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How Was Delta SkyMiles Named a Best Travel Rewards Program?

How Was Delta SkyMiles Named a Best Travel Rewards Program?
Joe Cortez

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.

View Comments (14)


  1. Sabai

    September 4, 2017 at 7:00 am

    SkyPesos? Fake news.

  2. Bobedi

    September 4, 2017 at 9:23 am

    As a Delta Diamond, I am grateful that it is so easy to use SkyMiles to upgrade to First Class, particularly on the transcons where complimentary upgrades are not available. And, I love the Pay With Miles options because I often use it to use miles to pay the difference between Coach and First Class.

  3. AllieKat

    September 4, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I definitely agree, I think SkyMiles is the best of the programmes. I’ve had very high value redemptions, good availability, and a lot else to love about Delta. They run a much better airline than the rest…

  4. starflyer

    September 4, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Delta doesn’t allow award cancellation within 72 hours of flight. With picies such as this that are so member unfriendly, I consider Delta as the worst frequent flyer program among the major US carriers.


    September 6, 2017 at 4:20 am

    The Delta FF program gives unlimited upgrades to F plus the odd OpUp. I love their FF program. Miles don’t expire. I love the program.

  6. see2xu

    September 7, 2017 at 3:29 am

    I’m Platinum, and use my SkyMiles exclusively for free tickets. Admittedly, the program doesn’t have long-term predictability, as redemptions seem to vary like fares, based on demand, etc., but overall it’s easy to use, and I don’t mind modifying my plans to maximize the value of the points.

    Delta has really transformed itself, over the past three years, and this was quite evident even before the “First Carry Off is Free” scandal and attendant media focus on airlines, generally. When a schedule change is forced on me, I no longer have to go through hoops and gyrations to preserve my paid first class seat on the alternate flight, as was the case for years. They volunteer to forego change fees on restricted tickets, under circumstances that warrant compassion. The cabin crew are genuine in their gratitude for our business, and go out of their way to make the in-flight experience satisfactory.

    Far cry from the Leo Mullins regime.

  7. Condosteve

    September 7, 2017 at 3:30 am

    People who love this program do NOT understand theft, devaluation, and betrayal of high-valued flyers upon the institution of the new 2015 Skymiles Program example – a trip from NYC to Bangkok under the old system netted about 45,000 spendable points, now on a low price fare is about 7,000 spendable. You do the math. You’ve been fleeced!! And those hard-earned “butt-in-the-seat” miles you used to be able to spend, only get you status now!!
    I’m still a diamond but I spend a lot of revenue on other airlines whose prices ( like recently to Paris) was 1/2 the Delta option.
    If you never demand what’s appropriate, you’ll have to settle for the Delta “table crumbs.”

  8. uygi

    September 7, 2017 at 6:50 am

    As an opportunistic flyer, I occasionally snag a really nice international flight with skypesos. If they did expire, I wouldn’t bother, but since they last forever I just check Delta whenever preferred airlines don’t have a good redemption or a reasonable price. It works =)


    September 7, 2017 at 7:35 am

    I love it, I especially like not having to pay for upgrades and getting kosher meals whenever there’s a meal, unlike other airlines I know.

  10. thinthin

    September 7, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Who voted for the best???

  11. thetravelingnanny

    September 7, 2017 at 9:06 am

    I suppose those with Diamond status are happy with Skymiles. Being on the bottom rung, the only good thing I can say is their miles do not expire. I only use my miles for free travel. Their new way of deciding how many miles you get in coach, makes it difficult to accumulate miles. Ironic since we get the jammed seat and less miles! Then when you want to redeem, the amount of miles for a domestic flight is high not to even mention international! I recently went to my United miles instead of Delta for an international flight as it was 20,000 miles less! Another international flight I used American as they were 15,000 less. So yeah, their status as a great reward program surprises me.

  12. Grog

    September 7, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Whatever Delta SkyMiles is today, it became this by breaking its word years ago, reneging on the sworn promise of miles truly never expiring. “As long as Delta has a FFP, your miles will never expire. Never. Ever.”

    The day they announced that they’d ‘changed their mind’ about a sworn, written promise (not something that is subject to change without notice) was the day they lost faith with me.

    That was the day that airline loyalty ended for me, because Delta executives proved they were nothing short of honest. Those who made that decision to choose bad faith over fulfilling a promise to thousands should truly feel guilty for making it.

    Since that day, I still avoid them, choosing Star Alliance, car rentals, and yes, Amtrak and other trains, instead.

  13. Kremmen

    September 7, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I guess those who vote Delta highly don’t care about poor value and misrepresentation. Every day people go to redeem their Delta miles and find that the destination they wanted has mysteriously become more expensive or that the route they want doesn’t come up on the web site. For those who want to fly internationally, Delta SkyMiles is definitely the worst of the major US airlines. At least they got it right that Alaska is best.

  14. Dutchman Flying

    September 8, 2017 at 6:40 am

    This perennial PM has been treated well by individual Delta agents over the years: waived change fees, overseas upgrades, and other favors over the phone, at the gate, or on board. But the awesome agents have virtually nothing to do with the Skymiles program.

    My biggest complaint with Skymiles is the drastic devaluation in redeemable miles earnings that resulted from the shift from mileage-based to fare-based RDMs. It was a bottom-line decision that ended up punishing Delta’s most loyal flyers the most. Examples like the one shared by Condosteve (a route that once netted 40K RDMs now nets only 7K RDMs) became common experience. Coupled with the decrease in availability of 25K awards for domestic flights cut the value of awards by almost 2/3rds in my case. Only someone with no prior history in Skymiles would vote it among the top awards programs.

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