Delta SkyMiles sheds SkyPeso moniker

Delta SkyPesoFor years, View from the Wing has teasingly referred to Delta SkyMiles as “SkyPesos.”  And the Delta SkyPeso term has caught on, so much so that many people use the term without explanation.  Given that Amex is currently giving away oodles of SkyMiles through their temporarily increased credit card offers, I figured that it was time to weigh in on whether Delta SkyMiles still deserves this title…

Compared to its main rivals at the time — American Airlines, US Airways (now part of AA), United, and Continental (now part of United) – Delta SkyMiles were worth far less.  Delta had the worst saver level award availability, charged as much for one-way awards as round-trip, had a nearly useless award search engine, and didn’t allow international first class awards on partner airlines.

The latter is still true.  You can use Delta SkyMiles to book international partner coach or business class awards, but not first class.  For example, Korean Air is a SkyTeam partner and they release tons of first class award space, but that space is inaccessible to those hoping to redeem Delta SkyMiles (your best bet, instead, is to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Air to book those seats).

But, most of the other things that made Delta SkyMiles less valuable in the past have changed.  Some have changed simply because competing miles have decreased in value.  In the past couple of years, both AA and United have greatly increased most of their international business and first class award prices.  To be fair, Delta has also increased international business award prices, but the end result is that all three airlines charge around the same amount for most international awards.

Delta has also made a number of changes to make their miles more valuable:

  • One-way awards are now half the price of round-trip awards
  • Delta’s award search engine is vastly improved (but still far from perfect)
  • A number of partners have been added to Delta’s online search results, making it easier to find international award space
  • Delta appears to have greatly increased saver level award availability on many routes.
  • Domestic awards are sometimes less than 25,000 miles round trip
  • Delta now sometimes runs award sales in which they temporarily reduce award prices. During those times, they also seem to release more than the usual amount of saver level awards.  Last winter I was able to snag a round trip business class award to Europe, for 3 people, for only 87,500 miles per person.  And, this summer we’ll be flying to Europe and back in business class for just 105,000 miles per person (the usual saver level price is 125,000 miles).

SkyMiles are worth, at minimum, 1 cent per point

Unlike other major airline currencies, Delta allows their credit card holders to pay with miles at a value of 1 cent per mile.  While that isn’t a great value, it at least represents a minimum value that you can expect.  This means that a 50,000 mile credit card signup bonus is worth at least $500 in travel if used properly.  Let’s look at an example…

DTW to ORD price in dollars

DTW to ORD price in miles

For the flight shown above, one could pay $186.20 or use 20,000 SkyMiles.  In this case, paying cash is a better deal since the 20,000 mile redemption works out to less than 1 cent per mile value.  If you select the cash price and you are a Delta Gold, Platinum, or Reserve cardholder, you can then choose to pay all or part of the ticket with miles:

Delta Pay With Miles

And you are given the option of reducing the price with miles in 5,000 mile increments:

Delta Pay With Miles

It’s worth pointing out that if you go with this option, you shouldn’t choose to pay the entire ticket with miles.  As you can see in the drop-down pictured above, every 5,000 miles are worth $50 except for the final 5,000 miles.  The final 5,000 miles are only worth $36.20 in this example.  So, if you want to get 1 cent per mile value, your best bet in this example is to pay 15,000 miles plus $36.20 in cash.

Note that, unlike award tickets, tickets purchased via “pay with miles” do earn MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) and MQSs (Medallion Qualifying Segments).  Redeemable miles and MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars) are only earned from the portion paid for with cash.

