A quick browse through the Cpi-Web forums will reveal many mixed opinions about Delta Air Lines. One thread alone asks: What keeps you (the flyers) on Delta? The answers range from “considerably better operations” and “customer service and culture,” to their partner airlines to Europe. The one thing often missing from this list are compliments to the SkyMiles frequent flyer program.
With so many frustrations about the frequent flyer program, it may shock some to discover SkyMiles received honors from U.S. News and World Report. It’s actually not fake news: Delta SkyMiles was named the second best frequent flyer program among American carriers, ranking underneath Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan and just above JetBlue TrueBlue.
Both Mileage Plan and TrueBlue make sense: both programs offer flyers flexibility in how they use their miles, with plenty of options. But SkyMiles was rather confusing: an effectively closed system with no published award chart that changes at any given moment. Is it possible that Delta SkyMiles could truly be an award-worthy product? How could Delta earn such an honor?
We begin by looking at Delta’s network. Through 2014, Delta was the largest airline in the United States by passengers, only dethroned by American Airlines after the US Airways merger. As a result, Delta offers service to many destinations across the United States, extended to around the world through either their network, their partners networks, or through the SkyTeam alliance.
Getting to those destinations often require only two stops, as Delta operates through some of the nation’s biggest airports. Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle are all major focus cities. As a result, SkyMiles can be used to see the world, even if it may come at a premium. To make things better, SkyMiles do not expire, allowing flyers to redeem flights as their schedule allows.
Delta has also become more progressive in rewarding those who hold their cobranded credit cards, or those with partner American Express. While many know about complimentary Sky Club access by holding The Platinum Card from American Express, those who hold the Delta American Express cards may be offered the ability to “borrow” points and earn elite qualifying miles through spending. The amount that can be borrowed depends on the flyer, their habits and how much they use their card.
How do flyers feel about SkyMiles as a rewards program? Zorak writes on the forums that they often redeem miles for 1.6 to 1.8 cents per mile, putting SkyMiles in line with other frequent flyer programs. Others note that with SkyMiles adding domestic trips at 5,000 miles one way, there are many opportunities to cross the United States on SkyMIles.
While casual flyers may not be able to get the most out of Delta, frequent flyers may find themselves agreeing with the findings of U.S. News and World Report. Although a program’s ultimate value is based on many factors, those who don’t live within the footprints of Alaska Airlines or JetBlue may find long term rewards flying aboard Delta Airlines and collecting SkyMiles – both on the ground and in the air.