Delta’s Decision to Eliminate SkyMiles Expiration Seems Goofy

By now you’ve probably heard that Delta has decided that its SkyMiles will no longer expire. There have been plenty of stories reacting positively to this move, but to be quite honest, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.

In the past, legacy airline frequent flier miles never expired. You could keep them until you died if you felt like it, though I have no idea why you’d want to do that. Then a few years ago, somebody (can’t remember who) started to slap an expiration date on the miles. But the miles didn’t have hard death dates as in many of the low cost carrier programs. The key was having activity in the account in order to keep the miles alive.

Delta SkyMiles No Longer Expire

Before Delta’s decision to eliminate the expiration date, here was the airline’s policy (direct from its website before the change):

Currently, miles will not expire as long as you participate in one of the following activities at least once every two years; mileage expires midnight Eastern time (-5 GMT), 24 months from the date of the last activity:

  • Earn miles for travel on a qualifying Delta, Delta Shuttle┬«, SkyTeam, or other SkyMiles airline partner flights.
  • Earn or redeem miles with one of the SkyMiles program partners including hotels, car rentals, Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, international credit card partners, SkyMiles Dining & Hotels by Rewards NetworkSM, MilePoint.com, mortgage lenders, CAP magazine subscriptions, real estate, or telecommunications partners.
  • Purchase miles through SkyMiles Buy Miles.
  • Receive miles through SkyMiles Gift Miles.
  • Transfer miles (or receive transferred miles) through SkyMiles Transfer Miles.
  • Redeem miles on Delta, Delta Shuttle, a SkyTeam partner, or another SkyMiles airline partner.

In other words, you had to really try hard to get your miles to expire. It’s not like you had to actually even fly on the airline within the 2 year period. You could do anything that caused a changed in your mileage balance. This is something I’ve dealt with before. I’ve had miles on some accounts that I hadn’t used and the expiration date grew near. I could either let them go, or I could buy my wife flowers for $25 and keep them alive. But I didn’t even have to spend anything to keep them alive. There was one time, I just got an insurance quote and that was enough to keep the account active. This isn’t hard.

But the bigger question is this – if someone can’t be bothered to have any activity in their account within 2 entire years, then does Delta really care about that person as a customer anyway? I mean, anyone who flies that infrequently is either already devoting travel to another airline or flies very infrequently. Either way, the chance of Delta wooing that person to the airline simply because the miles don’t expire is slim to none.

So that brings up the question . . . why the heck are they doing this? I suppose it’s an easy way to get a positive PR hit since most of the articles I’ve seen have been gushing about the restoration of the way things used to be just a few years ago. I mean, if there isn’t too much of an accounting hit by keeping those miles on the books, the PR boost isn’t a bad plan. I’m sure Delta has done the math and this works for the airline. Still just seems goofy to me.

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41 Comments on "Delta’s Decision to Eliminate SkyMiles Expiration Seems Goofy"

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Robert
Guest

Local Atlanta media says it may be pre-emptive to Southwest’s move into the city after they complete the Airtran buyout.

DGS
Guest

I’m with you, it’s a PR move, if anything.

Some elites will whine more about SkyPesos. Other travelers will think it’s the “evil” airlines giving something back for once. Ultimately, it probably does Delta no good or harm.

I think the only other thing to consider is how SkyMiles have to be shown as a liability on their balance sheet. But I don’t know enough on that side to discuss it…

Jakub
Guest
I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a PR move. You need to take international customers into consideration. For example I don’t fly very often into US and SkyTeam is such a strange choice for me that I have couple of flights here and there and my next flight might not be for a couple of years.Now if I have a flight to US again I might fly Delta just to get my mileaage to a point where I can redeem something. I fly mostly SkyTeam and it is a pain in a** to keep my AirFrance miles from expiring (but… Read more »
TheRobin
Guest

I 100% agree with you. I’m in the same position as you, and will now look more to fly Delta. Keeping track of my SkyMiles expiration is just one less thing I don’t have to worry about. Now I hope United does it next.

