Am I done with Delta?

Delta 2015 started off nicely.  While not everything was perfect, saver level awards were more plentiful than ever before, the ability to book one-way awards was a godsend, and the award calendar actually seemed to work pretty much as advertised.  Many were upset that Delta had changed to a revenue based mileage accrual scheme, but I didn’t care.  By far, my Delta miles are earned from credit cards and the Suntrust Delta debit card rather than from flying.  The fact that there would be fewer miles in circulation is a good thing for those with many miles to spend: less competition likely means more success in booking inexpensive awards.  In the post, “My manufactured spend strategy,” I declared my intention to continue to earn Delta miles and elite status through credit card spend.  It was the top bullet on my list of goals:

Continue to qualify for high level Delta elite status for myself and my wife (see “How to manufacture Delta elite status”).

Now, as one shoe drops after another, many have asked whether I plan to continue with that approach.  First, it was widely reported that Delta removed award charts from their website.  Next, it was discovered that Delta increased award prices on many (but not all) flights within 21 days of booking.  On their own, these are irritating, but not deal-breaking changes.  With regards to the award charts, DansDeals somehow has screenshots of all of them. So, for now, you can check here if you need to.  And the 21 day thing means paying a bit more for last minute awards.  That’s bad, but its not enough, on its own, to change my overall direction.

The important question is whether these changes are just the beginning?  Now that two shoes have dropped in succession, will more follow?  How many shoes does Delta even have?  With the removal of award charts, I think it is inevitable that award prices will change regularly.  I expect that this is just a first step towards fully dynamic award pricing.  I don’t know whether Delta will move completely to revenue based award pricing (a la Southwest), but I do expect something like that to emerge.  The removal of award charts suggests to me that such changes may come sooner rather than later.

The value of Delta SkyMiles changes at the top, but not at the bottom…

The changes that occurred recently suggest to me that there will be less opportunity to redeem SkyMiles for outsized value in the future.  In the past, the best SkyMiles values have been for last minute awards and international business class awards.  The former are suddenly more expensive (in miles) than before.  The latter will likely become more expensive if/when Delta begins to dynamically price awards. 

As an aside: if you’ve been saving up Delta SkyMiles for international business class travel, there’s no better time to book your awards. International saver level awards are currently more widely available than ever before, but if my guesses are right, prices for those awards will rise steeply in the future.

So, the top-end redemption value of Delta SkyMiles will most likely drop, but I do not see the bottom dropping… Currently, Delta cardholders can “pay with miles” for flights.  When doing so, miles are mostly worth 1 cent each (I wrote “mostly” because flights costing less than $100 are a terrible deal).  I think its very unlikely that Delta will take that away.  As a result, I believe that Delta SkyMiles will continue to be worth at least 1 cent each.

I’ll continue to fly Delta, regardless

When choosing flights, I’ll always favor the airline that delivers the best experience: nonstop flights, good price, on-time arrivals, good service, etc.  Since I live near a Delta hub, that means Delta more often than not.  The value of the miles earned from flying is somewhat irrelevant.  I earn the vast majority of my miles from credit card bonuses, online portals, etc.  Miles earned from flying, in my case, are practically a rounding error, regardless of their value.

My goals depend upon elite benefits

As long as Delta SkyMiles continue to be worth at least a penny each, my goal of qualifying for high level elite status through spend is largely unaffected.  I do it primarily for the perks: free upgrades, free award changes, free same day confirmed changes, etc. I think of the miles earned as a rebate to help justify the opportunity cost of the pursuit (see “The opportunity cost of manufacturing status”).  So, the question for me is how Delta plans to enhance or degrade their elite program.  They have recently made many changes that make it more difficult for people to earn status through flying (such as the introduction of Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements), but those don’t affect me at all since I earn status through credit card spend.  In fact, in time, those changes will probably help make my experience better by reducing the number of high level elites that compete for the same upgrades. 

