A Delta credit card argument: What are SkyMiles really good for?

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We’ve seen some pretty huge credit card welcome offers over the last few months as banks, airlines and hotels work to entice customers back into the fold. And now, Delta has jumped in to compete with the rest.

Through April 28, 2021, Amex Delta cards have some of the highest offers we’ve ever seen:

And while these are some pretty impressive digits, I submit that they’re not very good. Million Mile Secrets editor Brendan Dorsey, disagrees, so let’s have it out.

Years ago, I flew business class from Barbados to Detroit — with a connection in Brazil. That ticket cost $8,000, but only 30,000 Delta miles! Those days are gone. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

To open or not to open: Amex Delta credit cards

Joseph:

Wow, 90,000 Delta miles! These are some of the best deals I’ve ever seen!

Actually, they aren’t. Those bonuses are shamefully deceptive. While they are in fact some of the highest bonuses these cards have ever offered, they’re nowhere near the best deals we’ve seen. Know why? Because Delta is addicted to devaluing its miles.

In the past four months, Delta has devalued its partner award flights twice. Before October 2020, you’d pay:

  • 25,000 miles to fly coach to Europe. Now flights start at 35,000 miles
  • 75,000 miles to fly business class to Europe. From what I can tell, flights now start at 110,000 miles
  • 85,000 miles to fly business class to Southeast Asia. They now start at 160,000 miles

Take into account this unprecedented inflation, and the bonuses aren’t quite as appealing. Real-life example:

In 2019, 75,000 Delta miles would have netted me a lie-flat business class seat to Paris from my home airport of Cincinnati. Now, I can’t find a business class ticket for less than 230,000 miles. Even searching from hubs like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc., you’ve hit the jackpot if you find a ticket under 110,000 miles. I’m not about to build my vacation around one or two days out of the year when Delta decides to reasonably price a business class ticket.

At this point, I would be more likely to open the Amex Delta Gold if the bonus was 70,000 Werther’s Originals instead of SkyMiles.

Cincinnati to Paris in Delta One (business class) — this is what the entire year looks like. Sick of it.

Brendan:

It’s true, Delta has done some pretty unforgivable things to SkyMiles as of late. But I look at Delta miles through a much different lens than you. These are still great offers for a few reasons:

Delta Pay With Miles: This feature is exclusive to Delta cardholders. You can redeem your miles for 1 cent each toward paid Delta flights (though you must redeem in increments of 5,000). In other words, if a flight costs $260, you can redeem 25,000 Delta miles and pay $10 for your flight. These Amex Delta welcome bonuses are worth up to $900 in Delta flights! And on top of that, there are no blackout dates and no searching for available award seats. You’ll even earn miles for your flight. For example, if you earn the bonus with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum, you can know that you’ve got $900 in airfare at the very least.

Delta SkyMiles deals: You’re not wrong about the devaluations, but if you just let the deals guide you, Delta miles can be an absolute treasure. Most recently, we saw flights to Peru for 9,000 miles one-way in coach. That’s unheard-of.

Domestic economy flights: I find I use Delta miles for domestic economy flights more and more these days. I don’t worry about squeezing every penny of value from SkyMiles which leads to me actually using them as often as possible. I like that I never have to worry about taking real money out of my wallet and can focus on maximizing my transferable Chase or Amex points for luxurious international trips. I’m actually getting solid value from Delta miles, significantly more than our 1.25 cent valuation.

Joseph:

Yeah, I was going to say — the SkyMiles flash sales are just about Delta’s only redeeming factor for me. Hopefully, those bounce back with a vengeance in a couple of months.

I feel like I’m rewarding Delta for bad behavior when I open one of these cards. Not only is Delta aggressive with their devaluations, but they’re also the naughty bellwether of other U.S. carriers. When Delta makes a change that devalues its miles, American and United sit quietly and observe the outcry, analyzing whether they can afford to do the same.

Those Delta devaluations I mentioned above are between 40%-88%. Just to fit with that devaluation, these offers should breach 100,000+ miles. My point is, these offers are illusions of a good deal.

Why should I bother earning Delta miles when I can put my focus on earning Amex points? I can transfer them to Virgin Atlantic and redeem them to fly Delta business class for way cheaper than had I used Delta miles.

Delta One business class flights start at just 50,000 miles one-way to Europe. That’s less than half what Delta charges!

Brendan:

Right, I think I’ve identified your hangup. You’ve got to allow your standard for Delta miles to plummet, and look at the Delta credit cards with fresh eyes. Pretend you’ve just heard of Delta Air Lines — with no knowledge of its past — and you’ll more easily see the value of the card bonuses. Why not just take the easy $900 in Delta flights!?

Also, their domestic prices are still good. I know you’re trying to visit Portland around late August. Take a look at the coach prices from Cincinnati to Portland — the below flights would net you 1.6 cents per mile in value. They’re more than reasonable, and often cheaper than United and American’s award prices.

Joseph:

Can you not just let me vent?

That’s a good point, though — save them for U.S. travel. I mean domestic airfare is at an all-time low, but I understand what you’re saying.

Alright, here’s how I can persuade myself to open one up: If I saw a cash-back credit card offering a $900 cash welcome bonus, or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card with a 90,000-mile bonus, I’d be shouting about it from the rooftops. The Capital One Venture is currently offering 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Opening a Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex obviously isn’t quite that good, because the rewards are restricted to Delta flights. But if I squint my eyes hard enough, it’s comparable.

I’ll open the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, and I’ll take an effective $900 flight credit from Delta, as well as a yearly companion certificate (potentially worth several hundred dollars annually) for a relatively easy spending requirement. The best way to punish them is to take their money.

And if any Delta SkyMiles deals tickle me, I’ll have a reservoir ready for those, too.

Bottom line

It’s all but a certainty that Delta award prices aren’t going to get any cheaper (for business or first class at least). If you’ve not opened a Delta credit card yet, these offers are higher than usual. It’s a good time to open a card or two if you’re interested in using them domestically, for Pay With Points, or for Delta SkyMiles deals — just don’t bank on fancy lie-flat seats or multiple trips to Europe.

I’d love to know whose side you’re on. Let us know in the comments! Subscribe to our newsletter for more credit card analysis and travel tips sent to your inbox once per day.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Annual fee

$250

Welcome offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 4/28/2021.

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Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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