Am I the only one happy about Delta’s announced program changes?


Wednesday morning, Delta announced major changes to their SkyMiles program that will take effect January 1, 2015.  Most blogs declared that the sky(miles) is falling:

Really? I read the announcement and saw almost all good news.  Where’s the disconnect here?

Earning Miles

Let’s first cover the one part of the announcement that is clearly negative for most flyers.  In the new structure, when you fly Delta, you’ll earn redeemable miles based on the price you paid for the ticket, not based on miles flown.  Medallion Qualifying mile earnings will still be based on miles flown.  For people who earn their miles from flying discounted fares, this will unquestionably mean fewer earned miles.  The rules for earning elite status will not change.  Elite status will still be based on miles flown and medallion qualifying dollar thresholds. 

For me and, I think, many of my readers, this change is mostly immaterial.  I earn the vast majority of my SkyMiles from creative credit card spend, credit card signups, Elite Choice Benefits, and shopping portal bonuses.  Miles earned from flying tends to be little more than a rounding error in my account balance.

I understand that mileage runners will be ticked off.  Mileage running is the sport of flying the lowest available fares just to earn elite status and redeemable miles. For mileage runners, the main goal is usually elite status, but earning redeemable miles is a way to pay yourself back for the cost of flying.  That said, I believe mileage running to be a dying sport anyway.  This is especially true with Delta since it is possible to earn high level elite status through credit card spend without flying at all.  For more about that, see “Mileage running, from home” and “Mileage Running from Home II (now with an exciting 2 player option!).”

Using Miles

Delta SkyMiles have been notoriously hard to use if your goal is to maximize value from your miles.  First, they release far fewer saver level seats than most other airlines.  Second, has long been “broken” in that it does a terrible job in finding good award options, and once found those award options sometimes price incorrectly or error out when you try to book them.  Third, Delta currently charges the same for one-way awards as they do for round trip awards.

Delta promises to fix the issues I listed above.  They claim that the following enhancements will be available in 2015 (bolding is mine):

There will be more Award Seats available at the lowest redemption levels and more redemption levels overall, giving you additional options that require fewer miles.


You will be able to redeem miles for One-Way Award Tickets, half the price of round-trip tickets.


The improved Award calendar has expanded search capabilities and will show the lowest price for the dates you select.

Many are understandably skeptical that these promises will really result in a better program for SkyMiles members.  Delta has also promised yet another new award chart for 2015, but we won’t see it until late 2014, so people are understandably worried about that.  However, the changes listed above are, I believe, really good news. 


Beginning January 1, 2015, earning SkyMiles miles through flying, especially on discounted fares, will become harder.  If Delta is to be believed, though, almost all other aspects of the SkyMiles program will improve.  It remains to be seen whether they’ll really open up more saver level award space or whether they’ll really fix the award calendar, but I think its great that they are promising those things.  One way awards are an option that is very welcome and long overdue (American and United have offered them for years).

Delta has built a lot of ill-will in the frequent flyer community in the past few years by not only devaluing their program, but by doing so each time abruptly and without warning.  While this has caused many to run kicking and screaming away from the Delta program, I’m personally happy that I’ve stuck with them.  Will I live to regret that statement in the future?  Maybe, but I hope not.

I’m not going to claim that Delta has the best program around.  Far from it.  But, I mostly like the direction it is going.  For example, they recently introduced regional and global upgrade certificates for Platinum and Diamond elites (see “Why Delta’s great new Choice Benefits irk me”) which I think are a really big improvement to their elite program.  Even their new MQD elite requirement may be a good thing.  You can get exempted from this requirement simply by spending $25K per year on a Delta branded credit card.  And, its possible that this requirement will reduce the currently overinflated ranks of high level elites.  To me, that would be good since it would mean less competition for upgrades.

The only recent change that really irks me is that, beginning May 1, I can no longer bring in guests to the SkyClub based on my having the Delta Reserve credit card (or Amex Platinum card).  I don’t mind making sure that my wife and I each have a card to grant us access, but I really wish they would allow us each to bring in at least one child as a guest.  Come on Delta, how about making a family/child exception? 

