Why Delta Miles Haven’t Suddenly Become ‘Great’ – But I Still Work Hard to Earn Them

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Lucky asks Is the relative value of Delta Skymiles increasing?

And technically the relative value might be — if they’re a 2 on a scale of 1-10, and United used to be an 8 but has dropped to a 6 then Delta miles are, relative to United, more valuable than they used to be. But that really doesn’t tell us much.

Here’s why it matters: The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is offering 50,000 bonus miles after $1,000 in purchases within 3 months and a $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase within that period as well. It’s a better offer than usual, carries a $0 fee the first year (then $95) and it’s available just through September 8 only.

It’s a good offer, better than usual, and Delta miles have use. To me, it’s worth picking up an easy 50,000 miles!

But make no mistake, Delta miles haven’t all of a sudden gotten ‘great’.

They definitely have good uses. I’ve got a couple of Virgin Australia business class award seats booked, which will get me to my cousin’s wedding in Sydney (and a pop up to the Great Barrier Reef included). That was a great ‘get’ considering that all of the points were earned via the Suntrust Delta debit card.

Many issues remain:

  • Delta doesn’t offer first class awards. Right now American miles are best for that (Cathay Pacific, Etihad especially but also British Airways with fuel surcharges and Qantas if you gave it right).

  • Good luck getting to Asia with more than one passenger. Delta generally releases one business class seat only much of the time. Their partner Korean would be great — and is great with miles from other carriers — but Delta blacks out all dates for all routes on Korean whenever Korean has blackouts for saver awards on any date and route. That’s about a third of the year, and it’s Delta doing it not Korean.

  • Delta doesn’t make all award seats available on partners that those partners are offering. Just compare the Air France award seats offered to Alaska Airlines versus what Delta will book. Expect more of that with partners as Delta re-negotiates contracts. I’ve had terrible luck trying to book available China Southern award seats using Delta miles.

  • Delta’s website is terrible and its agents are worse. The website either won’t find available seats, errors out in the booking process, or misprices awards. Their agents don’t know who their partners are, or the correct booking classes into which to book seats.

  • What you get is a worse inflight product. In general Delta’s partners have worse business classes. Eventually Air France will get decent seats. Delta’s business class isn’t bad as far as it goes. But most partners still fly angled seats in business. It’s still business class — it’s a ton better than coach, and it gets the job done. All things equal I prefer most of the offerings from Star and oneworld airlines.

On the other hand, it’s true, there are some good things about the program (in some cases, not new).

  • Delta is going to start allowing one-way awards at half the price of roundtrip next year. So that much is (finally) better.

  • Delta miles are best for business class to Australia. This is one of the toughest awards if you want to fly non-stop, but Delta partners with Virgin Australia – the only airline that releases tons of space. It’s 160,000 miles roundtrip and you may not find the domestic connection out to Los Angeles, but it gets you there without flying via Asia (and Delta does permit routing via Asia).

  • Delta books awards on Virgin Atlantic without fuel surcharges. Good business class product, less cash than other partners charge for it. So that’s good.

  • Delta miles are in some ways best for Tahiti. This is probably the toughest award overall, given limited service, and Delta partners with both airlines flying from the mainland US to Tahiti. But since the Air France flight is non-daily, and doesn’t have much award space, and Delta is stingy with giving you what is available, it almost doesn’t count. And Delta adds fuel surcharges onto Air Tahiti Nui awards, while American charges fewer miles and no fuel surcharges.

  • Delta’s transatlantic award space is much better than it used to be. If you’re avoiding peak summer months it’s actually quite good, especially to London and even Paris but generally not to destinations where they lack direct competition (say, for instance, the Nice flight). Right now there’s even good availability for next summer.

We don’t really know what next year holds for Delta miles when they implement revenue-based earning and their new 5-tier redemption chart — we know the prices, but not availability on Delta flights at each price point and also not what availability is going to look like on partners as that has seemed to shift in some cases to being only a subset of what those partners are making available.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Update: to add, since Lucky is talking about the relative value of Skymiles, I should say that I am in an odd position of having to transfer about a million Amex points out to programs. I am not making any transfers to Delta.

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Whether intentional or not, your post makes a strong argument to ignore/avoid the Skymiles program — unless you have the Suntrust debit card, which I believe is no longer available to new members. It’s just too much trouble for too little reward. Efforts are better concentrated on other programs.

