Delta Introduces 5000 Mile One-Way Awards. And That Should Scare You.

Via Delta Points, Delta has introduced 5000 mile one-way awards between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Before you get too excited, this doesn’t really provide superior value for your points, here’s what flights cost in cash:

Delta has been running economy award discounts of 10,000 miles each way. Those require 21 day advance purchase and are restricted to specific routes and specific dates.

Most Delta saver awards, of course, now require 21 day advance purchase (although not all do).

So the award discount appears to have a 21 day advance purchase unsurprisingly.

At least this cheap, short haul route doesn’t have 21 day advance to be able to book a 12,500 mile ‘level 1’ saver award. Although actually choosing to redeem 12,500 miles for a $78 or even $173 ticket seems silly to me.

When Delta declares the death of the 25,000 mile domestic coach award what I think they mean is this: tickets for flights that aren’t very valuable at all should cost fewer miles ($72 flights for 5000 miles that are capacity controlled and don’t earn miles) and tickets for flights that are more expensive should start out at a higher mileage cost.

While this is better than spending 12,500 miles for a $72 ticket (which you shouldn’t do anyway) it ultimately would imply the end of accruing outsized value with your points when redeeming for travel on Delta. Right now you can still occasionally get good value for a last minute ticket on an expensive route when redeeming points. That’s the traditional advice that miles are useful held back for emergencies. When you spend 25,000 miles for an $800 – $1200 domestic ticket you’ve done well.

In the world of SkyMiles of the future, it appears to be unlikely. Those pricey tickets will also be pricey in miles. And the not quite fair trade is that cheap tickets where it wasn’t worth spending miles anyway will cost fewer miles (and still not be worth spending miles).

In contrast, British Airways — even post-devaluation — offers 4500 mile one-way awards based on distance which means if saver award space is available you can book a ticket for that cost even when the price of a paid ticket is high. So I’ve had great luck redeeming British Airways points for the US Airways shuttle, New York LaGuardia – Washington – National, at 9000 miles roundtrip for a $600+ ticket and Washington National – Chicago O’Hare for instance when those were selling at over $600 roundtrip. That’s value.

Tying mileage cost to ticket price make follow a certain logic for Delta, but it means the end of outsized value — and that means that miles are no longer very valuable compared to other currencies. And that means there’s no real reason to accumulate them over another currency.

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. Why fly delta? Horrible airline. Nickel and dime everything. I hope the ME airlines take them to the cleaners.

  2. Closed my eyes and burnt 230k for J ….N.A. – Middle East OJ redemption. Y woulda been $1400+. J $4000+. Coulda got 140k by repositioning to Canada but return flight unwieldy, or 140k via SVO, but flight path was ~10 miles east of Ukraine border… no thanks.

    Pops got low award to China in J.

    So some deals still available…. but for now churning AA exec is my MO

  3. *A option woulda routed through ADD and times sucked.

    OW option had airport scramble through NYC and high surcharges…

    So DL 230k was a decent deal for me. better than burning 55k domestically for an otherwise $500 ticket…

  4. ” it makes no sense to choose to earn Delta miles over another currency”

    Really, Gary, just figuring this out now? 🙂

    If only I had a dollar for every post you’ve done on “Delta miles are now worth less”, I wouldn’t have to MS ever again. In fact, that would be a great click bait title: “Delta miles are now worthless”.

  5. At least this values Delta miles at 1.33 cents each. Not a rate at which I would ever collect any on purpose. I guess if I were earning them at 70 cents per 1000.

  6. I live in Hawaii so this is similar to how AA let you book inter island flights on their partner HA for 5000 one ways

  7. It all comes down to being an educated, value conscious shopper. Whatever the product or service!

  8. @mark: Didn’t you coin the phrase “Didn’t you coin the term ‘SkyPesos?'” ?

  9. How is this really any different than an AA award between the two while using Avios? Zero issue here. Not EVERYthing DL does is horrible.

  10. AA using BA Avios charges 4500 for TPA>MIA, a distance of 204 miles, and usually running around $75 one way. So Delta’s pricing isn’t much different in this instance.

    The bigger question is, will longer distance flights cost more (a la Avios “zones”) or will the award cost be based purely on ticket price?

    We need a few more examples to determine which way Delta is going.

  11. I think it makes sense to bank to Alaska and then use membership rewards transfers if there’s ever a compelling SkyMiles deal

  12. Yea, usually delta miles are not worth much. I’ve never purposely worked on earning Delta points but sometimes Delta has the only direct flight.

  13. So does this mean you wouldn’t go for this Southwest card w 50k points since its RR points are also revenue-based and wouldn’t give “outsized value”?

  14. @Francisco – the Southwest card can help you get outsized value via a companion pass. Otherwise it’s a $500-$700 signup bonus and signing up for a credit card with low spend requirement is still outsized value even if what you get per point isn’t (and suggests a credit card signup is valuable even if the rest of the program isn’t).

  15. The difference is that more expensive tickets will cost more miles. Delta has said as such. And they’ve already imposed 21 day advance purchase on most routes to obtain saver awards.

  16. Redeeming economy domestic tickets almost never yields good value anyway. The sweet spots of any FF program will continue to be international biz/first class. Nothing has changed there.

    Anyone who use credit cards to accrues miles for domestic economy travel is better off with cashback cards.

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