Is The Relative Value Of Delta SkyMiles Increasing?

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A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the increased sign-up bonus on American Express’ co-branded Delta SkyMiles Cards.

In the post I wrote that as a relative matter, Delta SkyMiles are becoming more valuable. I said that I think they’re becoming almost as valuable, if not more valuable, than United MileagePlus miles.

A couple of people called me out on that, so I figured I’d explain in a bit more detail why I think Delta SkyMiles are getting relatively more valuable:

Delta SkyMiles are often referred to as SkyPesos

A few years back Gary coined the term SkyPesos to refer to Delta SkyMiles, given how worthless they were. And that’s fair, as historically there have been so many downsides to Delta SkyMiles:

  • You can’t redeem miles for international first class
  • Delta belongs to SkyTeam, which is kind of the ugly stepchild of airline alliances
  • Many of Delta’s airline partners can’t be booked online, and their SkyMiles phone agents are exceedingly incompetent
  • Delta has an award calendar which is permanently broken… by design
  • Delta SkyMiles has had multiple award tiers, while other carriers have only had two tiers of awards
  • Delta hasn’t allowed one-way awards for half the cost of a roundtrip

While the term SkyPesos is hilarious, I think it has gotten to the point where as a relative matter they no longer deserve that title. Perhaps SkyDirhams would be a more appropriate term? 😉

Why do I think Delta SkyMiles are worth more nowadays as a relative matter?

Not being able to redeem miles for international first class is no longer unique

With United’s MileagePlus award chart devaluation earlier in the year, they’ve priced partner international first class awards in such a way that they’re actually typically not good values. In some cases we saw an increase in mileage requirements of close to 100%.

So while you can redeem United miles for international first class, it’s literally going to cost you 260,000 miles roundtrip for roundtrip travel between the US and South Asia on a partner airline.

United-MileagePlus-Award

As much as I love international first class and am a massive advocate for paying the marginal difference in miles for it, that’s a premium at which it’s just not worth it to me anymore. A similar number of Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Hyatt Gold Passport would get you eight nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, with points left over, for comparison.

So as far as I’m concerned, not being able to practically redeem for international first class isn’t really unique to Delta anymore.

Delta has picked up partnerships outside of SkyTeam

Over the past few years, Delta has picked up two partnerships outside of SkyTeam, which I’d argue are possibly their two single best partners:

  • Virgin Australia releases the most nonstop saver level business class award space between the US mainland and Australia, so it’s great to be able to redeem for that without fuel surcharges
  • Virgin Atlantic has one of my favorite transatlantic business class products, and redeeming Delta SkyMiles for travel on them is one of the only ways to do it without fuel surcharges

Neither of these options were available several years ago, as Delta didn’t have partnerships with either airline.

Delta SkyMiles are most useful for travel to the two most difficult destinations

Along similar (but also different) lines, two of the most difficult destinations in the world to get to on miles are Australia and Tahiti. Delta SkyMiles leave you best positioned for travel to either of those destinations when originating in the US:

  • As I mentioned above, Delta SkyMiles partners with Virgin Australia, which releases the most saver level business class award space between the US mainland and Australia
  • Delta SkyMiles partners with both Air Tahiti Nui and Air France, which are the only two airlines flying nonstop between the US mainland and Tahiti

Award availability to Europe is quite good

Have you tried redeeming MileagePlus miles for travel from the west coast to Europe lately?

Delta SkyMiles are actually becoming increasingly more valuable for travel to Europe. They partner with Air France, Alitalia, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic, along with several other airlines I’d rather not fly.

One of the unique things about Air France and KLM is that they only make award seats availability to members of their own Flying Blue program 10 months out. However, if you’re redeeming with Delta SkyMiles, you can actually book travel on them up to 331 days out, when Delta opens their schedule.

This means it’s possible to quite easily find award space on Air France and KLM 10-11 months out.

I’m not at all suggesting that award space on those airlines is only available 10-11 months out, as that’s far from the case. But try to find a single non-stop business class award seat on the Star Alliance from the west coast to Europe for next summer. I just tried and literally didn’t find a single seat. And I do this for a living.

Meanwhile with SkyMiles I easily found one award seat on each partner airline, and in many cases even 3-7 seats per flight.

I found space on Air France in business class:

AirFrance-Award

On Alitalia in business class:

Alitalia-Award

And on Virgin Atlantic in business class:

VirginAtlantic-Award

Nowadays SkyMiles do leave you fairly well positioned for award travel to Europe, especially if you live in an international gateway city, or a city served by Alaska Airlines.