Saver award space has greatly improved

I don’t have strong proof of this since I don’t have data from the SkyPeso days, but my impression as a frequent Delta flyer is that saver level award space is much, much easier to get today than ever before.  I demonstrated this in a post published earlier this week.  Here are just two examples:

Detroit to Boston shows saver level award space nearly every day mid-summer:

Same for Detroit to London in business class.  Much of this may be thanks to award space on Virgin Atlantic flights, but hey, I’ll take it:

SkyMiles are often worth much more than 1 cent per mile

For the pay with miles section (“SkyMiles are worth, at minimum, 1 cent per point”), above, I had to run quite a few searches before I found any calendar views in which domestic economy awards resulted in less than 1 cent per mile value.  Instead, I found that miles were usually worth about 1.5 cents each.  And, in many cases, the value was even better.  Take Detroit to Montreal, for example.  Round trip awards were available nearly every day mid-summer for only 19,000 miles round-trip:

Delta DTW YUL

Meanwhile, the best round trip paid price was $416:

Delta DTW YUL Price

Not counting the lack of earned miles on an award flight, after taking into account $54.46 in fees, the above example demonstrates a value of about 1.9 cents per mile.

Value is often good outside of Delta hub flights too

I randomly picked two airports that are not Delta hubs to see if I would find a different pattern.  I picked the tiny Asheville, North Carolina airport as the starting point and I picked United’s Houston hub as the destination (partly because I previously found poor Delta award availability from Detroit to Houston).

I found that round trip awards from Asheville to Houston were often available for 25,000 miles and sometimes available for just 20,000 miles:

Delta AVL HOU price in miles

Meanwhile, the best paid price was $467.20:

Delta AVL HOU price in dollars

With the 25,000 mile awards, we get to a value of 1.82 cents per mile.  That’s not amazing by any means, but its way better than 1 cent per mile.

But, maybe this is an unfair way to compute value.  If Delta’s paid prices are higher than the competition then I should really compute value based on the best prices available across the board, not just with Delta.  And, sure enough, lower prices were available:

Delta AVL HOU price in dollars Google Flights

Via Google Flights, I found that AA offered prices as low as $369 round trip.  So, we can recalculate the value of the 25,000 mile Delta awards: ($369 – $11.20 TSA fee on award tickets) / 25000 = 1.43 cents per mile.  Again, this isn’t an amazing value, but its not bad.

How about the competition for that same random route?

American Airlines:

Outbound, most days cost 25,000 miles or more one-way.  Only a few dates show lower prices:

AA AVL HOU outbound

And, the return trip is similarly bleak:

AA AVL HOU return

For most dates, AA would charge 50,000 miles for this round trip flight.

United:

United showed almost no saver level award space for the outbound flight (so, most days they would charge 25,000 miles one-way):

United AVL HOU outbound

But return availability was a bit better (especially for those who like returning on Tuesdays):

United AVL HOU return

Altogether, with United it wouldn’t be hard to piece together a round trip award for 37,500 miles (25,000 miles outbound + 12,500 miles return).  Note that United cardholders get more access to saver award space, but when I logged into my account to re-run this search I found only two more saver level days available for the outbound flight and two more for the return.

In summary, while it was theoretically possible to get saver level (25K round trip) flights from Asheville to Houston this August on AA or United, the possible dates of travel were extremely limited.  And, when saver space was not available, the price doubled.

With Delta, for that same route, many days were available for 25K or less round trip.  And, when 25K wasn’t available, the best available award price was often just a bit more.  On almost every day of the month, for example, Delta offered a round trip price of 35,000 miles or less.

Your mileage may vary

Any time I write about good Delta award availability, some commenters are quick to reply that they do not see similar patterns.  Either they can’t find saver level awards for the dates and places they want to fly, or they may mention that the only good award prices they find are for the most undesirable flights.  I don’t doubt that.  Just as I rarely find good domestic award space on United or AA, I’m sure there are many routes with poor Delta award space.  And, even I sometimes still find really high award prices on Delta for certain routes and particular dates.  Here’s one crazy example:

Delta 650K award

Additionally, Delta is known to be bad about pricing awards that involve piecing together multiple segments.  In fact, One Mile at a Time found that trying to book multiple segments on different types of aircraft could cause Delta’s pricing engine to add up the award price of each individual segment.  This too can sometimes result in comically high award prices.

Predictable value… in the middle

With AA and United, I have no doubt that it is still possible to get amazingly high value by taking full advantage of remaining sweet spots on their award charts.  And, with United, extra value can be eked out by taking advantage of their flexible award routing rules (a free stop-over and 2 open-jaws on round trip awards, for example).  On the other hand, as shown above, it is also possible to get extremely poor value from those miles.

