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.
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.
Local Atlanta media says it may be pre-emptive to Southwest’s move into the city after they complete the Airtran buyout.
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…
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 I can’t seem to be able to find a good use to redeem them yet).
No expiry is a good move in every regard. Infrequent traveler on your alliance might be frequent on other and this keeps the doors open for them.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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, they may fly that airline over another to build more.
I’m not a DL flyer anyway and since my Western Airline miles never made it to me as DL miles, I’ve not flown them.
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.
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.
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
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 years before an infrequent flyer figures out they’re holding on to a bag of magic beans and gets fed up with the program, after all. I have to guess that a number cruncher somewhere decided that the potential additional revenue would outweigh the increase in redemption liability, assuming there is one. I don’t understand the accounting issues well enough to speak about that, though.
I’m also curious to see if there’s another shoe to drop, namely, an increase in redemption fees, higher mileage requirements for redemptions, etc.
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 Long Beach and back to visit Cranky.
But Delta was never canceling accounts, just having miles expire. They could still take your name and info and do all kinds of things with it – you just wouldn’t have any miles if you didn’t have activity within 2 years. So it’s not like they’re dropping the person, just requiring some activity to keep miles going.
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 (even if, as Cranky sometimes argues, a restrictive policy is an understandable move on the airline’s part).
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 by his side daily. Because of his condition, family vacations are not anywhere in our near future. The doctors say he should be able to live a nice life but it’s still too early to tell. Therefore, when that day comes and we resume our family vacations, it will be nice to know that my miles will still be there to help my son explore this great planet of ours. I know the Skymiles system well and could easily have done simple transactions to keep my account active, but trust me when a child of yours is in harms way, FF acounts are not your first priority. It’s just really nice to know that Delta, whom I have been loyal to for a long time will now have some loyalty to me.
correction: Here’s how …
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 matter how many miles you have if you cannot use them where and when you want. This issue HAS NOT CHANGED!
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.).
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 several months in advance, work around destinations, flight time flexibility and allowing them to just find available SkyMile seats from A to B destinations, all to no avail. This is why I feel that SkyMiles is a near bogus program. I know I am not alone in this opinion. After my personal experiences I decided not to waste my time on that dead end program.
Finally, I must tell you that I find the AA AADVANTAGE PROGRAM the best frequent flyer club out there, especially if you want to fly international. I have compared and the awards are very well priced. The international off season flts are a super bargain. If you get a AA Citi Card you can also get Special REDUCED [miles] flights to different domestic and international destinations every quarter, which rotate to different cities. AND best of all, I rarely have any difficulty in getting AADVANTAGE seating, if you plan ahead, with AA and their partner airlines. My friend, I do not know why you believe that SkyMiles is soo superior to other programs when so many of us find it nearly impossible to use them. PLUS, if you are lucky enough to find availability on a SkyMiles seat Delta will probably charge you for every mile it can squeeze out of you – AND MORE. Bless you on your good fortune with Delta, but you can keep them.
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 Day Confirmed for free, SkyPriority and more are all great features of the program. I think most Delta customers and frequent fliers are satisfied with the program. But I do agree, SkyMiles is really a domestic frequent flier program. However, I believe it is the best one out of all the majors (UA/CO, AA, US, etc).
AA Advantage is a great all-around program. However, while it’s easy to use the miles, upgrades cost money for anyone under EXP status and customer service is almost nil. Additionally, AA’s domestic economy, Int. Biz, and Int. economy products are terrible.
I really believe DL is an innovator and has the best economy/business seats/service/entertainment/meals out of all the majors. DL really seems to be trying to make air travel better, and that is much of the reason I fly them. I also think that DL’s customer service and IROPS handling is lightyears ahead of AA and UA/CO’s (and definitely ahead of US!).
I know that we have different views, but we are different types of travelers. DL might work great for 1 type of traveller, UA/CO might work great for another, and AA might work great another. With the travel I do (almost all domestic) I believe DL has the best program and service for my needs.
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 in air travel and should be handled MUCH BETTER – which I find Delta does not. Hope your luck holds out with this inferior airline. I now only give them my business as a last resort as it is NOT a Consumer friendly airline.
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 isn’t as bad these days, now that they have the lie-flat seats. Economy is still pretty putrid, though.
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?
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 carrier, I seize it. That’s why next month’s vacation in Europe isn’t on Delta.
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 certain cities. This is a real program that a member can actually use!!
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 will I check if my list is correctly subtrating the oldest miles for a redemtion activity? I anticipate a mess and a bunch of unhappy members when the first 7-year lapse date arrives (December 31, 2013)
That does sound overly cumbersome to me and certainly very confusing. I’m sure it’s not hard to do logistically but it’s really hard to keep track of from a customer perspective. You would think there would be a way to simplify this (have all miles from 2006 expire on 12/31/2013, for example). I would assume that the oldest miles get used first, though I’d be curious to hear if anyone has knowledge of how this works.
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 as easy as it was on Delta.
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 to one airline for the small amount of traveling that I do, but I would also like them to remain loyal to me. Letting me keep my miles forever is a nice way for the airline to stay loyal to me. I hope Delta’s move is echoed by some of the other airlines.
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
2. They”worked” hard for those miles
3. Especially as busy people, you can’t use them all – right away – and how many free trips does your brother in-law really deserve? Who earned them anyway?
