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2015 Delta SkyMiles award prices charted side by side vs United, American

by on Fri March 7, 2014 • No Comment

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After public outcry, Delta has revealed its new award prices for redeeming Delta SkyMiles in 2015 and the news is not show stopping, so the miles in your account now are pretty safe. That said, we think you may have to pay about 30% more for some awards next year than you may be paying now because Delta is moving to a system with 5 award tiers, Levels 1 through 5, from just three today. The good news is the very lowest and very highest award prices aren’t changing much from today’s prices.

Below you can see tables and charts that let you compare and visualize exactly how Delta’s new round-trip award prices compare to United and American, the two biggest alternatives for you to shift your airline mile loyalty. And here is a summary of what we’ve found:

  • Delta is promising it will make more awards available at the lowest mileage price levels in 2015, which is good, but even its lowest price levels are still at or above the prices offered by United MileagePlus or American AAdvantage.
  • We think you’ll most commonly find awards at the new ‘Level 2’ price on Delta, and those prices are about 30% higher than what United or American charge for similar awards. That’s before considering the fact that you’ll probably earn fewer miles via flying Delta in 2015 under the new system where miles are earned based on the fare you pay rather than the distance you fly. So unless you have to fly Delta often or only earn miles on the ground via credit cards, it’s hard to recommend Delta SkyMiles as the first place for you to earn miles, but that’s been the case for a few years thanks to Delta’s generally higher award prices than United or American.
  • There can still be decent values with Delta miles, especially if you manage to snag a long haul international ticket at the lowest Level 1 prices, or even Level 2 for expensive flights. Levels 3 to 5 though won’t be good values under all but the most extreme circumstances so avoid those unless you are swimming in miles.
  • United’s prices were recently raised for many awards, so we think those will be in place for a while, though American hasn’t made changes to its awards for a few years, so it’s due for an adjustment to its award prices as it finishes merging with US Airways over the next year.  But we think American AAdvantage miles will remain a better value than Delta SkyMiles, and advise prioritizing your mile earning efforts with United or American if you have the choice and don’t have to fly Delta often. Or better yet, put your miles into Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan, which lets you credit both American and Alaska Airlines flights and offers competitive prices for most awards, and much better access to Air France award inventory than Delta offers at the lowest mileage prices.

Economy Class vs United and American

Delta is generally priced competitively with United and American at the lowest Level 1 prices, but is much more expensive at the new Level 2, which is a level we think you can expect you’ll have to pay unless you’re very flexible with dates. The Level 2 prices are about 30% higher than  United and American’s entry level award prices.

Economy Class Round-Trip Award Mile Prices

Delta Level 1Delta Level 2UnitedAmerican
US / Canada25,00035,00025,00025,000
Central America35,00045,00035,00035,000
Northern South America45,00055,00040,00035,000
Southern South America60,00075,00060,00060,000
Middle East80,000100,00085,00090,000
South Asian Subcontinent80,000100,00085,00070,000
Northern Asia70,00090,00070,00070,000
Southeast Asia80,000100,00080,00070,000
Southwest Pacific100,000120,00080,00075,000
South Africa100,000120,00080,00075,000

Economy award prices

Business Class vs United and American

If your big fear was losing the ability to get champagne flights in Business Class for reasonable mileage prices it doesn’t look like anything terrible is in the cards for 2015. Delta hasn’t been a great place to get value out of international Business Class awards for a while, with few seats at the lowest mileage prices. We don’t think that will change much, though the risk is you’ll see more awards at the Level 2 price of 160,000 miles to Europe than the Level 1 price of 125,000 miles. That’s even higher than United’s dreaded 140,000 miles price for Europe Business Class flights on partner airlines.

But it’s still a decent use of your SkyMiles considering a typical Business Class ticket to Europe will cost you about $4,000 in cash. Basically, this new system gives Delta more flexibility to offer you a fair value for your points more often without having to give away the house. American AAdvantage is the leader in Business Class award prices right now by a wide margin.

