Delta SkyMiles Devalues Partner Awards AGAIN

Filed Under: Awards, Delta

How often can one frequent flyer program devalue award costs? In October 2020 Delta SkyMiles devalued partner awards significantly, and now it appears that the program has done so again (thanks to my awesome colleague Jimmy for the heads up on this).

Delta SkyMiles partner award costs increase again

Delta SkyMiles doesn’t publish an award chart, and has even had variable award pricing when traveling on partner airlines. That’s something we don’t see much even from other programs that ordinarily have dynamic award pricing.

Well, it looks like Delta SkyMiles has now increased award costs when traveling on partner airlines from the US to both Asia and Europe. How bad are the changes?

Higher business class award costs between the US & Europe

One-way partner airline business class awards between the US and Europe now start at 120,000 SkyMiles. This applies whether flying Air France, Virgin Atlantic, or any other partner. That’s outrageous.

As a point of comparison:

  • Prior to October 2020, these awards cost 75,000-86,000 miles
  • As of October 2020, these awards cost 95,000 miles

One-way Air France business class awards to Europe now cost 120K SkyMiles

Higher business class award costs between the US & Asia

One-way partner airline business class awards between the US and Asia have now also increased in cost:

  • US to North Asia awards now start at 120,000 miles; previously these awards cost 102,500 miles
  • US to India awards now start at 120,000 miles; previously these awards cost 102,500 miles
  • US to Southeast Asia awards now start at 165,000 miles; previously these awards cost 147,500 miles

Those “previous” award prices don’t even reflect the previous devaluation. For example, prior to October 2020, a US to North Asia award started at 85,000 miles, then the cost increased to 102,500 miles, and now the cost increased to 120,000 miles.

Seriously, a one-way saver business class award now starts at 160,000 miles? 160,000 miles for a one-way saver business class award? Seriously? For real? Are you serious, like, actually?

Some one-way business class awards now start at 165K SkyMiles

Business class award pricing that isn’t changing

If it’s any consolation, Delta SkyMiles isn’t increasing business class award costs from the US to the Middle East or Africa.

It’s a bit odd that at this point:

  • You’ll pay 120,000 SkyMiles for a New York to London or New York to Paris business class award
  • You’ll pay “only” 115,000 SkyMiles for a New York to London to Johannesburg to New York to Paris to Johannesburg award

It now takes fewer SkyMiles to fly to South Africa than Europe

Bottom line

Delta SkyMiles has significantly devalued award redemption rates on partner airlines for the second time in a few months, including for travel to Asia and Europe. I wasn’t surprised to see Delta SkyMiles devalue once a few months ago, but again?! The fact that saver level awards between some regions now start at 165,000 miles one-way in business class is simply unbelievable.

But at the same time it’s perfectly believable, since we’re talking about Delta SkyMiles here. Don’t go out of your way to earn Delta SkyMiles, and if you do earn them, expect to redeem them for about a cent each towards some sort of Delta purchase. The SkyMiles program is trying to eliminate any sort of redemptions that offer outsized value.

What do you make of this latest Delta SkyMiles award devaluation?

  1. @ Ben — The following note has been in my bill tracking spreadsheet for about 6 months: “Do not use DL AMEX cards in 2021.” Need I say more?

  2. OK, can’t comment on most routes, but US to India is actually rather competitive for Skyteam. Flying Blue requires 110K-115K, PLUS about $500. Compare that to 120K plus about $50 is decent value.

  3. Delta is a hard one to decide on. They are the best at many things of the big 3 in the US, but for many years now they keep making loyalty program changes that seem very egregious to their loyal customers. And frequenty their negative problem changes filter down to other reward programs at other airlines. In my mind, people in the point game, like us, should steer clear of Delta. I don’t like rewarding their behavior, and sometimes I think we gloss over it while we oooo over the door in their overpriced Delta one seat, or let them pass for not innovating at all in their domestic business class (unlike JetBlue).

