Delta Announces Promising (And Less-Promising) SkyMiles Changes

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.

Via Delta’s announcement:

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.

Delta One 757 seats JFK-LAX -- available soon using regional upgrade certificates
Delta One 757 seats JFK-LAX — available soon using regional upgrade certificates

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:

  1. 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.
  2. “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.

Bottom Line

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.

Comments

  1. Just a clarification:

    You wrote: “as a Platinum you can use your “regional upgrades” on any domestic route, including to Hawaii”

    That is not entirely correct. Non-stops between ATL or MSP are excluded from the Regional Upgrade Certificate use.

  2. I love what you wrote here:
    “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.”

    Cyber high-five!—the other Ben / DL PM

  3. Regional Upgrade Certificates can only be used for Hawaii flights when these are between Hawaii and LAX, SEA, SFO, or SLC

  4. @ Ben — Without knowing the price for upgrades with miles, I think it’s a bit premature to assume this is a positive change. You CAN upgrade any Delta flight with miles already if you are willing to pay the fare difference bewteen coach and first with miles at the rate of 1 cpm. I fully expect this will be how ALL upgrades work going forward. I’m pretty sure Delta is lying to us as usual….

  5. I am not nearly so confident in your proclamation that partner award pricing isn’t going to change. Maybe this particular announcement isn’t going to change it, but I do think it is going to change at some point.

    Indeed, most people are reading this announcement as “Delta award pricing is going to be more revenue-based”, but it is equally possible that the real meaning is something like “We are still going to have an unpublished 5-tier award chart, but with some variations such that a Tier 1 award to Europe will cost more in summer than in winter.” In which case partner flights would get hit immediately.

  6. @Bgriff: I think that’s a fair enough point, but other than — very potentially — some winter/summer variations in award pricing, I think partner awards will be largely not dynamic. I just can’t imagine that an Air France award from LAX to CDG would price out at whatever Delta wants it to price out at, since it’s really Air France and not Delta who gains from that.

    Now, I don’t think partner award pricing is not going to change — but I still see it as fixed, or in your scenario, mostly fixed.

  7. I have been a Diamond since the first year of the program. Oddly, I am traveling more domestically on miles this year then perhaps in all the years combined up till now. I am finding good value…2-4 cents per Skymile on domestic awards and almost always getting a free upgrade to First. For all the ranting and raving the program has been fine for me.

  8. I”m glad I didn’t use up my regionals on like…something silly. I feel like I’ll be going back to new york sooner because I can upgrade. On another note though, I’ve personally never been able to get a mileage upgrade to clear. I’ve only really tried to use them on transcons, so that might be playing a part, but I’m just wondering what kind of success other have had.

  9. @Garrett –

    Just my experience however as a Diamond I am 100% on 60+ flights this year, although I carefully choose my routes for maximum potential.

    As for the JFK transcons, I got 6 of 9 last year, 2 of 2 this year with two more upcoming soon.

    I am interested to see if there is any noticeable differences.

  10. @laptoptravel: Garrett seemed to be mentioning his bad luck with getting mileage upgrades to clear, I think. I assume your incredible upgrade success rate is referring to the complimentary Medallion upgrades, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Since the mileage upgrade process requires a phone call anyway, the one or two times I’ve tried to use miles to upgrade I usually ask the agent to check for availability. I’m otherwise very reluctant to buy a higher fare class if I’m going to be waitlisted on an upgrade and it’s not guaranteed.

  11. @ Nick –

    I stand corrected. I haven’t done a mileage upgrade since 2010.

    4 of my upgrades this year (Int’l) involved GUC’s

  12. As for Delta itself, after long and serious deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that their airline sucks. The last several times I’ve flown them have been truly awful, each trip in its own special way. On the Skymiles issue, it’s not exactly a state secret that there is no program less trusted or less valuable. On the eventual devaluation coming from American, it hasn’t happened yet, and we certainly don’t have any valid reason to extrapolate that it will be anything along the lines of the series of catastrophes Delta has inflicted on Skymiles members. If American offers the best redemption possibilities, go with them.

  13. Hardly coincidental that each Delta devaluation is preceded by a LIMITED TIME HIGHEST EVER Amex signup bonus for their Skymiles cards.