Delta has made a few changes, though, that do decrease the value of elite status.  For example:

On the other hand, some things have improved:

  • Delta now offers regional upgrade certificates as a choice benefit to Platinum elites, and awesome global upgrade certificates to Diamond elites (see “Are Delta’s upgrade certificates as good as they sound?”)
  • SkyClubs are theoretically less crowded than before (I have yet to see proof of that, though)
  • SkyClubs now offer “upgraded bagels”.
  • In the past few years, the food served on Delta flights (in business or first class) has been, for the most part, really good.

Overall, while I have little trust in Delta preserving the current relatively high value of Delta SkyMiles, I don’t expect their services or elite benefits to diminish. 

And the final answer is…

As long as Delta continues to run a first rate airline, I’ll continue to fly them.  And, as long as they continue to offer a competitive elite program, I’ll continue to earn status through spend.  That said, my view of the future value of Delta SkyMiles has changed dramatically.  While I currently see many opportunities for outsized value with SkyMiles, I believe that will change for the worse if/when Delta moves to dynamic award pricing. 

How about you? Are you a Delta flyer considering jumping ship?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Pingbacks

  1. […] Am I done with Delta? by Frequent Miler. I think some of this has to do with him being a Delta captive (e.g close to a Delta hub). My biggest problem with Delta is that there is no transparency with what their future plans are. I feel like they could make changes to their loyalty program at any time. When they do make changes they are abrupt and are poorly communicated to the frequent flyer community. It’s easy to say that it’s not that big of a deal when you’re getting your miles for “free”, but it’s not a good way to treat customers. […]

Comments

  1. I’ve continued to fly Delta as well. I live near a UA/AA/DL hub and out of the big three, DL continues to have the best operations here and the least amount of cancelled/delayed flights. Can’t beat that.

  2. My experience:

    I chose these as my Platinum gift and used one across the country last week. This is probably the best gift I will ever get from Delta. The same upgrade on AA would have cost hundreds.

    <blockquote cite="- SkyClubs are theoretically less crowded than before (I have yet to see proof of that, though)".
    Most ATL clubs are still SRO. Clubs in other airports were not overcrowded before and remain the same. This is the biggest downgrade so far for me because I can no longer bring my wife or business associates to the club for a reasonable price. When I ask the greeters to pass my complaint to management, they always blame Amex.

    I see no difference. “First” class from ATL to SEA offered the standard salad or casserole; no bread, no personal service, no hot nuts, no cookies, and on and on… There are so many improvements that a creative team could come up with. Delta is only good at promising improvements.

  3. All of my flights are on points/miles and some routes Delta will continue to be the best option. For example, on around July 4 other airlines had penalty pricing in effect for the holiday but not Delta. That made them the best choice regardless of the “regular” price of awards of each airlines. I would think that on a irregular basis, Delta will continue to have good skymile options for domestic.

  4. It seems very sneaky and dishonest, but as long as we know what the low level is supposed to be and how to piece together low level itineraries, including partner flights, we’ll survive. Blogs like Rene’s where he shows you how to navigate the system will become even more important.

  5. i imagine blog posts like yours go up on the delta bulletin board validating that they can do anything they want and the sheep will still fly the good ship delta.

    imo, the only way the current trajectory in US based plans changes is if there are consequences. for instance, if AA had considerable gains this year vs delta and UA’s revenue based devalued plans. if not, AA would be foolish not to follow along just as UA is doing.

    to me, it seems much more likely i’ll get outsized returns on hotel points vs miles. i also have plenty of miles. that said, the best strategy right now is 2% or greater cards. let’s see… 25k spent on a 2% gets me $500 to spend anywhere. 25k spent on Amex delta gets me: ???? $250 captive to the delta bank of zimbabwe? no thanks.

    who wrote this post? you or Amex/Delta?

  6. Gotta love the tyranny of low expectations. Shovel any shit in your face and you ask can I please have some more, please!

    DL are worth at least 1cpp. Now that’s rich. (pardon the pun)

    I’m sure many wouldn’t be singing the same tune if their Suntrust debit was closed…those cheap points skew so many people’s “honest” valuation of Delta that it is laughable.

  7. Greg,

    Thanks. While I love the perks and the convenience of Delta (close to MSP), I love biz class international redemption more. I am very worried about rewarding them for bad behavior and it is clear they are in a staring contest with us right now; ie just how far can we push our best customers to make even more money. One cent redemption is not good enough for me as my prices for tickets and even my domestic redemptions are around $400 and up!

