Delta Reward Cards Devalued, And The Worst Award Award


Delta has had their ups and downs of late. They have flown in and out of bankruptcy, yet now seem poised to absorb Northwest, making it perhaps the largest carrier in the world. Delta’s reward card offerings from Amex are indeed robust, as I have covered here. Unfortunately, their SkyMiles program has deteriorated to the extent that their miles just don’t have the value they used to.

Why My SkyMiles Aren’t Worth As Much As They Used To

Delta has gone to a three tier system for rewards. Their basic domestic reward remains 25,000, but that is highly misleading. A quick glance at Delta’s redemption calendar shows that those awards are very rare. Even when scheduling a trip months in advance, there are few convenient domestic flights available at that level. Almost all flights include red eyes and multi-stop itineraries. If you are looking for an international flight, you tend to find almost nothing available in their lowest tier. For example, I was contemplating a flight to the middle east. The lowest tier was 80,000 SkyMiles, yet there were only one or two days a month where seats were available. There was plenty of availiblity in coach at the medium level of 130,000 miles. A few months ago, I flew round trip in business class on Lufthansa by redeeming only 115,000 United Miles. Like economy, business class is almost completely unavailable in the “low” category for 120,000, with the “medium” widely available at a whopping 230,000 miles! Simply put, my mileage was worth half as much at Delta than it was at United when applied to premium international travel. All of the sudden, those double SkyMiles promotions don’t look that attractive.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Delta watchers over at the Travel Skills blog point out that: “Delta’s also snuck in some flat out increases in the cheapest redemption levels: Coach to Hawaii is now 40,000 miles, up from 35,000. Flights to the Caribbean will now cost you 35,000 miles, up from 30,000; Europe in coach is now 60,000 miles, up from 50,000. Plus, there are those previously mentioned pesky “fuel surcharges” of $25 to $50 for SkyMiles redemptions starting this month. ”

It Gets Worse

Delta has also implemented fuel surcharges for reward flights that are completely arbitrary. There is a $25 charge for flights in the 50 states and Canada, and $50 for all other international destinations. So a flight from Miami to Anchorage is less of a fuel surcharge than Miami to the Bahamas. Their press release indicated the charge was “temporary” for flights after August 15th, yet oil prices have plummeted $40 a barrel since then and the fee remains. I guess it is just the principal of charging for an award that is a slap in the face to customers. Finally, there are excessive award ticketing fees if your flight is within 21 days for the reservation that range from $75 to $150. That fee is waived if you hold Platinum Medallion status.

Should I Pay With Miles?

Delta has begun offering a pay with miles option. It is needlessly complicated, but essentially you can redeem your miles for 1 cent each towards most Delta purchases. Readers of this blog know by now that 1 cent per mile is really just the bare minimum a mile is worth, and that you can do far better with cash back returns from many reward cards.

Is Delta Doing Anything Right?

I do have to admit that I like the way award availability, or lack thereof, is shown by calendar. For me, I can use it learn ahead of time that it is not worth getting a SkyMiles reward card and accumulating SkyMiles when award prices are so high, and availability is so low. Seriously though, I can also applaud Delta for joining Southwest as the only major airlines without a fee for your first checked bag, although I wouldn’t bet the farm on this remaining the case.

My Award For The Worst Award

Every now and then, I come across an award redemption opportunity that is totally pathetic. The Citibank ThankYou rewards offers the option of a dining award. So far so good, as love eating out. They offer a $25 certificate from, a company that I am a big fan of. The award costs 1,000 points which seems like a reasonable value of 2.5 cents per point. Scratch the surface just a little, and you will find otherwise. sells these tickets at their web site for $10 each, so the award’s real value now appears to be only 1 cent/point.

As a frequent customer of, I have signed up for their special offers. They arrive in my inbox several times a week, offering the opportunity to the same $25 certificates for as little as $2. Ultimately, the real value to these rewards is a mere $2, a measly .2 cents per point!

I wholeheartedly recommend these certificates, but ing them with your ThankYou points is no thanks at all.

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