bad and the flights are always pretty short. What will delta do for me? I spent over 20K on economy tickets last year and now that will be cut on half due to their policy change. Stupid move delta.

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