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New Delta SkyMiles: Where a one way costs more than a roundtrip

by on Fri July 17, 2015 • 2 Comments


There’s plenty of concern about the new Delta SkyMiles prices that take effect for flights June 1, 2016 and later.

For flights on or after that date, Delta says it will charge varying amounts based on demand and the destination, throwing away the old idea of having a fixed award chart grid.

And there are real live examples now of flights that cost 375,000 miles or more ONE WAY in business class on Delta flights.

But there’s a curious pattern to it.

The big, newly egregious prices are only for flights that start OUTSIDE the U.S.

For example, take Atlanta to Sydney…

The one way price on Delta’s own flights is about 175,000 miles – that’s the case before and after June 1st. No devaluation there, just the same crummy price it’s been for ages.


Yet the one way price from Sydney to Atlanta is a whopping 375,000 miles, a clear jump on June 1st from 175,000 miles one way. That’s a real change we can blame on the new policy.


But here’s where it gets strange…

If you book the flight as a roundtrip from Atlanta to Sydney, the price isn’t 175,000 + 375,000 miles = 555,000 miles.

Instead, it’s the same 375,000 miles Delta was charging in May.


But if you book a roundtrip from Sydney to Atlanta, originating in Australia, it’s 2x 375,000 = 750,000 miles, a terrible number.


You can find a similar pattern on Delta’s Johannesburg, South Africa route.

There’s a massive jump when you start a trip in Johannesburg to 750,000 miles roundtrip on June 1st.


But no change if you start it in the U.S. – it’s still 350,000 miles roundtrip.


London to New York is another example.

Now it costs as much as 455,000 miles roundtrip after June 1st on Delta’s own flights.  PLUS 518 pounds in surcharges. The lowest on Delta’s flights moves from 125,000 miles to 142,500 miles.


Yet starting from the U.S., on New York to London, the prices June 1st and later are the same as they were before – no sign of new inflated prices here, just the same as usual.


And of course if you include partner flights in the mix there are still lots of flights for 125,000 miles roundtrip in Business Class.


So what’s the logic here?

Delta is (for now) limiting the devaluation to a small subset of awards, and punishing its SkyMiles members who live outside the U.S.

The question is…

  • Are they doing this to preserve low prices on awards that U.S. based members use most often (a decent and reasonable trade off)?
  • Or are they doing this to test the waters and soon roll out the jacked up prices to U.S. based members (the nightmare scenario)?

Remember, Delta’s earning miles based on how far you fly only applies to SkyMiles members based in the U.S.

So it’s plausible Delta wants to reward fliers based in the U.S. more richly than those abroad, since programs based outside the U.S. tend to be less rewarding overall.

But the fear and simpler explanation is they are testing the waters. If these prices don’t deter award demand much, then Delta knows it’s on to something and can apply the pricing more broadly.

Though doing that to flights departing the U.S. will be tougher as it’s still a competitive market given United and American’s current award price structures. So expect changes to be more gradual and tactical.

What to do?

The good and bad of SkyMiles hasn’t changed much.

  • Awards in Business Class on Delta’s own longest flights haven’t been attractive for a long while.
  • Partner award prices remain very good.
  • And award space at the lowest prices can still be decent on Delta’s own prices to Europe.

So aside from one way awards from outside the U.S. now being useless, the advice remains the same.

Don’t stockpile these miles – use them as soon as you can – but they are still a good tool to use to get to Europe in the summer and to Australia via partner Virgin Australia.

For now.

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2 thoughts on New Delta SkyMiles: Where a one way costs more than a roundtrip

  1. Erik

    I have 55k delta miles and 60k Amex rewards. I’m looking to add another card or 2 to have enough miles for 3 tickets to Europe. Would you suggest the Chase rewards or another card? Would it be possible to combine some other reward miles? I really don’t know what to do with the Delta miles. Thanks for your help


      @Erik – Awards to Europe for 60k roundtrip in Economy are still pretty common with Delta miles. Would say try for a different Amex rewards card with a 50k or better intro deal like the Premier Rewards Gold – they often target those offers. There’s also a 50k offer for the Mercedes Benz version of the Platinum Card. Or see if you’re targeted for a different Delta card with a good intro deal:

      And if you aren’t, it’s possible your spouse might be targeted.


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