5 Things You Need to Know About Delta SkyMiles

On the list of perplexing loyalty programs, Delta SkyMiles sits
at (or at least near) the top. Continual surprise changes and
opaque policies are frustrating and leave loyal passengers feeling
defeated. Even with these confusing/unwritten rules which
complicate matters further, SkyMiles is a loyalty currency that can
one day be near worthless and the next, invaluable.

Despite a rather turbulent loyalty program, Delta’s in-flight
experience is arguably the best among US carriers — leaving you
unsure about whether you should collect as many SkyMiles as
possible or avoid the program entirely. Today, I’ll tell you five
things you need to know about Delta SkyMiles to hopefully help you
solidify your plan for the airline.

In This Post 1.There’s No Published Award Chart

Put simply, we don’t know how many miles an award flight on
Delta is supposed to cost. In February of 2015,
Delta removed award charts
from its website without
notification, and they have not (and by all accounts will not)
return. If you’d like to save miles for an award flight in the
future, you need to search your intended route on a multitude of
dates in order to estimate the approximate range of miles required,
knowing that it could change at a moment’s notice.

The second point to make on the lack of published award charts
is just how vast a range of SkyMiles can be required for the same
route. Domestic flights that are 9,000 miles one day can be double
or even triple that rate the next. Look at the one-week variance in
price for a short flight from New York-JFK to Chicago-O’Hare
(ORD:

When it comes to international routes and specifically premium
cabins, the variance can be even more significant, like with this
award search for one-way business class flights from Atlanta (ATL)
to Seoul (ICN):

Availability with award programs is always a challenge, but
without set prices, these significant variances end up forcing you
to plan your trip schedule around availability, rather than
SkyMiles rewarding you with your desired schedule.

Finally, with no fixed prices, last-minute SkyMiles award
tickets function like revenue tickets: They tend to be
significantly more expensive. Delta doesn’t charge a close-in
ticketing fee like other carriers, but a higher amount of miles
required within 21 days of departure is a defacto close-in fee.

This is a major drawback to collecting SkyMiles compared to
other legacy carrier miles. If I need a last-minute ticket, I no
longer bother even searching with SkyMiles. In this Atlanta (ATL)
to Charleston (CHS) example, close-in award tickets are more than
three times as expensive compared to booking more than three weeks
out — typical for Delta:

2. Adding Segments Can Lower Your Award Ticket Price

Counterintuitively, in order to pay less miles for a Delta award
ticket, you sometimes need to fly more. This is a result of Delta
taking advantage of little/no competition on routes from its hubs.
Try to avoid starting domestic award search on Delta.com from
Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) or Minneapolis (MSP). Award tickets
will usually be much higher due to no competition — especially
when you’re hoping to fly in first class. Here’s a search from
DTW to San Francisco (SFO) in first class one-way:

When you shift your origin to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), which
happens to be served by plenty of other carriers, the prices drop
in half with many itineraries on these days connecting in
Detroit:

This even holds booking far in advance. For example, at the time
of writing, Delta is charging 47,000 miles for a one-way award
ticket in first class on Flight 725 from Detroit to San
Francisco:

If you begin your itinerary in Chicago instead, you can take the
very same flight at a significantly lower price:

This principle seems to apply for all Delta hubs. If you live
somewhere that allows you to have a choice of airports from which
to depart, be sure to compare all your options, and look to use
SkyMiles on routes also operated by Delta’s competitors.

3. It May Cost More Miles to Fly Partners

In April of 2017, again without warning, Delta
increased the SkyMiles required
to book partner-operated award
flights. It now may cost more SkyMiles to fly partner carriers
rather than Delta on routes originating from the US. For example,
Delta One from New York to London-Heathrow (LHR) costs 80,000 miles
at its lowest price. The same route will set you back 86,000 miles
if you opt to fly Virgin Atlantic.

You’ll see similar incremental prices on Aerolineas
Argentinas,
Aeromexico
, China Airlines, China Eastern, Korean Airlines and
Virgin Australia flights originating from the US on routes that
Delta also flies. When the change was originally announced, you
could add a Delta-operated domestic segment on the itinerary and it
would qualify for the lower pricing, but that loophole has since
been closed.

4. Keep an Eye on SkyMiles Sales

Delta has been routinely publishing SkyMiles sales for specific
routes and travel dates that can often
yield tremendous value
for both main cabin and Delta One
bookings. However, a clear disclosure for these sales: many times
these rates will incomprehensibly not be great values or any
cheaper than is usually available. You can however find great deals
like New York to Spain for 20,000 miles round-trip:

This year alone we have seen
12,000-mile round-trip flights to South America
,
20,000-mile round-trip flights to Europe
,
128,000-mile round-trip Delta One tickets to Europe
,
68,000-mile round-trip flights to Europe in Premium Select
and

12,000-mile round-trip flights to the Caribbean
. Domestic
routes have started at 11,000 miles round-trip, but I can routinely
find flights out of my home base of Atlanta for those prices or
just a bit more, even when there is not an advertised sale:

5. You Can Earn Elite Status Without Ever Flying

Delta SkyMiles is the only program I’m aware of that still
lets you earn top-tier status only through credit card spending. If
you have all four Delta co-branded cards issued by American Express
that earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), you could spend your
way to upper-level Platinum
Medallion status
.

LIMITED-TIME OFFER: Up to
50,000 miles and $500 in statement credits on select Delta credit
cards

Here are the four cards and the MQMs they allow you to earn:

If you can put $220,000 in spend across the cards over the
course of a year, you’ll earn 100,000 MQMs and the Medallion
Qualifying Dollar (MQD) requirement will be waived
. This means
you’ll earn Platinum status (75,000 MQMs) in year one
and roll
over 25,000 MQMs
to year two. While not Delta’s top-tier,
Platinum Medallion still comes with unlimited upgrades and a

selection of Choice Benefits
that can make your flying
experience much better.

Bottom Line

On one hand, it’s tough to pass up only paying 4,500-10,000
miles for domestic tickets and having the chance to book Delta One
suites on the new A350 for 128,000 miles round trip from Detroit to
Amsterdam. On the other hand, Delta’s President Glen Hauenstein

doesn’t want people to use miles to fly for free
, and I have
a hard time trusting a program that is against award flights and is
known for routinely making unannounced devaluations. Personally, I
continue to find great value in using SkyMiles for domestic flights
for me and my family, and I find equal value in holding Delta
Platinum Medallion status. However, if I’m looking for
aspirational or long-haul premium cabin awards, SkyMiles isn’t
the currency to hold.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
5 Things You Need to Know About Delta SkyMiles