What You’re Missing By Doing the Math on $59 Delta SkyMiles Select

SkyMiles Select has generated much virtual ink as a brand new $59 program from Delta offering:

  • Main cabin 1 boarding
  • 8 drink coupons
  • Luggage tag

skymiles select benefits

Delta says that SkyMiles select is selling you a package with $100 in value, based on 8 drinks at $9 each ($72) plus two one way boarding priorities at $15 each. With the math done that way, if you drink your fill each additional trip where you board early means you come out that much farther ahead.

Then we start debating how much those inflight cocktails are worth, whether you’d really spend $30 roundtrip to be able to spend even more time in a metal tube (you’re really buying the ability to not have to gate check your bag), and who on earth is ascribing value to the luggage tag?

The most common points beyond ‘doing the math’ on package value are that:

  1. This is a new lowest elite tier that you pay for
  2. This undercuts one of the selling points – early boarding – of the Delta co-brand credit card for non-elite customers.

There’s nothing ground breaking here in either of those two. Airlines have been selling bundled and unbundled premium access services for some time, and $59 doesn’t buy you the initial bonus miles, earning for spend, or free checked bags that the credit card delivers. This isn’t about to undermine the substantial cash cow that is the American Express deal.

Some have suggested that if you were going to buy all those cocktails anyway then Delta is probably coming out behind, losing money on the deal. But that misses the point. If you buy this bundle you’re likely to make your next ticket purchases from Delta in order to use the services you’ve already paid for. And that’s true even if Delta is slightly more expensive.

delta coach

This prepaid package is probably a more powerful motivator (for folks who sign on) than SkyMiles in choosing Delta. It’s Amazon Prime where you’ve already paid for shipping so when the purchase price of an item is the same on Amazon as at another store, you’re going to buy from Amazon because your total cost delivered is lower.

I made this point to a C-level airline executive two years ago regarding the monthly internet package they were selling. It hadn’t occurred to them that a customer who purchased $50 a month internet meant that customer was more likely to buy tickets from them too — that on each subsequent purchase they were likely cheaper, as long as fares were close, because on another airline the passenger would find themselves buying internet.

If you know you’re going to make 5 or more one way trips on Delta (but don’t earn elite status and won’t get the credit card), and you’d buy earlier boarding each time, then sure by all means do this and pocket free drink coupons.

But as a general matter I recommend against buying SkyMiles Select because of the lock-in effect and how that’ll cause you to choose Delta and even spend more on your next trip, simply by virtue of already having paid for benefits that you’d need to buy a la carte from another airline.

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. I only get drinks on less than half of my flights because so many are in the morning. Also as you said boarding comes with credit card, I am likely to board later anyway and usually wait until a later group. What would be more useful to me is a way to buy a package that allowed changes without the penalty, that’s my biggest hesitation to fly Delta, $200 each per cancel is $600 for my family!

  2. Indeed, good point on the lock-in. This is why it’s so surprising to see most airlines gut their FF programs as they have. On the one hand airlines will complain about the commidification of air travel. On the other hand, they cut their differentiators to… turn themselves into a commodity.
    Pretty ragonk if you ask me…

    Delta is the exception these days, and good on them. I hope they continue to write a new narrative for traveling on their airline.

  3. Don’t forget that there are people who can’t qualify for the credit card, or who prefer debit since they don’t trust themselves to spend responsibly. For them, this package may be a good option.

    In any case, I’m bemused by the fact that they value the package based on just two one-ways, yet include 8 drink tickets. Are they encouraging us to have four drinks per flight?

  4. When I looked at the e-mail offering for Delta Select, it seemed to me to offer Group 1 boarding for a year, not just on 2 one-way trips. So, their pricing seems way off.

    If you have any level of Medallion status, it’s a much closer call. You will get the accelerated boarding with your status (unless Delta intends to re-jigger the boarding priority process). The 8 drink coupons are usable over a one year period, so if you have a drink over 8 flights during the one year, you come out slightly ahead.

