Delta Miles are Worth Less (On my mind)

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Time after time we learn about new Delta award devaluations.  Not long ago, you could find round-trip business class awards from the US to Europe for 140,000 miles.  Today, you’ll pay at least 210,000 miles for the same trip.  For quite a while, you could still get in on the old pricing by booking an award on one of Delta’s partners, but Delta has killed that option too (for most, but not all routes).  There’s no question that Delta miles are now worth less than ever before.

Worth less than the competition

American Airlines and United Airlines each charge far less than Delta for similar first and business class international flights.  For example, United currently charges between 120,000 and 154,000 miles for round-trip business class awards to Europe.  AA, meanwhile, still has an award chart.  Their chart shows that business class MileSAAver awards to Europe cost only 57,500 miles one-way (115,000 round-trip).  Plus, they often offer WebSpecial pricing for even less.  As you can see, Delta miles are worth far less than their primary competition for business class flights to Europe.  And, ironically, AA and United aren’t the cheapest options!  You can get even better deals with ANA miles, Virgin Atlantic points, Iberia points, Turkish miles, and others.  Delta’s award prices to much of the rest of the world are similarly overpriced compared to the competition.

Unfortunately, Delta doesn’t acknowledge that their miles are worth less when setting earning rates.  For example, their credit cards continue to earn only 1 mile per dollar for most spend.  Meanwhile, airlines like Virgin Atlantic and Air France acknowledge that their miles are worth less by offering at least 1.5 miles per dollar with their credit cards.

Worth less but not worthless

I picked a random round-trip business class flight to Europe on Delta to compare paid and award prices.  Here’s what I found:

  • Cash Price: $4,101.85
  • Award Price: 210,000 miles + $155.45

Compared to the cash price, Delta miles offer 1.9 cents per mile value for the flight I found.  That’s a far cry from the value you can get with other miles or that you used to be able to get with Delta miles, but it still shows that Delta miles are not at all worthless.

Similarly, I checked a number of one-way domestic flights to compare main cabin paid and award prices.  I found that Delta miles ranged in value on these flights from 1.06 cents per mile to 1.5 cents per mile.  On average, I found that Delta miles are worth 1.31 cents per mile for domestic economy flights.

Delta credit cards

If you have a choice of earning Delta SkyMiles or some other point currency at the same earning rate, you’re probably better off with that other currency.  Specifically, with credit card rewards, I always prefer earning transferrable points that transfer 1 to 1 to a variety of airlines such as Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards.  Each of those programs offer multiple ways to earn much more than 1 point per dollar for your spend.  Alternatively, consider using a cash back card that earns at least 2 percent back everywhere.  That way, you’ll earn rewards that are worth more than Delta miles even if you use those rewards to purchase Delta flights.

Despite what I wrote above, it may make sense to have a Delta credit card even if you don’t put any spend on it.  For example, the Gold card can pay for itself if you often make use of its free checked bag benefit.  Similarly, the Platinum card can pay for itself with free checked bags and an annual companion certificate.  And the Reserve card offers an annual first class companion certificate, lounge access, and other benefits.  If you value those perks more than the annual fee, then the card is a keeper even if you never spend a dime on the card.  In my opinion, the only good reason to put spend on Delta cards is to help you earn elite status (see: Manufacturing Delta elite status in 2020 and beyond).

Delta is about more than miles

When Nick posted about the latest Delta devaluation, he joked that it would be crazy for me to continue to put big spend on Delta cards in order to earn elite status.  But, I never did it for the miles.  I did it because Delta has an excellent elite program, excellent customer service, and it’s a very well run airline.  Plus, and this is critical, I live near a Delta hub.  Due to the location, I inevitably fly Delta often.  Elite status makes those flights more comfortable.  Since the purpose of my credit card spend is for status rather than miles, I see earning miles along the way as a nice side-benefit.  The fact that I will likely average only about 1.3 cents per mile value is not a worry for me.

Bottom Line

Delta miles are worth less than before, and they’re worth less than competing airline’s miles.  Unlike competing programs, Delta offers very few opportunities to get far outsized value for your miles.  That said, you’ll usually get a bit over 1 cent per mile value and so the miles are far from worthless.

If your primary goal is to earn rewards that can be used towards fantastic value, then Delta is the wrong program for you.  Similarly, if you want a solid return on your spend, then Delta credit cards are a poor choice.  As discussed above, there are good reasons to have Delta credit cards, and there are good reasons to put spend on Delta credit cards, but if earning miles is your primary goal, you can do much better elsewhere.

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Träger

This is so ripe for a POST ROAST. Greg will keep spending for status no matter how bad the deal is.

DSK

I agree completely with Greg. FWIW, I lived in Atlanta for a decade many years ago and was a real Delta fanboy. I was called in by Delta for a focus group (the kind with the one-way mirrored wall) since I was one of their top fliers. Since I retired, I’ve travelled all over the world, and virtually all of these trips were using miles–primarily AA, UA and BA–on many OneWorld and *A carriers. Over 90 trips in total. Lots of seats in J. Only two of those trips were on Delta. Just two. I just couldn’t get the math to add up using SkyMiles compared with miles from other programs, and I have several hundred thousand SkyMiles remaining. I understand the best use for Delta miles is on their flash sales, but I have yet to find a flash sale that would take me where I want to go when I want to go there. I wish Delta made sense for me again. I will keep trying.

anonymous

Greg (or anyone here), when flying SkyTeam, which program is more useful to credit flight miles to, if you’re not trying for status, and if you’re mainly interested in getting to Europe?

