Something Wonky Is Going On With Delta SkyMiles That Could Be The Biggest Devaluation Of All Time

In October 2020 Delta raised the cost of partner awards. It was the pandemic, there was no vaccine yet, and nobody was looking. They liked doing this so much that they did it again in February 2021. Business class between the U.S. and Europe went from 75,000 miles in summer 2020 to 120,000 miles during winter 2021. Business class between the U.S. and Southeast Asia went all the way up to 165,000 miles. That’s one-way, at the saver level.

Now, Delta has doubled or in some cases even tripled those higher prices. It’s possible to spend 650,000 miles roundtrip on a simple business class partner award to Europe, as first noted by Kyle Potter of Thrifty Traveler. What he suggests is that wherever Delta has a flight, they’re charging partner flights at the same price, although that is not quite what I am seeing.

Whether you’re flying across the Atlantic or Pacific, there are some eye-popping increases. It’s not always 83% more miles for economy and 175% in business class – it’s tied to whatever Delta is deciding to charge for its own flights.

…If Delta doesn’t fly there, you can still get a better deal using your SkyMiles on a partner airline. But if Delta can get you there, expect to pay a small (or quite large) fortune.

For example, Delta doesn’t have any service to Taipei (TPE). That means you can still fly there from San Francisco (SFO) on China Airlines in economy for 50,000 miles or book business class for 120,000 miles each way.

What I’m seeing differs somewhat. Partner options that should be available appear not to come up on the Delta website. Hopefully what Thrifty Traveler identified was a glitch and they’ve removed the inventory in question until it’s fixed. Here’s what I see right now.

Some Virgin Atlantic business class one-way saver awards, that Virgin charges 50,000 miles for, available to Air France KLM Flying Blue members for 66,500 miles. They’re clearly partner business class awards that are available:

Delta is now charging 325,000 miles one way for the same partner flight.

Here’s Minneapolis – Amsterdam, a route where Thrifty Traveler identified Delta charging exorbitant pricing for KLM trips, to match what Delta was charging for its own flight. You see space available for Flying Blue members:

Delta wants 375,000 miles for that flight they’ll offer cheap to partners. But they aren’t pulling up KLM space on the route that I can find right now. That could also just be a website glitch.

On the other hand, I do still see some partner business class award space like Chicago O’Hare – Paris on Air France, available for 120,000 miles one way in business. That’s a princely sum, and far more than other programs charge, but it’s not following the pattern of ‘charge for partners whatever Delta charges’.

Notably Aeromexico awards seem to be pricing at old (merely exorbitant) levels.

Something is going on here. It’s not clear what. Delta is no longer pricing partner awards consistently, and in some cases they’ve tripled the cost without warning.

When Delta eliminated award charts they still managed their pricing as though there was a ‘hidden chart’. Awards on partners were available only at the saver level, and they had fixed prices when available. (Sure, Delta added things like surcharges in some cases for close-in booking, but it was a stable price.)

Now, who knows? For Europe this is the progression of pricing at the saver level one way in business class:

  • Summer 2020: 75,000 miles
  • Fall 2020: 95,000 miles
  • Winter 2021: 120,000 miles
  • Fall 2022: Variable, sometimes 300,000 miles or more

This Was 20 Years Ago

Let’s not forget that the Vice President in charge of Delta SkyMiles says they don’t even need to try to offer strong redemption value (“we are not necessarily trying to play the game with customers”) customers keep earning miles and taking their credit card even though they intentionally offer poor value to members. Delta of course is the only airline where their cheapest awards stick loyal customers in basic economy. And I suppose out of fear that someone, somewhere might get value from SkyMiles they even devalued your ability to spend them for premium drinks in their clubs last year.

You didn’t fly Delta for SkyMiles. But they’ve become less reliable. They now want even more money from you to earn elite status. And you often have to stand in line to get into their clubs you’re paying for.

By all means fly Delta when they have the best schedule and price, but they aren’t loyal to you, you shouldn’t be loyal to them. Delta flight attendants shouldn’t unionize but maybe Delta’s customers should?

