Why the Delta SkyMiles Changes Aren’t Awful to Travel Hackers

You probably heard by now, as its been blasted all over the news, but Delta announced some very radical changes to its frequent flyer program, Skymiles. Historically, when flying, a passenger earned frequent flyer miles based on the actual distance of the flight. A JFK-LA roundtrip flight is 4,950 miles, so if you booked a standard economy seat, you would have earned 4,950 miles to use later on for free flights.

Going forward, Delta is changing the metric to calculate how many frequent flyer miles you will earn every time you fly Delta by basing it off the fare of the flight. For non-elite members (which is the majority of Skymile members), you will now earn 5 miles per dollar of the fare price. So in the same JFK-LA example above, the flight might be $400 but only $350 of that is actually the fare price while the rest is taxes/fees (which you do not earn miles for). You would earn 1,750 miles for the same trip that used to earn you 4,950 miles no matter what you paid for the flight. This part is obviously bad news as Delta seems to be shifting their focus towards business travelers and appealing to them with this new Skymiles calculation as they are the ones who typically buy last minute expensive fares.

However, the reason I’m not as upset as I first was at the announcement is that travel hackers do not earn the majority of their miles by actually flying.  We mostly earn them via credit cards, shopping portals, and other metrics that don’t include paying money for flights. So unless your travel a lot for work and earn a significant amount of miles that way, this announcement isn’t as devastating as it could be.  While it would certainly be nice to earn the most miles possible in the rare times  I actually pay for a Delta flight, its not a crushing blow.

What could be crushing though, is if the redemption of Skymiles is based on the price of the flight, instead of fixed values as it currently is. I don’t see forsee that happening as Delta dropped a few hints indicating their new award chart will have 5 tiers, with the lowest tier remaining at 12,500 miles for domestic US flights. Unfortunately, they will not provide more clarity on this until the 4th quarter per the announcement.

In short, a good travel hacker rarely pays for flights (unless its part of their job), so this announcement isn’t too impactful to us. It’s still a negative but considering all other options Delta could have taken, I’m ok with this pending further clarification in the 4th quarter on the redemptions of Skymiles.


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