Delta Begins Changing its SkyMiles Program for Flights in 2015

As we told you a year ago, Delta’s SkyMiles program is changing. The airline is devaluing miles for many and giving more to those who spend more. A few flyers will feel the effects immediately.

Passengers: Best and worst miles programs

Delta Devalues Miles in 2015

Starting today, book a Delta flight that takes off Jan. 1, 2015 or beyond and the number of miles received will be based on the cost of the ticket instead of the length of the flight. Another way to put it: Beginning in January, you’ve got to pay more to earn more.

How Miles Will Change – Example

Say you are a non-elite flyer traveler who want to fly coast-to-coast (Los Angeles to New York) on a ticket purchased in advance for a nice price, say $350 round-trip. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Miles earned under current program: 4,950
  • Miles earned under 2015 program: 1,750

Note: Those who have elite status will earn more under the new miles rules, but not as much as they would have under the old program. Again, ticket price is key to earning miles. You can do your own pre-change/post-change miles calculations on Delta’s website.

The Winners

Airfare analyst and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney said, it’s a simple premise: “What Delta is banking on is that their most lucrative customers – business travelers who have their expensive, last-minute fares paid for by their companies – will fly more and pay more under this system.” And they will earn more miles. A big winner, said Seaney, would be a last-minute business traveler who pays a lot to fly a short distance.

And the Losers

Then there are the losers, said Seaney: “The non-elites who fly to Europe twice a year on cheap tickets, they are the ones who’ll get the butt-end of this deal.” Airlines in general and Delta in particular, added Seaney, are concentrating on their highest paying customers. “If you are not one of them, your loyalty is not what they covet.” Travelers who have a choice of airlines (and not everyone does) might want to take this into account next time they book tickets.

Other losers: Mileage runners who seek out cheap tickets for long-haul flights to amass more miles. They won’t get the big pay-off of years past.

Why the Miles Program is Changing

What Delta is doing is not exactly new. Other airlines including JetBlue, Virgin America and even Southwest now calculate miles based on a point or per dollar system. And as analyst Seaney notes, “Everyone wants to redeem seats to the same popular places like Hawaii and Los Angeles and Paris or Rome but thanks to fully loaded planes these days plus the oil now costing $100+ per barrel, there are rarely any seats to these destinations.”

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Published: February 26, 2014