NK3

I know people love to hate SkyMiles, and articles like this tend to get a ton of engagement with people piling on their grievances. I understand the frustration–yes, SkyMiles cannot be reliably used for outsized value. I appreciate you trying to say they are worth less, not worthless.

However, I am frustrated by the first half of your article. SkyMiles still have outsized value, you just need to use them for flash sales. Over the past 5 years, I have booked dozens of Skymiles awards flights, 3 with AA, and 1 with United. Delta had the best itinerary for the least miles in most cases, because I focus on the flash sales. And yes, the flash sales are random and city dependent, but so is saver award availability.

And not only do you not mention Delta flash sales, but you do mention AA Web specials?? 😉

Jerry

Haven’t seen a meaningful Delta flash sale in several months. Flash sales are typically for economy. Delta one flash sales are almost unheard of. Partner awards never have a flash sale.

NK3

Yes, the flash sales are more often economy than premium cabin. There have been great economy flash sales recently (like tickets as low as 2k Skymiles one way, which I definitely took advantage of).

Delta One flash sales are not unheard of. Just yesterday other blogs posted about Delta One tickets from JFK to Colombia for 12K miles one way. In May 2019 and January 2020 I took D1 flights to Europe for 98K roundtrip. I have also booked multiple tickets to Japan for 100-105K roundtrip during Delta flash sales in the last 2-3 years.

In 2019, there was even a D1 flash sale to several European destinations in July/August for 128K, which I booked. While this is above UA/AA saver level, when I looked at those programs I did not find any decent saver awards.

Rob

The value you have derived “over the past 5 years” is not an argument for why Skymiles shouldn’t be hated now, post devaluation. Being able to score a rare deal at the old price doesn’t mean they have retained the value they once had either. You can continue to value them however you want of course, but for most of us, value is more of a stable value concept. We would likely all choose to earn rewards in cash or something with more stable value than points that devalue 50% at the whim of an executive. Moves like this are very stupid for the company, because once they remind us this is a possibility, it undermines their ability to drive our behavior with their reward schemes in the future. Which is sort of the entire point of these reward programs from the company’s perspective.

anonymous

Not to mention that flash sales to places I’m not interested in going to are of no use to me.
(I’m interested in Europe, of course, if that did turn up.)

NK3

I think you are missing a major point. The devaluations that you mention are all related to standard award redemptions, especially for partners. The great deals that I have scored over the past couple years have always been for flash sales, which are not affected by said devaluations. And I have scored great deals within the past month.

I am not arguing that Delta is the best overall currency, I just think there are ways to get outsized value that are ignored. I accrue tons of Delta miles because I have been a Diamond medallion for about 5 years. For my credit card spend, I do diversify into other currencies. Skymiles is the program I most often find decent value with, FWIW.

Rob

I hear you, but I will bet you that the deals you are finding now are temporary because they are desperate, whereas the standard award devaluation will stick permanently.

NK3

I think all flash sales are somewhat based on desperation. The deals I have taken advantage of have often been at non peak times. In the future there will likely be similar flash sales when Delta cannot fill their planes. If there is a reasonable chance they can sell the seat, they will charge a lot of Skymiles. I never used standard Delta award pricing pre- or post- devaluation because they are bad deals. The standard award pricing from other programs is also dependent on airlines making saver award space available, which is also not reliable.

I do tend to agree with your first comment about choosing a more stable value in rewards. That is why, as the pandemic drags on, cash back looks better and better.

Robert S.

I agree with you, NK3. The “SkyPesos” moniker has been around for at least a decade and, like many others, I avoided accumulating Delta points for my first few years in the hobby. I, too, now take advantage of domestic sales or even simply regular domestic bookings via SkyMiles usage. I haven’t had many outrageously outsized values but I’ve been able to book many free flights to assist in my goal of running a marathon in all 50 states.

And I’m not even in a Delta hub.

harv

Don’t forget the no annual fee Delta Blue card earns 2 SkyMiles per dollar spent on restaurant purchases. And, the Delta Gold card earns 2 SkyMiles per dollar spent on U.S. supermarkets and restaurant purchases.

Debbie

and some Chase cards earn 5x’s and Amex Platinum earns 10x’s at Grocery stores. These can then be transferred to DL or DL partners. Much more flexible and valuable if you are not chasing status.

Harry

Totally agree with flexible and not chasing status. What need is status if you’re flying Delta One with points? You’re in the front of the bus and with all lounges in the world. What else is there?

LarryInNYC

The fact is that, at present, none of the brand-specific programs can compete with Chase or Amex. With those programs you can pretty much be earning 5pt+ on all spend — even more on Amex right now if you have the Platinum offer. Plus the valuable statement credit offers.

I can’t really see an argument for earning points through spend (as opposed to bonuses) in any program unless it’s not an easy transfer partner — I’m looking at you AAdvantage!

anonymous

“none of the brand-specific programs can compete with Chase or Amex.”
Miles accumulate through flying, though, so you have to find a way to use those, eventually.

Allan

Forget about SkyMiles. And Amex for that matter. Get a 2% cash back card & pay cash for your flights.

paul5795

That is right. Please pay cash for your airline tickets and save those nice award seat deals for the rest of us!

ABC

Nobody built a successful blog around something that simple.

anonymous

Or a PenFed Pathfinder. Or a AAA Visa (certain areas of the U.S.).

JoeSchmo

So, the long story short is: If you’re striving to have / maintain top tier status, then spending on the DL cards is ok (and the Reserve effectively earns 1.5x with the spend bonus, IIRC). But if you don’t care for top tier status with DL, then move on. Given that the manufactured spending game is harder today, I suspect more and more have moved on from DL (as I have).