Audience Participation, Please: Let’s Hear Your Best Defense of the Value of Delta Skymiles

Delta Points probably just wants me to link to him, he’s trying to get under my skin this morning with his attempt to speak out for Delta in spite of what I consider to be their fundamentally dishonest award chart devaluation which went into effect yesterday with no notice.

Even he has to acknowledge this a little bit:

Now one thing I do agree with that I do find utterly idiotic and insulting is the complete and utter cop-out that the airline can not alert us in advance. If [doing so] were against the law [as Delta claims] other airlines would be sued for give their flyers time to adjust to a change. I agree Delta is not being honest about this fact and this is sad and upsetting. It is also insulting to us as Skymiles members.

(Quotation above edited for clarity)

Nonetheless, he seeks to defend the indefensible.

However, again, they do not spend time flying Delta. I do. I will have 100 segments on “our” airline this year. I had a Rookie post about why Delta is the best airline in the world a while ago.

He then proceeds to offer 20 reasons why Delta is great. But of the 20 reasons he offers, only a small few are directly related to the frequent flyer program.

Delta is a good airline, and it has an awful frequent flyer program. The points he lists that are valid or defensible relate to Delta as an airline, and not to the Skymiles program.

And Delta is not a “GREAT” airline, in saying they’re good I am grading on a curve (comparing them to US carriers). In any case the vast majority of positives aren’t at all responsive to the issue of the value of Skymiles or the devaluations without notice they keep hoisting upoin their members..

Let’s take the reasons he offers are at least marginally responsive to Skymiles being a good program each in turn:

11) With work I 99.99% of the time find SAVER seats

Delta has fewer saver seats than its competitors. Their award pricing engine is broken such that it will often price partner awards higher than the routing rules and inventory should cause them to. They do not even allow international first class redemptions. They do not allow one-way awards at half the price of coach.

No one says Skymiles are worth zero, they can get you some awards. But they are not worth nearly as much as competitor miles, and when they become worth even less Delta doesn’t provide their members the respect and courtesy of notice — they make members’ hard-earned miles simply worth less overnight and at whim.

12) The partners are good

This just isn’t true — at least not true COMPARED TO DELTA’S COMPETITORS. There are more fully flat seats across the Atlantic with Delta’s alliance competitors than there are in Skyteam. And certainly the best top shelf world carriers are in other alliances.

Delta’s partners are good in that modern world airlines are good, but they aren’t better than or even as good as the carriers in oneworld or Star on average.

They do partner with Virgin Australia, and that airline offers good business class award availability to Australia. But Delta has just raised the price of that award to 160,000 miles roundtrip…

14) Elites are treated very good

No, they’re not, at least not if those elites travel internationally. Delta’s international upgrade program is pathetic. 125,000 mile flyers get upgrade certs that are useless compared to what are given to 100,000 mile flyers at United and American.

15) Elite phone reps are good

No, they’re not. Even elite phone reps do not know Delta’s partners or partner booking classes. There are some good agents in the Chisolm call center, but on average phone reps don’t know how to book an award properly or how to price an award properly and this is true of elite agents as well as general agents.

18) Credit card gives perks beyond other airlines

The only benefit that the co-brand card offers that’s materially better (and some would argue less good, at least if you fly enough to qualify for status without it) is the ease at which you can earn status via spend.

Of course the big downside of Delta co-branded cards over other cards is that you are earning Skypesos.

Can You Come Up With Better Arguments In Favor of Delta Skymiles than the Deltapoints Blog Can?

The best arguments he can come up with in defense of Skymiles are that he manages saver award seats, their partners are good, and elites are treated well (by the airline and their phone reps). I don’t find these persuasive. Do you? And can you do better in defense of the indefensible?

It makes sense to fly Delta if you live in Atlanta or the Upper Midwest. At Northwest they used to talk about many of the places they served from their Minneapolis hub, “It’s cold, it’s dark, nobody wants to go there.. but it’s ALL OURS!” And that’s true. Non-stop flights and frequency are worth something and Delta runs a pretty good operation. So by all means fly Delta, accepting that you are less rewarded for doing so.

