Why Delta SkyMiles is Lagging as a Loyalty Program for Non-Elites

Many of our Cranky Concierge clients come to us looking for help using frequent flier miles. Though we don’t provide nearly the comprehensive service that Gary Leff provides on that front, we can certainly help and have had great success. One thing I’ve found consistently, however, is that Delta SkyMiles are really not easy to burn and when you do, they end up costing a lot more than on other airlines in terms of miles and dollars. As a loyalty program, SkyMiles Trade SkyMiles for Anythingis hard for me to love as a non-elite. Here’s why.

Mileage Amounts
Delta likes to say that the three-tiered low, medium, and high levels for redemption offer “more flexibility and options.” While that may be true, it actually just means you use more miles for more tickets. Most airlines have a flat structure of 25,000 miles roundtrip domestically for saver awards and 50,000 for standard awards. Delta now has tiers of 25,000; 40,000; and 60,000.

What it looks like from my perspective is that they’ve moved a ton of their inventory into the middle bucket, so you’ll have a very hard time finding the cheap redemptions when compared to other frequent flier programs. You may have more opportunities to pay 40,000 miles instead of 50,000 on other airlines, but on the low end, I’ve had a lot more trouble finding availability.

I’ve worked recently with clients going to Ohio that couldn’t find cheap seats despite other airlines having availability. Another client was traveling on off peak days from Boise to San Francisco and couldn’t find a cheap seat despite ample availability on United. Another client was looking to head over to Tokyo and there was nothing to be found for days, yet other airlines had room to spare.

Could Delta simply be more full? Sure, but it seems to be fairly consistent when I look for different clients.

Flexibility
Both United and American now offer one way awards, but Delta still requires you to use a full roundtrip amount in order to redeem. If availability wasn’t so tight, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but it is so it makes it even harder to use your miles. In addition, United’s new miles plus points option offers the flexibility that Delta only gives to holders of its American Express cards. That’s not helpful for the rest of us.

And what if you need to make a change? Delta charges you $100 to make any change to an award ticket. American and United will both allow you to change dates without a fee as long as the cities don’t change.

Extra International Fees
This is a particularly disturbing fee that someone recently brought to my attention. If you’re trying to come in to the US from outside, then you’re going to have a fee for not being an American. They call it an “International Originating Surcharge” and the fee varies. The one that was brought to my attention was on a trip from Amsterdam to San Francisco. Delta actually had low level availability for 60,000 miles, but there is a whopping $309 in fees on top. United was only charging $65 in taxes and fees for the same trip.

As you can see, Delta has made it harder to love their program for the non-elite flier. Elites have a whole different set of issues, but most of us aren’t elite. Most of us just want to use our miles and not have to pay a lot of money to do it. That’s proven to be more difficult with Delta in my recent experience.

[Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00/ / CC BY 2.0]

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