Something Wonky Is Going On With Delta SkyMiles That Could Be The Biggest Devaluation Of All Time

In October 2020 Delta raised the cost of partner awards. It was the pandemic, there was no vaccine yet, and nobody was looking. They liked doing this so much that they did it again in February 2021. Business class between the U.S. and Europe went from 75,000 miles in summer 2020 to 120,000 miles during winter 2021. Business class between the U.S. and Southeast Asia went all the way up to 165,000 miles. That’s one-way, at the saver level.

Now, Delta has doubled or in some cases even tripled those higher prices. It’s possible to spend 650,000 miles roundtrip on a simple business class partner award to Europe, as first noted by Kyle Potter of Thrifty Traveler. What he suggests is that wherever Delta has a flight, they’re charging partner flights at the same price, although that is not quite what I am seeing.

Whether you’re flying across the Atlantic or Pacific, there are some eye-popping increases. It’s not always 83% more miles for economy and 175% in business class – it’s tied to whatever Delta is deciding to charge for its own flights.

…If Delta doesn’t fly there, you can still get a better deal using your SkyMiles on a partner airline. But if Delta can get you there, expect to pay a small (or quite large) fortune.

For example, Delta doesn’t have any service to Taipei (TPE). That means you can still fly there from San Francisco (SFO) on China Airlines in economy for 50,000 miles or book business class for 120,000 miles each way.

What I’m seeing differs somewhat. Partner options that should be available appear not to come up on the Delta website. Hopefully what Thrifty Traveler identified was a glitch and they’ve removed the inventory in question until it’s fixed. Here’s what I see right now.

Some Virgin Atlantic business class one-way saver awards, that Virgin charges 50,000 miles for, available to Air France KLM Flying Blue members for 66,500 miles. They’re clearly partner business class awards that are available:

Delta is now charging 325,000 miles one way for the same partner flight.

Here’s Minneapolis – Amsterdam, a route where Thrifty Traveler identified Delta charging exorbitant pricing for KLM trips, to match what Delta was charging for its own flight. You see space available for Flying Blue members:

Delta wants 375,000 miles for that flight they’ll offer cheap to partners. But they aren’t pulling up KLM space on the route that I can find right now. That could also just be a website glitch.

On the other hand, I do still see some partner business class award space like Chicago O’Hare – Paris on Air France, available for 120,000 miles one way in business. That’s a princely sum, and far more than other programs charge, but it’s not following the pattern of ‘charge for partners whatever Delta charges’.

Notably Aeromexico awards seem to be pricing at old (merely exorbitant) levels.

Something is going on here. It’s not clear what. Delta is no longer pricing partner awards consistently, and in some cases they’ve tripled the cost without warning.

When Delta eliminated award charts they still managed their pricing as though there was a ‘hidden chart’. Awards on partners were available only at the saver level, and they had fixed prices when available. (Sure, Delta added things like surcharges in some cases for close-in booking, but it was a stable price.)

Now, who knows? For Europe this is the progression of pricing at the saver level one way in business class:

  • Summer 2020: 75,000 miles
  • Fall 2020: 95,000 miles
  • Winter 2021: 120,000 miles
  • Fall 2022: Variable, sometimes 300,000 miles or more

This Was 20 Years Ago

Let’s not forget that the Vice President in charge of Delta SkyMiles says they don’t even need to try to offer strong redemption value (“we are not necessarily trying to play the game with customers”) customers keep earning miles and taking their credit card even though they intentionally offer poor value to members. Delta of course is the only airline where their cheapest awards stick loyal customers in basic economy. And I suppose out of fear that someone, somewhere might get value from SkyMiles they even devalued your ability to spend them for premium drinks in their clubs last year.

You didn’t fly Delta for SkyMiles. But they’ve become less reliable. They now want even more money from you to earn elite status. And you often have to stand in line to get into their clubs you’re paying for.

By all means fly Delta when they have the best schedule and price, but they aren’t loyal to you, you shouldn’t be loyal to them. Delta flight attendants shouldn’t unionize but maybe Delta’s customers should?

I’m hoping Delta rolls back this pricing change, but even still I found the only way to make Delta miles worthwhile was their unannounced flash sales, which are mostly in coach, and even there the sales do not always represent good value.

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