But for folks with a choice — who don’t live in a hub city and are going to connect anyway — then don’t punish yourself with Delta.

And even if you decide to fly Delta because you like their inflight product and you only travel domestically and take good advantage of their upgrade program as a top elite, then by all means do not accrue Delta miles for your PARTNER earning activity.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Less competition with ‘gamers’ who are focused on Star and One World for the less transparent awards like Alitalia flights gives me value from the program.

    I don’t run into problems with partner segments pricing at the Saver level, though I tend to do one-way searches out of larger cities.

  2. Only plus I can think of is lower fares flying around the north and south east though not enough that I always chose them. Also a good trans pacific biz product … When you can find it.

  3. Gary L: Can You Come Up With Better Arguments In Favor of Delta Skymiles than the Deltapoints Blog Can?

    Kimmie A: No, I cannot.

  4. Funny how when you can gain from someone by doing some “dishonest”, you ignore ur dishonesty but when you lose , you call others out on it. Shame on you.

  5. I have no defense of their devaluation. It doesn’t affect me because all of mile Delta flight miles are credited to Alaska and they have been for years! However, this doesn’t change that Delta is still my favorite domestic airline to fly. I love flying into ATL and seeing those FLY DELTA LINES signs!

    Super nostalgic!

  6. Gary: one good thing about Delta is that their planes have nice paint jobs. Can’t think of anything more attractive about Delta than that. They are the Spirit Airlines of mainline carriers. Well, actually if you look at their award chart, Spirit is more generous (2500 one-way!).

    I think you’re comparing apples and oranges when writing about Delta compared to United and American. Perhaps the article you should write would focus on Delta versus its real competitors, like Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier.

  7. i like that i don’t have to do anything to keep my miles, so every once in awhile that i do fly delta could eventually count for something later on

  8. I am so glad that you don’t block comments, like Delta Points does. He is not as much of a Delta expert as he proclaims. I wouldn’t pay any attention to his comments.

  9. Note that DL’s advance notice of the summer 2014 deval contradicts their (unfounded) argument that it’s illegal to provide advance notice!

    I think any defense of the value of SM is situation dependent. That’s true to an extent of any FFP, but VERY MUCH so for SM. If one usually finds good availability on certain routes that you’re focused on, for example. Or just as part of an overall FFP portfolio (certainly not the main focus, though).

    I’d have a hard time just defending SM in general, though. Though some of the points in your post are probably too subjective to really hold water either way.

    – Partners: It’s true that OW and *A partners have more, and better, premium options. Though for folks who usually book international Y, this isn’t so much a factor.

    – Elite Treatment: Remember there is more to the elite spectrum than just top-tier upgrade certs. As a mid-tier on DL, I’ve generally had much better service, problem resolution, etc. than on UA. And the elite benefits are similar enough at that level. Of course, for folks who don’t get status in any airline, all of this is moot anyway! 🙂

    – Elite Call Center: Honestly, these days it’s hard to say. Most call centers suck and it’s highly YMMV per call. UA used to have fantastic reps, especially Premier desk. Lately AA regular call center is better than UA’s elite. My DL experience has been okay I guess. Not sure I could give this point to any airline, really.

    – CC Perks: I think the only truly different DL AMEX offering is PWM, which usually isn’t the best option. On occasion though PWM can be a better deal for a specific redemption, if you’re aware of the caveats. I’m not sure this is widely beneficial enough to be a deciding factor for most people, though.

    …but aside from that, I really couldn’t argue for SM as a general strategy. There are serious flaws in the program and they only seem to worsen.

