With SkyMiles worth (less) than ever, what next? What should a Delta flyer do?

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I have redeemed millions of Northwest Worldperks and Delta SkyMiles over my many years of flying the airlines. I have valued every dollar I have spent with both airlines. Skyteam has been an outstanding alliance for my travel needs and I have received good value back in points for the money invested in nearly 1 million MQM miles or as they say “butt in seat” miles.

Delta still runs a fine airline. They are, most times, ridiculously on time and just about never cancel flights. The product is solid, consistent and meets most travelers’ needs. Even the food is good for crying out loud! Internationally Delta has a very good business class product. So A to B, they are a good choice for many.

But at some point, points do matter. More than just a 12 point “Customer Commitment” is needed (and not always followed anyway). The dreams that frequent flyer points provide do make a difference and are why all of us collect them. They are not the  reason  for travel, but they are the  reason  we stay loyal to an airline. When we spend all that time racing from airport to airport, in the end, it is worth it because your choice in buying that airline’s ticket lets you take your loved ones to the most amazing places on the planet, often in remarkable comfort and style.

That is what Delta has forgotten and lost sight of and why airline points are so valuable to us. Delta is selling dreams, even if never ever realized, with frequent flyer points. Delta may have had very few yearly redemptions of round the world award tickets, but that was not the point. The point was the goal, the dream. To spend 280,000 SkyMiles and fly around the world in business class. The reason to save your points even if you never ever get there. A reason to keep being loyal.

The same goes for so many of the other dreams that Delta has crushed by ending stopovers and on and on. Nothing lingers in the back of the mind more than having to explain to those you love why you can not take that trip you have promised to take them on for years and years. This will impact you when you go to buy an airline ticket, especially if one over the other is a few bucks more!

Delta’s grand new experiment is “innovation”. The change on the way, it seems, is that SkyMiles will now be worth just ONE penny each. I think we all know, pennies are not what dreams are made of. There is no romance in redeeming a few points off a gallon of gas nor does a free Starbucks every now and then create daydreams of a frappuccino. No, dreams are bigger than that. Dream are what SkyMiles once offered us. Not any more, those dreams have been crushed. No one who is not in a vegetative state, should ever think about paying  300,000  or  400,000  SkyMiles for a ticket to anywhere (with or without stopover). That is a  NIGHTMARE  – not a dream!

On Sunday I posted I am done collecting SkyMiles. So where do we go from here? First let me look at a very strange reality and suggestion.

I have my Diamond medallion status. With a little work I will have it again next year (for the year thereafter). Why should you or I care about Delta status if we are no longer collecting SkyMiles? Simple, flexibly of redemption and re-deposit of your points. I have changed just about every award flight I have booked this year and I did it for free. I have a ton of flights this fall that I spent a ton of points on. I may fly them or, if things get in the way, dump them and rebook for another time.

So, the strange reality I suggest is that we all shoot for at least Platinum Medallion status as quick as possible, even with mileage runs, or simply with Delta AMEX cards that offer MQMs, while we burn all our SkyMiles down to ZERO.

Also, we can enjoy our choice benefits a few last times like my Global upgrades and trying to pay for those trips with vouchers on top of the certs to make it even cheaper or almost free. Our focus should now be all about burning and extracting max value from Delta.

But what next? What points will I personally collect? Really anything but SkyMiles. Kroger gas points, you bet, they are worth more. K-Mart shopping points? Sure, K-Mart will offer more dreams than Delta does now. You see my point – value is what matters and you are not, for now, going to see that from SkyMiles at one cent each.

To me the greatest value will be with AMEX Membership rewards from cards like:

With these I can send my points to airlines that I can fly business or 1st class to extract real value from. Same goes for SPG points that I can do the same. Sprinkle in some Ultimate Rewards points from INK and Sapphire cards plus some to Alaska and lastly American and I am looking good for award travel.

That folks, are what my travel dreams are made of moving forward. Those will be the points that will matter to me. Plus, worst case situation, membership rewards points can just about instantly be sent to Delta 1:1 to top off for an award.

But what about when we have to fly Delta? Where do we credit our points? Do we still send them to Delta now that the points are worth so darn little and so nearly worthless to spend? The answer is really not as hard as it seems. I would do this:

If you have no status with Delta, or have Alaska MVP status, then credit to Alaska even at the greatly reduced earning rates. Even lower earnings on Alaska has value compared to full earnings on Delta that does not have much value.

What if you do have status? Then it depends what you value most, the shot at a domestic upgrade or the points down the road. Delta was also smart enough not to butcher the MQMs earned for distance traveled. So, they have us where they want us when it comes to domestic travel (unless you status match and jump ship). Now when it comes to international, it is not as simple a choice. Delta, for MQMs, may be the best choice or Alaska may be the right call. Weigh your options and rewards value.

I sincerely hope Delta wakes up one day. I hope they see the value of rewarding those who spend the most with the airline and are loyal and fly them most. I hope they will see the wisdom of selling the dream again rather than tossing pennies in the streets!- René
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Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.
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18 comments

  1. While the economics are more complex than the simple minded comment I am about to make: In the end I see this going either of two ways: 1: Delta gets rid of us miles collectors and continuously boosts revenues and other airlines follow suit; or 2. People like myself would rather spend $5-10 more to travel on to the same destination on American or Alaska to get full miles that I know will be worth their redemption value.

    I am looking to purchase a ticket for August and I’ve already committed to shifting the purchase of the ticket to American because Delta nor United offers me after-flying value. Who cares about lounges and an off-chance of upgrades. You collect miles so you can redeem them for a destination you otherwise would not have gone to or flown in a class you otherwise only dream of.