  4. This was not a great way to use Skymiles before, and continues to get worse and worse.

    For several years now, the best way to use Skymiles has been on Delta metal when there are flash sales. You say there are no ways to get outsized value with Skymiles? This week Delta has had flights for as low as 2000 miles one way up and down the west coast. On some of these routes, you could easily get 2 or 3+ cents/mile. I cannot think of another frequent flyer program where you can book a 2.5 hour flight for 2000 miles. And there were great business class flash sales before the pandemic, which are understandably not happening now.

  5. Yes one of my best finds was a 99K RT deltaone flash sale from IAH-CDG. Hopefully these will return post pandemic.

  6. Worth noting: these incredibly high numbers you are seeing — 120,000 SkyPesos one-way for business class from USA to Europe — that’s the “saver award level” pricing…that is, that’s the low-ball price that you will rarely (if ever) be able to actually find. Those “low level award” prices are as rare as hens teeth. Real-world redemption levels that most people will find most of the time are generally way, way higher (over 200,000 and up).

  7. Value is clearly short haul Delta flights, that is where they have the seat space and clearly where they want you to spend them. It looks like the days of international long haul redemptions are gone. On the other hand, cash prices are so low at the moment who even cares.

  8. That’s it. I’m not churning Delta cards anymore. Also, no need to complete my Diamond Medallion status match challenge.

  9. Good grief. I had my stash of 86k Skymiles for a one-way to Asia pre-COVID. Now they will be practically useless…

  10. Other than the statement credit and companion pass, my Delta cards get next to zero usage and will stay that way.

  11. NK3 nailed it – they are only good for flash sales on DL metal. Usually domestic trips or the to the Caribbean.

  12. Delta has made the business decision to focus on the semi frequent and non frequent fliers who appreciate service & award “sales” like 5k transcon tickets etc. the days of aspirational awards are gone for delta and this is just a cost saving measure and one that will not impact their bottom line or consumer engagement.

    And they are much more successful then many other carriers with great award charts so I’d say, smart decision.

  13. This is why I have always said the loss of old first class is such a bad thing for consumers. Soon Premium Economy will be priced as business once was (even old Business seats were far superior to anything found in premium today) and Business will be priced as the US international and British First comparatively was in award prices. Terrible but inevitable also as many airlines consolidate, the loss of Norwegian Premium will be good for the legacies but is also bound to hit passengers hard.

  14. So, I’m just going to say that this article isn’t really fair and doesn’t actually share a ton of information about the situation. On top of that, it ignores the current situation with international flights. Some counter points:
    1. the cheapest flights I could find for the JFK-CDG route in business with SkyTeam are $2,980 one way, so getting that leg for 120,000 isn’t actually a terrible valuation of Skymiles, $0.025, which is more than double thepointguy’s standard valuation, $0.012. The BKK flights are $3,457, giving a valuation of $0.021, still not bad. While the flights to JNB are a fantastic valuation ($0.049), anyone in the game knows that all flights are based on supply and demand, and few Americans are looking to take a one-way business class trip to a country that they can’t return to the US from (see Covid travel ban for all incoming traffic from South Africa), so it makes sense that Delta and partners are willing to offer a good Skymiles deal for those seats.
    2. Skymiles have been and continue to be relative to the cost of the flights. Per point 1, business class tickets to Europe are sky-high right now, especially one-ways. Why? Well there is a global pandemic, so the only people flying, especially in business, are those who HAVE TO fly, so there is no downward pressure on prices. Ditto that for one-way tickets, which are being flown by people trying to get home, who will likely pay anything to get there.
    3. It seems unfair to call this a devaluation, as no such public announcement has been made that this change is in-fact a devaluation of partner rewards. Per points 1 and 2, this could simply be a response to high ticket prices, low demand, and a goal to fill every seat with a paying customer during a global pandemic. So let’s wait until things return to normal before telling people that their Skymiles are worthless.
    You’re welcome to bash Delta all you want, but you should be fair in the criticism, and I do not believe this article is.