  10. Skymiles is a joke. I don’t know why you’d even waste your time responding to shill. That blog (and his practices) are an embarrassment to boarding area

  11. I joined Delta’s FF program in late 1981, but acquired fewer than 200K miles until moving to Atlanta in 1994. Until I retired a few years ago, they got nearly all my business as well as that of the flyer’s in the business that I headed. But recently, for all the reasons cited here, I dropped them like a bad habit after first dropping the fawning apologist blog Delta Points. Hey, my remaining 600,000 Skymiles might by 2015 get me one round trip coach ticket to Europe in January or February.
    Meanwhile, this year my AAdvantage miles got me three round trips to HKG in Cathay Pacific’s business class on my preferred dates for 110,000 miles each, with a 10,000 mile credit back to my account. Yeah, my frequent travels to the NYC area and Reno, NV would be a bit more convenient via Delta but there are only two chances I’ll fly them: 1)Slim 2)None.

  12. IMHO nobody can seriously defend SkyMiles as a program. I’ve had nothing but complaints for years so I mostly STFU about my own positive experiences because I know it takes too much hard work for my friends to duplicate them.

    I’m not going to jump on Delta for a badly worded press statement about the (what I believe to be fairly predictable) new devaluation. IMHO there was no implied promise not to have another round of devaluations unless by “implied promise” you mean there wasn’t any guarantee of anything at all.

    IMHO for months if not years Delta have clearly signaled their desire to shed bargain seekers and smart consumers who seek to maximize their frequent flyer benefit. With industry consolidation, the other airlines will follow. IMHO it is time to find another way to afford the tickets you want.

  13. No need to take the bait & link to that blog. Sloppy, poor writing and little info of value. Worst blog on Boarding Area. I wish there were a way to ‘ignore’ his posts on BA and thru BA twitter acct.

  14. The best thing about sky miles is the partnership with SPG. That said, I like uniteds partnership with Marriott better as I get silver from united, which is better than being dirt. I enjoy the SPG program, just wish they picked a better partner. That said, I still won’t fly delta unless the price proposition is compelling.

  15. I wonder if Delta has decided that the segment of the market that actually wants to redeem their miles is not worth courting. Or with consolidation perhaps they just don’t need to. Apart from a few cities the business traveler is more “hub captive” than ever before.

    I have noticed that when airlines market their credit cards they always highlight the fringe benefits such as free bag check and club passes, vs the major benefit.

  16. The devaluation increases Delta’s bottom line, which enures to the benefit of those fliers who own Delta stock?

  17. I agree with you Gary, despite being something of a loyalist. (I’m a somewhat slutty loyalist)

    The thing is, Delta is a very nice airline to fly domestically. Comfortable planes, free snacks in coach (mmm Biscoff), big route network, and normally cheap to fly. From where I am anyway.

    But, with that said, mileage-wise they are indeed a worse value proposition. I won’t defend them otherwise. But the nice thing is, I don’t really have to worry about it. I’m a 20-30k a year flier. With credit cards these days, that’s nothing. I can fly Delta comfortably, sign up for a Chase card and get 50k UR points, and treat any value I get from Skymiles as a bonus

  18. “SkyMiles never expire.”

    True. Why give your members an extra incentive to rush to redeem their miles when you can book more profit from repeated zero-notice devaluations?

  19. I think you hafta separate MQM from redeemable Skymiles. The perks of the Medallion program like annual rollover, 100% bonus for GM, free exitrow for SM at booking, MQM earn from CC spend are why I even have any redeemable miles in the first place.

    If i had to say something nice about redeeming Skymiles i’d point out that AS is a partner and the free domestic stopover can be extremely useful.

  20. For domestic frequent fliers Deltas upgrade policy is generous. Free for all elites and upgrades are common for platinum and still frequent for gold medallion. If you only fly 50k domestic miles a year you can get more free upgrades on Delta than any other airline.

  21. There is no defense of SM unless you live in Detroit, MSP, or ATL, or are forced to fly to these hubs because your Hooterville only has DL. And THAT is why DL does what they do. Their 3 biggest hubs are captive, the O&D traffic there has little choice. AA and UA don’t quite have that luxury.

