More Reasons to Dislike Delta’s Pay With Miles Program

Tim Winship makes a point about Delta’s new miles as money option for award tickets that I neglected to mention: that the tickets you ‘buy’ at one cent per point are treated as award, rather than paid, tickets. In other words, they don’t earn miles and they can’t be upgraded.

Still, Winship concludes

[T]he increased flexibility, transparency, and convenience provided by Pay with Miles will be welcomed by many SkyMiles members and sets a new industry standard for award availability.

Now, as I mentioned previously, United already offers Choices — a similar program for Mileage Plus members with a co-branded Visa credit card. So it’s hardly a new industry standard being pioneered by Delta. Of course, holders of the Delta American Express card can use all their miles in this program, rather than just the miles earned via the credit card (as United’s program limits members to doing). But United treats redemptions via their program as paid tickets which earn miles and can be upgraded. So here, United offers the better value proposition (although still not a good enough one to entice me to redeem any of my miles this way).

I agree that this development isn’t a bad thing but we shouldn’t pretend it’s a meaningfully good thing either.

It’s not even a ‘new standard for award availability’ as Winship claims, either, because up until recently with Delta you could redeem any seat on the aircraft for additional miles. Delta took away that options (though there are hints they may bring it back at a new extortionary level). Most other airlines still allow this.

So it doesn’t yield more availability. But it does allow you to get at availability for otherwise cheap tickets. It’s better to use 15,000 miles for a $150 ticket than to use 25,000 (or more) miles for that ticket. But that doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t be wasting your miles this way anyway!

Meanwhile, the program doesn’t help, really, with availability on expensive last minute fares. If a ticket would cost $1500, it’ll cost you 150,000 miles! Under the old ‘any seat for twice the price model’ you could expect to obtain last seat availability for 50,000 miles…

My real point is that this new program is a non-issue. And despite positive coverage elsewhere it does not move Delta to the head of the pack for award availability. They’re still behind the better players like American (and United, given availability with Star Alliance partners).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t think it is a non-issue. More and more programs are moving to this method instead of the old style double points for availability.

    Air NZ Airpoints awards, when redeeming for Air NZ flights, are almost all of this variety. (The only exception are business class longhaul awards for elites.)

    Air NZ however, has a twist in that these redemptions can still be upgraded. But, like Delta, they do not earn anything (thus slightly worse than cash).

  2. Well, as long as it is an ADDITIONAL redemption opportunity it is hard to complain too much about it, especially for folks who don’t really work at maximizing the value and want to travel when they want to travel. And considering Delta’s already started restricting their double-miles reward inventory, this is an interesting approach that might play well in some markets (though I can’t think of any offhand).

    That being said, I tend to agree with Kiwi Flyer that this is just going to embolden other carriers to shift the paradigm of the reward schemes to prevent the higher redemption values of long-haul premium cabin travel. If that sticks then the entirety of the miles game may just pack up and go home.

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