Problems with banking SkyMiles via Delta Vacations

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Through Friday evening 8/30, Delta is running a fantastic promotion: SkyMiles are worth double when booking a Delta Vacation.  Nick wrote about this deal a few days ago: Amazing Delta vacation packages promo: get 2c per mile + earn miles.

When I first learned about the deal, my first thought was “I wonder if we can use this deal to cash out SkyMiles at 2 cents each?  Supporting this theory, are these cancellation terms:

If you cancel your reservation, miles will not be redeposited into your SkyMiles account. The SkyMiles account holder will receive a Delta Vacations voucher for the value of the miles at the time of they were applied to the booking as payment.

Awesome, right?  This means that we can book a Delta Vacation during the promotion, pay for it with SkyMiles, and cancel penalty-free within 24 hours in order to get a Delta Vacations voucher of the same value.  We can then use that voucher whenever we want with no restrictions.  It’s effectively a way to make this one time awesome deal last forever.  Or, so I thought…

Problem 1: Delta Vacation Vouchers Expire in 1 Year

A friend first dug up this information, then I called Delta Vacations to confirm.  It’s true, the voucher is worthless if not used within a year.  You can book travel for further into the future, but you have to complete bookings within a year of the voucher being issued.

Problem 2: Cancellations within 24 hours result in miles returned to your account

If you cancel within the grace period, you don’t pay a fee to cancel, but you also supposedly get your miles back rather than getting a voucher.  That’s what I was told by two different agents.  That would, of course, defeat the whole purpose of buying and cancelling.

I wasn’t sure the two agents were right, so I tested the process.  I set out to book a vacation package with miles, then cancel it and see if I got miles back or a voucher.  The test turned out to be a big and inconclusive pain in the butt.  First, even though I clicked all the right buttons to book a vacation and pay with SkyMiles, it didn’t show the credit from the SkyMiles on the final payment screen.  So, I put the vacation on hold (that’s a nice feature, at least!) and called to book it with SkyMiles.  Later, I tried to cancel the booking online.  That’s when I learned that you can’t cancel Delta Vacation packages online.  So I called.  Surprisingly, the agent told me that I would get a voucher rather than miles back.  Score!  Maybe?

After receiving confirmation that the package was cancelled, I checked my Delta account to look for either a voucher or miles returned.  I couldn’t find either.  I waited another hour and looked again.  Nope.  I called and was told that the cancellation request goes to the accounting department who will then mail me a voucher.  Yes, snail mail.  That’s what the agent said anyway.  She offered to call the help desk to see if I could get miles back instead.  No, thanks, I said.  That would ruin my experiment… I mean, no thanks I’m good with the voucher.

So, I ran that experiment and learned… not much.  I don’t know whether I’ll really get a voucher or if the accounting department will issue my miles back.  I’ll just have to wait and see.  Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that the results will be too late to help anyone decide what to do with this promotion.

Another option is to pay for travel protection.  You’ll see this option on the final check-out screen.  The cost depends on the cost of your package.  I tested out a package costing $943.56 and was offered a price of $59 for basic travel protection.  According to the bullet points, this lets you cancel for any reason before departure.

Of course, you won’t get back the $59 fee, so that would lower the value of your SkyMiles.  In this example, let’s say that we paid 100% of the package price with miles and paid the travel protection with cash.  In that case, we would pay 47,178 SkyMiles + $59.  After cancelling, we would theoretically get back a voucher worth $943.56.  So, we can calculate the value of the SkyMiles award (assuming full value for the voucher) as: ($943.56 – $59) / 47,178 = 1.87 cents per mile.

1.87 cents per mile is still pretty good for SkyMiles!  Unfortunately, there are other issues…

Delta Vacation Restrictions

In order to use your voucher, you have to book a vacation package.  You cannot use the voucher for a regular Delta flight purchase.  For a trip to count as a package, it must meet the following conditions:

  • Trip must include a hotel stay, or must include both airfare and car rental.  In other words, it’s possible to book a hotel stay alone, but not airfare alone and not car rental alone.
  • For airfare plus car rental to count as a package, the car rental must span 5 nights (or 3 nights in Hawaii)
  • If you don’t have both airfare and car rental, then you must have a minimum number of hotel nights, as follows:
    • Minimum 4 nights in Australia or Asia
    • Minimum 3 nights in Europe
    • Minimum 2 nights everywhere else
  • When booking airfare, you cannot book one-way flights, but you can include multiple stops or open-jaws.

Conclusion

It does appear to be possible to extend the time frame of this promotion via a buy and cancel trick, but it’s not clear that it’s a great idea to do.  First, you probably won’t get the full 2 cents per SkyMile value due to the likely need to purchase Travel Protection.  Second, the voucher is only good for a year (but that is far longer than this promo lasts, so that’s not so bad).  Third, there are many restrictions as to what kind of vacation package you can book with Delta Vacations.  It may turn out to be harder than you think to use your voucher.

I tested the process of buying and cancelling so that I’d have firm answers about what was possible, but that didn’t work out in the time available.  My recommendation for those sitting on lots of SkyMiles is to try your best to use this promo straight up.  By that I mean, book the vacation that you actually want and pay for it with SkyMiles before end of day Friday.

Should I have published this?

I didn’t originally intend to post about this buy and cancel idea.  Some may object to it being unethical.  Others may irk at my “killing the deal” (but the deal is on a very short timer anyway so I don’t think that’s a real issue).  Ultimately I decided to publish because many readers were commenting with variations of the same idea.  So, it was happening with or without me.  Hopefully this post will give some people pause.  Is it really worth the headache?

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