    Will never fly DL again.

  22. Sure, I’ll defend them:

    1. For those who enjoy puzzles, can provide days of enjoyment while you try to piece together a saver level award.
    2. With other programs, its tough to part with your miles since they’re so valuable. No such issue with SkyMiles.
    3. Pay with Miles. At 1 cent per mile value, only Delta can make a credible claim that this is a good deal.
    4. One way and round trip awards for the same price. Most people see this as a negative, but instead you could think of it as a free return trip with each one-way award!
    5. The fact that they make award chart changes effective immediately without prior notice is great. By pissing off their loyal customers, I hope enough of them will abandon Delta so that I can get upgrades and saver level awards more easily!

    On a serious note, I do love that they allow stop-overs and open jaws on domestic awards. I use that a lot and actually do get good value from my miles.

  23. Unfortunately, I’m based in MSP and relegated to Delta, so I try to make the best of it. I value what I read on both View from the Wing and Delta Points; what I don’t understand is the vitriol towards a blogger that has only ever posted positive writing (please correct me if I’m wrong). Onward Delta Points!

  24. In defense of Delta and its much maligned FF program: no fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia (and this is a genuine and fairly recent enhancement), DL mid-tiers get (low priority) upgrades on Alaska and AeroMexico, Delta is the only US carrier with an international hub in Asia, the Atlanta to JNB route, have-one-on-us drink coupons if you don’t get an upgrade at online checkin, six feet of pitch on an MD90 exit row seat (an aviation wonder), upgrades for elites on two-class flights into northern South America, cordial and chatty crew, Woodford, self-service Heineken on tap by the fireplace at the west DTW Sky Club, frequent flights into many desirable secondary Florida airports such as Sarasota, Key West and West Palm Beach (Delta saturates the Florida market like no other), improved EC and BE seats on transcontinentals and international, wifi on most flights, airports that know how to deal with bad weather (SLC, DTW). Also, even as Delta’s partnership with Korean, Alaska and AF/KLM unravels, there is a good story with the largely unheralded improvement in some other ST partners that were once regarded as dodgy (Garuda, Aeroflot and China Eastern). I agree that Delta’s upper management is an untrustworthy partner, sticking in this partnership as a passenger is probably a variant of Stockholm syndrome, the recent award chart change(s) are disgusting and most anyone in the western third of the US is better off now accruing to Alaska Airlines while flying Delta strategically. Or perhaps even flying Southwest(which can load a 737 twice as fast as Delta these days).

  25. @Ryan E – the June 1 devaluation was implemented immediately when it was announced, just for people booking travel June 1 onward. So no cotnradiction there, even though the position is 100% bogus and cannot even be genuinely believed.

  26. My bad, I didn’t realize the implementation date. Still, as you say it’s BS. It’s that sort of bald face lying that is almost more offensive as a customer, than the award chart changes.

  27. It’s amusing to me to see people defend ‘their’ airline as though it’s their kid sister and you shouldn’t be picking on her. Look folks, these are corporations. They exist to make money. They don’t care about you personally, so you don’t need to care about them. Go where it makes the most sense.

    And Gary, you can destroy almost anyone in a debate. Why bother with this guy? I doubt that half of your regular subscribers even read his blog (I don’t!) Seems to me that you suffer the problem I do — you waste time arguing with intellectual featherweights where you just can’t win! There’s a saying about ‘wresting with a pig — all you get is dirty, and the pig enjoys it!’

    I agree with you and Ben — I don’t know one person who is serious about their miles that still flies Delta. My Delta friends are either hub- captives, clueless, or more likely, both!

  28. Unfortunately, I have a hoard of them right now. So disappointing to see their award program slide even further. When you feel like you a good value by booking an award (business) to Australia for 150K (when everyone else, for now, charges less), you know you are used to being hosed by the program. So, in defense, only delta can make you think you found a great deal when you book a simple award ticket. 🙂

  29. I also credit my DL flights to Alaska. If you are MVP Gold on Alaska, you get many of the same benefits as being mid-tier elite on DL (including double miles, free checked baggage, etc.).