I’m hoping Delta rolls back this pricing change, but even still I found the only way to make Delta miles worthwhile was their unannounced flash sales, which are mostly in coach, and even there the sales do not always represent good value.

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. Round-trip award-redemption flights between the US and Europe on Delta metal have priced at 650,000 or more miles for most of the last year. It’s only dropped when Delta has run a sale, like recently when winter paid loads must have been looking bad and they announced a flash Sky Miles sale for business-class.

  2. And if you think this is bad, wait until we see what Marriott does beginning January 2023. I bet we’ll see 300,000 points per night hotels.

  3. I have seen reasonable domestic redemptions lately at 1 cent or more per mile, especially when cash rates are up for a given week or weekend.

  4. You can bet your last miles that other carriers will do the same..they are just waiting to see that delta gets no blowback…

  5. My daughter had Qatar business class tickets with 75,000 AA miles in business class to Capetown, They had a schedule change so we tried looking at Delta who had wide open availability and they wanted 450,000 miles one-way.
    She stayed on Qatar

  6. Domestic redemptions appear devalued today. I usually see 1.2-1.5 cpp value and seeing like 0.8-0.9cpp.

    This sucks.

  7. Forget finding value for Delta One international trip redemptions. There are occasionally decent (if not spectacular) awards available for transatlantic trips for Economy and Premium Select. Last month I redeemed 68000 miles for a RT from BNA-ZRH in Economy. Sure, not as good as the previous standard of 60000 miles RT, but I won’t complain.

    A couple of weeks ago, I booked an award trip for May 2023, on a Transatlantic RT trip to Milan in Premium Select for 132,000 Skymiles. Reasonable (not painful) if not exceptional. Premium Select transatlantic awards seem to have the biggest swing in pricing. My observations were a low of 90000 Skymiles RT for a winter itinerary that would likely be undesirable, to 370000 miles for some other itineraries in 2023.

    Delta Skymiles aren’t that valuable, however the Delta experience has been mostly good for me. Avoiding some of the busiest domestic hubs like Atlanta will likely provide the best experience.

  8. Delta doesn’t care. As long as they keep making money from sales of Skymiles to the banks, and have brainwashed customers lap up the credit cards and their “superior” service/hard product, they’ll continue to push the boundaries.

    Anyone who isn’t hub captive or has a sense of value for their loyalty should have avoided DL like the plague.

  9. Honestly, it’s Delta. What did you expect?
    Until that unspeakable person Bastion gets the heave-ho nothing will change.

  10. @ Tom — I’m seeing typical 1.2-1.3 cpm for domestic redemptions. Can you provide examples?

  11. Doesn’t this harm partners also?

    If few people spend delta miles on AF awards for example, doesn’t AF lose revenue that would come from whatever award arrangement they have?

  12. Whwt do people expect when everyone is just taking these sginup bonuses for credit cards. I feel sorry for many as this was prone to happen. Delta is junk when it comes to redemption. Luckily I am out of that garbage

  13. I keep thinking at some point the devaluations crush their credit card usage. I put almost $0 on my delta and Marriott credit cards. But clearly so far that hasn’t happened with the general public. Seems like an increasingly dangerous gamble though.

  14. Haha did Gary fall for obvious sarcasm saying “@JL100 – I do not consider “1 cent or more per mile” to be a reasonable redemption value.”

  15. @Woofie – Even if Bastian leaves, nothing will change. A whole lot more people would have to leave also, and you’d have to bring in the right replacements.

  16. If there are frequent flyers out there at this point who haven’t yet learned that Delta hates them and is on a quest to destroy loyalty, I’m not sure what else can be done to help them. Those 100k SkyPeso sign up bonuses just aren’t so exciting anymore.

  17. Now do the same for American. Where it is legit impossible to get a premium cabin domestic award, especially when connecting intl, even 12 months out

    I love thrifty traveler and took AAdvantage (hah) of the Japan deal this week. Only problem was on AA’s end. JAL had great saaver space availability for their incredible intl J class, from 3+ US airports! Meanwhile AA couldn’t offer a single domestic F seat for positioning.