4. Things happen (see earlier posts), and sometimes you have other priorities then mileage usage and management. Being nagged at by a carrier to “use your miles” can come across as Greedy sounding
5. Should you loose your miles its a bigger hit then someone who looses a a few k miles from grandma visits.
BTW, I suspect that any airlines who takes away earned miles, no matter how few, tales a nosedive in popularity with the looser. (this means you Delta)
While some programs protect very large accumulations, there still is a very large window of vulnerability for most frequent flyers.
Cranky, if you really want to inform, you should have asked Delta why they made the change – and used your connections to get the real story, if different.
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 view of Delta without him realizing it (?).
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 expiring out from under them.
Funny that you think I’m a shill for the airlines when I’m actually arguing against one of their moves in this post.
Your post acts as if miles will go away if you don’t use them when that’s not what happens. It’s as simple as having one piece of activity every 2 years. You can buy flowers and you’re fine. There’s no pressure to spend those miles. You just need to have some activity to keep them active.
And yes, this is something that customers like, but there are a lot of things customers like. That doesn’t mean the airlines should do them. I look at this from the perspective of an airline. It has the potential to add liability to the books and I don’t see much potential for increased revenue from this move. My argument is as simple as that.
And Consumer Mike – I’m confused about why you think my “close/good relationship” with Delta would color this. Once again, I’m arguing against what they’re doing. If I had a close relationship with Delta, you would expect to see the opposite.
Cranky, let me clarify my comments regarding your blogs and comments of DELTA as I see it.
Over the last year you have issued a good amount of very good, helpful and interesting information about Delta and customer concerns and complaints. However, in my opinion, you have been very generous in explaining and at times defending the Delta position. I realize that you must try and be fair and even handed. I personally think that – at times – your views and comments come across as more as a defense of Delta rather then an explanation or recommendation for Delta improvement. This is my personal view and perhaps I am in the minority in this observation. I can accept that. But I have often wondered if your very good relationship with Delta and their management has inadvertantly influenced your blog inputs.
I apologize if I am incorrect in my opinion, but I thought I owed you an explanation of my earlier comment. Overall your input is super helpful and informative for all of us air travelers. Your blogs are an important piece of todays travel picture. Lastly, I think that your new business in booking travel and Pay-to-Assist service for travelers in trouble is the BEST travel insurance a consumer can get. It is a business where you really get “more bang for your buck”.
Well, this is an opinion blog, of course, and my opinions do get shaped by the level of information that I’m given. If airlines give me more insight into why they’re doing certain things, then you would expect that having that additional level of information would color the post. More information is better.
But I think you overestimate my relationship with Delta. I was brought out there in September to see the airline, but I was hardly the only one. They’ve been making a concerted effort to bring people out there, including Airline Reporter and Things in the Sky. So this wasn’t the result of a special relationship but rather just a smart move by Delta to reach out to new media.
Futhermore, I have gone out to see Southwest multiple times, and I go to the annual media day for US Airways every year. I’ve even discussed a visit with United, and I’ve talked to the folks at Alaska as well about it. I also have attended numerous JetBlue events. So there really isn’t a special relationship with Delta at all.
In fact, I’d say if there was one airline in the US with which I had a special relationship, it’s probably American because I don’t really have much of a relationship at all with them beyond contact with someone at their agency.
The reality is that I used to work in the airlines and I understand the rationale of a lot of things they do. That’s one of the things that I try to bring to this blog is an understanding from the inside. So, there’s no question that I’m going to write positively about airlines more than most consumers would, because I do have an airline-based perspective that most travelers lack.
I don’t think there’s one airline that gets better or worse treatment in general. (OK, not true. Alitalia gets way worse treatment.) But I do like a lot of what Delta is trying to do, so you are likely to see more positive posts about them as long as they continue on this path.
Regarding the Delta FF unlimited miles extended life, I disagree with you in that I think it was a good consumer move. With the current Depression we are in – WORLD WIDE – many people are traveling less. Even Business travelers. Since the current economic down-turn has already lasted more than 2 years I think it was a helpful move by Delta. I only wish OTHER airlines would do the same – THAT IS – face the reality of the economic times and impact on travel.
Na, CF, I only pointed out that you have written things which lend themselves to the “shill” interpretation. I don’t think you are a shill. I’m thinking “wannbe”. Exactly what is yet to be determined. Using the word “goofy” in the post title to describe a customer friendly action by Delta doesn’t tend to get things off to a good start in the shill appearance avoidance game. Your “Fees” post/article was worse, BTW, as it seemed more self-serving and wrong in so many ways. But it got me hooked into the comment section :-)
You write a lot of good, interesting stuff, so keep it up, just remember you decrease the value of everything else your write if you let yourself get blinded to any perspective.
Well I’m glad it got you active in the comments. Good civil discussions are always welcome here. So in that spirit, what exactly is so wrong in my fees article? Please elaborate and I’ll be happy to respond with my point of view. I have no idea what would be self-serving about that piece since I hardly stand to benefit in any way.
And for the record, I am not blinded by any one perspective. I’ve been writing this for many years now and my opinions change with each issue. The value of what I write may be decreased in your eyes, but that’s not my concern. My concern is to write what I think, and that’s exactly what I do every time.
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.
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..