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For most of my frequent flyer life I have pretty much ignored Delta SkyMiles. At first this was because I live in Houston and
Continental United made the most sense for my travel patterns, and then as I learned more about different types of airline miles, I avoided Delta because their miles were so “adored” they were infamously dubbed SkyPesos. This was because their low level award availability was quite poor, and their online award search tool was potentially even worse.
Even though I don’t focus on Delta, I still try and keep at least a peripheral view of what the various programs are up to, and as 2015 approached, we learned that Delta was revamping SkyMiles in many ways as part of SkyMiles 2015. They promised a better online search tool, improved saver award availability, and the ability to book one-way awards for 1/2 the price of round trip awards (commonplace with many other airlines, but not with Delta before now). SkyMiles 2015 wasn’t promised to be all peaches and roses as it is the official introduction to revenue based earning for frequent flyer miles via a traditional US carrier, but many were a bit dubious that the announced enhancements would be as good as promised.
Well, 2015 has arrived and I finally had a chance to spend some time playing with Delta.com to price some award flights this morning, and I have to say that what I’m seeing isn’t bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Some of these changes were introduced in recent months, but they are all working together for a much improved award booking experience.
Search Five Weeks of Award Availability at a Time:
One thing I loved was that you can search for award prices for five weeks at at time on one screen. Assuming you have date flexibility, this is a big deal with quickly spotting the cheapest days to fly on miles for the number of people in your party. Best of all, I found the calendar to be mostly correct when I selected a date that said it was available at the lowest mileage level. Off-hand, I can’t think of a better award availability calendar out there right now in terms of quickly spotting pricing for a wide range of dates.
Low Level Award Availability Actually Improved:
A better calendar and functional IT is one thing, but actually improving the number of awards available at the lowest level is another. I searched several routes this morning from domestic routes, to Hawaii, to Europe, to Australia, and there really is low level availability to be found, even (sometimes) in premium cabins. Domestically, the low level award availability is certainly improved. Of course it isn’t always available, for example to Hawaii in the summer will be tough at the lowest level just as it is with many programs, but if you can go in the spring or fall there is low level availability to be found. Even in the summer, some dates are only a slight up-charge over the lowest level which I suppose is better than having to jump to 2x the saver award pricing with some programs.
Some of the low level awards to various destinations are on their partners, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is also worth mentioning that Delta just added China Eastern and China Southern to their list of partners that you can book online.
One-way Awards for Half of Round Trip:
As promised, one-way awards are pricing for half of the cost of round trip awards. This means that domestic one-way awards start at 12,500 miles. One tip if you want to book a trip to Europe as two one-ways is to instead book it as an open-jaw as awards originating in Europe will be hit with fuel surcharges otherwise.
So, instead of booking Houston – Amsterdam as a one-way and Paris – Houston as a separate one-way, book the whole thing as an open-jaw using the “multi city search option” on one ticket to avoid fuel surcharges on the return.
Free Stopovers are Gone:
One bright spot of the old Delta system was that you could get a free stopover an award tickets, even on simple domestic round trips. That feature has been taken away with the SkyMiles 2015 revamp.
SkyMiles not Perfect, but not Bad:
I don’t like that SkyMiles has gone revenue based for mileage earning, and they still are far from my favorite program, but I honestly don’t think they are that bad right now for the casual mile collector and redeemer. If the low level award availability improvements hold for the long-haul, and the award chart doesn’t get jacked with too frequently, then I think this program has gone up at least a notch for those who mostly collect miles by methods outside of actual travel.
I currently have very few Delta SkyMiles and no Delta co-branded credit cards. While I’m not rushing to sign-up for one today, I will strongly consider pulling the trigger the next time an increased sign-up bonus is available for me on one of the various Delta cards. I am also glad that they are an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner so that I have the ability to move miles to the program if they are the best option for a given award trip even though I don’t currently have many Delta miles in my account.
How have the Delta SkyMiles 2015 changes looked so far for your family?