Jason H
Guest

I wonder also if it isn’t a move driven by IT resources. The code backing it isn’t all that complex, but it is additional code. I know where I work now we evaluate code every 6 months and if there isn’t a good reason to keep it we kill it. That way there is less to debug later and fewer opportunities for problems down the road. This could be a precursor to a larger change in the code backing Delta’s systems.

Nick Barnard
Member

I doubt it, the code has been in place for quite some time.

Airline’s IT systems are like their backbones. You don’t change it unless you have to, you spend lots of time planning it, and do it as quickly as possible when you actually make the change. Given that DL is just coming off of the NW merger, and i doubt they’ve got the resources, nor the business case to go after this..

iahphx
Member

I’ve always thought miles SHOULD expire based on complete inactivity. I mean, “loyalty” should be a two-way street, right? Maybe even online checking of your account could be enough, no?

I would think a 3 to 5 year period of doing NOTHING with regard to your frequent flyer account should be enough to prompt expiration.

I don’t really understand the idea of keeping the miles on the books for a decade or more if the customer has abandoned them.

David SF eastbay
Member
When I was about to loose all my United miles I found out at the last minute that if I had gone to their website and then went shopping at some of the online sites I would buy from, I could have been getting miles for shopping online all these years at major stores I shopped at anyway. So keeping active is easy to do. Knowing that the miles are still there can have an effect on who one flys on as was already said by the people who don’t fly very often. If they know they have miles already,… Read more »
Jordan
Guest

We frequent flyers don’t care anyway, but it’s a great PR move, especially with SWA competition about to heat up. Infrequent flyers will see the story as a blurb in the paper or the internet, realize that miles still expire on most (if not all?) other carriers, and may choose Delta if/when they decide to fly. I can’t see it hurting Delta at all, so I think it’s a smart move. Nothing much goofy about it.

KJS
Guest

Looks like the Southwest Effect is having an impact on more than just fares. Coincidence after Southwest unveiled it’s new Rapid Reward program…I think not.

Califken
Guest

The reason many airlines have expiration dates on miles is to eliminate a liability on their balance sheet. Delta may have decided that this was not happening because of all the ways to keep miles so for PR they just said miles do not expire

MeanMeosh
Guest
Here’s my take – this is aimed at uninformed, relatively infrequent travelers who don’t really understand the ins and outs of mileage programs. The goal is to get enough of them to see the lack of expiration as a bonus over the competition, and select Delta over a competitor when they do fly. Those who don’t fly or understand FF programs may just see this as Delta offering a better opportunity to earn a free flight someday, without really realizing how difficult the redemption could end up being (they don’t call them “SkyPesos” for nothing, you know). It might be… Read more »
jaybru
Member
If you made the effort to sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer account but never flew them, or flew them only once or twice ever, do you think the airline really, really wants to drop you? Of course not. They got you, and they’re never going to let you go They can advertise to you for the rest of your natural life, and sell your name to a million banks, credit card companies, magazine publishers, time-share scams (alleged, of course), you name it. And probably make a lot more money than having you take that one $99 flight to… Read more »
CP
Guest
Delta’s done a number of things lately to be more customer-friendly, ranging from making the best of a relatively bad situation with the JFK terminals by adding restaurants, power, gate seating, etc. to far better airport signage to expanding first class cabins by a few seats to make the smallest CRJs fly shorter routes. I see this as another item within that trend. I realize there are different perspectives on how customer-friendly this is (i.e., some will complain that by expanding the pool of available SkyMiles users, the “SkyPesos” phenomenon worsens), but I think in general customers appreciate less-restrictive policies… Read more »
mdim
Member
Here’s has this affects my family and I in a positive way. I flew on average between 120 – 150 segments a year on Delta for the past 15 years. My wife and kids have only flown on redeemed tickets, so I have benefited well from the Skymiles program. I still have about 1.5 million in the bank. Our intention was to continue to use these for future vacations. But then about the 2 years ago the unthinkable happens. My 10 year-old got very sick and underwent a couple of major operations. I stopped flying and stayed and still am… Read more »
mdim
Member

