Delta SkyMiles Program Review

Who Is Delta SkyMiles Good For?

Delta has been taking flak from frequent flyers for years, for a variety of valid reasons: Their awards are much harder to come by than those of most major domestic airlines; you cant book one-way awards without a huge penalty; and its often a huge time suck to find the award you want to book on their website.

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    Virgin Atlantic
    Virgin Australia
    Hawaiian Airlines
    Air France
    Air Tahiti Nui
    Alaska Airlines
    China Eastern Airlines
    China Southern Airlines
    Czech Airlines

    Garuda Indonesia
    Great Lakes Airlines
    Korean Air
    Vietnam Airlines
    China Airlines
    Endeavor Air
    ExpressJet Airlines
    Shuttle America
    Aerolineas Argentinas
    Kenya Airways
    Mandarin Airlines
    Saudia Airlines
    Shanghai Airlines
    Tarom Airlines
    GoJet Airlines
    Compass Airlines

    But many uber-frequent travelers have stayed incredibly loyal to them as well, in no small part because of the incredible variety of comfy airlines with great perks that Delta points give you access to, starting with Delta’s sister airlines Air France and KLM (they’re all one company but fly under different names).

    Starting in 2015, Delta will be straining loyalties even further with a number of sweeping changes to its award program, beginning with revenue-based SkyMiles earning and extending into an increasingly complex awards chart that will have five redemption categories instead of three, and that will incorporate several key devaluations.

    On the bright side, the new award chart, which will kick in on January 1, 2015, will allow one-way awards and cash + points redemptions.


    How Can You Use Delta SkyMiles?

    Beyond the lack of one-way awards, one of the big gripes is the difficulty of booking Delta award flights, so Ill tell you right now: Use Air France to search for inventory, not Delta.com.

    Beyond that, though, Delta’s partner network offers some really great redemptions within Europe and South America, so for short hops to hard-to-reach destinations that can easily run you $500 or more, you can cruise over in business class on 40,000 or 50,000 miles.

    Now that American has abruptly scrapped its incredibly valuable One World Explorer awards that offered great award redemption rates for round-the-world travel, Delta’s round-the-world awards are some of the only ones still kicking, and you can use them to easily get to especially out-of-the-way places like Tahiti, the Maldives and Australia through partner airlines.

    Program Perks:

    Booking Quirks:

    Best Value Awards:

    For the perennial dilemma of how to get to London without paying frightfully high fuel surcharges, Delta is one airline that offers a simple answer. You can redeem Delta points on Virgin Atlantic with minimal surcharges, and Virgin Atlantic has a great product on these flights, employing double-decker 747-400s that have economy spots on the back of the top deck. There’s no extra fee to snag them, but you get preferential boarding, a much better flight-attendant-and-bathroom-to-passenger ratio and extra storage space in the window seats.

    Worst Value Awards:

    One-ways. Often if you’re low on points on a certain airline, or having trouble finding low-level redemptions in both directions on the flights you need, it makes sense to split your itinerary on two airlines, but there’s no point doing this with Delta.

    The award chart really confuses this point, because it shows you the number of miles needed for one direction of travel, so it looks like you can get a one-way in the U.S. for 12,500 miles. But, that is the one-way redemption rate based on round-trip travel. If you want a simple one-way, they’ll charge you the number of miles required for a round-trip flight!

    The Good Stuff: Upgrades and Elite Status

    For frequent flyers who love their upgrades, Delta elite status is a great thing to have. If you book a Y fare, no matter what status level you have, you can get a complimentary upgrade at the time of booking. On other fare categories, unlimited complimentary upgrades are also available, but within a certain number of days of departure, according to status level.

    Otherwise, its quite straightforward to upgrade, with two upgrade rates, one for full fare seats and one for select other fares. You have to call to see if your fare qualifies, but if it does, the rate is comparable to the difference between economy and upper class seats on the general award chart.

    Delta SkyMiles Medallion Elite Levels and Perks

    Associated Credit Cards

    All of Delta’s co-branded credit cards are issued through American Express, and you have four options, each with a different focus, according to Delta: Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (earn miles faster), Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (achieve Medallion status) and the Delta Reserve Credit Card (elevate Medallion status).

    The cards are very different, starting with the sign-on bonus, which begins as low as 5,000 miles after first purchase with the basic card and as high as 5,000 Medallion qualifying miles (MQMs) and 35,000 miles with the Platinum card and 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 miles with the Reserve card.

    All cards offer:

    All cards except the basic card offer:

    Annual fees vary quite a bit, with only the Gold card coming for free the first year and $95 after that. The Basic card carries a $55 annual fee, the Platinum a $195 fee, and the Reserve a $450 fee, because it includes club access, concierge services and a companion certificate upon renewal eligible for first class travel.