Webflyer.com wrote up details of Delta’s new pay with miles feature. Skymiles members with a co-branded American Express card can now use their miles to pay directly for tickets rather than searching award availability.
I haven’t previously mentioned that this was coming (I don’t think) mainly because it doesn’t merit much attention. As I expected, the best you’ll ever do by using miles as cash for a ticket is one cent per mile in value.
Now, Delta miles aren’t generally worth much more than a cent, I use my United and American miles to redeem (with ease, relatively speaking) for premium cabin international awards. In recent years I’ve booked international first class tickets on tons of airlines including Qantas, Air Tahiti Nui, Asiana, United, Thai, ANA, and Lufthansa (not to mention business class on many of the same carriers, as well as Singapore and British Airways). It’s much easier to do that with Untied and American miles, so I place a higher premium on the value of those miles than I do on Delta Skymiles.
Still, one cent per mile seems almost like giving up. If you’re happy with a 1% rebate on your credit card spend, get a 1% cashback card. If you’re spending the miles earned on your Delta American Express with the miles as money option from Delta, you’re turning that Amex card into a 1% rebate — with the restriction that doesn’t apply to cash that the rebate can only be used for travel and even then only on travel booked through Delta. 1% cashback is better (sure, the Delta Amex comes with bonuses but so to do the better cashback cards).
This program is exceedingly similar to United’s Choices… a 1% value applied towards United tickets, and less value when used for rental cars and other most other travel options. At least Choices gives you the option of redeeming miles directly for elite qualifying miles to help you retain status, and that’s in addition to the miles towards status earned on the top premium co-branded credit card. (But Delta and American Express are already sort of the pioneers with earning status based on credit card spend, it’s possible to earn as many as 40,000 qualifying miles per year with enough spending on both the personal and business versions of the card, so probably not a real need to expand this).
One obvious improvement over Choices is that with United, only those miles earned via the co-branded Visa credit card can be used as money towards ticket. With Delta, any holder of a Delta American Express card (with a U.S. address in their Skymiles account) can take advantage of this. And all Skymiles in their account can be used, not just those earned with American Express spending. This is a great improvement, if only because it limits the confusion.