Why I’m collecting American Airlines and Delta miles shortly after disowning them

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Remember in 2019 when we found out that legacy airlines were transitioning to “dynamic award pricing?” We all considered that to be an objectively bad move. And for most, it was.

Dynamic pricing can be extremely inconvenient. When an airline resorts to dynamic pricing, they’re essentially saying, “we’re going to charge what we want, whenever we want, for whatever routes we want.” They abolish award charts and instead use dubious methods for pricing their award seats.

Example: I used to know that if I collected 25,000 American Airlines miles, I could travel from anywhere in the U.S. to anywhere in the U.S. Now, I’ve got to rifle through all my desired routes and dates and hope I have enough miles for the flight I want.

Yes, legacy airlines’ rewards programs seem to be in a downward spiral. But my unfavorable view of them has recently taken a big turn. I’ll tell you why.

Award sales helped me to visit Cenote Ik Kil in the Yucatan. (Photo by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

Big legacy airline devaluations = big wins for deal hunters

Dynamic pricing is a deterrent for many — you never quite know how many miles you’ll need for a flight. In response, many of us have stopped collecting some (or all) legacy airline miles. Why bother earning miles with unpredictable value when you can invest in flexible points that won’t lock you into a single airline?

In practice, dynamic award pricing usually works like this. The higher the cash price of a ticket, the more miles you’ll need to redeem for that ticket. It also works in the reverse fashion — if you’re seeing a $50 one-way flight on Delta, you likely won’t be shelling out too many miles (and much less than what Delta would have charged when it had an award chart). Dynamic pricing hurts many of those who liked to use their miles for outsized value when cash prices are high.

In actual fact, these miles have become more desirable than ever to some of us. My attitude toward dynamic pricing has turned 180 degrees recently. After monitoring numerous Delta award sales and intermittently locating stunning American Airlines Economy Web Specials, it’s clear that these once-reliable airlines have become worse for anyone with uncompromising vacation destinations and rigid travel dates. Does any of the following describe you?

  • You take the family to grandma’s every year for Thanksgiving
  • You fly to your timeshare in Colorado every summer
  • Your only vacation time is during the holidays
  • Your only interest is skiing in Gstaad and have no interest in the rest of the world

I couldn’t in good conscience recommend American Airlines or Delta miles to someone like that. No, these miles are now for those of us who are flexible with our travel goals. They’re for anyone willing to allow the deals to dictate their travel.

I’ve seen Delta flights from my home airport of Cincinnati to other continents for as little as 9,000 miles each way. I’ve made no plans to visit these specific destinations, but for a rock-bottom price right from my doorstep, I’ll happily use my PTO to cross an ocean.

Award charts are still available

When you fly partner airlines with American Airlines miles or Delta miles, you’ll find the prices do abide by an award chart. Delta doesn’t actually have an award chart for its partners, but their prices are nevertheless fixed. The only problem is that Delta keeps raising the fixed prices. Dynamic pricing really only affects you if you’re flying on actual American or Delta aircraft.

If you want a proper award chart for your domestic flights, you’ve still got plenty of options by collecting flexible points such as:

These points transfer to a variety of airlines. Here are a few ways you can use them:

  • Book coach flights on Delta for 12,500 miles each way by transferring Chase/Amex/Citi points to Flying Blue (the loyalty program of KLM and Air France)
  • Book short hops under 600 miles on American Airlines by transferring 16,000 Amex/Citi points to Qantas
  • Book round-trip flights up to 4,000 miles on American Airlines by transferring 23,000 Chase/Amex points to Iberia
  • Book flights on American Airlines for as little as 7,500 points one-way by transferring Chase/Amex points to British Airways

There are plenty more options for getting domestic award flights for prices similar to what legacy carriers used to charge (or even cheaper). The process isn’t as straightforward, but neither is it difficult. My personal favorite is using Iberia. The handful of times I’ve used it has saved me tens of thousands of points.

Earning American and Delta miles quickly

Remember, earning a credit card welcome bonus is usually the fastest and easiest way to earn a ton of points and miles. Delta is offering abnormally high welcome offers on their best cards:

CardIntro bonusAnnual fee
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardEarn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 4/28/2021. Terms apply.$99, waived for the first year (see rates and fees)
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express CardEarn 70,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer Ends 4/28/21. Terms apply.$99, waived for the first year (see rates and fees)
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express CardEarn 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. Terms apply.$250 (see rates and fees)
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express CardEarn 90,000 bonus miles and a $100 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer Ends 4/28/21. Terms apply.$250 (see rates and fees)
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express CardEarn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 4/28/2021. Terms apply.$550 (see rates and fees)
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express CardEarn 80,000 bonus miles, 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs), and a $200 statement credit after spending $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer Ends 4/28/21. Terms apply.$550 (see rates and fees)

You can earn American Airlines miles with cards such as:

CardIntro bonusAnnual fee
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on the card in the first three months from account opening$99, waived for the first 12 months
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening$99, waived the first 12 months
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUpâ„  CardEarn 10,000 bonus miles and get a $50 statement credit after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening$0
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on the card in the first three months from account opening$450
Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Earn 10,000 miles after adding an employee card to the account (within 30 days) and making a purchase on an employee card within the first 90 days$95
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®Earn 60,000 bonus miles after making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee$99

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, CitiBusiness AAdvantage, Barclays Aviator, and Barclays Aviator Business card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you’ve got no flexibility with your travel dates and aren’t willing to be flexible with your destination, you’re likely better off earning the welcome bonus from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Bottom line

Dynamic pricing has mucked up award flights for a whole lot of travelers. Collecting miles with legacy carriers may not be for you if you’ve got zero flexibility with travel dates and locations. However, if you’re able (and willing) to plan vacations around dynamic pricing, you can get away with murder.

My American Airlines and Delta balances have been dry for a while, but I’m once again collecting American Airlines and Delta miles as fast as I can. I will make no plans with them. I will instead keep them in reserve until an outstanding deal that fits my schedule emerges. I’ve been absolutely gutted to miss some of the deals that have popped up lately. I won’t make that mistake again.

Let me know your thoughts on chasing deals with dynamic pricing. And subscribe to our newsletter for more miles and points posts delivered to your inbox once per day.

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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