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Winners and losers with Delta’s 2016 SkyMiles changes

by on Tue July 14, 2015 • 15 Comments


Delta announced some big changes to the SkyMiles program, including some enhancements, but also some potentially devastating changes to offset them.

While the announcement was made in the spirit of transparency, the actual meat of it is anything but as Delta has not revealed any of the actual new award prices it’s planning, not even to its own phone agents.

The changes are:

  • Award prices for flights June 1, 2016 and later will change based on demand and other factors- though ‘most’ will stay the same. That means Delta no longer has to stick to a set price chart for awards, and can raise and lower prices on the fly. (bad)
  • Upgrades with miles will require more miles for flights June 1, 2016 or later, though you will be able to upgrade from much lower fares than before. One way upgrades to Europe and Northern Asia are increasing to 60 – 80,000 miles one way from 25,000 miles. Domestic upgrades are increasing to 15,000 – 30,000 miles one way from 12,500 miles. (bad)
  • Regional Upgrade Certificates will be valid for upgrades to Delta ONE business class on transcontinental flights from New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco (good)
  • Diamond Medallions will no longer get complimentary upgrades to Delta ONE on transcontinental flights from New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco (bad)
  • Paid seat upgrades will now earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars (good)
  • The lowest award price for some flights is now 7,500 miles as part of an award price sale (good)

Here’s our take on winners and losers with these changes…


People using miles for basic coach domestic awards. Delta is now charging less than it ever has for some coach awards in the United States. Some as few as 5,000 or 7,500 miles one way. This isn’t the most lucrative way to use your miles, but if that’s how you use them, things are getting better for you now.

Platinum Medallion SkyMiles members who fly between New York and Los Angeles / San Francisco. Delta’s coveted transcontinental flights from New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco are now upgradable with the Regional Upgrade Certificates offered as an option to Delta’s Platinum and Diamond Medallion fliers.


Diamond Medallions who fly between New York and Los Angeles / San Francisco. They will be losing complimentary day of departure upgrades on these transcontinental flights, but they can use a Regional Upgrade Certificate to get the upgrade.

Mileage upgraders. Delta is substantially increasing the price of upgrades using miles to the point that they are poor values all around.

Here are what phone agents are reporting for ONE WAY prices to upgrade flights starting in the U.S. for travel dates June 1, 2016 or later:

Domestic / Canada

  • Y/B/M: 15,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 20,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 30,000 miles

Prior price: 12,500 miles on K and higher fares, 10,000 miles on Y fares.

JFK-LAX/SFO Transcon

  • Y/B/M: 25,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 30,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 35,000 miles

Prior price: 12,500 miles on K and higher fares, 10,000 miles on Y fares.


  • Y/B/M: 30,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 35,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 55,000 miles

Europe, Southern South America, North Asia

  • Y/B/M: 60,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 80,000 miles

Prior price: 25,000 miles on B/M fares, 15,000 miles on Y fares.

Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa

  • Y/B/M: 80,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 115,000 miles

Caribbean / Central America

  • Y/B/M: 15,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 20,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 30,000 miles

Northern South America

  • Y/B/M: 30,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 45,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 50,000 miles

These are the highest upgrade prices of any U.S. airline, and while Delta doesn’t impose the cash copays United and American do, the prices all around are a less favorable deal, and don’t bode well for the prices of standalone award tickets. As a comparison, American charges 25,000 miles + $350 for a mileage upgrade to Europe versus Delta’s 80,000 miles on discount fares.

For now key awards like U.S. to Europe remain available for 62,500 miles one way in Business Class, well below the cost to upgrade.

Anyone saving for a big award. Delta says it will change award prices for flights June 1, 2016 or later based on demand and other factors. It claims ‘most’ prices aren’t changing, and seems committed to keeping the very lowest prices available to some degree, but the SkyMiles currency has been effectively debased.

We just don’t know the actual level of inflation yet given Delta stopped publishing award charts in February and it has yet to load the new prices in its reservation system.

Today, you can get an award to Europe for 30,000 miles one way in Economy Class and 62,500 miles one way in Business Class on any Delta partner, and you may also see prices that low on Delta’s own flights.

The fear is that partner awards will no longer be available for one low price and that awards on Delta flights will be priced directly in relation to the demand on a particular flight.

That could flatten the value of the program and make getting outsized savings from your miles difficult or impossible to attain.

But it’s not clear whether that will be the case.

Even if the lowest priced options remain, it’s will still be more difficult to plan for an aspirational award in advance, since mileage prices tend to have a much wider range than cash prices.