  30. “Angries”

    Haha you are truly nothing but a bad Ingy clone… And that’s not a compliant.

    Censor on my friend!

  31. What I call a “Delusional Relationship!”

    I believe there is medication for that condition.

  32. I’m not sure all this vitriol against a blogger is warranted. I can add the following upsides of Skymiles:

    – being based in Australia, Skymiles looks ultra-generous when compared to Qantas Frequent Flyer
    – earning Skymiles means you have been lucky enough not to be on a United flight.

  33. As an Advantage lifetime Plat (who knows if that will change in the merger and a Delta Diamond through 2015 I can say that I see more from Delta domestic benefits that AA lifetime plat. Delta upgrades me virtually every single flight. Now first class domestic is nothing crazy but as lifetime plat how many operational upgrades do I get? ZERO. In fact there is little benefit to AA Plat. They could have empty seats in first and they wont upgrade one single PLAT. I was on a flight to Japan in First. My wife and I were the only two people in the cabin. I looked and business was full. I am sure there must have been some plats in there. Did they upgrade any of them to first since they had the space? NOPE. When I got lifetime plat a lot was from credit card spend. I got in right before they made the changes. But once I because plat I saw the benefits were minimal if anything as a plat.

  34. In general I think that todays darlings might be criticized as we go forward with HUGE changes in flight charts to all of the domestic carriers. They see people like us scoring all the premium tix and they would prefer you use them on cheap domestic fares where they have empty seats here and there.

  35. @robertw: While you’re critical of the lack of upgrades on American “on a flight to Japan,” Delta doesn’t give complimentary upgrades on its long-haul international flights either (and the systemwide upgrades they offer are terrible).

    Because of the vast price differential between international economy and business, airlines defend their premium cabin space.

  36. @Chris I made a typing error I meant to state Executive Plat members, moving them into the F cabin. The cabin was empty. On the domestic side Plats on American get ZERO upgrades (other than using stickers). Previously you could spend 10K miles per a flight to upgrade to first. It wasnt the worst value prop out there. Then American changet it to 15K (30 RT). Then they added a cash component of $75.00 each way (150 total). And a Plat pays those same fees over anyone else in the program. Stickers will more than likely be phased out once that merger goes through. I can assure there will be a big AA devalue however it may not come immediately. Expect changes in 2014 and 2015.

  37. “Sandy said,

    Funny how when you can gain from someone by doing some “dishonest”, you ignore ur dishonesty but when you lose , you call others out on it. Shame on you.”

    Not sure I understand what you mean. If you insist that Delta penalizes “gamers” rather than their loyal customers who earn their SM miles butt-in seat, then you’re as far out there as one can be. It’s Delta’s captives who are getting butchered by this.

  38. Hey, I live in Knoxville TN. Here is why i like sky pesos… AA flight to Central America and Points South on miles or $ includes 2 connections and 3 hours on regional jets. United’s flights are always delayed i swear i’ve probably spent a 50 hours of delayed on United/Continental flights out of like 6 trips. US airways ain’t bad if your going to Europe. But delta is a quality product united is not. Heck I got my mother almost 2 cents per mile on her sky pesos and they called her gave her 7500 back when her flight was delayed so she didn’t have to drive to the airport quality service.

  39. I have a lot of Delta miles I have accumulated due to various bonuses etc. I do not defend them nor any program ever. In the past I had fairly good success with American. However with those huge fuel surcharges-American is nowhere near as good as in the past. I would state that nobody should “defend” any program as being the best right now. All are in flux. American will be making changes shorty after their merger. Those great deals for low miles will be drying up. With that being said if a ticket costs me an extra 10-20K here and there I can live with that since I generate plenty.

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