  5. Setting aside any questions about whether one should consume that much alcohol when flying given impact of dehydration or other undesirable side effects that medical professionals recommend against especially when flying, four (4) drinks per flight in Main Cabin on Delta would be a miracle seeing how more often than not it’s been one (1) and done when it comes to offering drinks on most flights – or maybe twice on longer flights.

    But, at least in Main Cabin and Comfort+, it’s usually once for cocktails – maybe twice – and that’s it!

    And that’s as recent as yesterday for Mexico City-JFK in Comfort+ on Delta metal.

    Yes, there was a period of turbulence mid-flight where the captain announced that flight attendants needed to be seated.

    But, it wasn’t THAT long.

    And there were other flights this year where it was twice at most for anything other than a limited selection of non-alcoholic drinks poured into plastic cups, served on trays in Main Cabin and C+ even when weather was not a factor.

    So, who knows how many of those coupons will go to waste anyway unless one takes enough flights to use all eight (8)?

    Just sayin’ 😉

  6. @ Gary — Yeah, not sure Delta should be encouraging anyone to binge drink in this manner. Four drinks is way too many. Not a good idea.

  7. “ early boarding – of the Delta co-brand credit card for non-elite customers”

    I was boarding a United flight the other day and a guy got turned away trying to board with the 1Ks. He hung back by group 1 and said something like “we paid for priority boarding, what is this?” Then they called group 1 and he just beelined to the gate again and the woman said “sir you’re in group 2 please join that line” and I didn’t hear his freak out but I laughed because he was probably so upset he paid for “priority” and he was now going to be the 101st person on the plane.

  8. For anyone who didn’t read the details, the 8 drink coupons are good for a year, you don’t have to drink 4x each way.

  9. There is a different point of view than either the extreme points players like Gary and the always top tier FF’s. This is targeted at the most ‘hated’ customers in the industry, those people that have the nerve to fly less than 25k mile per year on corporate accounts. They cant use the Delta Amex because they have to use the company card, and they don’t fly enough to be constrained by FF perks (I mean who cares about someone that only flies one trip every month). So from that point of view (happens to be mine, 920k lifetime miles with Delta but now less than 20k per year in travel miles) it is a slick way to lock in what are actually good customers. When I was Gold / Platinum continuously over 10 years Delta did everything they could to keep me a happy customer, but at only 20k flown per year I just a random flyer to them. So this does provide an intriguing opportunity for many of us to mull over, as it could be a tie breaker when debating JetBlue vs Delta

  10. Are there so many alcoholics flying that they can’t hydrate with water for a few hours? I prefer to doze, read, or look out the window when I’m in a plane (flying over the Rockies offers amazing views). I’d rather enjoy a cocktail on the ground in a cool bar surrounded with good vibes, than cramped in a painful seat surrounded by strangers. A drink served in a plastic cup at 30,000 feet, even if it’s free isn’t my idea of happy hour.

  11. As far as the making it more likely to book DL part, this is taking a page from the NK and F9 playbooks, with their $9 Fare Club and Discount Den memberships.

  12. @G.Green is right about semi-frequent business travelers, and folks who can’t/don’t want the Delta AmEx like me. I just started a new job taking 1-2 round trips per month. My company books almost exclusively Delta, and it’s company policy to fly main cabin with no addons. I’d gladly pay $60 to be guaranteed Main 1 boarding and not have to gate check my bag. The drinks are just a cherry on top.

  13. Those drink vouchers ($72) are valued at only $54 by DL AMEX holders receiving 25% off in-flight purchases.

    That said, I would purchase the package if we get some data points finding the $59 is eligible for other AMEX’s Airline incidentals reimbursement. I’m not able to maximize that $250 this year.

  14. I couldn’t care less about overhead bin space. I travel with a checked bag and an underseat backpack.

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