For 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…
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:
And you are given the option of reducing the price with miles in 5,000 mile increments:
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:
Meanwhile, the best round trip paid price was $416:
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:
Meanwhile, the best paid price was $467.20:
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:
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?
Outbound, most days cost 25,000 miles or more one-way. Only a few dates show lower prices:
And, the return trip is similarly bleak:
For most dates, AA would charge 50,000 miles for this round trip flight.
United showed almost no saver level award space for the outbound flight (so, most days they would charge 25,000 miles one-way):
But return availability was a bit better (especially for those who like returning on Tuesdays):
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:
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.