How To Adjust Your Spending To Delta’s New Transfer Limits

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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?

Redeem SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic business class

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:

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:

You earn two to six points per dollar spent, which can be transferred to Delta SkyMiles at a 3:1 ratio. For every 60,000 points you earn you get a 15,000 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/Marriott, so you won’t want to transfer more than 600,000 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 The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Card from American Express and Delta Reserve 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.

Redeem SkyMiles for KLM business class

Bottom line

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.

Redeem SkyMiles for Alitalia business class

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  1. Thank you Lucky. As someone who is Hub captive with Delta, this was a concise and helpful summary. We have had great success with low BE awards for our travels to Europe so we can’t complain too much about their relative value. Thanks again for all the great information.

    Peace out.

  2. no matter what Delta tries to do, it will be just a back up or at the bottom of miles and points program. the only positive position for 2015 is the One-Way redemption which other programs came with.

  3. Delta is full of it.

    If they want to increase availability of award seats — make more available. They act like it’s a static number and only by reducing the number of SkyPesos can they increase availability to their ‘targeted’ flyers.

    For years Delta was my ‘go to’ airline. Now I avoid them like the plague. It started with eliminating guests at SkyClub for Amex Platinum and has gotten worse. I even went so far as to cancel my Delta Amex Gold because now I fly Southwest whenever possible.

    It’s sad what’s happened to Delta, and I hope they get their ‘customer’ mojo back. Tomorrow we leave for Maui — on United. Same price as Delta but, again, I actively try to avoid flying Delta now, so there’s three EC Plus tickets they’ve lost. This week. From one person.

  4. Really? You find the 250,000 mile transfer limit *severely* limiting? How many people can reasonably earn more than 250,000 Membership Rewards points a year without absurd manufactured spend? And if you’re a family, you have at least two people able to earn MR points, so really it should be thought of as a 500,000 point annual cap for a family, *not* 250,000. I just fail to see how this is really an issue, unless you have a massive buildup of MR points and you were waiting to transfer them – in which case you could do so now, before the cap comes into place.

    Maybe I’m just missing out on some magical way that people accrue gigantic stocks of MR points in a year?

  5. @ Bert — It’s not about how much you spend a year. If you earn 500,000 Membership Rewards points over years and want to spend them on a family vacation to Europe, you can no longer find the space and then transfer the points in order to make the booking. Through my award booking service I book trips for families with transferable points currencies all the time, and for the most part they’re transferring well over 250,000 miles for a family trip.

  6. a “Real” business, that has “real” expenses, that charges their supplies on the card. Say like a restaurant or bar etc…not hard to imagine how they have a lot of miles. But, if it’s just aunt jenny lemonade stand for your businness…well then…no..hard to imagine

  7. Really all
    it took this to hate Delta
    I’ve hated this airline and Spit airlines oops spirit as long as I can remember
    Delta would have to be close to the last airline flying before I’d buy a ticket on them in my lifetime
    They have the lowest respect in the nation by consumers along with Bank of America
    Well done Delta one of Americas most hated loathed companies
    See and some said they are never consistent at anything

  8. @Lucky I get what you’re saying, but I still don’t see how this is severely limiting to all but a very small subset of people. A few points:

    1. You mention that families use your award booking service and often transfer over 250k transferable points at a time. That’s all well and good, but kind of a vague statement given the issue at hand. How often are they transferring 250k points to DL, and how often is that the best option? I’m guessing not that often, given DL’s pretty bad award chart and bad saver availability, as well as lack of one-way awards. But this is an honest question – you obviously know much better than I do.

    2. Delta is only one of 17 different transfer partners for Membership Rewards. Saying that limiting the amount of miles that you can transfer to one of those transfer partners is severely limiting seems like an overstatement to me. SPG has even more transfer partners, so again, not a *severe* limitation. It’s only a severe limitation if you know you accrue MR or SPG points specifically to transfer only to Delta, which brings me to…

    3. If you know you are going to transfer to Delta, you have time to do so, unrestricted. So not really a *severe* limitation as long as you get on top of it. I understand that the point of flexible points is that you can transfer to a large number of different programs, and search all of them for availability and then transfer. But like I said in #2, these programs still have many, many other transfer partners, so limiting the transfers to one of those partners is hardly a severe limitation.

    4. Like I stated in my previous response, if you’re a family you can alleviate this somewhat by having both parents have Amex accounts. Then you can effectively double the number that can be transferred annually.

    In conclusion, I’m just legitimately wondering why people are making such a big deal out of it. Unless I’m missing something, it seems to affect a very small subset of people. The advice you offer is good for that small subset, I’m just not sure that multiple blog posts are really warranted on this issue.

  9. @ Bert — I don’t think it’s worth our time to argue semantics when it comes to the word “severely.” As far as I’m concerned this is a big change, because it’s the first time we’ve seen any program do this.

    To me the value in transferable points currencies comes in being able to instantly transfer enough points for award tickets, so I do see the annual limit as being major.

    You’d be surprised by how many Delta SkyMiles awards we book for a family of four, and how they’re the best value when they do. I can tell you it will certainly impact the awards we book substantially.

    Of course this only impacts a small subset of people. When booking award tickets, 90%+ of people redeem them for domestic flights. But for those actually involved in the hobby, I do view it as being a much bigger “thing.”

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