  15. Really comforts me in never really crediting any flights to Skymiles. I like flying Delta but I credit to Flying Blue or something like that, which in and of itself isn’t great either but not nearly as horrible since it’s still fairly easy to find round trips for what SkyMiles charges for one way.
    It’s beyond my understanding why people even waste credit pulls to get Delta credit cards at this point. They’re probably just counting on the less knowledgeable crowd.

  16. @ Abey — You are very mistaken if you believe these devaluations “will not impact their bottom line or consumer engagement”. I am a long-term, big spender on Delta and their credit cards, and Delta has permanently lost my loyalty as a result of these devaluations. It is disgusting, and Delta should be ashamed.

  17. worst mileage program.
    Less legroom than even an AA oasis plane in first and Delta led the charge to 30″ seat pitch in the back…
    Delta Air Lines

  18. Wow Skymiles really are ‘Sky pesos’ at this point. I would’ve wanted to redeem my skymiles for a flight to Asia when the pandemic is over, but now it’s not even worth it.

  19. @ Ezra — I’m sorry, but this is a spectacularly bad take on so many levels, and I don’t even know how to tackle this. So let me just address your third point.

    It’s unfair to call this a devaluation because Delta hasn’t made a public announcement? The airline doesn’t have an award chart, and actively promotes that “the price is the price.” In other words, only airlines with award charts can have devaluations? Does that really make sense to you?

    And then you suggest that this might be temporary, and that Delta might be increasing award costs due to *low* demand? Usually we hear about devaluations happening because of high demand, and not low demand, so…

  20. @magice Skyteam biz award rates are not competitive for NA-India when compared to *A & OW:
    – 52.5k TK M&S miles (citi TY transfer)
    – 55k NH MC miles (AmEx MR transfer)
    OR 70k using UA, AA, AS miles
    The average cost on most other airlines range bet. 75k – 85k. Skyteam is unashamedly 50% more.

  21. A few points for @Ezra:

    Value = price you’d pay, not price they charge. Just ’cause you can hit 2x TPG’s valuation on paper doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. You should pretty much always be able to hit 2.0+cpp “on paper” in international J, and so 2.5cpp isn’t really anything special.

    Yes, cash prices are inflated right now. But award fares shouldn’t – and generally don’t – move as much as revenue fares when there’s decent availability, so this points to a devaluation, not a temporary award price hike to match the cash price hike. Also pointing to a devaluation is that Lucky did his research and looked at more than the JFK-CDG flight. Your one data point is useless.

  22. @Ezra – So much bad logic in your argument. You say the cheapest one way on SkyTeam between JFK – CDG is $2980. Given that you’re on this website, I’m surprised you’re not aware that one way international flights ALWAYS cost more than roundtrip. You can book roundtrip non stop JFK – CDG on AF for $2451 right now. So do the math on how many Skypesos that would cost and let me know what kind of valuation you get. Good deal?

  23. @ben,

    I’m not sure that my point got through. If miles have a value related to a currency, in this case dollars, then a valuation should consider this fact(as thepointsguy’s valuation does). Therefore, with one-way tickets priced incredibly high right now, it would make sense that rewards would also be high. So to call something a devaluation, the dollar value of that currency (in this case Skymiles) would need to change.

    I have no way to see what one-way business class paid fares were from JFK-CDG back when the rate was 95,000, but I know that business class tickets could be had for less than $2,000 round trip on occasion from New York back in 2019. So once again, if the dollar value of the flight goes up, then a price-pegged mile redemption rate will also rise. So, this shouldn’t be surprising and while the holistic value (that is a free trip to Paris) has gone down (since more miles are required), the monetary one hasn’t (as I pointed out, this value is still far above the expected value of Skymiles).