correction: Here’s how …

Consumer Mike
Guest
Cranky, your character in the cartoon should be saying “NOW IF ONLY IF ONLY MY OWNER COULD USE ME TO GO SOMEWHERE NICE.” SKYMILES is still not a Consumer/Member friendly program. IF you can find a flight where and when you want to go there is always problems with avialability, dates and excessive miles requirements. to just name a few of the negatives. The core program stinks and a couple of crumbs thrown at the public doesn’t change a bad program. I will start giving DELTA my business again once they meaningfully fix the SKYMILES program. Bottom line; It doesn’t… Read more »
tking18
Guest

Seriously? I’ve been incredibly successful in finding “low” awards (especially domestically-often DL awards are lower than UA/CO, AA, US, etc.). While you do have to put in more effort to find these flights, they’re out there. Delta has also publicly stated that there will be functional improvements to the award calendar coming VERY soon (according to Delta’s presence on FlyerTalk). SkyMiles is one of the best (if not the best) domestic frequent flier programs (upgrades for everyone, etc.). However, it is one of the worst international ones (hard to use SWUs, award availability, etc.).

Consumer Mike
Guest
Thanks for your input. Unfortunately I have not had the same luck that you have encountered. However, you may have hit the nail on the head in saying that it is very difficult using SkyMiles for international travel. Most – NOT ALL – of my experiences trying to use SkyMiles is International. AND I have had dismal luck as well domestically in the past. It could be your domestic destinations had more flights/SkyMiles seats/availability. In any event, since I am very flexible for travel I have tried several times with DELTA on the telephone for hours giving them windows of… Read more »
tking18
Guest
Ahhhh, that’s where we differ. I use my miles pretty much only domestically (with a few international trips here and there). It’s easy to use them for domestic travel, but I agree that it is difficult to use them for international travel. Luckily I was successful when I used them for international travel. Like I mentioned before, FlyerTalk is a huge help. There’s even a sticky thread just for the purpose of using miles for international trips. However, I definitely don’t think the program is a sham (well internationally it sort of is, but not domestically). Upgrades for all, Same… Read more »
Consumer Mike
Guest
I’m afraid we do differ more; if you have been reading inputs to this blog you will have noted that there is a BIG group of dissatisfied people in SkyMiles. And as for Delta Customer Service, there is a special place for them in the after-life! I have been stuck in Atlanta more then once on Delta for a variety of reasons and [unfortunately] the customer service reps there were useless, unaccomodating and just plain rude. Basically we were left to our own fate to work out problems. Granted, they may have been overwhelmed, but this is a common occurrence… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest
With AAdvantage, for what it’s worth, while I’ve had a very good success rate with getting international flights on AA-operated flights, it’s been another story entirely when trying to get Oneworld partner flights. It’s always been the tired old “no availability” story every time I call, even months in advance. Plus, it’s exceedingly annoying that AA won’t let you book partner award flights online, unlike CO. And I don’t know that I’d put AA’s customer service as a major selling point. I fly them a lot, and the experience has generally been rather ordinary. tking – AA’s international biz class… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Pardon my french, but Holy Shit! What is it that causes you people to go ape-shit about Delta’s SkyMiles program every time it comes up? I mean really, would it kill you all to perhaps stick to the topic and not go off about Delta vs. AA?