    Btw, your just-you-wait finger wagging at AAdvantage members lacks logic. Claiming that your shitty loyalty program is not that bad because the better program will, at some undetermined time, be equally shitty makes no sense. It’s better now, and will at worse be equal in the future, so it’s a net positive to choose AAdvantage over Skymiles.

  14. The more I fly Delta (I am a hub hostage), the more I try to understand the love and hate relationship I have with them. On one side they are destroying their loyalty program by charging whatever they feel like for award trips. Nobody trust them and they could not care less since they have a CEO that brags they are the best. On the other side, as a business traveller I have to agree that Delta usually treats me very well. They run by far the best operation among all US airlines, don’t lie to customers by saying they offer international first class like AA and United do and they are pretty generous on the amount of miles you get if you pay big dollars for your ticket. So far this year I got over 60,000 miles for a business class round trip MSP-AMS and several 10,000 plus miles for very short haul flights they charge over $1,000 for it. I just got 9,000 miles for a 500 mile distance flight which is not that bad in my opinion. Thus, if your company pays for your ticket Delta is the best US airline you can get.

  15. @Stannis: Your “net positive to choose AAdvantage over SkyMiles” (even if shortly the programs may become, at worst, equal) ignores the fact you’ll have to fly a remarkably, and quantifiably, inferior airline. No thanks. I’d rather not lock myself into loyalty with a substandard airline simply because for now, they have a better redemption program.

  16. Wow, y’all are quick with the replies! Thanks! Yeah, it was for the mileage upgrades. My complimentary medallion upgrades have done well for me this year, although a good portion of my travel now includes myself and a companion (a companion with no status), so I’ve been getting more and more comfortable in Economy+ lol… I’ve come to really expect them when I travel alone, and I’m rarely surprised by the outcome. I’m glad they’ve put some effort into the SkyPriority lobby/area in T5 though…went through it a couple weeks ago and was pretty impressed. I really wish they would just do it like Schiphol though…there’s an automated gate, you scan your priority boarding pass, gate opens. Simple.

  17. @Nick There’s already a major devaluation with redeeming AAdvantage miles on AA metal. It’s next to impossible to get a sAAver award. However, there are plenty of options if you choose an AAnytime award. I’ll be VERY INTERESTED in seeing what they do with partner airline redemptions as well.

  18. By Delta’s own logic, it’s giving signals about future pricing which (again, by Delta’s own logic) is illegal. So I guess Richard Anderson will be turning himself in to the feds.

  19. “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.” Good luck finding space on Air France/KLM in business class, space that’s available at the saver level to other partners but which Delta has chosen to block.

  20. @02nz: I found space pretty easily about 9 months out to Europe just the other week, in business class on Air France. Guess my luck is better than yours?

  21. @Nick opines:

    “Still, this news is unqualified good news for transcontinental flyers.” — even tho he qualifies it in the preceding sentence!

    Glad DL works for you and they have given you warm fuzzies that the coming changes will be good.

    My limited DL flying credits to AS, a fair and rewarding frequent flyer program that I trust…

  22. @GringoLoco: I didn’t qualify the good news by pointing out that the LAX/SFO-JFK Delta One upgrades were limited by eligibility; I just mentioned it in case people then bitch about how they couldn’t use their upgrade on a Monday morning flight. That’s far better than the current situation where they are excluded entirely. Therefore, this is good news, plain and simple.

  23. I don’t trust Delta. They have made so many changes without proper disclosure, deleting their award chart, the list goes on and on.

  24. @Stannis: Spot on – exactly what I was going to say. Just because Nick says so, doesn’t mean it will be. Nice try at making himself feel better for sticking with an inferior program and inferior carrier.

    @Nick: Don’t get me wrong – if Delta works for you, then great. I’m genuinely happy for you. Stick with being positive about your program – no need to bad-mouth or put down other programs to make yours appear better. But whatever floats your boat…

  25. I see a world where American fanboys and Delta fanboys can live together in harmony… Lol.

    I really don’t get all this “there can only be ONE king” pissing contest that people scrap over. In my view Delta and American (sorry United) are both kings of the legacy US carrier world, in their own way.

