Delta raised the cost of partner redemptions without warning – let the shock subside and let me know when you’re ready to keep going. This is something that has been theoretically possible ever since they got rid of award charts, and it’s also something they’ve done in the past, so you know that we should expect it again. As the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting Delta not to devalue their chart without warning.”
I agree that it sucks, and I’m directly affected by this, because I’m foolishly sitting on a six-figure balance of Sky Miles. I should be out there with the rest of the travel hackers and our fearless leader René clutching my pitchfork. However, I realize that I have only myself to blame… Maintaining a big balance of Sky Miles is basically the same as building a mansion on sand – eventually it’s going to come crashing down. I accrued almost all of my miles through two credit card signups, one of which included a $195 fee that wasn’t waived (and I had to spend $4000 across the two cards, so let’s say that I missed out on around $100 worth of points I could have accrued elsewhere, bringing the gross cost to $300 or so. However, I also got $150 in statement credits as part of the bonus, so the real net was closer to $150.). My feeling when I decided to get the cards was that – at worst – I could cash the sign-up bonus points in at $.01 per point on $1140 worth of airfare on Delta.
That said, I may not have opened the cards just for a free $1000 on Delta flights. My goal all along was the same as it always is – free long-haul business class travel. I burned a bunch of points right away, on a flight from SFO to Paris on Air France, but I ended up having to cancel that flight. (When I made that redemption, it cost 62,500 points, but it soon went up to 70,000 and now to 80,000.) I had planned to use the points for a trip next year, but Delta didn’t have the same availability as Flying Blue for the KLM flight I wanted. I could have used Delta to book Virgin Atlantic via London, but I’d rather pay a couple hundred bucks in fuel surcharges to KLM in order to avoid a herringbone seat and a connection through Heathrow. So my Delta miles live on, and they get less valuable every day. In the end, I may wind up with the $.01 per point worst case scenario I originally envisioned when I signed up for the cards.
Is Delta really the Judas they’re being portrayed as, though? Again, it’s no secret that Sky Miles redemption amounts are fluid (although I still agree with this very early post I wrote about how calling them SkyPesos is both incorrect and slightly ethnocentric). Part of it also has to do with Delta’s utter meltdown in the wake of the storms in Atlant, which is pretty clearly their karmic feedback for trolling United on the whole leggings dustup.
Okay, so I think Delta has an inflated sense of how great they are, AND I’m personally affected by their latest devaluation, but still… I don’t know, maybe I’m just numb to airline shittiness at this point. While the Delta thing sucks, it’s not the end of outsize redemptions for premium cabins. 80,000 Sky Miles is still getting you at least a few cents per point on a long-haul business class redemption, if not more. Plus, assuming you can find partner availability on someone like Air France for a transatlantic award, you’re basically paying 17,500 additional miles and saving $250 in fuel surcharges. If you’re so steadfast that Sky Miles are worthless, then you’d jump at the chance to “sell” them for more than one cent per point. (I realize that ideally you wouldn’t have have to make that choice and could instead redeem a lower amount of Sky Miles while also not paying a fuel surcharge, but the reality is that this represented a sweet spot that has now gone away, which is what inevitably happens to sweet spots sooner or later.)
It’s also really bad optics for this to happen during Delta’s IT meltdown, but I don’t think it’s fair to act like they were busy devaluing Sky Miles instead of fixing the IT problem. I don’t know much about how airline IT systems work, but my hunch is that it’s sufficiently complicated that there are people who manage and price award inventory, and that those people are separate from the people who run the company’s IT operational backbone. I’d be pretty surprised if there was just a ragtag group of five nerds like the cast of Silicon Valley, and they were constantly running from department to department, moving planes around one day, rescheduling flights after storms the next, and devaluing the frequent flyer mile program in between. (Also, I can’t believe Delta would be that capricious about it, and my assumption was that this was debated and approved and just happened to go into effect at an inopportune time.) Maybe I’m giving Delta too much credit, and it’s definitely true that a company who wanted to broadcast a signal that they give a shit about their customers would probably have realized how this would look and put the brakes on the devaluation at least until those customers were no longer sleeping in airports.
In the end, airline shittiness is cyclical, and after leggings-gate and storm-devaluation-gate, it’s American’s turn to fuck something up. And with terrible seats, a loyalty program that releases almost no award space, disgusting food, and an inconsistent fleet, that shouldn’t be too hard. And, I mean, they’re kind of asking for it with tweets like this…