Establishing A Minimum Value For Delta SkyMiles

Filed Under: American Express, Credit Cards
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There are many things that frustrate me about the SkyMiles program, including their lack of transparency and award charts, and the changes they make without notice. However, to me that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of these great offers, which are the best offers we’ve seen on the cards.

Delta Amex Cards

One good thing about SkyMiles, unlike some other points currencies, is that they have a legitimate “floor” value, in my opinion.

Personally I think redeeming SkyMiles for international premium cabin redemptions still represents the best use of these points. You can redeem 70,000 miles for a one-way business class ticket to Europe, or 80,000 miles for a one-way business class ticket to Asia, for example. However, for those who don’t want to search for this saver space, you can also redeem SkyMiles as cash towards the cost of a Delta ticket.

If you have Delta’s co-branded credit card then you can redeem SkyMiles for one cent each towards the cost of a ticket, in increments of 5,000 miles.

For example, take the below ~$199 ticket between New York and Los Angeles. If you have Delta’s co-branded credit card you could redeem 20,000 miles to cover the cost of the ticket, or redeem 15,000 miles and pay $49.20, etc.

Again, there are much better ways to use those miles. I’d still rather redeem them for premium cabin international tickets. However, for those who don’t want to deal with Delta’s lack of award charts, you can at least get a penny per point towards the cost of cash tickets. So assuming you’re able to apply for a Delta Amex card, I’d seriously consider doing so.

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  1. Why would you advocate 1 cent/mile, least of all on Delta, when there are 2% cash back cards?

  2. Oh stop being disingenous, A and Tom. Are there cash back cards offering $650 in value as a signup bonus right now? Please, point me to them. The logic of “Durrr get a cashback card” only works in a world where there are no signup bonuses. By all means, once you earn the bonus on these Delta cards, stop using them –the Amex Platinum is a way, way better deal for Delta airfare anyway and there are probably 20 better cards for everyday spend — but the bonus is highly valuable and Lucky would do a disservice to his readers if he didn’t mention it.

  3. Like @James K says …. you can’t do a cash back card with these sorts of signup bonuses. I see cash back cards $150-200 signup bonuses. Or just doing simple math …. let’s say I signed up for a Bank of America cash back rewards card. It offers me a $150 bonus for spending $500 and 1% on general purchases, 2% on grocery stores and 3% on gas stations.

    Now, let’s assume I want to get this cash back for travel, just like I would sign up for the Delta Platinum card (70K after $4K spend) …. okay, apply the $4K to the BofA card. Assume you maximized at grocery stores and gas stations. Let’s be fair, mostly at grocery stores …. $3500 there, and $500 at gas stations. That amounts to a total cash back value of $235 that you could apply towards travel. OR 70K Delta Skymiles, which buys me a one way biz class ticket from Seattle to Amsterdam.

    Even factoring in the $195 annual fee, I’m still $430 ahead just using the miles at 1 cent each to pay for tickets. But, a one way ticket, SEA-AMS, in Delta One, is about $1800. Subtract the $235 cash back on that BofA card. Subtract the $195 Delta Amex annual fee. I would still have to shell out $1370 of my own money for that ticket. Or just get the Delta Platinum Amex card, meet my signup bonus, and buy the ticket. Oh, the $4K spend for the signup bonus earns miles …. let’s say I split evenly between general spend and Delta tickets … that results in another 6000 sky miles. Worth a minimum of $60 at one cent per mile.

  4. I currently have the Gold Skymiles card. Can I upgrade to the Platinum or do I have to add a new Platinum card and then cancel my Gold card? Will the new Platinum card share the miles I currently have so I don’t loose them when I get rid of the gold (did all that make sense)?

  5. @ Larry M. — You can upgrade to the Platinum Card, but you wouldn’t get the sign-up bonus. So if you want the bonus you should apply for the Platinum Card, which you’re eligible for even if you already have the Gold Card. You could credit the miles to the same SkyMiles account.

  6. Note that you don’t earn miles on tickets purchased with miles, even using the 1c/mile method. So that means you get a slightly inferior ticket. A $100 cash ticket earns some new skymiles worth a few %. So, I’d put the floor valuation at 0.97c or so.

  7. I got the 60k + $100 Delta Gold today using a dummy booking. Whats your take on DeltaOne vs United Polaris to TYO? For 80k I feel its worth a try since availability on my day is abundant and United is scarce.

  8. @Ross that’s why a SkyMile isn’t worth as much as an Amex MR or Chase UR. But it’s already worth more than 1 c/mile if you use SkyMiles properly. So, no, it doesn’t knock them down to .97 c or something.

  9. Lucky, do you ever find one way Delta saver business class to Europe from LAX on a flight without high carrier surcharges ?

  10. Increasingly I find Delta’s route map out of JFK to be the worst of the three legacy carriers. Delta doesn’t even fly their own planes direct to Tokyo! As a Delta Diamond if I want to fly anywhere in Asia it means I have to fly one of their very sub par partners: China Southern, or Eastern to Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai. China Airways or Korean are nominally better, but I still don’t understand the math or reasoning behind having a hub at JFK when you don’t fly to Tokyo or Hong Kong Direct? Delta’s route map to Asia out of JFK is just terrible with no actual Delta non-stops ANYWHERE in Asia. You have to go to Detroit or Minneapolis or Seattle or Portland or Atlanta, because, you know, there is no demand out of the small hamlet of NYC to fly to Hong Kong or Tokyo or…. And award tickets when I’ve look can be as much as 340,000 for a business class ticket often with 2 stops!!!! Factor in the ancient uncomfortable 767’s they fly transcon and to Europe, they aren’t worth the 160,000 miles they are asking! When they have flash sales for elites and you can nab a seat for 110,000 to Europe then maybe. Sorry to rant, but all of this goes back to how valuable their miles are and I think given the high rate of awards and the very limited direct route map out of NYC, ancient planes, uncomfortable seats of the 767, makes them nearly worthless. As much as I hate United (as someone who used used to be a top elite on them) they have the best route map of any Legacy carrier our of NYC. Sadly, they fly out of New Jersey and have a terrible product. Bottom line is like you say more and more Lucky: buy cheap business class tickets on the airlines you want to fly and give up on being brand loyal to any one airline .

  11. Interesting, hadn’t considered the cash value of the points. Got the platinum Delta business card a few months ago and been saving up the points. My guess is using them o/w in biz to Accra (Ghana) would be a great value, so I guess I’ll save them for that.

  12. @Larry M and lucky: if you upgrade from the Gold to the Platinum, you can actually get a bonus of 25,000 miles after you spend $3000 in 3 months – I just called to upgrade a week ago! I’d be spending that money anyway, and since I’m already paying the $95 yearly fee, that’s like getting 25,000 miles for $100. Plus, the Platinum card comes with a yearly free companion pass, which you forgot to mention, which works anywhere in the continental US. That’s easily worth more than $195 since there are plenty of roundtrips in the US that cost more than that (mine to visit family for the holidays is twice that, and I’m planning to use the companion pass for my fiance).

    So yes, getting 1 cent/dollar on all spend isn’t great, but the perks and sign-up bonus are much better than those of cashback cards.

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