I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).
Delta quietly devalued their miles again over the holiday weekend adding fuel surcharges to Virgin Atlantic business class awards departing the U.S..
A year ago a business class roundtrip on Virgin cost 125,000 Delta SkyMiles. Yesterday it cost as much as 205,000 miles and a $956 cash co-pay.
But this change has been rolled back and SkyMiles redemptions for Virgin Atlantic business class travel no longer incur fuel surcharges [although SkyMiles awards originating in Europe still do, as they have for years]. (HT: One Mile at a Time)
Here are Virgin Atlantic awards booked far in advance (within 2 weeks of travel awards are more expensive). They’re 85,000 miles one way from the US to London without fuel surcharges:
Was this a mistake on Delta’s part to roll out fuel surcharges on these awards? Delta hasn’t said.
- In fact, Delta’s position is that awards cost whatever they say they cost at the time of redemption. That’s been their position since hiding award charts from members, the point of which is to reduce transparency. You can’t know what an award is ‘supposed to’ cost, it just costs what it costs.
- Delta rolled out variable award pricing for Virgin Atlantic awards back in October. This was a ‘mistake’ and they quickly fixed it. However the mistake turns out to have been the timing, because this was ultimately something that they decided to implement.
So the bottom line is we don’t know what Delta will do to their award pricing, but for now you can book Virgin Atlantic business class awards originating in the U.S. without fuel surcharges.
Does This Influence Whether You Should Sign Up for a Delta Credit Card?
I valued Delta miles at 1.1 cents apiece. My valuation of Delta miles last month was lower than the most recent valuations from One Mile at a Time (1.3 cents) and from The Points Guy (1.4 cents).
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card is offering 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 4 months and has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year (then $95) [offer expired]. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is offering 70,000 bonus miles (and 10,000 elite qualifying miles) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 4 months and has a $195 annual fee card. [offer expired]
At 1.1 cents apiece 60,000 miles are worth $660.
Now Delta miles have been shaved more value by adding fuel surcharges to Virgin Atlantic awards departing the U.S. The miles aren’t now worth less than a penny. In fact they’re still worth marginally more than a cent. I haven’t yet worked through whether I believe the value is closer to $0.0104 (rounding down to a 1.0 cents) or $0.0106 (rounding up to 1.1 cents).
What the Credit Card is Good For, And Who Benefits When You Sign Up
In my post sharing the new signup bonus for Delta cards, I think I was clear:
- On what I believe the value of Delta miles is. And it’s been no secret, and hardly a new concept, I’ve been calling Delta SkyMiles “SkyPesos” since at least 2009.
- American Express lets you get one signup bonus per lifetime per card, getting a card you haven’t had before when it’s at the strongest public offer they’ve had for it, is a good strategy.
- If you fly Delta semi-regularly but not enough to earn elite status, having the card makes your travel experience better with first checked bag free on Delta flights and priority boarding.
And here’s the thing. Several commenters suggested sticking it to Delta by not signing up for their co-brand card. I think that’s exactly backwards.
You’re imposing a cost on yourself by skipping the card (giving up the bonus and benefits). However you impose a cost if you do get the card. The signup bonus is costly. The travel benefits are costly. You only provide a benefit to Delta if you continue to spend on the card on an ongoing basis. And you should not do that.
In fact, if you have a Delta card now you shouldn’t spend money on it unless you’re using that spend to help you towards elite status. If your goal happens to be Delta SkyMiles, Delta’s cards aren’t even the best way to get them, a faster Membership Rewards-earning card lets you earn Delta miles more quickly (since Membership Rewards transfer to Delta) and gives you the option to transfer points elsewhere.
A couple of weeks ago I opened the last day of the Card Forum conference and one of the things I spoke about was the reputational linkages between co-brand issuing banks and their travel partners. If you’re mad at United one of the very few things you can do is cut up a United credit card. A year and a half ago a Dallas news reporter went on an epic rant cutting up his American Airlines credit card on air.
However the emotional reaction of boycotting the signup bonus and benefits of a Delta card saves them money and improves their bottom line when you aren’t going to use the card for ongoing spend. It’s like Cleavon Little holding a gun to his own head in front of the townspeople of Rock Ridge in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.