    I checked American, for example, on the JFK to CDG route and while they are offering some days with 96k, most days are higher, including up to 186k, most days are 125k. Can you fly on Royal Air Maroc for 57k, sure, and some may want to do that (with its layover in Casablanca), but on their non-stop flight the miles are comparable to what Delta is offering. Did American devalue their miles? No, they are simply responding to the prices of the tickets. Flights are expensive and all carriers are adjusting their mileage redemptions accordingly. Were things better under an award chart, with set miles prices? Absolutely, but that’s why every carrier has switched to dynamic pricing of rewards.

    My last point was simply to state that this isn’t necessarily the time to expect airlines to be generous with miles and we shouldn’t be casting a program out as a pariah because of that. Mile awards are good when there is low demand and high availability. Right now, we have low demand and low availability. On that very route Delta and Air France used to fly seven daily flights, they are scheduled to fly 3 in October. But my points should be taken as a whole, that is, considering all three points, has the value of Skymiles (that is monetary) actually changed? And has it changed permanently? I would say no to question one and we don’t know to question two.

    I appreciate your writing and have been a long time reader, so my points were not to be malicious, but instead to share what I felt was essential information for readers to know when we talk about valuation of these currencies. That is to say, that if we give a dollar value to these miles, then we need to discuss valuation changes in those terms.

    I want to finish with a tinge of sadness. I purposefully wrote my comment to share that I felt information was missing and consideration should be taken (my main point, that dynamic priced miles are going to vary, based on the cost of the flights). So, when I said that the post wasn’t fair, I meant that all data was not being shared or considered. That wasn’t a criticism of you or your writing. However, I feel that your reply, by making a value judgment on my take (that it is “particularly bad”) you aren’t just rejecting or confronting my points, but you were devaluing them (no pun intended) as not even worth time or consideration. That’s not why I left a comment and I’m disappointed that you felt the need to devalue my thoughts instead of explaining (as is your job) why you felt like my points did not have merit.

  24. @luis,

    You are absolutely correct. However this article didn’t mention round-trip rewards pricing. So I did not feel the need to discuss round-trip fares at all. I provided specific valuation calculations based on the examples that the author gave in the post. That was all.

  25. Towards the end of last year I signed up for Amex Delta in hopes of start to accumulate miles for when they open the floodgates after pandemic. I knew Delta was infamous for devaluated value, the whole “skypesos” thing. Against, better judgement, I signed up for Amex Delta, I though they’d be desperate to get revenue from miles through Amex.
    Delta didn’t disappoint. Once I get 1 year, I will cancel the card. Amex should put some stipulation not to allow devaluation. It makes having the credit card pointless.

  26. @Ezra

    I think most readers here expect miles not to fluctuate with cash prices. If it were to just be price locked, then we might as well all just go for cash back cards.

    Also, almost as a rule, miles and points program are pretty bad value if they’re lock to a certain value per mile. If what Delta is pursuing is to lock miles against a certain amount of value, then that’s certainly a devaluation of the program.

  27. @ Ezra — First of all, I’m sorry if you felt attacked, and I appreciate you reading. Perhaps you could also see how I felt attacked by your comment. You’re saying I’m not being fair towards Delta, while somehow quoting TPG’s baseless valuations as justification. You’re saying I’m being unfair towards Delta because I’m calling a devaluation a… devaluation.

    It’s totally fine if you have a different take than I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m being unfair. People can have different takes on the same situation without one person being malicious or trying to be unfair.

    To address a couple of your points, the American comparison is to a flight on American’s “metal.” That’s different because Delta has devalued partner awards here, and not awards on its own flights. Delta’s own flights typically cost 300K+ miles one-way in business class, but that’s a whole different story, and isn’t something I even addressed here.

    A better comparison would be comparing American’s award pricing on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, etc., where you’ll see the pricing is in a completely different league. American charges 70K miles for one-way business class between the US and Southeast Asia on a partner, while Delta charges 165K miles. Surely you can see the difference in those amounts.