The hope is those low American prices won’t change much when it finishes its merger with US Airways the reality is it will probably sneak up some award prices toward the levels United is charging. One thing that may keep some of American’s prices lower is the fuel surcharge that’s imposed on awards with American’s biggest partner British Airways. Those are about $1,000 on Business Class tickets and mean that American needs to charge fewer miles on average than United or Delta for its all-in award prices to stay competitive.

Business Class Round-Trip Award Mile Prices

Delta Level 1Delta Level 2UnitedUnited (Partners)American
US / Canada50,00065,00050,00050,00050,000
Central America60,00075,00060,00060,00060,000
Northern South America80,000110,00070,00070,00060,000
Southern South America125,000160,000110,000110,000100,000
Middle East140,000180,000140,000160,000135,000
South Asian Subcontinent140,000180,000140,000160,000110,000
Northern Asia140,000180,000140,000160,000110,000
Southeast Asia140,000180,000140,000160,000110,000
Southwest Pacific160,000200,000140,000160,000125,000
South Africa160,000200,000140,000160,000150,000

Business class award prices

What should you do to prepare?

If you’re saving up for an award try to get it booked this year, but don’t sweat it. Since there are no big changes to the low or high end of prices some days you might pay more than you would have otherwise, other days less, all depending on how Delta chooses to manage award seats on those particular days. Delta SkyMiles has not been the mileage program of choice for bargain hunters for many years, and that’s not changing here.

You should expect to pay the new ‘Level 2’ price much of the time, which can be a hidden price increase. If you’re used to paying the very lowest price that means you’ll end up paying 20-30% more than this year, but if you rarely enjoy the lowest price today you may end up paying about 20% less on some days thanks to this new Level 2 between today’s low and middle prices.  Moving to 5 from 3 levels gives Delta more angles to better align the price of an award with the cash price of a ticket, reducing the chances you’ll get an outstanding award value, but also improving the chances you won’t have to pay an unreasonable price when airfares are low.

Perhaps even more important, the lack of outright price increases visible on Delta’s new award chart puts a cap on how far United or American can go in raising their award prices for the next year or two, which gives us all a better sense of what we can realistically expect to pay for awards.

What about Delta’s other changes?

Last week, Delta announced it would change the way you earn miles from flying in 2015 so you earn them based on the dollars you spend on your tickets instead of the actual distance you fly.

For frequent flyers…

You’re probably already well aware of this but there’s a good chance you as a frequent Delta flyer will earn a lot fewer miles from flying in 2015 unless you buy the highest coach fares or pay for first class all the time. Basically if you usually fly on one of the lower coach fares and fly generally long flights of 1,500 miles or more each way (think New York to LA, Atlanta to Seattle, or any long international flights) it will be a lot harder for you to earn miles in the SkyMiles program, earning half or less miles than you did before.

You should reassess whether it’s right to stick with SkyMiles and Delta if you have a choice. There’s no reason to rush out and burn your miles now – you can still earn and use miles the way you’re used to for the rest of this year, and in 2015 things won’t look all that different.

But this is a good time to make it clear to Delta you want a program that values your loyalty, even if you aren’t in the top 5% of their flyers. The best way to do that is to shop around other airlines, ask them to match your benefits, and cut your flying on Delta.

For frequent spenders…

About half of frequent flyer program members earn most of their miles on the ground and if you’re a Delta SkyMiles credit card holder the way you earn miles won’t change in 2015. You’ll earn just as many as you did before, and in fact you can earn them even faster thanks to a couple of new credit card options American Express is introducing in April, including a no annual fee card that can earn Delta SkyMiles at full value.

So if you earn almost all of your miles on the ground the equation really hasn’t changed. You’ll probably need to spend modestly more miles next year than you do this year for some awards, and Delta hasn’t been the greatest deal in mileage value for a while. But if you have a Delta mileage balance to build on it’s still wise to keep earning Delta miles via your credit card spending.



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