Head Of Delta SkyMiles Explains Why They Charge So Much More For Awards Than Other Airlines

The inimitable Brian Sumers interviewed the Vice President of the Delta SkyMiles program for Skift and put the question to Prashant Sharma why does Delta charge so many more miles for the best awards than other airlines?

Delta SkyMiles award pricing can frequently be double, triple or more than what you’d find elsewhere. That’s true even when you’re trying to fly Delta.

And Sharma’s answer is pretty simple: it’s because they can get away with it, and customers keep earning SkyMiles and signing up for the Delta credit card.

We take very seriously that the customers see value in the program, and the value is very holistic. A large portion of that for sure is using your miles to fly which is the promise of joining the program. And we feel confident that as we look at where customers are flying and their ability to use the miles, we are actually seeing that actually approach 2019 in terms of how customers are using their miles to fly so demand remains high. It’s also validated by the fact that customers are not only joining the program at record levels but also taking up cobrand at record levels which is further faith that this is a currency they want to earn.

So we looked at the value holistically. We feel very good that what we’re offering to customers. We continue to solicit feedback and satisfaction with the ability to redeem miles and the value of redeeming miles.

As long as customers keep engaging with SkyMiles, they have no reason to offer better value to members. In fact, Sumers digs a little deeper and talks about how Air Canada’s Aeroplan purposely offers awards that – while affordable for the program – look like outsized value to the member. Sharma sees no reason for Delta to do this,

Our focus here is to provide consistent and sustainable value…so we are not necessarily trying to play the game with customers or with bloggers. We listen to what customers want and we try to offer that on a compelling value across the board and that’s been our focus and we look at value more holistically as well. Mileage redemption is a big portion of it, but also just everything else that Delta can provide in terms of experience and making them come back to us.

He does highlight occasional sales that Delta runs, generally for coach travel out of specific cities, as a sweet spot in the program. You won’t find these good deals whenever you happen to search for award travel. Rather if you can watch for deals and jump on them when they come up you can get reasonable value out of your Delta miles flying coach.

We had offers for customers living in New York where they could do a roundtrip to Europe for 34,000 miles in Main Cabin or they could go to Miami for 15,000 miles roundtrip in Main Cabin. So we continue to have a portion of these for customers depending on when they want to go and where they want to go.

Sy Syms, CEO of the Syms Corporation, used to use the slogan “an educated consumer is our best customer” in 1980s TV spots. Delta could consider, “a consumer who doesn’t look for value, doesn’t know any better, is SkyMiles’ best customer.”

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. […] What’s always striking is the selection of Delta SkyMiles as second best (again). Delta sends out disingenuous releases each year implying that they ‘won’ this ranking when they didn’t. Delta claims to have been named “a” best travel rewards program by U.S. News which I guess is true, from a certain point of view. It’s an especially odd claim though when the head of the program even explains they don’t try to drive the most value to program m…. […]


  1. His attitude explains why I’ve added American and United to the stables and the rest of my scheduled flights this year are on AA. As a Delta Diamond my preference is Delta but they just don’t seem to live in reality.

  2. The idea that DL will learn its lesson or that customers will look elsewhere ignores history. It’s been 10 years or so since Gary came up with the “Sky Pesos” tag. But then he and other bloggers kept selling DL cards, and here we are.

    Whatever that mumbo-jumbo about their ‘holistic’ program was supposed to say, DL runs the best domestic airline and shows no interest in giving awards away to gain customers. They appeal to the customer who wants a better flying experience, and lack of marketplace rewards is one way those customers pay for that experience.

  3. Delta was my preferred airline, but I agree they do not care. IT is not worth it any more. I used my points for a flight and have had 2 schedule changes. My friends are on the same flight, paid for a ticket. and no schedule changes. It makes no sense. You earn point to use them, and you are the first one to be dropped from a flight. So there is no benefit to using points….I cannot use my yearly companion fairs as there are so many restrictions its impossible! Again no benefit. They require both travelers to start and end at the same airport. HELLO DELTA not everyone lives in the same state.! Again no benefit.
    Delta does not value long term patrons. They just focuse on new clients. After I use my points, I will be canceling my credit card (with a hefty fee) and looking at other airline programs or cash back cards. I am a travel agent, and not a benefit for myself or my clients. As I suggest they look at other airlines programs.

  4. After this year I am cancelling my $250 amx card. I just tried to use my companion ticket found the only option unacceptable.

  5. That DL is counting on its least knowledgeable/educated customers to further the DL loyalty program scheme just speaks to DL miles being Delta ScamMiles.

  6. Miles are a joke! Companion miles even more of a joke. I will drop my American Express Delta as soon as I can use just a few on the many many miles and companion tckts I have. This has been such a disappointing experience and very very dishonest. Adios

  7. Preying on unsuspecting customers while ignoring the needs and wants of those “who brung you” sounds like a terrific way to do business, Prashant Sharma.

    You are already losing customers and SkyMiles members at the rate of hundreds per week. Eventually there will be none. Oh wait, isn’t that the point you were trying to make here?

  8. Why anyone would put spend on a Delta card is beyond me. Their points are only good for economy redemptions which puts them in a certain class of thrifty and rather boring travel. The lounge experience only reinforces this.

  9. I think DL only survives because they have a virtual monopoly from their major hubs. Flying from ATL, we really have no alternative.

  10. New drinking game: take a swig every time some empty suit misuses the term “holistic.” How long before we start hearing the phrase “wholly istic,” followed, of course, by “partially istic,” and them simply “istic,” which means whatever you want it to mean — just like holistic, apparently.

    It would have been much more honest for Sharma to say “Delta’s frequent flier program is a fraud on the flying public.” That wouldn’t get him any stock options, though.

    Delta is. The. Worst.

  11. Maybe the DL VP is a high caste and considers Sky Miles members who don’t have the co-branded AMEX to be lower caste plebs when it comes to Sky Miles.

    I unfortunately flew BA to London for years – there was no SEA-LHR direct DL until they bought NWA – and Alaska for my work city pairs in recent years – so now am still 150k short of million miler near retirement. I want lifetime Silver for bag fees and seat selection (upgrades seem non-existant any more), but now wonder if that is worth pursuing.

    Sitting on 1.5mm SkyMiles which are not worth what I thought. I wonder if the 1 cent/mile redemption conversion to MQDs will also be reduced.next.

  12. Trying to use my points too. But it’s outrages how many points I need to go to Europe. Once I find a deal I’m done. I hate it. There’s no reason it should cost so many points . Even with the card holder discount , it’s stupid high . All the other points cards are 70000. But delta is 140000. I’m so ready to dump this card.

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