    Next, US frequent flyer programs across the board charge half as much for one-way awards as they do for roundtrips. So for all practical purposes you can compare to roundtrip revenue fares, since international flights are outrageously expensive if booking one-ways with cash. Delta is charging 330K miles for a roundtrip business class award to Southeast Asia, for example, and that’s the absolute lowest cost.

    Lastly, the reason this is so outrageous is because Delta pays partner airlines a fixed amount for these award seats. If the cost of these flights goes up in cash, it doesn’t mean Delta is paying more here. Delta is simply being opportunistic and trying to increase its margins on partner awards, ruining the value proposition of the program.

    Hopefully that sheds some light on my perspective. I appreciate you reading, and I’m sorry if you felt attacked by my first comment.

  28. Look, I continue to fly Delta and continue to earn SkyMiles as a byproduct of spending for status on the Delta Reserve card. As travel ramps back up, I lets see if that still sticks.

    The most reliable way to get value Delta for international first class has ALWAYS been, and likely continues to be, flash sales on DELTA metal. This works pretty well for US to Europe.

    The second most reliable way to get value for Delta SkyMiles is on Delta Vacations flash sales.

    Conclusion? Use Delta SkyMiles for sales, no for partner rewards or regular priced international rewards. This has been the case for several years.

    If you want partner awards to aspirational destinations? Simply collect another currency. For me, the is American, along with transferable currencies.

    Delta also works well for domestic flights.

    If you see Delta SkyMiles for what they are, then you will not be disappointed.

  29. The only surprise is that they didn’t wait 6 months between devaluations.

    Why should they change? Even thought they devalued twoice in the second half of last year (after a long string of devalutions), they are listed as one of the Best Travel Credit Cards here as well as pushed by other bloggers. They always release “no lifetime” language offers and then follow it up with an increase in requirements.

    Ben, what does it take for you to no longer label them as Best Travel Card, let alone drop the referral revenue altoghter by not having a link at all.

  30. @Ben, I’m also sorry that my points were perceived in that way. Truly, I spent a few minutes agonizing over how to write my initial comment in a way that was thoughtful and opened dialogue. This is the hard part of commenting on an internet post, no way to hear my voice.
    So, it’s funny because I wasn’t actually saying that you weren’t being fair to Delta! I think Delta can take the heat. I was worried about price junkies like me, people who see their miles haul as a cash-valued asset. Since I primarily get my miles through credit cards, I value that relationship based on the actual monetary value I get from the miles earned. That may be strange, but it’s the fairest (ie comparable) way I can judge different credit cards based on rewards. And while TPG’s valuation is arbitrary in many ways, they at least provide a value that I can use to make the above decision. I also weigh all sorts of other aspects of the relationship, but I want to make sure, at the end of the day, that I’m getting a good bang-for-my-buck with my credit card spend.
    Absolutely, the only thing I felt was missing (and would have added, in my mind, fairness) was talking about the dollar cost of these flights and how they were equally astronomical. That’s all. To me, that’s the most important factor when considering valuation. And as I’ve learned through this back and forth, that isn’t the take of all miles die-hards.
    To your points about partners, of course, and I know that neither of us can look at every single route on every single partner and get a valuation. For simplicity, I just chose American on the JFK-CDG route because it was the flight discussed that I would most likely fly (I’m a mostly-Eurocentric traveler). And I chose the AA metal flight because it was the only non-stop offered. I know that partner flights vary, but American’s only partner flight to CDG from JFK was on Royal Air Maroc (which I cited as well), so it was hard to compare apples-to-apples. Which also brings up a whole other level to valuation and partners. Do the partners fly convenient routes for you to destinations that you want to fly to? I’m not going to get into that, but suffice it to say I’m starting to broaden my understanding of value.
    I did not know that Delta pays a flat rate for seats on partners! Thank you for commenting that. That is outrageous! Can you add that to the original article? Because with that piece of information, my conception of value is irrelevant, since Delta is now pocketing the extra savings (no matter what the price paid by the end consumer would have been). So, with that knowledge, I understand your point fully and would concur without hesitation.
    Thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully respond. I really appreciate it!