    I wish United would not have gutted their award levels/system. Would have made the decision easier.

  8. I’ve been waiting for this post from you. I’m frankly surprised that you’re okay with this. I mean, I get that you’re a hub captive, but you’re not even kicking about it. You seem to have a little Stockholm Syndrome or something.

    I am not a Delta flyer. But I was literally just planning to start manufacturing spend toward DL status and miles on Tuesday with the ultimate goal of a biz award to Oz redeemed a year from now. Then they yanked the award charts. There is now no way in heck I would even consider joining their FFP or spending a dime with them. I have no guarantee that the award price will be the same a year from now, and I can’t waste my spend on such a huge uncertainty. I’ll find another way to Oz – if I have to route via Tokyo, so be it. I like Tokyo.

    If I ever find myself needing a Delta flight, I’ll transfer MR points and use them immediately.

    • LOL, I love the Stockholm Syndrome comment. As far as I can tell, though, we’re in complete agreement. If your goal is to earn miles for international biz flights, Delta is a really bad bet for the future. For me, though, Delta is the best choice for actual flying. I don’t have to like the frequent flyer program to prefer flying Delta over others.

  9. I was never on the Delta ship and I live in Atlanta! I’ll deal with American and US Airways’ routes any day before I fly Delta.

  10. For me, Delta has gone too far. I’m going to status challenge to American starting July 1.

    You mention that they still offer free upgrades, but on my routes (DTW-SFO/LAX) they are selling all the first class seats for $300 at check-in. Essentially, no more upgrades.

    And with less and less transparency (basically none) on inventory and award pricing/availability, I just have no desire to continue to fly with them.

  11. I agree with much of what you say – yet I still feel betrayed. 1.5 years ago I saw the skymilesfalling and redeemed around 850k skymiles and now I find that I am back up to 900K in my account! Of course this will not increase due to flights and I need to nag mrs. TexasYankee to make a decision about when to take the exotic Asian vacay so I can hopefully get seats with 900K points. I too will MS my way to status but how long is the question.

  12. I don’t think you’ve thought this through. Instead of spending $60k to earn your MQMs, you could get $1200 on a 2% cashback card, or 300k Club Carlson points, which can be redeemed for thrice that. That pays for a LOT of EC seats and booking changes.

    If international J redemptions are out, and low level last minute tickets are gone too, what pray tell will you redeem your Skymiles for? It’s still early in the year, you’ve qualified for AA EXP, get off the Titanic while there are still lifeboats.

    • I think it is more that I failed to properly explain my situation. With the Reserve card I earn 1.5 miles per dollar. If we take as a given: 1) I will continue to fly Delta (best routes from/to Detroit); 2) Delta will continue to allow “pay with miles” for 1 cent per point; then worst case the value of the redeemable miles earned will be only half a percent less than cash earned with a 2% card. In exchange, all of that Delta flying will continue to be mostly in first class instead of coach.

  13. Simple. If you care about loyalty points go elsewhere. If you care about getting there on time the you fly Delta over the other top 3.

    AA just does not come close and domestically the hard product is not as good.

  14. Upgraded bagels? Be still, my heart!
    I have to give you props for making the best of a bad situation. As for me, I’m bailing. I’ve redeemed about a half million miles in the last couple years, but there have just been way too many “enhancements”.

    • You do realize that the Upgraded Bagels part was sarcasm, right? Anyway, I’m surprised at how many people let airlines rewards programs dictate who they’ll fly with without regards for how good the airline is for getting you from point A to point B.

  15. I jumped ship this year. I’ve been with Delta for 2-3 years, but just don’t think the relationship is worth continuing. There’s just been an onslaught of negative changes to their FF program and I’d rather leave. It’s a shame because they do have a relatively nice in-flight product. But too many devaluations, revenue-based changes, taking away the award chart (wtf?! what a childish move), sneaky award fees/changes, etc… they clearly don’t care about rewarding my business. So I’m jumping to AA, hoping it will be better.

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