Roneill000
Member
I agree whole heartedly with the comment that says the cartoon character should have the word “could” substituted for “would”. I have not had any success redeeming miles for two international biz class tickets at the 100K amount on DL or a Skyteam partner since 2006. (And the minimum redemption amount was less back then)! This is despite calling the eleven months out and then being persistent for several months after. The redemption inflation in the program is staggering. Now, recently retired, I still travel a lot but on my own nickel, so if there’s a better deal on another… Read more »
Consumer Mike
Guest
I have encountered the same B.S. from Delta, mostly on international flights, but not limited to them I too am retired and have all the flexibility in the world – ALL TO NO AVAIL with Delta. That is why I feel that SkyMiles is a perfect example of “Bait N’ Switch”. If I were you I would consider AA AADVANTAGE. It is the best program out there, the rate of actual use is VERY high to every country and city (when you include their airline partners). If you pull an AA Citi Card you can fly on REDUCED miles to… Read more »
jgjohnson2
Member
Aeroplan (Air Canada) put a time limit: all miles have a 7-year limit, then they expire. At the start of this change, all miles accummulated earlier were given a start date of 31 December 2006. They also required one transaction every 12-month period to remain active. Isn’t this going to turn into an accounting nightmare for Aeroplan? Will Aeroplan issue a constantly-updated listing telling me when I accummulated those particular 1500 miles from a trip in September 2008 (those miles last 7 years, lapsing September 2015)? And will this list correctly subtract the oldest miles for an redemption activity? How… Read more »
PeteyNice
Guest
While it was relatively easy to keep Delta miles active, not all programs are like that. Back in the early 00’s I did a lot of NYC-India flying. This was before Continental went non-stop so I flew AF/KL every time. I banked about 300k Flying Blue miles. Now, Continental isn’t SkyTeam and Flying Blue does not have a shopping portal or a dining program. If you don’t fly a SkyTeam flight every 20 months your miles expire. I know I should just use them and be done with it but the point is that keeping them active is not nearly… Read more »
Ben
Guest
I don’t tend to fly Delta, but here is my take as a less frequent traveler. I always sign up for the frequent flier program, for whatever reason. Lately, I have been tending to accumulate miles with one particular airline. I like flying them, they are not the best product, but also far from the worst. I am lucky if I can fly once per year for leisure. I also occasionally fly for business, but I don’t generally get to pick the airline. I really like the idea that my miles would never expire. I am willing to remain loyal… Read more »
Tomstrr
Guest
This is the sort of post that lends credence to the CNN readers beliefs that the author is a shill for the airlines (see earlier Cranky post). He really couldn’t thing of any reasons why Delta would make such a change (more on that later)? One really good reason is potential and actual customers like it! And in my experience, the ones who (will) care the most about expiring miles are those who have the most to loose – very frequent flyers (as I once was). Why?: 1. Recreational flying often isn’t of interest to those who fly a lot… Read more »
Consumer Mike
Guest
Overall I can agree with your thoughts. However, saying that rec flying isn’t of interest to those who fly alot is dead wrong. I am retired and do alot of rec flying,and as Baby Boomes start to hang up their guns you will witness a lot more rec flying. I try to target my accumulation of FF miles for future rec flights. I think this is more common then you realize. Not having a gun to our heads to use the FF account is good for EVERYONE. I wish AA would do it. Perhaps the close/good relationship does color Cranky’s… Read more »
Tomstrr
Guest
Thanks Mike, you are correct My point meant to say “isn’t of interest” while still a road warrior. Most FFers I know are not that interested in taking a plane trip during their down time (at least not nearly often enough to use up the miles – and often you can usually “squeeze” any necessary travel in without using miles). However, once off the road, most are VERY interested in leisurely working down their stack of miles, preferably on the way to someplace that offers fruity beverages outdoors all year round :) aned NOT having to worry about their miles… Read more »
p
Guest

I simply think that this is about being fair. I don’t fly often, but I actually have a long trip with one of Delta’s partner airlines about once a year, and as I was giving the skymiles card, I thought that I was covered. I was not: the other airline didn’t communicate my flight to Delta. Result: I lost not only the miles of that flight, but also years of accumulated miles. Is that fair? I don’t think so. For sure Delta was not liable, but at least with the new change they are less likely to make people angry.

Nick Barnard
Member

Thats what the request missing miles form is for.. I’m not sure about Delta, but I was amazed that Alaska automated the whole process. I filled out the form, and right after that I had the missing miles in my account..

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