    In the end if the 2nd scenario occurs, and I am sure it is surely evolving, I can foresee a Delta (and United) bankruptcy.
    Maybe Delta should be called “Delta Erases Loyalty Travel Awards.”

  2. You should consider how lucky you are to have the status you have with this great Airline.

    Great staff and flights, you do gave the good fortune of being able to obtain benefits by frequently obtaining new credit cards.

  3. Rene, I’ve been following your blog closely since realizing this year I’d finally have a real shot at DM (unexpected intl biz trips & the Reserve card). It’s been a heck of an education in all things DL. With this blog entry, I think it’s a good point to ask for your thoughts for those of us who fly from the hubs of DL… eg, I’m in Atlanta. But even more specifically, those of us who do mostly domestic. For us, it’s a lot of walks through TSA to make even GM. And flying out of ATL, no one hits the nonstops better than DL, so I feel option-limited.

    Cold you give us mid-level domestic FFs who are hub-bound by DL your insights on the best direction going forward?

  4. I have very similar situation as you, I really can’t find any good option for Delta point redemption for any nice travel (Europe, Latin America, Asia or Hawaii) so I am currently just burning all my points, I will continue to get Diamond via credit card and somepaid business class travel to Europe and Asia for work. My goal now is to continue to keep my EVP in AA and just get Diamond in Delta for all the same reasons you posted. The best that I have found in Delta is 1.5 cent per mile, I can do much better in AA with saver awards and even when I can’t find saver awards I can at least get 2.0 cent per mile

  5. Rene, I just can’t see the value in crediting DL travel to AS at 25% of actual ratio. And that relationship is fluid anyway. Will you even be able to credit DL travel in a year?

    @Bob….speaking as a DL hub captive, the problem you face is you need at least DL Gold status to make your flying life easier. That’s 50K in air miles or $60K in cc spend and 20K air miles. The problem is–for most of us who don’t have the time to mileage run and go through all sorts of manufactured spend gyrations–this constitutes a substantial portion of our flying and spending each year. So the way I see it you have to bite the bullet. Switch to AA/UA and incur the vast time penalty in traveling via congestion/weather plagued hubs or deal with the reality that you will not be well rewarded on DL in FF miles.

    It’s really only the “gamers–who have endless amounts of free time to gin up phantom credit card spend and 100K annual flight miles with no purpose other than to accrue status–who have the wherewithal to accumulate large stocks of miles in one program while maintaining elite status in another.

  6. If you were just starting out, with all the changes going about, what airline would you fly if you wanted to start building miles/status/upgrades/etc?

  7. Rene, I couldn’t agree with you more. I went from GM to PM for a few years and now FM as I start to burn off all of my miles and switch over to AA. Thanks to reading your blog, I was given the foresight to secure the status challenge as a PM last year. DL still has better features in business than most domestic airlines I fly, and the FAs will always be first class no matter where you sit. But alas, the program isn’t what it was and it’s time to move on.

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think I remember that when my husband first started business traveling as an Atlanta hub captive, delta offered 1000 miles as the minimum you would earn on a segment. Miles added up so nicely that delta had to switch to only 500 miles a segment. Made people mad but we kept on flying and kept on collecting. Then delta had to go make an alliance with Amex and tricked out the program with all these other ways to earn miles and thresholds you had to meet. Then I read these travel blogs and I realize how many miles I am giving up by not playing the game and I feel cheated. I feel the same way when I go into Target and I know I’m losing 5% because I don’t have a target red card. My husband, who is a two million miler, has used his miles for exactly two tickets in his ff life, both to London, business class, to go on vacation with me and that was also back when you had to plan your trip 365 days in advance so you could find available seats. Thankfully, I’ve never had an aspirational trip planned so I’ve used the miles as needed and cuss delta every time I try to redeem miles because it’s just so frustrating. I think delta will get exactly what it ultimately wants: an end to frequent flyer mile accumulation and no frequent flyer mile redemptions.

  9. IMO the problem is Delta has to transition from a “byemiles” program consisting of a bazillion worthless skymiles to a more valuable, dollar based rewards program. Hopefully when they are done in the next several months/year their pricing will look a lot more like Southwest. Right now +1 can fly RT to New York for 18,000 points with SWS and to LA for 12,000. Hopefully once the old Delta rubbles have been absorbed and there are billions less out there reward ticket prices will come back down at Delta. Just a thought…..

  10. @DDiamond – We are already here. That is what I am most afraid of. Can you even dream of anyone paying 300,000 for a business class ticket to Europe or beyond? Just insane!

  11. @Magic Mike – Will be working on those kind of posts soon and who should switch and who should not and how to and where to switch if you are going to make the change. I will be, not this year, but at some point next year, do a status match / challenge to another airline. Will still be flying Delta a bunch for this year and next but also mixing in others as I look at choices!

  12. Rene,
    Is there a “Rene” equivalent blog about American? I went to Boarding Area and didn’t see one, but there has to be one out there somewhere.?
    Thanks.

  13. I guess my point was SWS is 12,000 and 20,000 points to fly to
    LA and NY respectively. They are a dollar based system. Delta is 20,000 and 37,000 for the same flight. I’m hoping once all the billions of worth-less skyrubles have been absorbed, Delta would start charging less points like SWS. Sure I’m wrong but we can always hope 🙂

  14. I know of no other person who has been more faithful and diligent in promoting Delta and Skymiles.
    Your posts have not only been informative but also saved me tons of money and gained lots of miles.
    If you say “the party is over”, then the party is over.
    Thank you, thank you for what you do for all of us.

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