For example, a cash ticket to Europe might cost $1,000 to $1,600 depending on the day you fly. But a mileage ticket can vary from 60,000 to 130,000 miles or more – a 100% or more range, and that range can change at Delta’s whim with no notice whatsoever.

Advice for fliers

If you have saved miles for a big trip next summer, book now. The new prices haven’t yet loaded in the system, so you may be well served to book what you can now, in case Delta decides to flatten the value of the program.

And if you want to use miles to upgrade, use them for flights before June 1, 2016.

If you’re just using your SkyMiles for basic domestic trips, or vacation in Hawaii or the Caribbean, not much is changing, and some days prices might even be lower than you’re used to seeing.


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15 thoughts on Winners and losers with Delta’s 2016 SkyMiles changes

  1. Andrew Mars

    I’m Platinum for the first time ever with Delta thanks for Reserve Card (Gold last year, Silver before that), and couldn’t be happier, traveling often between Delta Hubs. Almost always upgraded to business, always upgrades to Comfort+, lounge access, lots of choices for free changes in last 24 hrs, etc., and above all, quality cabins, reliable on-time service, and solid staff. Southwest and Jetblue still have their place, but most experiences I have with AA or United can’t compare with Delta in my experience.

  2. Mark

    Loyalty has a different definition with Delta. 2million + miler with Delta. 3 million Concierge with AA. When booking flights with Delta today I discovered that Economy Comfort seats are no longer available at booking after May 15th. Diamond members must wait for upgrade to clear. Today I booked 3 flights with Southwest and a business class to China with AA instead of Delta. $11,000 worth of tickets that could have gone to Delta. What is the point of a loyalty program when there is no longer a benefit to earn elite status? At least with Southwest you know what you are getting. AA for all its faults has a wonderful elite program. By by Delta.

  3. Liz gray

    It looks like there is no option to travel economy class with miles – I’m searching international flights for Sept and the only option is Delta Ond/Business at 360,000 points plus $399.
    Last year I could have done that trip for leads than 150,000. Am Zinrightbthstbtheyve taken the economy class option away?

  4. Robert Halsey

    Delta is not going to build any loyalty. I took the effort to be very loyal in 2105 expecting the diamond benefits. Now they change them for what I consider the middle of the contract. After may 16 I don’t even get free economy comfort seating. What a waste of my loyalty. People should find another airline.


      @Robert – Yes it’s a real sore point. Technically, you get a free instant upgrade to Economy Comfort, but your companion has to wait until 24 hours before departure which is a real mess.

  5. Mike Johnson

    I used to be platinum on a regular basis; last year I dropped to Gold even though I flew more, often in business to Europe or Asia. Delta has slowly squeezed its frequent flyers to the point it is not worth my while to seek them out when planning flights. I use tricks to avoid them but get miles – fly partners very often when I used to fly only Delta. They have completely abused their market position in their key hubs, dramatically increasing cost of business flights to Asia or Europe. I usually find business flights from other cities, sometimes connecting thru their hub, for <1/2 the hub cost (thousands of $). On the positive side, their domestic business has been upgraded substantially (meals on all flights) and lie down seats meet the international standard today.

    To see them making changes here that adversely affects Diamonds doesn't surprise me, but they should not be surprised when these people move to other airlines. Nobody is safe at Delta.

  6. Martin

    Probably time to use another airline. After 25+ years with Delta suffering for one year and building is not as bad as being taken advantage of. As a Diamond flyer I would expect more loyalty from Delta. It is a two way street. Not sure if Delta’s management understands the words loyalty and trust.


      @Martin – No need to suffer for a year building, request a status match of your Diamond status from another airline.

  7. Matt

    They may not owe me anything, but these are loyalty rewards programs designed to keep passengers coming back. I fly weekly for business and I don’t use Delta anymore, even though I live near a Delta hub airport. I get better benefits from other airlines and I give them my business. The seats are better, the boarding process is better, and the rewards programs are better. Delta’s service has suffered in the last couple of years and being the juggernaut will not keep them on top. They have to adapt.

  8. me

    Not really a surprise. I mean, many people have been abusing mileage programs for years and now the airlines are just responding to that. The biggest benefits are going to those not seeking lucrative ways to use the miles and just trying to use them for a seat on a plane – not luxury upgrades, etc. Bottom line, it’s a free reward program. An added benefit. People act like they are owed something. Airlines are businesses, they don’t owe you shit.




      @Toby – Yes that is the old price (25,000 miles each way, 50,000 round trip) and is still good for flights before June 1st 2016.


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