It’s no secret that Delta’s SkyMiles program is not everyone’s cup of tea. While I find the argument pretty compelling that Delta is by far the superior carrier compared to American and United, I usually have to qualify that with a, “sure, AAdvantage is a more lucrative program for now, but…” Because it’s true: American’s one advantage (so to speak) over Delta is its frequent flyer program, which has reasonable redemption rates and can be redeemed for first class travel on premium international carriers.
Of course, frequent flyer programs change, and American’s had bigger fish to fry with a merger this year, and if you think American won’t eventually move its way over to a revenue-based system as Delta and United have, you’re smoking some seriously powerful Dallas-based crack.
Delta’s program continues to change, and Delta’s just made a new announcement today regarding the future of SkyMiles.
COAST TO COAST COMFORT
For Diamond and Platinum members we are introducing greater flexibility with your Medallion Choice Benefits. Effective July 21, 2015 you can use Regional Upgrade Certificates in addition to Global Upgrade Certificates for a Delta One™ seat on eligible transcontinental flights between New York – JFK and Los Angeles – LAX or San Francisco – SFO. Regional Certificates are part of the wide array of Choice Benefits Diamond and Platinum Medallion members are able to select upon status qualification.
OUR LOWEST AWARDS
When we announced the SkyMiles 2015 program we committed to making more award seats available at the lowest prices and compared to last year, we’ve increased Award availability by more than double at the lowest prices to make it easier to use your miles. You’ll also find One-Way Awards starting at just 7,500 miles (plus taxes and fees) now through February 2016. To see the best availability and deals, search at least 21 days prior to departure and use our Award Calendar by selecting “flexible days” when searching for a flight. For more information visit: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/shop/deals-and-offers/north-america/flights-to-north-america.html?icid=FS_US
HEADS UP FOR SUMMER 2016
We know your miles are important, so we want to provide the most notice possible regarding Award price changes. For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other dynamics. Most Award prices will remain unchanged. Miles needed to upgrade under the Mileage Upgrade Award program will increase, and to provide greater access to these upgrades, we’ve expanded the eligible types of fares. Learn more about Mileage Upgrade Award changes: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles/use-miles/mileage-upgrade-awards.html
MORE WAYS TO EARN
Starting July 21, 2015, you can now earn MQDs and miles when purchasing Preferred Seats, Delta Comfort+, and paid upgrades to the Premium cabin.
EASIER WAYS TO REDEEM
It’s easier to use your miles with the ability to book Awards at delta.com on more partner airlines than ever (22 total now). We are working to add more partner airlines over time.
Now, let’s break this down. I can hear a collective groan already from the mileage and points world, and I don’t need to be a mind reader to know Ben and Tiffany are not happy about these developments. But why?
This Is Great For Delta Flyers Who Want To Upgrade
Delta’s never been the easiest airline on which to use miles or instruments to upgrade. For one thing, fare classes on which upgrades are eligible tend to be fairly expensive, almost negating the actual utility of using miles to upgrade to begin with. Right now, you can’t upgrade using miles on a typical L, U or T fare.
For another thing, Delta had initially classified the JFK-LAX/SFO Delta One service as a “global” fare, for purposes of redeeming upgrade certificates. In other words, as a Platinum you can use your “regional upgrades” on most any domestic route, including from the Western U.S. to Hawaii, but you can’t use them to fly to New York or California on Delta’s best domestic product. You have to be a Diamond and be willing to part with one of your “global upgrades,” which are best used on long-haul international routes.
So in just a couple of weeks, Platinum and Diamond members can upgrade to Delta One transcontinental service using regional certificates. This is huge. Keep in mind, though, the fine print: “eligible transcontinental flights.” I wouldn’t be surprised if this means, in practice, that the more in-demand flight times will continue to be upgradable using only global certificates. Still, this news is unqualified good news for transcontinental flyers.
Moreover, the news that beginning in June of next year, you can actually use miles to upgrade an itinerary is huge, in my opinion, and should matter to all Delta flyers, especially those at the Gold Medallion level and below, who wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to upgrade certificates. Yes, the miles needed to upgrade will increase, but right now since the fares are so limited, the miles needed to upgrade on Delta are “below market value.” It also appears Delta won’t be charging a copay, unlike American and United.
This Is Not Great If You Like Award Charts
Delta already junked its published award chart earlier this year, to great consternment around these parts.
