Don’t Fall For Delta’s New “SkyMiles Deals”

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
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Delta just launched a new initiative for SkyMiles — a dedicated page highlighting what Delta is considering the best award flights bookable with SkyMiles at any given point in time.


These aren’t actually amazing uses of SkyMiles.

Let’s dig in to the details.

What are these new SkyMiles Award Travel Deals?

Delta is promoting these as “some of our best award travel deals that SkyMiles Members can book using their miles,” with the intention that this will provide customers with a regular place to check and see what the “best deals” are.

All “deals” will be for Delta-operated flights in the main cabin, and are broken down into the following categories:

  • Last-minute (for the upcoming weekend)
  • Domestic
  • Europe
  • Latin America/Caribbean
  • Trans-Pacific

The page is supposed to be “regularly refreshed with the best award travel deals,” though of course, that presupposes that Delta’s definition of “best award travel deals” matches yours, and let me assure you that it should not.

Frankly, and unless/until we see evidence to the contrary, I would give these “deals” the same weight as the airline marketing emails that show up in your inbox exhorting you to “act fast on incredible deals to [insert featured destination they’ve determined based on your browsing history]” — namely, none at all.

What would actually help members know if they’re getting the best deal would be to compare to a published award chart, but we’re going on three years of grumbling about that to no effect. Still, savvy members know or can look up what the prices should be and choose their redemptions accordingly, so this is more a fleecing of those customers who trust Delta’s marketing department to give them accurate information about SkyMiles.

Comparing SkyMiles Award Travel Deals to cash

As Delta continues to move towards a revenue-based system, these “award deals” are likely to be closely correlated to the best paid fares in a given market, making these even less likely to be a “best” use of SkyMiles, much less a deal.

The first batch of domestic deals range from 11,000 to 17,000 SkyMiles, and are pretty restrictive:

  • Round-trip travel required
  • Valid through May 1 – August 11, 2018
  • 21 day advance purchase
  • Saturday overnight required

The only international deals this week seem to be for five destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean, but only from Atlanta:

These have a bunch of rules as well:

  • Purchase by May 15 for travel August 15 – September 30, 2018
  • Round-trip travel required
  • 90 day advance purchase

Beyond that, the footnote specifies that:

Promotional pricing currently not available on the following dates:

Between Cancun, Mexico, MX (CUN) and Atlanta, GA (ATL): August 25 – 29, 2018
Between Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) and Atlanta, GA (ATL): August 15 – 29, 2018

So at first glance these are pretty restrictive.

Let’s look at some examples though.

Los Angeles to Las Vegas for 11,000 SkyMiles

First off, you can’t get the 11,000 mile price is you want to leave on a Friday, which is ostensibly when many people would want to take a quick trip from LA to Vegas. You can leave Thursday and return Sunday for 11,500 on some weekends though, which might be reasonable for some.

Except, of course, an evening departure is even more miles, and you can’t get two tickets at that price regardless:

Even if you compromise on days of the week and times to get that elusive 11,000-mile fare, it still doesn’t represent a “deal”.

Round-trip flights between LA and Vegas aren’t expensive to begin with, and there are plenty of options on other carriers (and at better times).

For these exact flights, Delta is charging $148.40 (round-trip) if you pay cash. That’s a rate of 1.345¢ per mile. Yikes.

Atlanta to Cancun for 20,000 SkyMiles

Once again, these deals aren’t actually available over a long weekend, so in order to get the best price you’ll have to make compromises on days and times.

These awards have higher taxes and fees, since they’re international, so there’s also $81.41 in taxes and fees.

The cash price, in contrast, is $380.51 all-in. Subtracting out the taxes, that’s a redemption rate of 1.495¢ per mile.

Typically, the best way to extract value from SkyMiles is in using them for international premium cabin tickets that would otherwise be outrageously expensive, not on fares that are already reasonably priced when using cash, and that holds true here.

If this is how you intend to use miles, you want other miles

Everyone has different travel aspirations, and if your primary goal is to save money, then it can indeed make sense to use miles for economy flights. Particularly for domestic awards, however, SkyMiles are really not the best currency for those purposes.

Instead, you’ll want to consider cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® for 1.5¢ towards travel, or cash-back style cards like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card or Citi® Double Cash Card. Those will all offer more flexible rewards with a better rate of return for domestic (or highly discounted international) economy flights.

At these rates, you’re literally better off redeeming your SkyMiles for Champagne.

Bottom line

It’s really unfortunate that the marketing and revenue management departments have taken over SkyMiles, because there’s still a lot to love about the program. I’m thrilled with my elite treatment, the miles are reasonable to earn, and the value is definitely still there for international premium cabin awards.

It would be awesome if Delta were to offer some consistent (and advertised) SkyMiles deals that actually represented a superior value for their members, but at first glance that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Anyone see anything of value with these SkyMiles Award Travel Deals that I might have missed?

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  1. 50,000 points for LAX-LAS-LAX in first?


    Thanks for the warning and the clear, concise explanation!

  2. 11,000 miles LAX-LAS? That is not a deal.

    Even LAX-JFK at 11,000 miles is a discount, not a great deal.

