When Delta merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008, they touted “the world’s largest airline” and a frequent flyer program that was “best in class”. Unfortunately, Delta’s frequent flyer program is far from being best in class. While there are some positive aspects of the SkyMiles program, primarily with their Medallion elite status program, the majority are negative and I hope they will serve as a wake-up call to Delta management.
Points a.k.a. SkyMiles
+ Decent award availability on partners like Air France, KLM and Korean Air
+ No fees for redeeming close to departure date (for. ex Continental charges $75 if you are within 20 days)
+ Lots of ways to accrue- Extensive list of mileage-earning partners (shopping, hotel, rental car, Bosley hair replacement, etc)
+ Generous promotions- At times ludicrous ones like 5,000 miles for a 2 day Budget car rental and frequently 25,000-50,000 sign up bonuses for Delta branded American Express cards
+ Ability to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points, usually at a 20-40% bonus
- Three tier (read: highly inflated) award chart. Nearly impossible to find “low” level availability. The tiers are also a la carte, so if you have a medium level international leg which is 90,000 miles and a domestic leg that is 25,000, the total goes to 115,000 instead of just staying at the higher level. This is frustrating because partner awards are only at the low level. Awards can quickly get into the many hundreds of thousands of miles.
- Dysfunctional award booking tool at Delta.com so the only way to get accurate information is to waste everyone’s time and call a phone rep (what year are we in?). Only few partner airlines show availability online (Air France, KLM, Alaska)
- Exasperated phone reps who allegedly have time quotas for each customer that calls looking for an award
- One way awards cost the same as round-trip
- High fees for awards that originate ex-US. For example a coach JFK-Copenhagen costs about $45 in taxes and fees. Copenhagen-JFK on the same dates costs $277.
- Only coach and business class awards- not allowed to redeem for First class on partners
Elite Status a.k.a. SkyMiles Medallion Program
+ Unlimited, space available upgrades for all elite members (Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond)
+ Rollover miles- however many Medallion Qualifying Miles you accrue past your membership level, you can roll over to the next year. For ex. if you have 60,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles, you can roll over 10,000 to the next year (since Gold status is reached at 50,000).
+ Ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles from credit card spend and promotions
+ Elite Choice Benefits- you can choose which benefits you want when hitting Platinum (75,000 MQM) and Diamond (125,000 MQM) levels. For example, you can gift Gold status to a friend, receive $200 Delta gift certificates, Upgrade Certificates and miles.
+ Priority boarding, security and seating (including choosing the exit row at time of booking for all Medallions)
+ Waived ticketing and baggage fees (2 free)
+ Free Same Day Confirm program- ability to change to different flights on same day of travel for free (Gold and Platinum)
+ Ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles on all paid, published fare classes- with bonuses for more expensive fare classes
- System-wide Upgrades are generally only redeemable on very expensive fares
- Delta sometimes makes it too easy to get elite status so sometimes flights have upgrade lists 50+ people long. Some frequent flyers resent that people can get high Medallion status levels by spending money in lieu of flying
Overall Summary: If you want flexibility and good value when redeeming your miles, SkyMiles is not for you. With the three tier program, generally redemptions are 50-200% more than the other US carriers. For example, a domestic coach ticket is most often 40,000 miles on Delta and 25,000 on other carriers.
However, if you live in a city with a big Delta presence (Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Cincinatti, Salt Lake, Minneapolis, New York for example) and value convenient flight schedules and unlimited upgrades (if you fly enough to make elite status) than Delta may be for you.
Elite Program: B
Overall Grade: C
First steps for Delta to get the overall score moving towards an A:
1) Get rid of the three tier awards, or drastically increase the availability of level of low awards
2) Fix Delta.com’s award booking engine and add partner availability
3) Institute one-way awards that are half the price of round-trip and allow partner one-way awards
4) Reduce fees on international originating awards
5) Allow system-wide upgrade certificates to be used on all fare classes
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