  2. Once again you have to have the “last word” on a subject. I thought Lucky article didn’t need a rebuttal. Just like your oversensational Avios the skly is falling blog. Slow down Gary. You don’t need to be the last word on evrything travel(My apologies to your ego).

  3. For me the reasons I dropped the Delta Amex Gold was poor domestic availability, FTFs,(which they have since dropped), and poor value going forward after the 1st year, the annual fee wasn’t worth what I got from the Card. Unlike Citibank, AMEX won’t do AF waivers or statement credits, at least not for me. So, can’t re-up for the Card even if I wanted to, due to AMEX’S lifetime policy on getting the card again. Too bad, Delta’s in-flight product is pretty good, too bad their FF program sucks!

  4. Lol, Delta miles basically still suck. But here’s my affiliate link to get 50,000 of them anyway.

    Worst. Commercial. Ever. :p

  5. ‘…but I still work hard to earn them’. How many DL trips have you taken in the last few years??

    You and Lucky are trying to have a fake debate to pimp this useless CC. Cmon, your readers aren’t dumb. How do you expect people to consider you a reliable source if you try and push poor products when they provide you a referral?

  6. Hey Gary –

    I was thinking about burning some skypesos on business class tickets to Australia, direct from LAX in one direction, and routing through Asia in the other. What products would you recommend for the latter routing (through Asia)? Are there any that aren’t god awful J products?

  7. @jay – I think the new Korean product is fine if you can avoid the blackout dates. China Southern’s A380 looks pretty good too. I’d avoid China Eastern all things equal.

  8. @Tyler we know you come here over and over with negativity — almost as negative as I am on Skymiles. I’m trying to present the facts, suggesting that they aren’t as good as Lucky says, but also disclose that I do collect them. I’ve burned over 400,000 Skymiles this year. As I say, I’ve earned them all with the Suntrust card. Some will want to pick up 50k from a bonus, here’s the things to consider for those folks.

    Tell me, you want to talk credibility, which claim in this post about Delta miles — good or bad — do you disagree with? Or do you agree with my analysis 100% (but still want to take a piss)?

  9. Gary- your thoughts on the Skymiles program going forward please. If it’s going to be more difficult to earn miles because of the revenue restrictions (my assumption), will the existing Skymiles become worth more because there are less miles chasing award seats? To further the thought, will earning miles become easier for those that do so with a credit card rather than those who actually fly (ignoring status)?

  10. You share lots of “upmanship”. Gotta have the last word always with rebuttals of your fellow bloggers. “Often wrong but rarely in doubt!!!

  11. Gary, Actually lately I’ve written far more positive posts than negative (because lately you’ve written more unique, quality posts than cc pushes).

    The simple question is, would this ‘analysis’ even exist if you didn’t get a referral? I think we can all agree it would not- you wouldn’t waste your time trying to pretty up a fairly useless bonus in comparison to what else is available.

  12. I think you missed (maybe forgot?) an important point in your analysis- domestic travel on DELTA. Skymiles are great for that. Here’s why:
    – as you pointed out they are pretty worthless everywhere else. I’d much rather save AS and UA miles for big international trips
    -thanks to Suntrust, they are incredibly easy (and cheap) to rack up
    -40k mid-tier awards are easy to come by. yes, that’s usually more than other programs, but again, see #2, thanks Suntrust!
    -Delta is a lot nicer than the other domestic carriers (well, at least United!) I was actually very impressed with their domestic F product last time I flew.
    -stopovers, free one ways

    Not all of us always want to travel internationally in premium cabins. Some of us like skiing in Jackson Hole with a free stop in SLC. Guess who flies there? 😉

  13. @Michelle S – yes for sure if you’re willing to pay 40k miles then availability domestically is quite good. Those 40k domestic flights don’t ocmbine with international partner flights, you’d wind up paying additively though.

  14. @Tyler My disagreements with Lucky, I wrote about those and always have. I write about the pluses and minuses of Skymiles and always have. Stick to analyzing the facts, disagree or agree with those, you’ll find discussions far more productive if you don’t try to see into other peoples’ minds and discuss motives.

    I really really don’t agree that Delta miles have gotten all that much more valuable, and am going to share that disageement with Lucky’s take on my blog. Is what it is..

  15. @John – I share my personal thoughts on my blog. What’s wrong with that? You’re welcome to share however you think I’m wrong here in the comments, would love to hear your thoughts if you have any to share!