With Delta, I think it is unusual to get more than about 3 cents per mile value.  On the other hand, as I demonstrated above, Delta virtually guarantees that you can get a minimum of 1 cent per mile value (thanks to their pay with miles feature).  And, in most cases, I find that you’ll get at least 1.4 cents per mile value or better.

I think it is now safe to say that the SkyPeso moniker no longer applies.

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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21 Comments on "Delta SkyMiles sheds SkyPeso moniker"

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James
Guest

Last weekend I had to travel from South America to give a presentation to a large group in the U.S. I had to be there. Due to weather my reservation on another airline was “last minute” canceled. (A refund has been given). But thanks to Delta award availability hours before departure, I picked up a $1932.00 flight for 55000 skymiles. The event I presided was a success. I realize many are in miles and points especially for enhanced vacations, yet having points on multiple airlines can turn a potential traveling nightmare and loss of an important work event into a painless, virtually cost free adjustment. The value of being able to resolve issues like the one above can make points like Skymiles priceless.

Roberto
Guest

Using miles for a work event (unless you planned something ahead of schedule to try some new product, let’s say) seems pretty terrible to me…

Gary Leff
Guest

1 – 1.4 cents in value is hardly new. Indeed, the SkyPeso moniker was given when (for instance, to use one of your examples) transatlantic business class saver awards were 100,000 miles roundtrip and discounted paid fares for the equivalent were fare less common and more restrictive.

Indeed, 1-1.4 cents and an inability to get really outsized value were precisely the reasons for the name in the first place.

SkyMiles adds fuel surcharges to more partners than competitors. They add fuel surcharges to itineraries originating in Europe (so even those one way awards for US members). The quality of their international partners is generally lower.

And they practice journey control so that you often can’t even piece together saver inventory across multiple Delta flights to create a saver award. You may find domestic coach awards on certain routes, but you cannot necessarily combine those seats to build out an itinerary at the saver level. And if those coach seats are the driver of value that’s pretty weak sauce.

The lack of even a published award chart, combined with several no-notice devaluations in the past year, underscores that while Delta miles have strategic uses and certainly have value (they always did), the program isn’t materially better.

A 50,000 mile signup bonus is valuable. But beyond that why would you choose to earn SkyMiles instead of another currency? They used to be at least much easier to earn but far less so over the past two years.

DaninMCI
Guest

Gosh I’m not sure I agree that SkyPeso is inaccurate. Let me go consult the Delta award chart…Oh that’s right they don’t have one.

Seriously, I think it’s not that Skymiles are better it’s that the other airlines are catching up. It’s like they brought down the whole economy. I also think we’ll see AA award availability improve long term. It’s likely been gutted by the recent devaluation, cheap price wars and merger growing pains.

italdesign
Guest

The value really depends on how the person uses it. It’s hard to tell someone who needs ATL-JNB that the value of SkyMiles is going up, isn’t it 😉 I’m an advocate of knowing and using the sweet spots of each program. If I’m going to Europe or upper midwest/west, DL is great. The “slightly above saver levels” are also great compared to other airlines’ “2-3x saver” model, as you mention. I keep a stash of DL miles for those. To SE Asia (or ATL-JNB ;-)), not so much.

avi
Guest

you have it backwards Greg. skymiles are still skypesos. However, some of the other airline miles have just joined them in that currency…

