I Love Delta Award Sales But They Don’t Actually Drive Much Value to Members

Delta has been running sale after sale on award redemptions recently. Make no mistake charging fewer miles for a ticket is better than charging more miles. But there’s been tremendous euphoria in the blogosphere about how valuable Delta SkyMiles have become. That’s just falling for Delta’s hype and doesn’t make sense at all.

Delta will call a 34,000 domestic coach roundtrip a ‘sale’. They call 75,000 miles roundtrip in coach between Atlanta and Honolulu a sale.

When they call 27,000 and 28,000 mile awards a ‘sale’ that just underscores how little sales make sense in the context of Delta which no longer respects members enough to publish regular prices.

There are occasional values, and even rare occasional sales on business class. But it’s almost always coach routes where flights are empty.

Sure they’ll run sales for just 5000 miles one way but you’ll often find these are for flights you can buy for less than $90. In other words you’re still not getting 2 cents a mile in value from Delta even on these 5000 mile sales.

Award sales mean more value but no, they are not ‘crushing the competition‘ as I read this week. If you can take advantage of a sale that’s fantastic for you but my point here is about value of the program overall to members.

Delta has been driving value to those who:

  1. want to fly economy as their reward (they still charge as much as 100,000 miles one way for business class to Europe at the saver level)
  2. will choose where to go based on Delta’s sale
  3. can act quickly and spontaneously in making their booking whenever a flash sale comes up

Most people start with the destination and look for the reward. They book well ahead, around their lives and schedules. And heaven forbid they want their reward to involve greater comfort..

To be clear these award sales are nice. They provide more value than Delta offers without the sales. That doesn’t mean that they are offering great value, or better value than competitors, overall or for the majority of members.

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. Gonna have to disagee. Booked jfk —> cun for 12k RT PP over a long weekend. With status, I’ll at least clear C+ (if not first). That’s how you reward loyal flyers who have status.

    Look at the JFK to Zurich for 24k or HKG for 50k.

    Try finding a saver award over a weekend with AA miles. Forget it.

  2. @Phil – JFK to ZRH is available on DL for $421 throughout november. Minus the ~$60 in taxes and it is 32k miles (not seeing 24k) for $360. HKG is regularly available on carriers for $500-$600, including SkyTeam. It’s not a terrible redemption, but they aren’t that great, either.

  3. Sorry @Phil, anecdotes do not make for “crushing” the competition. I just booked Montreal to Dublin in peak summer season on Aer Lingus round trip using Amex MR transferred to BA Avios for less than 18K MR round trip (around 6 cents per point) and I can book it year round with no sale or transfer bonus for 25K. Do I think that either MR or BA are “crushing” the competition? No, they happen to have a sweet spot to where I want to go, but the program as a whole is not crushing anybody.
    The only reason that Delta looks like they are offering something great is by comparing to their regular prices or the worst way to redeem miles on the other of the big 3.
    If you add in Southwest as competition for these domestic routes and use ultimate rewards points for cash tickets, delta ends up looking very bad still. Yes, you can get an occasional deal if you happen to need what they have a surplus of, but that doesn’t mean they are crushing the competition unless you very strictly define who the competition is (big 3 only) what the competition is for (only economy) and where the competition is (on the routes that Delta has chosen to offer for sale). So yes, if you stack all the factors in Delta’s favor, they are crushing the competition.

  4. I have done well the past couple years with Delta Business Class sales to Europe, but haven’t seen one in quite a while now. I’ve decided to give up on Delta gold, which has little practical value to me, and stop collecting any more Delta miles through cc spend. It’s one thing to spend 70,000 or 80,000 points one way, but if you look without a sale you see a lot of 180,000 and up. How do people not realize they can get better value than this with a cash back card?

  5. As Skypesos does not publish award charts, the term “sale” is a fabrication because there is no standard base price. The relatively low award price for a route is simply a reflection of low demand and low fares on a given route, as you note. As 25k would be considered a saver award on many carriers, 34k is simply a less inflated award on DL. I find 25k RT all the time on UA so I don’t even consider it a sale.

  6. Wow, looks like that blog post that said Delta was “crushing the competition” really got under Gary’s skin. Still no letting it go. Not sure why he’s so annoyed about people considering Delta’s latest flurry of deals providing better opportunities to travel than others. Weird. And sorry to offend once again, but Delta’s recent miles sales ARE crushing the competition as far as I’m concerned. Obviously that’s not going to be the case for EVERYONE, but it’s a fact for me and my travel objectives (and personal anecdotes are all we can go by or really care about @Farnorthtrader) and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I realize most of these miles/travel blogs necessarily or by definition have some degree of pedantic material, but come on, you’re going a little overboard on this one. But I guess we always need to stir up a little “drama” to attract the clicks. Well done!

  7. I’m somewhat new to the points game. This post and the comments all have some excellent insights. Being a DTW based flyer, I get my Delta miles from flying, and garner MR via AmEx Plat where I hope to be able to score/afford a better long-distance flight experience for me and my family than I would have via Skymiles.
    The Skymiles flash sales occasionally have had excellent value propositions, but mostly what I’ve seen is what Gary wrote. I’ve chosen to pay the very competitive cash price for flights instead of using the Skymiles on recent flights over the past two years.

  8. “That’s just falling for Delta’s hype and doesn’t make sense at all.”

    Amen! Literally all these ‘sales’ are bogus when you check the CPM + fees/taxes. Flying is so cheap right now that most of these alleged deals are a poor use of miles (unless your miles are expiring).

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