  31. It’s clear their go to market strategy is not providing loyalty via their skymiles program. There are plenty of people, unlike me and you, that tgis makes no difference in their Airlines choice. Isn’t it time we just state the obvious??

  32. It is actually cheaper to use Alaska miles to book roundtrip business class on KE to Asia than to fly oneway using Delta miles.

  33. I’m curious whether Pay by Mikes remains a viable option. At least you have a fixed rate and can chase sale fares.

  34. After getting banned from AA and now Delta devaluing to render their international awards effectively useless, I can’t believe I may actually need to transition to UA given this madness. At least UA will have a plethora of partner availability for international itineraries once the pandemic has passed us by. Being in a non-hub in a northeast, UA isn’t a great option, but it sure beats getting such a low ROI on every dollar spent at airlines. Really disappointing considering Delta has decent service.

  35. @Ben are the “prices” in Skymiles for upgrade awards rising as well?

    (Example: using Skymiles for upgrading VS Premium Eco to Upper Class used to be fairly reasonable)

  36. People don’t seem to understand.

    “Business” class is the new first class

    “Premium economy” is the new business class.

    Delta is in the middle of installing premium economy on all its international jets. Prices are changing accordingly.

  37. You have to wonder why partner devaluations are such a big deal and why people care about them if, after all, they are collecting miles on DL. To me, it says that DL does not provide a service or product that is on par with its European and Asian partners and that people may choose redemption on those partners first. You do have to wonder if maybe DL has not quite caught up to the others and whether European and Asian carriers, which now have competitive seating, offer something that US carriers do not provide. I will say that flying AF is generally better than flying on DL, and that I usually try to get an AF or KL flight over a DL one. This usually has to do with bigger and thus more comfortable equipment, better attention to food quality and better service.

  38. Unfortunately I’m stuck with Skymiles; I live in AMS and pretty much all of my flying is long haul to the US, with DL offering the best schedule and only nonstop options to where I typically go. In the past I was Platinum with FlyingBlue, which is much better for redemption but has high award surcharges and is now much harder to make status than on DL. The program is crap, but DL is a monopoly in many places, and this unfortunately means I’m stuck with it.

  39. With partner awards, I’ve always wondered whether the structure was similar to ISP peering where the airlines agree to net award tickets against each other (1 pax-mile from an AFKL member on an award ticket on DL metal cancels out 1 pax-mile from a DL member on an award ticket on AFKL metal, as does, maybe, 5 pax-miles from a AFKL member on a cash DL marketed-and-metal flight; if there’s an imbalance at the end of the year, they settle up in cash). This devaluation, if that suspicion is at all accurate, might just be a reflection of Americans (who constitute the bulk of SkyMiles membership) having more accumulated miles (thanks to credit card programs) and more willingness to use them on TATL/TPAC flights right now than European and Asian flyers (and if premium cabin business travel has dried up, the offsetting travel from DL members flying on OPM also isn’t there). So it’s eminently possible that what in “before times” netted out pretty well with a token amount of cash changing hands is turning into a big cash-drain because it’s become one-sided.

  40. I have two Delta Platinum Amex cards (one personal, one biz). For me, the value is the companion certificate and the MQM earning, which has gotten me to Platinum status, with the according benefits (particularly free Comfort Plus and the occasional First upgrade). The points are secondary to me… I use those for a first class upgrade when I know my chances of a free upgrade are slim, or to book tickets for my family when Delta has a flash sale.

  41. @magice: I can fly by Qatar QSuites (much better than Delta One) at almost half the points: 70,000 + $15.40, which is fraction of $500. All this using AA miles.

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