    We need fewer “enhancements”. I want them to take them all away and get back to the 1989 way…..triple miles in economy, upgrades available as a silver member at least 40-50% of the time, 90% if gold….

  3. First, quit using the cartoon pics on OMAAT posts…they’re annoying (much like the way oversized credit card pictures lately).

    Second, why the hate toward Skymiles? Sure, there are things to not like about the program. But to say they’re deceptive with these ‘Deals’ isn’t really true. Click through and you’ll see pricing on a calendar, it’s pretty clear what dates cost what miles. And I’m amused that, in this case, OMAAT is all about the long weekend or Friday travel; it’s rarely the case that OMAAT cares at all about dates but cares more about the product. I’m DL hub captive and I like seeing ‘deals’ like these…even with bad travel dates I’ve managed to score great redemptions to SoCal in the past and I hope to keep seeing ‘deals’ in the futuer.

    Third, any self-respecting LAX-LAS on weekend travel flies Jackpot Air…was there any doubt?

  4. @ Robert — I don’t hate SkyMiles! To the contrary, I think there are tons of fabulous uses of the program, I just don’t like the disdain the current management team at SkyMiles at has for their members.

    In this case, I mainly take issue with these being labeled the “best” uses of SkyMiles, much less “deals” when they are really neither. They offer a way to redeem SkyMiles, but it’s an option that better serves Delta’s goals (of getting SkyMiles off the books for as little cost as possible), rather than one that most customers aim for (getting a good value for their miles).

    We are definitely all about prioritizing deals and products over exact dates. But there’s nothing about narrow-body economy that justifies going out of one’s way for, much less overpaying for the privilege.

  5. Good analysis, Tiffany. I first noticed their bait&switch tactics a few weeks ago with those “unbeatable” offers to use SkyPesos to fly to Mexico. On some routes the taxes & fees were more than paying cash to fly Volaris (which I ultimately did)! Saving the SkyPesos for use on other carriers. Delta’s program ATM is full of illusory offers.

  6. The pot calls the kettle black.

    Get off your high horse. This blog, like all so-called “travel blogs” (which are actually just credit-card-hyping blogs) do the exact same thing that you accuse Delta of doing here: you bloviate endlessly about “great opportunities” which are, in fact, at best, options that are often illusory and impossible-in-the-real-world-for-real-people. Hey, you too can fly to Bora Bora for pennies – as long as you only need one seat, and you can leave on the spur of the moment with no advance planning when they suddenly open up a single first-class seat 2 days before departure, once a year, available briefly at 3:00 am, as long as you don’t mind flying via Mongolia with a layover in Uzbekistan, etc., etc.

    It’s called spin, marketing or BS, and you guys do it here every hour of every day. Delta is no different. Your scorn for Delta’s equivalent effort seems misplaced.

    And yes, the clip-art graphics give the blog all the credibility of a middle-school project.

  7. These are the best deals – for Delta to fill underutilized planes…
    Seriously though, these are probably better-than-average deals for many travelers. I was shocked to find out from the airberlin insolvency documents that the average award redemption was less than 0.5cents/mile… While travel blog readers likely do better, the average loyalty program member redeems at very poor value. .

  8. Yes. I got two MSP-BOS tickets for 11,000 Miles each over a weekend. Now part of that is due to pricing pressure from Spirit and JetBlue, but I can book and cancel as a Diamond and hold out for a dirt cheap cash fare.

  9. Tiffany,

    I think the analysis here misses a key point. You say that if people want to use miles for domestic redemptions, they are better off earning cash back to use towards points. This suggests that the main way people earn miles is through credit cards. That may be true, but many of us earn a lot of Skymiles because we earn miles by flying paid fares, and many of those fares are paid for my corporate cards with no earnings. Or maybe people get inexpensive signup bonuses. Basically the cost of acquisition (both real and opportunity) is zero for these miles.

    If you need/want to fly a certain route for whatever reason, and you can redeem Skymiles for 1.4 cents per mile (especially if you are redeeming for friends and family), it can make perfect sense to use Skymiles (or any other mileage currency) if you are earning a bunch of them anyway.

  10. Another point… it would be fascinating to know the average mileage balance of the average consumer. I bet it’s under 10,000, and those customers likely built of balances through flights they needed or wanted to take over the years, not through credit cards or other promotions. Especially in a city like Atlanta, where everyone is flying one airline. Those customers have three options:

    1) Use their points for low mileage redemptions like this
    2) Use their points on things like they don’t need like champagne in order to get the most “value” out of points
    3) Try to sign up for a bunch of cards, get their balances over 100,000 and take a trip to Europe or Asia

    For many customers, option 1 makes the most sense . Would it be nicer if Delta cut the mileage requirements in half? Maybe, but it is what it is

  11. But, Tiffany, if we don’t overpay for tickets, how will Delta stay so profitable? 😉

  12. @ Anthony — That’s a fair point! Most miles these days are earned through non-flying means, but absolutely, if your acquisition cost is zero that changes the equation.

  13. Heads up AMEX has a Delta offer for $60 off $300 instead of wasting you miles on these “deals”!

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