  16. @easy victor – i do not believe that existing skymiles become worth more, my bet is the 5-tier redemption chart makes delta redemptions more expensive on net (fewer tier 1 seats) and partner awards become harder as well (delta effectively blocking)

  17. @Gary,

    too bad, guess I won’t be seeing you in JAC this winter 🙁

    Seriously though, I hope you realize you’re pitching a card that won’t even get you HALFWAY to Australia or Tahiti while there lots of great domestic destinations you can easily get to with miles (and a $50 statement credit!) left over.

  18. @Michelle – I think I’m clear today on the cost of the award, it’s just how I use miles (and how I just used my Delta miles), i can only be authentic writing from my own goals and experiences most of the time.

  19. I am sharing my thoughts: Your blog pre credit card links had interesting material
    Now (like many other blogs) it has become primariily a credit card pushing site and most of this “filler” material actually has been “rehashing” of other bloggers posts!

  20. John,

    A vast, vast amount of miles comes from non flying activity. I’ve picked up close to 2 million miles on cc sign ups and pretty much no revenue tickets. I also don’t do MS.

    While I sure haven’t set any records, I sure like to think I’ve been quite successful at this game.

    And I have Gary and Ben to thank for that, keeping us in the cc loop.

    So thanks guys.

  21. That’s funny because this seemed like a complete rehash of Ben’s post but with a slightly different spin and no Chase/United links (but if it makes you feel any better he also neglected to talk about the value many of us find in domestic redemption).

    I personally think there’s HUGE relative value in Delta Skymiles based on the fact you can easily find for 40k what can cost 50k on United and American WITHOUT the opportunity cost of there being lots more and better uses for those miles out there (excluding Australia and Tahiti, of course! 😉 )

  22. The availability of Delta one way awards could help some. If I can ever find a seat one way, I won’t need to hit the lottery and actually find a seat in the other direction, but can instead reserve the other direction on a carrier that actually makes award seats available.

    Just for comparison, I tried award seats from my airport to Jackson Hole for every date between now and March 1. On United there are 79 dates available, while Delta has four (two of them being this weekend). This is absolutely typical.

  23. my 2c: I’ve found out about the best credit card deals more times from Gary’s blog than any other source (including FT, which is too disorganized on this subject), often without affiliate links. I also found this article helpful since it evaluates frankly from all sides.

  24. @Dave

    That’s weird. I’ve usually found West Coast availability to JAC to be way better on DL than UA. I’ve even found 25k (and always 40k) tickets at times when United was charging 50k or $700+ for revenue (sadly AA/Avios isn’t an option because of DFW). No doubt that one-way awards will help all of us though.

  25. @Michelle, I didn’t check specifically to see if the problem arises primarily due to lack of availability for the first leg out of my airport. There were more dates with 40k – but I don’t want to give credit to Delta for a redemption that costs a lot more than the 25k I could get on all those dates on United.

  26. You won’t transfer a single Amex point to Delta in this round but at the very top of the post say it’s worth picking up an extra 50k?

    Apps are not infinite. We have to choose each time from dozens.

    Your motivation is clear. And this whole debate would be more credible when the deal first started earlier in the month, rather than after the advertiser returned.

  27. @Greg I did mention the card as soon as it became available. I made this post in response to Lucky. I think 50k is a good offer for a card, but it isn’t as valuable as Lucky argued, where am I unclear?

  28. Why so much hate? Gary is giving information. Many if the readers profit from this information – why is there so much hate if he gets a credit for providing this info? I scroll through a post if it doesn’t interest me, I don’t torture myself reading it, then complaining that it was written.

    I personally really enjoy this blog. I learn a lot, and appreciate the information provided.

  29. Thanks, Karen, appreciate the kind words!

    Some people haven’t learned not to waste time on things that don’t interest them, or to focus their time on things they find valuable. It’s a tough skill to master, I guess.

  30. I think Delta gets so much flack about being hard to use. Other than the hub captives and companies who contract with Delta, many mile hounds don’t bother with Delta. There are very specific uses of Delta miles that you outlined, but one. If one flys from a KLM or AF gateway city, avoiding any Delta connecting flights, usually one can get J seats rather easily. Usually these flights price at lowest miles award with no fuel surcharges. KLM is almost done with their J upgrades. AF is just starting, but should be done by 2016. So KLM, AF will finally have flat beds in J. So, a couple credit card sign-ups, and the required spend, yield almost the 125,000 miles needed for a J award. Which I feel is the best use for Delta miles.

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