SkyMiles partner business class products are improving

This is of course true of the industry in general, but part of the reason I never wanted to collect SkyMiles was because it required actually flying SkyTeam carriers. Why on earth would anyone want to fly a horrible non-flat product on Air France, Alitalia, KLM, etc.?

But they’re improving, and at a fast pace.

Alitalia’s business class has gone from being the laughing stock of the industry, to what I would actually consider to be a quality transatlantic product with a great hard product and excellent catering.

Alitalia-Business-Class
Alitalia business class

I really enjoyed my recent flight in KLM business class, which is now also fully flat on many of their planes.

KLM-747-Business-Class-2
KLM new business class

Air France is in the process of reconfiguring their fleet with a fantastic fully flat herringbone product.

Air-France-New-Business-Class
Air France new business class

Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia already have fully flat beds, and are in my opinion two of the best ways to redeem Delta SkyMiles.

Virgin-Atlantic-Upper-Class
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Delta’s tiered pricing isn’t bad anymore (in comparison)

This is more of a theoretical point than a practical one, given that you shouldn’t be redeeming miles this way.

But for a second lets remind ourselves why Delta’s multiple tier pricing has been so ridiculous. We laughed at the prospect of ever paying 325,000 miles for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe. But that was only because back in the day both American and United would let you book the last seat on a plane for double miles.

So the thought of paying more than three times as much was downright silly.

Nowadays United no longer offers all members last seat award availability at the standard rate, and American also has multiple tier award pricing. So their multiple tiers have gone from the laughing stock of the industry to the model everyone has followed. It’s no longer unique to SkyMiles.

Again, this shouldn’t actually matter because you should be redeeming your SkyMiles for travel on partner airlines at the saver levels, but even I have a hard time making fun of Delta’s multiple tier pricing at this point.

One-way SkyMiles awards will soon be bookable

Starting in January it will be possible to redeem SkyMiles for one-way awards at half the cost of a roundtrip. They’ve even published the new award chart from North America, and not a lot is changing.

Of course most of the changes happening to the 2015 SkyMiles program overall are bad — they’re adding more award tiers and award miles based on the cost of a ticket as opposed to the number of miles flown. But this only impacts people that earn miles through flying, as well as those that redeem miles for travel on Delta metal.

So the 2015 SkyMiles program is actually an improvement if you’re simply earning miles through credit cards for redemptions on partner airlines.

There are still lots of issues with SkyMiles

Again, I’m not claiming everything is perfect. SkyMiles still suck in many ways:

  • I don’t want to fly many of Delta’s partner airlines (Air Europa, Saudia, Aerolineas Argentinas, etc.)
  • The Delta phone agents are still incompetent
  • The delta.com website is still broken and deceptive in many ways
  • Delta’s domestic award availability for getting to international gateway cities is still abysmal
  • Delta imposes fuel surcharges for awards originating in Europe, as well as for travel on some partner airlines regardless of origin

And I still don’t trust the SkyMiles program as such.

Bottom line on Delta SkyMiles

The truth is that after my Alitalia and Virgin Atlantic award redemption earlier in the year, I’ve found myself really wanting to redeem more Delta SkyMiles.

I still far prefer American AAdvantage miles, but as a relative matter — especially compared to United MileagePlus miles — I think SkyMiles aren’t half bad.

Regardless, there are plenty of ways to earn Delta or United miles

The good thing about Delta and United miles is that they’re fairly easy to come by, regardless of which you prefer. Delta SkyMiles most notably partners with American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, while United MileagePlus most notably partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

American Express has promotional sign-up bonuses on their co-branded Delta SkyMiles credit cards, including the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express and Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.

Then for actually earning miles through everyday spend, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, along with the Amex EveryDay Card and Amex EveryDay Preferred Card are your best options.

As far as United MileagePlus miles go, there’s their United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, while as always the Ultimate Rewards Cards have huge sign-up bonuses and are great for everyday spend. These include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardInk Bold® Business Charge Card, and Ink Plus® Business Credit Card.

So there are lots of ways to rack up either of these currencies, regardless of which you find more valuable!

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Comments

  1. This is a refreshing post! I see so much hate about SkyMiles, it’s good to know my main loyalty program isn’t a total waste (what can I say? I’m hub trapped)! I’m hoping that their Level 1/Saver awards are still available for one-way redemptions come January 1st. I have a sneaking suspicion low level awards for international business class will become fewer and farther between once they make one-way awards bookable. I intend on booking a one way award from LAX to SYD on VA (it should be only 80,000 miles) and hopefully returning on Qantas first class using AAdvantage miles.