wise2u
Guest

I agree…Delta started sucking first, the rest followed suit, AA post merger has become worse IMO. As we get older, vacations that include a 4+ hour flight are increasingly difficult to do in coach, so the occasional bone of saver availability is not worth much to us. It has become almost impossible to get business saver awards that line up, with the 3 major airlines, so seats up front now cost 4 times as much as coach (instead of the old 2:1 ratio)…and of the limited business saver awards most are undesirable flights with long layovers, 2+ stops, overnight connections or airport changes, with mixed cabin availability being UA’s common ploy, AA likes using partner awards usually including small regional jets as part of the crappy itinerary, and delta still prices out at the highest amount of points for up front awards…saver awards have no meaning with skypesos…..Even with 150k+ in each of the 3 programs it is hard to get more than one business class award to Hawaii or Europe out of any of them…..I am looking at other options to use the points for example any short domestic or Caribbean flights we use BA or AA for coach flights, and southwest if we have the companion pass. I am looking at auctions for delta and united, and even considering using united points for a cruise, since there are few ways to get a cruise on points…..any which way you go it is wise to use your miles sooner than later, because unless you like flying coach awards, cost will always go up and availability will continue to fade away for cheap awards in business/first.

MSer
Guest

Greg,

Maybe it’s different on the East coast, but from the West coast, Delta simply blows. My wife is Diamond thru BIS business flights (mostly KLM to AMS) but we’ve NEVER ONCE been able to use DL for flights in the last 5 years – either the prices are obscene (your ATL-JNB example is hardly unique for international) or availability/routing sucks.

Skypeso moniker is still very apt – the only difference is others are catching up. But that’s no reason not to keep it.

Ag shahs
Guest

Booked Midwest to Hawaii with great flight times for 65k each when cash prices were >$1300

Can’t fly at times that don’t work with work so this is definitely good value for me.

Thinking about redeeming to Japan for 70k which is again >2cpm

So for me delta was always 1.6 cpm and now is slightly more valuable.

It’s much harder to get the signup bonuses though obv

Jorge
Guest

all things being equal, their service and crew is excellent for a US carrier

Delta Segment Flyer
Guest

1.8 CPM for me with great domestic service.

Jill
Guest

I just scored big today with skypesos….

Rob P
Guest

Good post.

robertw
Guest

The SKYpesos name was mostly nonsense for a number of years. As others kept touting American and others I scored a ton of low level awards with Delta

ATL-JNB I got that for 125K
LAX-SYD Virgin Australia 2 weeks ago at 125K -Service was terrible but the value was there
MIA-LHR Many trips without fuel surcharges on Virgin.
MIA-FCO 62K in a few months

All the great loopholes that existed with American have been pretty much eliminated. All the major programs are rev based. American has made many awards at much higher redemption levels. And on a schedule change for an award ticket, Delta is the best at letting you make changes etc.

robertw
Guest

I usually agree with Gary but the stuff about a published award chart doesnt matter to me. Why? American has such a chart. Then you search and find ZERO lo level awards. Some for a full cal year going forward. Therefore what good is n award chart if it is based on seats that are not even there. For certain awards Delta still works well.American also has been pushing really crappy routings on award tickets. Taking you on routes adding stops when there really is no reason for that. They have a ton of flights to dallas from south florida. Yet on some awards they add an extra stop in tampa? WTF.

Terri M
Guest

Exactly! Doesn’t it cost MORE to make more stops? That’s why SWA direct flights are their cheapest flights, right? What I usually find on AA (if there is even coach award space on or around the days I’d like to travel–usually NOT) is that there may be one direct award flight, but then the time of either take-off or landing is extremely inconvenient. After that, they suggest the most bizarre 2 or 3 stop routings that take me hundreds of miles in the wrong direction first. WTF indeed!

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[…] regularly get a minimum of 1.4 cents per mile value from Delta miles (and usually much more).  So, if we say that the Virgin America award saves me 125,000 miles valued conservatively (for […]

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[…] More good news is that the value of miles when used for economy awards has mostly gone up.  While Delta has repeatedly raised award prices for international business class, in most cases they have kept economy award prices stable and have even reduced them in some cases.  And with economy awards within North America, I find it is almost always possible to get at least 1.4 cents per mile value, if not much more.  That is far better value than I usually find with AA or United domestic awards.  For more, please see: Delta SkyMiles sheds SkyPeso moniker. […]

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[…] do transfer directly to Delta, and Delta sometimes offers very good value for your miles (see: Delta SkyMiles sheds SkyPeso moniker).  The other approach to maximizing value is to get the $450 Amex Business Platinum card which […]