Big-Time Bloggers Say SkyMiles are Worthless: They’re Dead Wrong
Among the big-time points and miles aficionados, Delta SkyMiles are the butt of every joke. They’re derided as “SkyPesos.” These experts are missing the point, and in focusing on Delta’s admitted shortcomings, they’re overlooking the massive amounts of value that average travelers can squeeze out of the Delta SkyMiles Program.
We at Thrifty Traveler will be the first to admit that Delta’s frequent flyer program is difficult to navigate. Delta pulled its published award chart, the barometer for low-level award fares, a few years ago, and its history of overnight devaluations doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. However, many of the knocks against the SkyMiles program simply don’t affect the traveler who takes a few vacations each year.
For example, take the close-in award fees, in which Delta charges a sizable SkyMiles premium for fares booked within three weeks of departure. While this might hit the jet setting crowd hard, most travelers plan and book their flights months in advance.
The difficulty in stitching together complex itineraries with multiple legs can be a pain, but the vast majority of travelers are looking for a simple round-trip flights that they can easily book through Delta’s own website.
The single biggest complaint is that Delta doesn’t have an award chart. This means there is no standard amount of SkyMiles that are required for any award travel booking. While this can be frustrating at times, it can also work in your favor.
No Award Chart? No Problem
The lack of an award charts makes it harder to ensure you’re getting the most out of your SkyMiles. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good deals to be had.
While Delta’s highly variable award chart means they can charge an arm and a leg for some redemptions, it also gives the airline more freedom to offer incredible fares on others. These fares often come at far cheaper rates than other airlines who are governed by award charts like United and American for example.
Take Delta’s latest unadvertised flash sale, on award flights to Mexico first posted here at Thrifty Traveler. Offering flights nationwide to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas starting at 12,000 SkyMiles round trip in economy is unheard of. American and United charge 30,000-35,000 for these same flights. Another recent unadvertised flash sale featured fares to Europe for 30,000 SkyMiles round-trip. No other blogs are finding these unadvertised sales besides Thrifty Traveler. To be the first to know about these sales, make sure to subscribe to Thrifty Traveler Premium.
Delta’s decision to ax its award chart allows the airline to price award redemptions as if they were straight cash fares. While that can mean some absurd and unpredictable award prices, that flexibility to adjust award prices also comes with some serious upside. Namely, dirt cheap award fares when demand on routes is low.
The unruly award chart also opens up a tremendous sweet spot for domestic flights. Shorter flights like Minneapolis to Chicago selling as low as 5,000 SkyMiles one-way. Even extremely competitive routes like New York City (JFK) to San Francisco starting at 9,000 SkyMiles.
Ultimately, it’s up to consumers to recognize what’s a good use of SkyMiles and what isn’t. That’s where the Thrifty Traveler team comes in.
Thrifty Tip #1: Read our Guide to Understanding Delta SkyMiles.
There are ways to redeem your Delta SkyMiles that the other frequent flyer programs in which air travel experts love cannot compete with.
Delta’s Pay With Miles option is unique. This feature gives you the option of using your SkyMiles to pay for a great flight deal with your SkyMiles. When doing so, your SkyMiles will be worth 1 cent each towards the cost of the cash fare. Snagging a cheap flash sale fare (via Thrifty Traveler Premium) is an easy way to save 10,000 SkyMiles or more compared to the cost of a normal award fare redemption.
By paying with miles, you’re also eligible to receive Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) towards Delta elite status. This is not the case with a standard award ticket.
Some will argue that getting 1 cent per SkyMile is not a good way to use them. We simply don’t agree. When you combine the fact that the cash price is on sale and your mileage required will be less than a standard award ticket this can easily be worth it. Not to mention you would still be earning elite credits as mentioned above.
Delta also offers monthly flash sales on award flights, like last month’s sale on flights to South America starting at just 36,000 SkyMiles round trip. Some of these sales are better than others, but they always offer a way to make your SkyMiles go even farther.
These features are often overlooked by big-time aviation experts who insist that SkyMiles are useless. However, we feel these sales offer an extra chance at getting more out of your miles.
Easy to Earn
Above all else, Delta SkyMiles are easier to pile up than any other domestic airline program. Delta has four co-branded American Express credit cards: The Delta Blue Card, SkyMiles Gold Card, SkyMiles Platinum Card, and Delta Reserve Card. There are even business versions of three of them. You can earn the sign-up bonus on each personal and business card once per lifetime. If you were to apply to all seven cards over time, you’d be able to accumulate a sizable war chest of SkyMiles.
In addition, American Express Membership Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest points also transfer to Delta on a 1:1 basis. An easy-to-follow award chart is pointless if you can’t get the miles to fund those travels. This is an area where Delta truly excels.
Thrifty Tip #2: Need some help deciding which SkyMiles card to get? See our post on Which Delta Credit Card is Right for You.
Look, we know we’re biased. We’re based in a Delta hub and value SkyMiles higher than most. SkyMiles certainly deserve some of the scorn they get from well-known bloggers who we read and respect, but the fact is that many of the downsides of the program only affect the lucky few who spend their time traveling the world for free. Rather than gripe about SkyMiles’ shortcomings, we’d rather help you squeeze the most value out of them.
Lead Photo: Courtesy of 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.