    Wait, they would offer it, but only if you were willing to connect via your own expense from ONT to LAX, DAL to DFW, or EWR/LGA to JFK.

    Wanna connect via LAX/DFW/JFK only? 220k+ miles

    Time to book positioning flights on Delta. Heck, maybe even switch everything to hem/SkyTeam. 650k miles really sucks, but at least they won’t force me to change airports or fly coach transcon while advertising it’s a business class award.

    Honesty is the best policy, and AA has been pissing me off a ton lately with their award flight mix and match of cabins/airports games. BTW this is not Tim Dumm

  18. Miles and points are being absolutely decimated by inflation, which is why I’ve abandoned those cards, in favor of immediate CASH back. Just got an offer from Bank of The West, offering a modest 3% cash back on groceries, gas and dining, with NO annual fee. US Bank gives me 5% cash back on utilities, so those cover my main expenses; CASH that can be used now, not miles/points worth ???? in the future.

  19. I stop being loyal to 1 airlines for miles about 10 years ago. Makes no sense to pay more for a flight just to earn miles that can never be redeemed at a good value. Example I’m looking at Amsterdam and KLM is $490 and United is $690. Even though United is my hometown airlines I won’t pay more just for my points.

  20. Stopped chasing SkyRubles years ago. Delta always does a major devaluation after the Feds bail them out and travel demand recovers.

    They might even use up their billions in NOLs and resume paying Federal Taxes before the end of the 21st century.

  21. AA did the same with Qatar once they start flying to Doha. Now you almost can’t find award availability with QR, but plenty of AA for 125k+ each way

  22. @ Captain Freedom — You could have just stopped at “Delta always does a major devaluation”. Anywhere else, it’s called grand theft.

  23. Unless something has changed that I missed, you have still have to pay the tax with miles redemption. The examples shown for Delta are showing incorrect taxes so that makes me wonder if there is a system problem. But as full as the flights have been getting I would expect some changes to the mileage option in terms of availability or amount of miles required.

  24. Imagine paying 650,000 miles for business-class on Delta or a partner and then not being able to access the Sky Club because there’s a line with 75 people waiting to get inside. That was my experience Wednesday evening in Atlanta trying to get inside the B Sky Club. 75 people at 4 pm on a Wednesday in October!

  25. so basically, after all of the posts and evidence presented so far, Delta is simply significantly increasing the miles required to get an award into international Delta One.
    That doesn’t make the entire program worthless and doesn’t reduce the value of a Skymile to less than a penny but simply means that Delta wants to sell its D1 cabins rather than give them away in any form – and, no, there was and is no assumption being made when any airline awards miles how and when they can be used.
    Delta also has much more restrictive upgrading policies to D1 than AA or UA and currently has fewer D1 seats on average than United’s international aircraft and comparable on average to American – although AA’s reconfiguration of the 777Ws will change that. And yet Delta is still reportedly thinking about adding more D1 seats to its A350s.
    As much as Gary will argue otherwise, Delta still gets more revenue from its credit partner than any other airline in the world and thus has the highest valued loyalty program using disclosures that each of the big 3 made when they mortgaged their loyalty programs during covid.

    Delta is a business just like American, United and Southwest. If its services are no longer attractive, they will VERY QUICKLY know it as customers leave – but that is not happening. DL’s international network is once again profitable and DL was the only one of the big 3 that consistently was profitable in all 3 international regions pre-covid.

    DL clearly offers an international product that customers pay for.

    Now go ask your grocery store for your free 5 lbs of ribeye – or settle for your points off on gasoline if you even go to a store that offers that perk.

  26. It’s simple. Delta is a business run by people. Like all people, they will steal from you, lie to you, and rip you off–as long as they can get away with it.

  27. Tom,
    tell us what Delta has stolen by allowing you to accrue miles that have no defined way they date or path via which they can be used when accumulated. And that is true for EVERY SINGLE AIRLINE that offers a loyalty program.