  2. Surprised you don’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas. I mean their premium cabin comes with a fax machine! 😛 That’s even better than having a private suite!! 😉

  3. I’m looking for a one-way on KLM AMS-DFW in 2015. However, it seems like they (a) don’t yet have one-ways pricing out correctly and (b) are showing taxes/fees of well over 200 Euros. So, I’d definitely rather do United/Lufthansa, or even American, before that!

  4. They both suck compared to AS, AA & US miles, and even Avios and Aeroplan. So, at least until AA devalues, they are still relatively poor value if you are comparing properly and not just narrowly to UA.

  5. @ Reine — I doubt they’ll block any more space on partners as a result of allowing one-ways, so I think more limited partner availability would simply be a function of more people making bookings.

  6. @ Joe — Right, they’re not doing one-way pricing till 2015, and they do impose fuel surcharges for awards originating in Europe. Both weaknesses as of now.

  7. Yeah, they are leading the race to the bottom. Skymiles become relatively more attractive when all others become less so. That’s like saying, “Oh, now that the woman I never liked before is standing next to a troll, she isn’t half bad”.

    Sadly, though, you are correct. Skymiles have a relative value improvement. I will continue to try and redeem them primarily to Australia.

  8. DL long-haul low-level business class availability on their own metal is also better, I would argue, than either UA on their own metal or AA on their own metal — though more because both UA and AA have gotten worse than because DL has gotten better. But, I would argue DL’s longhaul business class is pretty competitive with the European majors these days, and better than UA’s, so it’s another good option to have.

  9. Good luck getting to Asia. Or South America. Or Hawaii. Or Europe less than 11 months out.

    We’re here for the trip reports.

    Try harder on the Star Biz Class seat from the West Coast.

  10. most of what’s described here aren’t “new” revelations …. VS and VA awards has been around for quite some time.

    the single best item of new skymiles is one-way awards. and the single worst item about skymiles is still lack of any F awards whatsoever.

    UA mileage levels stinks for partner F, but at least the option exists for those who are really miles rich.

  11. This whole post exists just to reason why you should use his referral link. Watch in the next couple of days we’ll see BA bloggers trying to spin anything about Delta into a post so they can use the 50k signup referrals.

  12. “most of what’s described here aren’t “new” revelations …. VS and VA awards has been around for quite some time.” The new revelation is the limited time chance to justify conversions to the Delta Amex…

  13. Much like some Disney rides exist solely to push a gift shop, this post felt like it solely existed just to push a crap load of referral links

  14. I haven’t lately found that sort of availability to Europe (thinking about a trip late next Spring since I’m graduating) … wish I could. 🙁

  15. DL points have long been the best way to get access to certain destinations. Particularly for parties seeking multiple pax (four or more) on transoceanic j travel.

    If you don’t know the low cost workaround to the historic no round trip policy, you’ve been missing out.

    F would be nice, but the excellent availability on several of their partners more than makes up for it. While it might not be as sexy as LH F (now pretty much only bookable on short notice), DL points far more effective for certain travel than this or other BA blogs have historically given credit for.

  16. I agree with most of what you said…however, there are sweet spots to every chart and this one is no different.

    Also, *Alliance to and from Europe was available until yesterday…just snagged IST-SFO for next Summer to complete our R/T. Thanks to you, snagged LAX-JFK-LHR on AA F on June 30 next year 🙂

  17. @Ted – you think it’s worth 140k miles roundtrip to fly TK business class (assuming you are redeeming United miles)? It’s nice but not THAT nice. The middle section has 3 seats side by side. That’s more miles than flying first class in Cathay Pacific from LA to Hong Kong using AA miles.

  18. Gotta strongly disagree. AZ award availability on the new business seat flights was actually much, much better last year. Same with AF. (I booked last June for 2014 and last month for 2015). Are the Virgin partners new?

    So it’s harder to get TATL first on One World now. The Sky Peso stink index is down 1%. BFD. They’ll be worth a penny a point a la Southwest next year. You need a horizon longer than the current moment for your valuations.

  19. It all depends on where you are flying out of and SFO has been horrible for UA/LH/LX/BA for some time……and I’ve never seen a rational routing on an AA premium award from SFO to Europe so they are the true dirtbags in this picture IMHO……….Going to France from SFO can’t be worse on Delta?

  20. Oh, so now you DON’T want to fly on Aerolineas anymore… okay…

    Interesting perspective now, but I’ll wait until ALL the changes have been put into the 2015 Skymiles program first before I make my final judgement call.

