Delta torpedoes SkyMiles value for partner awards

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Earlier this week, Thrifty Traveler reported that Delta torpedoed the value of SkyMiles for partner award flights on a wide range of partners. This includes flights both to Europe and Asia and in some cases the new pricing is absolutely astronomical for partner awards.

If you’re looking forward to opportunities to fly Air France, consider using someone else’s miles.

As Kyle Potter at Thrifty Traveler points out, a one-way business class flight on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London booked within 21 days of departure now costs 195,000 SkyMiles. ONE WAY.

That is a truly unbelievable price when you consider that most programs charge 50K-70K miles each way for business class partner award flights to/from Europe, even close to departure when availability is often best (and some programs charge as few as 34K miles each way in business class and have reduced that to 17K miles promotionally). To be fair, Delta’s pricing is variable by partner and destination, but it is a big devaluation any way you slice it.

If you’re booking far enough in advance, the hit isn’t quite as big at 95K each way between the US and Europe 60 days or more in advance of departure, though that is still far more than what most other programs charge (and keep in mind that 95K is now the lowest redemption level for business class to/from Europe with Delta – some days you’ll pay 105K or more on partners). Further, One Mile at a Time points out that it actually costs fewer SkyMiles to fly to the Middle East in business class (85K each way). That seems nonsensical.

The issue unfortunately isn’t limited to travel on Virgin Atlantic but rather represents a wide-ranging devaluation of partner awards. In most cases, the increases are more than 20% in price from former partner award pricing.

Those accustomed to the highly-variable nature of Delta SkyMiles award pricing domestically may be less shocked here, but given that these are not Delta’s own flights but rather partner-operated, it is pretty disappointing to see such huge variation here. Most airline programs offer standardized partner pricing regardless of when the trip is booked.

Personally, I have long been unenthusiastic about collecting Delta SkyMiles; this devaluation kills whatever minute interest I had. I just don’t find it appealing to collect a currency that devalues this significantly with no notice. To see even economy class redemptions to Europe increase in price from 25K each way on Virgin Atlantic or Air France / KLM to 35K each way — at a time when travel between the continents is difficult and demand is almost sure to keep cash prices down for the foreseeable future — is just largely disappointing. It seems like Delta saw an opportunity to slip in a devaluation when most people weren’t paying attention (since most members aren’t traveling much right now) and seized the moment hoping to escape the focus of much negative attention.

Delta clearly has no interest in offering outsized value from the SkyMiles program. Delta further just isn’t the best option for booking award tickets with most of its partners. Neither of those facts are shocking new revelations, but the fact that they chose to reaffirm them in a time when other airlines are scrambling to find ways to encourage people to book is as firm an indication as one could give that things won’t be changing with the SkyMiles program in a post-COVID world. I’m sure that the elite program will continue to be well-loved, but SkyMiles just aren’t worth a ton for most travelers looking to get a great deal on miles.

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