    American is king for AAdvantage, with it’s super cheap and flexible redemption rates, and OneWorld status (where First lounges are available on status alone).

    Delta is king for the actual flying part (amoung the U.S. legacy carriers).

    The beauty for US flyers is that the can take advantage of both in many ways, given that generating really good point earn doesn’t require actually flying. You can be disloyal to an airline and still take advantage of the cheap redemption rates it offers (and it can be for flying on better airlines to boot!). While others outside the U.S. can do this to an extent too, the very generous credit card and financial product earn opportunities U.S. residents can leverage really means you can have your cake and eat it too. Lucky you 🙂

  26. DL also removed the unannounced free upgrade for DM on JFK/LAX and JFK/SFO according to Miles Points Martinis.

  27. @ Nick — Sorry! Anyway, looks like it is more Delta lies. The former 12,5000 mile K+ upgrade is now 20,000 for HQK and 15,000 for YBM on domestic flights. The increases are WAY worse for international flights. To hell with Delta and their lying management.

  28. @Gene: Let’s parse this. 20,000 / 15,000 is the same mileage requirement that AA and UA have, so I’m not sure how these increases are worth complaining about? In fact, since UA and AA charge co-pays, Delta comes out ahead as the most reasonable domestic mileage upgrade option.

    Feel free to damn Delta to hell and call them all liars, but I’m not sure how it’s the mileage upgrade news, which is eminently reasonable, that’s setting you off.

  29. @ Nick — Because they attempt to pass the devaluation off as an improvement. But, you have a good point on the amounts — since SkyMiles are worth far less than UA or AA miles, DL domestic mileage upgrades ARE much cheaper than AA or UA domestic mileage upgrades. It’s just the never-ending Delta lying that I am sick of…

  30. @Gene: since the SkyMiles upgrades don’t require copays, they ARE cheaper in absolute terms as well.

    But go ahead, keep thinking SkyMiles are worth far less. Just less competition for me for the great value they present.

  31. I’d predicted on another discussion board back in February that one of changes that DL just announced — the “dynamic” pricing of awards — was inevitably coming after after DL and then WN did away with their award charts:

    “The yanking of the award charts enables the pricing of award tickets to be truly dynamic, just like the pricing of revenue tickets. Charts are static and are thus an impediment to dynamic pricing. The two cannot coexist without major headaches for everyone, but especially for the carrier. Therefore, the demise of the award chart and, hence, of transparency is the clearest signal yet that WN and DL are moving to where the number of points/miles required for an award would vary dynamically in direct proportion to the number of revenue tickets the carrier expects to sell. It sort of makes sense: when you are not selling very many revenue tickets is when you’d like to fill the plane with people on award tickets, so price these cheaply; and when you are selling many revenue tickets is when you’d like to discourage people from redeeming points/miles for award tickets, so make it [too] expensive to redeem.

    Based on the above and what WN just did, there is little doubt that DL is moving to a fully revenue system, on both the earning and redemption sides of points/miles…”

    Is UA also going to jump on this bandwagon?

  32. I have spoken with the Diamond Medallion desk and as of today with the new policy on RUC’s for these TransCon flights the “secret list” for complimentary upgrades of Diamond Medallions who ask has ENDED!

    We looked at my specific flights upcoming and they flat told me no I will NOT get upgraded without burning the RUC’s (or Global ones, if I so choose.)

  33. @ nick — I am Diamond with about 2 million SkyPesos left to burn. You’ll be having competition from me for a while. And, I”m sorry, Nick, SkyMiles ARE worth far less than AA and UA miles, as they have been fot several years.

  34. @laptoptravel: Hmmm. That’s disappointing news, although (1) the benefit was always an unpublished and “secret” one anyway, so it’s not like they’re reneging on anything they’ve previously announced; and (2) I suspect if after the institution of RUC’s on Delta One transcons, the cabins are still not full, they’ll slowly re-introduce the hidden Diamond benefit.

    I wouldn’t know since I’ve never been a Diamond, but @laptoptravel, was this “hidden complimentary upgrade” offered right off the bat when Delta One was rolled out? My sense is Delta took a hard line against any complimentary upgrades, and relented when they saw the light loads up front JFK-LAX/SFO.

    In other words, that does suck, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this is a “wait and see” approach.

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