Yes, it would be nice if award prices could always stay static.
That’s not how reality works. Obviously, Delta’s realized that dynamic award pricing is better for its bottom line, and that people are willing to spend more miles to fly at peak times or on peak routes.
Is that good news if you’ve banked a ton of SkyMiles in hopes of snagging a 50,000 roundtrip domestic first class award? No. But those awards have been on their way out for some time now.
The flip side is, Delta’s at least acknowledging two things:
- Shorter-haul, cheaper flights will be available at below-“market” mileage redemptions. Delta’s already offering select 5,000 mile one-way awards, so there’s no reason to think that in the post-June 2016 SkyMiles world, these “cheaper awards” will continue. And that’s good! That’s basically the world of Avios, which everyone was so afraid of at first and now everyone basically adores for this very reason.
- “Most Award prices will remain unchanged.” Take that at face value. Ben (and many others) simply doesn’t trust Delta. I take it as a measure of good faith that Delta’s heard these complaints, and by announcing these award price changes for travel 11 months in advance, is trying to work with us a little here. I also think that while it may sound like cold comfort, there’s a team of lawyers in Atlanta who parsed the definition of “most” and gave the go-ahead under the assumption that the majority of Award prices will not, actually, change.
Now, to be clear, certain Award prices are increasing for travel on or after June 1, 2016 — not for bookings made on or after June 1. This means we should start seeing, relatively soon, what these new award prices will be as the June calendar is loaded. We’ll see what the increased award pricing looks like in practice very shortly.
The Sky Is Always Falling…
Things change. It sucks. But you learn to adjust.
The future of airline frequent flyer programs is almost certainly in more dynamic award pricing, at a minimum. All of the AAdvantage fanboys and fangirls can come talk to me about how wonderful and superior their favorite program is, but keep in mind that’s a train rapidly coming to a complete stop: make no mistake about it, AA will increase award prices, introduce some aspect of dynamic pricing on its own metal, and move over, gradually, to a revenue-based earning system.
It’s the new normal. And you can look for AAdvantage as a refuge, for now, but this is a sea change, and it’s happening.
If you really don’t like it, Copa has a new mileage program just for you.
But I suspect we’ll learn to deal and use these new, revamped mileage programs to our own benefit just as we always have. Remember, again, how British Airways’ move to a distance-based redemption system gave Ben the vapors. (He called them “a huge thumbs down.”) And now? He loves Avios and calls them an “outrageously good value,” at least prior to their most recent devaluation.
The “bad” changes should come as no surprise to any OMAAT reader. The writing’s been on the wall: Delta is moving over to a dynamic pricing system for its SkyMiles awards. I suspect United will be announcing similar changes in, oh, as long as it takes their in-house PR department to rapidly type up a new press release.
It’s worth focusing on the good changes, however, for the frequent Delta flyer:
- You can use Regional upgrades on eligible Delta One transcontinentals starting July 21, 2015. Now, we can argue that we should have been entitled to use Regional upgrades all along, but this is good news.
- You’ll be able to use miles (more miles, of course, but seemingly with no copay requirement) to upgrade almost any US / Canada/ Central America / Northern South America fare except for the dreaded “E”-fares. Right now mileage upgrades are terrible value propositions on Delta, so by actually giving them some utility, Delta is giving us good news.
- The SkyTeam network remains as strong-ish as ever, and remember that those award prices — on partners — aren’t really ever going to be “dynamic.” If you use SkyMiles, as you should, to redeem for business class on partner airlines on international flights, you’re going to still see fixed pricing at competitive redemption rates. I’m not worried about this. In fact, I’m pleased that Delta and SkyTeam are continuing to integrate all partner carriers onto Delta.com.
If you hate SkyMiles, you’ll continue to hate SkyMiles.
If you love SkyMiles, you work in Atlanta, for Delta Air Lines.
If you’re agnostic about SkyMiles, but love flying Delta, these changes aren’t too discouraging. Personally, as a Platinum Medallion, I’m excited that I’ll soon be able to use upgrade certificates on the Delta One LAX-JFK route, which I think is phenomenal.
My takeaway is: I’ll continue to use SkyMiles for international redemptions, and use a mix of Pay With Miles, mileage upgrades, upgrade certificates and purchased fares for domestic travel. Based on how I view and utilize SkyMiles, this is a net plus.