I like writing about why certain programs are great or powerhouses. For example, I wrote about why ANA is a powerhouse and later why Korean Air is such a strong contender. But sometimes I need to pour out some Haterade and today Delta gets that honor. Here are six reasons why the Delta SkyMiles rewards program is the worst.
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1. No published award chart
Delta does not publish an award chart so searching for mileage requirements can be a huge PIA, especially for newcomers still trying to get a grasp on award charts. Instead, Delta has different “pricing tiers” that offer different award rates based on demand. The differences between these tiers can vary dramatically and it’s not like the marginal difference you might find in other award charts that differentiate between “peak” and “off-peak” awards.
The lack of transparency is annoying but it’s also concerning because Delta is essentially free to do whatever it wants at any time. It also causes confusion sometimes when you believe there’s a glitch on the website and you call in to try to get it worked out. Agents may just chalk up the higher price to Delta’s enigmatic award pricing system.
2. Ridiculous dynamic pricing
In case the lack of an award chart and dynamic pricing wasn’t frustrating enough, often times these rates are straight up ridiculous. For example, you might find an award to get from LAX to JFK in business class for 32,500 miles while another route requires 140,000 miles. That’s 140,000 miles for a one way domestic ticket. Even a non-saver award on United would cost you a maximum of 50,000 miles so some of these rates are just ridiculous.
And they get even worse when you start looking at international redemptions. You can find rates from LAX to SYD for 115,000 miles and only $27 in fees. Not completely horrible considering the low fees.
But other rates can jump to 325,000 for a one way award!
3. Constant devaluations (with no notice)
Probably my biggest complaint with Delta SkyMiles is that they’ve established a pattern of frequently devaluing their miles with no notice. Both the rate at which they devalue their miles and their method of often providing no notice is a joke. In 2016, Delta increased awards to both Europe, Australia, and Tel Aviv, some of these overnight with no notice and then increased awards to Europe, Australia, and other regions in early 2017 with no notice once again.
I think it’s an absolute joke when loyalty programs implement price hikes like that with no notice since they are presumably put into place to build brand loyalty and hiking prices with no notice sure doesn’t seem to be the way to win over your customers.
4. Adding connections is ridiculously expensive
With many airlines, it’s easy to add a connecting flight with a partner in order to get to your gateway city. For example, let’s say you’re using Aeroplan miles to fly SAS from EWR to OSL and you need to connect to EWR from somewhere else in the country (ORD, IAH, etc.). You could connect with a United flight from your home airport to EWR for no extra cost in Aeroplan miles.
With Delta, you often have to pay substantially more miles to include a connecting flight. Take a look at all of the prices I found when searching for an award from IAH to LHR. They are all much higher than the 85,000 required for a partner award.
These flights are ridiculously priced considering that you can often add a connecting flight for no additional miles with other programs.
5. SkyTeam Alliance inventory
Delta is a member of the SkyTeam alliance which means that it doesn’t have access to many first class cabins. This issue isn’t limited to Delta, although some SkyTeam partners like Korean have access to first class awards on airlines like China Eastern. Still, the fact that you can’t book first class awards on many partners is a huge bummer.
6. Customer service
I’ll admit my universe of experience with Delta customer service agents is a bit limited, but from the hand full of phone calls I had they seem to be poorly trained. They are all very friendly and professional but it took multiple calls for them to check on partner award inventory when I called on different occasions. It got to the point that it would take 30 minutes to an hour just to verify award space was bookable (and that was after the hour wait time to get a hold of a rep).
Are SkyMiles good for anything?
SkyMiles still have a few things going for them. For one, it’s very easy to quickly accumulate a lot of them since Amex offers so many different types of Delta co-branded cards and sometimes offers them up with bonuses of 70,000. You can also earn elite miles with some of these Delta cards so it can be easier to reach elite status with Delta. And finally, Delta’s website is very easy to use and quick to search so that make thing easier.
Still, I’m absolutely fine with avoiding Delta SkyMiles in the future. I stayed away from them for a while and when I finally decided to give them a shot, I got hit with multiple devaluations with no notice, exorbitant reward pricing for connecting flights, and often found myself spending hours on the phone with clueless agents.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.