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Update: Delta will no longer be limiting transfers from partner programs.
Yesterday I posted about a huge change to the Delta SkyMiles program, whereby starting in 2015 members can only transfer 250,000 points from American Express Membership Rewards to Delta SkyMiles per calendar year.
Well, these changes are even further reaching than that. Via the SkyMiles News & Updates page:
Beginning January 1, 2015, a new 250,000-mile allowance will go into effect for transfers from SkyMiles partner loyalty programs. The maximum amount of points transferable into a given SkyMiles account will be 250,000 miles (or equivalent) per partner during each calendar year.
Until then, you can continue to transfer points to your SkyMiles account in accordance with existing SkyMiles program rules. However, individual partners may place additional limits on your ability to transfer points to your SkyMiles account.
With this upcoming change, we’re continuing to invest in improving Award Travel availability for SkyMiles members. By limiting the amount of points that can be transferred from other programs, we will increase the value of miles and also reduce demand for Award Tickets. This, in turn, will increase the number of lower-priced Awards available to members — especially our most loyal members, who earn the majority of their miles directly through the SkyMiles program.
It’s clear this restriction is on Delta’s end, as Delta SkyMiles is now limiting members from transferring more than 250,000 miles per partner per calendar year. This isn’t limited to Membership Rewards, but rather all of Delta’s partner programs, including Starwood Preferred Guest.
The explanation is interesting as well — they’re “continuing to invest in improving Award Travel availability for SkyMiles members,” which is how Delta is justifying the change. I actually do think the relative value of Delta SkyMiles has been on the rise lately. With the addition of one-way awards soon, I think the value of SkyMiles will only improve further.
While I don’t like the general direction this is headed, in a way I do appreciate SkyMiles’ consistency with this new strategy. Delta wants fewer miles in circulation, and that applies both to members earning miles through flying as well as members earning miles through “buying.”
With that in mind, if you are a huge credit card spender and want to maximize the SkyMiles you can earn through credit card spend per calendar year, what’s the best spending strategy?
Maximize Membership Rewards Cards
You can still earn 250,000 SkyMiles per year through Membership Rewards, so you’re best off using a combination of the following cards:
- American Express EveryDay® Credit Card
- American Express EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
I’d recommend using these cards for categories in which they accrue bonus points, which include airfare, gas, and groceries. Best of all, with the American Express EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card you get a 50% points bonus if you make 30 purchases per month, which means you’re essentially earning 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. For non-bonused spend, that’s a return that’s tough to beat.
It’s also going to be more important than ever to have a separate Membership Rewards account for each spouse. Beginning in 2015 you’ll only be able to transfer a total of 250,000 Membership Rewards points from a single American Express account to any number of Delta accounts. So if you’re a family of four, or are aiming for premium cabin travel anywhere other than Europe, this is a huge limitation you’ll want to be aware of.
Maximize Starwood Cards
While I think cards accruing Membership Rewards points are generally more rewarding, Starwood’s co-branded credit cards are great for everyday spend:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
You earn one point per dollar spent, which can be transferred to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. For every 20,000 points you earn you get a 5,000 point bonus, meaning you can earn up to 1.25 Delta SkyMiles per dollar spent.
Granted, I think there are likely better uses of SPG points, but it is an option. Keep in mind the 250,000 cap includes any bonus points from Starwood, so you won’t want to transfer more than 200,000 Starpoints to Delta in a given year.
Maximize Delta’s American Express Cards
If your goal is simply to rack up Delta SkyMiles as efficiently as possible, I think Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest cards are your best bet, and between those two programs you can still transfer in 500,000 points to SkyMiles in a year.
In terms of Delta’s co-branded cards, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has the more reasonable annual fee. It only accrues one mile per dollar on everyday purchases, though, and is more useful for benefits when flying Delta. The other perk is that if you spend $25,000 on the card you can waive the spend requirement for Medallion status.
The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card and Delta Reserve Credit Card do offer thresholds for spending, though none of the bonuses will bump you above an earnings rate of 1.5 miles per dollar. Both the personal and business versions have annual fees ranging between $195 and $450.
That being said, if you’ve maxed out the points you can transfer from Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, and can take advantage of the benefits for Delta fliers, the SkyMiles Amex cards may be worth considering.
Who Needs That Many Delta Miles?!
Ultimately we’re all looking for different things with out award redemptions, and there are people that swear by SkyMiles. There’s no denying that SkyMiles are the most useful mileage currency for business class travel to Australia and Tahiti, which are otherwise two of the most difficult destinations in the world to get to on miles.
They’re also fantastic for redemptions to Europe on Air France, Alitalia, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic, and we do book a ton of SkyMiles awards.
I realize to some the 250,000 mile cap might seem like a moot point, but I actually find it severely limiting.
There are lots of families looking to book international business class travel, and 250,000 miles isn’t even enough for two saver business class award tickets to many destinations. Being able to “pool” SkyMiles through multiple partners or directly through the SkyMiles program will be more valuable than ever before.