    Gary has been covering miles and points for years – well beyond when Delta became the first US airline, IIRC, to move to dynamic awards pricing. They don’t price their “paid” inventory the same for every seat, flight, or even at the same time for the same seat. The principle of dyanmic award pricing is not hard to understand for anyone that remotely understands airline revenue management.

    Delta does offer sales for its business class seats and some of them are very competitively – Gary has covered them.
    But Delta does not have anywhere near the number of business class seats on its planes than United – the two of which have the most comparable international networks – and in return Delta gets much higher revenue per flight as evidenced by DOT data which consistently shows that Delta is more efficient at generating revenue per seat mile than United – or American.

    They don’t run a charity. They maximize their revenues and their bottom line. No one should have signed up for Skymiles if they didn’t understand that basic principle.

    There are plenty of ways to use Skymiles and their public disclosures show they provide total numbers of redemptions and average number of miles per redemption comparable to AA and UA – it is just heavily skewed away from longhaul business class awards because there are people that clearly are willing to pay for the business class seats while other airlines offer more seats and “give” more of them away – and make less money in the process.

  28. What about AA’s Business awards for 350,000 miles ONE WAY to Santiago de Chile? That’s insanity.

  29. I tried to search for flights to Italy on Delta and Flying Blue and Flying Blue was much better value in Premium Economy.

  30. Points and rewards are simply dying a very slow death. We all know it, but most won’t admit it. Credit Card issurers are offering much higher points when opening a new card. This past week, AMEX has 150 K when getting the platinum. This game is too saturated. The number of consumer players using points for travel has increased multifold.this increased competition for travel reduces the available flights and opportunities.
    Same for Hotels. This past month I did a East Coast road trip for 13 days. Staying at a different hotels for 8 of those nights. I am overflowing with IHG points so I tried to always tried to use IHG first. One night, I tried 17 different IHG member hotels in a large metro area. All but one had rooms available for cash, but none of them had rooms available for points or reward certs. I loved the message that said something like .. no rooms available usng points, please try again using different dates” IHG continues to send emails to buy points at 0.005 each, but then using them is next to impossible. This has been the sitiuation for last year or two. Cash talks, points walk. IHG is not alone.. even with Choice and Marriott, I get same results. One night, in mid northern NY, I had to drive an extra 137 miles to Connecticut to finally find a Cambria I could use points at. I cou;d give a dozen recent examples. I’m draining my points banks and going to strictly Cash back cards.

  31. Tim Dunn’s take is valid from DL’s perspective as a for-profit company, but incongruous with the loyalty game because DL has turned it into a zero-sum game. If DL wins, the loyalty game player must lose. Patronize DL, not for its loyalty program, but for its strong performance as a profitable airline and service-industry company.

    If Hilton Honors did away with its standard awards and began offering mostly exorbitantly priced ‘premium’ awards, the program would look like Skymiles. Right now, Hilton Honors still offers outsized value to the loyalty game player because despite moving to dynamic award pricing and basing award costs loosely on revenue rates, the program capped its standard awards for each hotel and only its “premium” awards vary dynamically and in concert with revenue room rates. Uncapping HH standard awards and varying them dynamically with revenue room rates would lead to a DL Skymiles-like program, i.e., a valueless program that does very little for the loyalty game player.

    I do not see why anyone would continue to patronize DL. I would quit patronizing HH if it ever uncapped its standard awards…

  32. Make that “patronize DL Skymiles” rather than “patronize DL” because DL, the airline company, is definitely worth patronizing.

  33. @ Tim Dunn

    I spend much time in Asia and understand dynamic pricing from visits to the night market. Also lived in Chicago where the Cubs scalp their own tickets. If Biden the Banker wants to do something useful he could outlaw these practices.

  34. Well, as much as I hate DL, it is the only program can price out CUU departure to Europe with 75K and 80 in tax, AM charges about half million, AF never shows anything from CUU

  35. Why is no one else talking about this. This also JUST happened. I was tracking prices to Australia from South Florida (MIA to SYD) they have been in the 95k to 120k range all year… now 195k is the lowest and 210k is the standard (economy). WOW.

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