    And I’m not sure if you can also put Aeromexico in as a good way to redeem to Europe, considering they have their 787 now… Then there’s also Aeroflot…

  21. The highlight of this post, is using Delta miles to only book partners. When partners flights are booked, they almost always price out at the lowest mileage tier. This is really good for people who use JFK, LAX, ORD as their point of origin. Using KLM or Air France, TATL, and then using KL or AF connecting flights to get wherever in Europe for only a 125,000 miles (Business Elite), is a great deal. Generally there is good availability for these flights even as little as 90 days out. One can plan a trip closer to departure and still use their miles.

  22. Regarding Aerolineas Argentinas, it is my understanding that they are flying a newer plane to NYC (maybe MIA too, but not sure) that used to be an Air France one. To be more precise they are flying one A330-200 with the recliner/pods in business which is a nice addition IMHO. I’ll probably fly them later this year and might report back unless Lucky does it first 🙂

  23. Commission links beget posts. It’s just a fact of life and if it really drives you crazy, then Boarding Area is not for you. But, I think Lucky, et al. are doing a service by promoting bonused signups and explaining their usefulness. 50K Skymiles is a pretty decent deal for a no-fee (first year) card, but many folks might dismiss it because “Skypesos are worthless.”

    I’d feel differently about repeated posts related to an offer, if that offer was not a limited time, bonused, offer.

  24. Anyone who hasn’t figured out that credit card signup bonusues are one of the 4 key pillars of frequent flyer earning has been living under a rock……..I love the constant stream of offers…….it’s not everything to earning but it’s the absolute first leg………….keep them coming……….and I am grateful to have someone up at 35,000 feet looking down at SFO and guiding us to new openings……….we don’t see that at the ground level with the clarity that a Lucky does…….

  25. Devils advocate: first class fares in that March timeframe from ORD-LHR-BKK-LHR-ORD on UA and TG have a cash cost of about $30,000. How much does 8 nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in that timeframe cost? About $4,000.

    This just highlights
    1. the ridiculous cost of international long-haul F
    2. how much value you can get when you redeem for F

  26. @ Polk — Agreed, but I don’t really think it’s worth comparing the cost of a revenue first class ticket to anything, since it’s not something I’d otherwise pay. Similarly, United charges substantially more for first class between Los Angeles and Sydney than Etihad charges for A380 Apartments between Abu Dhabi and Sydney, which is in no way correlated to the quality/value.

    Think we’re on the same page, though. 😀

  27. Liar.

    You originally pasted that Delta miles had become more valuable recently. Not “more valuable relative to other currencies.” Not “more valuable because others had become even more worthless.” You posted that they had become “more valuable” without any qualifiers, period. Which anyone with half a brain knows is a bald-faced lie. ALL FF currencies have become less valuable, and continue to (thanks to the likes of you).

    Of course, it was said only to pimp your credit card referral income. When several people called you out on it, you went back and now have changed the language. Nice way to try and cover your self-serving lies.

    You are a dishonest shill. Is there ever ANYTHING you do that’s not done to screw others and benefit yourself?

  28. @ Rob — I haven’t gone back and changed any of the language. If you email me I’d be more than happy to forward you the original post as published, which hasn’t changed…

    Hope you have a nice weekend!

  29. @rob – All statements about a currencies value are relative and can never be absolute. When the news says the dollar has strengthened over the past day, week, month or year it only means the dollar has risen in value compared to a majority of the major currencies worldwide. You don’t need to put in a caveat that the dollar/euro/pound has strengthen relative to any other currency. It is assumed that that is the case since any type of currency can only be measured again other similar currencies. There is no other way to measure the value of a currency, whether a FF mile or a dollar. A FF mile doesn’t have an absolute value like an ounce of gold.

  30. I find star alliance space more open (especially to Asia, but also to Europe) than skyteam space. Delta seems to release most business seats on their own planes just at the mid-level rather than the low-level.

    A roundtrip between New York and Rome on Alitalia costs 80k korean miles + $950 in fuel surcharges & taxes — as opposed to 125k skypesos & $100 in taxes. (it’s alitalia’s fault the fuel surcharge is so high not Korean’s). I think the cost is similar although I’d rather spend more miles and less money.
    I just booked this itinerary with Korean miles (which I transferred from Chase) and it took about 10 days to finally ticket, after about 10 phone calls, so Delta’s ticketing process is definitely better. But, Korean allows unlimited changes and free cancellation & refund of award tickets, so if you’re not exactly sure if you’ll keep the dates or make the trip, they’re the best choice.

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