Reader views

How do you feel about the Delta announcement?  Is it mostly bad as many other bloggers seem to think, or mostly good as I’ve asserted?  Please comment below.

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[…] My guess, though, is that this is a bug.  I bet they were trying to prepare the award engine for the massive changes (including true one-way awards) expected on January 1st and this issue with stop-overs was an unintended […]

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[…] Am I the only one happy about Delta’s announced program changes? […]

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[…] I seemed to be among a very small group who were actually happy about the announcement (see “Am I the only one happy about Delta’s announced program changes?”).  Delta announced that, beginning January 1, passengers would be awarded miles based on […]


So to recap, the only person happy with the change is the person who doesn’t actually earn miles through flying. Brilliant.


I am a new reader, and find your posts fascinating.

When you say Delta is not the best FF program, I agree. I’m curious which FF program you feel is best?

As far as redeeming miles for saver awards, I prefer American. I don’t fly enough or spend enough to get elite status on any airline based on flight miles.


Thanks Anton. Until recently I would have said that United is best. It is part of the largest alliance: star alliance, and so award availability for international flights is typically much better than AA or Delta. Now, though, United has made their premium award prices on partners much more expensive. And, with US Air leaving the Star Alliance (due to the merger with AA), there will soon be fewer domestic awards available as well.
Currently, I’d say that AA is best, but it really depends upon what type of travel you are likely to seek awards for. Also, it is likely that AA will soon change their award pricing (unfavorably) as well.


What about Alaska?

[…] other way to look at this as well is in points earning.  Frequent Miler pointed out this week that it is still easier to earn Delta Skymiles with credit cards then to […]

[…] Am I the only one happy about Delta’s announced program changes? […]

Rapid Travel Chai

I propose that the ‘frequent flyer community’ be renamed ‘frequent miler community.’ That would give proper honor to Greg and remove a misleading term commonly used. It does look like Delta’s #1 preferred customers are first/biz only and #2 are credit card holders who never fly Delta. Both groups may do well, depending on what happens to redemptions (I am not optimistic there), and most flyers will be worse off.

[…] Am I the only one happy about Delta’s announced program changes? […]


Strangely, I think mileage runners may be among the least affected overall. The sort of person who’s willing to mileage run is generally the sort who will also have a wallet full of mileage-earning credit cards, who’s also playing the manufactured spend game to supplement their points-earning. After all, if they’re willing to look for good CPM deals, it’s all but guaranteed they’ve heard of at least some basic credit card deals, even if it means just having a CSP in their wallet.

For those mileage runners doing it to earn status, this only affects the ancillary bonus of accruing RDMs in addition to MQMs and MQDs, as the latter remain unchanged in terms of calculation.

Which means, IMO, that the burden will mostly fall on business travelers (as others have mentioned) who do a disproportionate amount of flying for work who lose the side benefit of the extra RDMs, leisure travelers who may not be in the game enough to have acquired the best mileage-earning card and certainly isn’t manufacturing spending, and occasional Delta travelers who may be racking up the points on another airline but only occasionally fly Delta and for whom it’s not worth ponying up for a Delta-branded card.

Business travelers are admittedly rather nebulous since it depends on route and fare price. I’ve seen a lot of comments about how business travelers benefit since they tend to purchase close-in, expensive short-haul fares, but there are also those whose work tends to focus on the long-haul, where they seem to lose out if flying economy. Of course, if their employer is willing to spring for a premium cabin, then the difference in price may well put them ahead anyway.

[…] and others (including me) thought it wasn’t that big of a deal.  Frequent Miler asked “Am I the only one happy about Delta’s changes?“.  He […]

Marriott Marty

You missed the fact that the new award availability will be for lower LEVELS -plural. So instead of 3 levels we will have 5. The plural means that the current saver level will be spread accross the 2 lowest of 5 levels, not the lowest saver level. So they can actually reduce the number of lowest saver level awards and say that there will be more lower LEVELS available. If they had not used plural for lower levels- the. On its face it would be good news. But that does not appear to be the case. So with splitting saver awards into a few milage catagories, will only the lowest saver level be available to partners?! That is what is on my mind