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We all have our own favorite miles and points programs, and while our collective absolute favorites are likely to vary a bit based on location, travel patterns, etc. it is rare that someone in the miles and points world puts Delta SkyMiles high on their favorites list. That’s not because of anything Delta does wrong in the air, because they actually are regarded to have a better in-flight experience than some other US airlines, but their frequent flyer program is always on the cutting edge…of devaluation.
Not only are they usually on the leading trend of making it harder to earn, and more expensive to burn miles, but their low level award availability is a bit of a unicorn. You hear about low level awards, but they just never seem to show up when you are looking for them. Okay, maybe unicorns are slightly more rare than low-level Delta awards, but not by much.
I write about opportunities to earn Delta miles here and there, but I don’t talk about them as much as the other programs. I think that is probably justified, but something happened this week that reinforced why having miles in a variety of programs, including, (gasp) Delta, is important.
I mentioned already that we were trying to get my husband’s family together to attend a Kansas City Royals World Series game next week, and while we were able to devise a plan pretty easily to get my husband there with very minimal expense, his brother still needed to come in from the New York City area. Last minute airfare started at about $500 round trip with lengthy routings that wouldn’t work for the one night trip, and the nonstop flights he needed on Delta were $1,100. The tickets to get in the World Series game are going to be expensive, but having to spend $1,100 just to fly to the right city would be very painful. I don’t know my brother-in-law’s budget as well as our own, but that probably would not happen in our household, even for the World Series.
I started to look for ways for him to get to Kansas City on miles, and what would you know, I found a unicorn. The nonstop flights he wanted were available on Delta at the lowest 25,000 miles round trip price, and to add the cherry on top, Delta has no close-in award booking fees. Having no close-in booking fees is very unusual for a traditional US airline frequent flyer program, so Delta seriously kicked the other program’s tails in this case.
Delta had the nonstop flight he needed available at the saver level and with no close-in booking fees. That flight would have cost $1100 with cash, and he was able to book it for 25,000 Delta miles + $11.20 in taxes/fees.
While I was on the phone with my brother-in-law, he kept saying “I don’t understand. Are they really going to just give me an $1,100 flight for just 25,000 miles and eleven dollars?”. I giggled at his “lightbulb moment” knowing his path into the world of miles is now complete, and I also made sure to mention that he should never expect to get this much value out of SkyMiles again!
You never know when a specific program will be the best one to get you where you want to be. Have the programs you focus on the most, but don’t ignore opportunities to have at least a basic stash of miles in other programs like Delta. At the very least have transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. If you had Membership Reward points you could always transfer those to Delta in these unicorn-like situations where they were the best option by a mile, or by 25,000 miles to be exact.
Many programs sometimes have better award availability at the last minute when there are unsold seats, so the close-in booking may have actually worked in our favor in terms of availability at the saver level. The close-in availability combined with no close-in booking fees was a very fortunate combination and moved Delta up at least a notch in my book.
Have you ever had a program you often ignored surprise you by having the best award option to get your family where they wanted to be?