Why Delta has the Worst Frequent Flyer Program

I fly around 175,000 miles a year but instead of giving my business to one airline I fly whatever is cheapest. Therefore, I’m not super elite on one airline but I do have at least the lowest level elite frequent flier status on three: American, Delta and United. Each of those are members of the three airline alliances: Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star.

What’s nice is that I get perks on all of their partner airlines and I can pretty much book a mileage ticket to anywhere in the world. I’m constantly pricing out award tickets since a good deal of my travel is at a moment’s notice and it’s the best way to save money.

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I used Delta miles because they have the absolute worst value out of all the major airlines. The points they require are two to three times higher than the other airlines and they don’t even offer a discount for one-way tickets.

My go-to airlines are American and United and to give you an idea of how ridiculous Delta is I priced out two different trips on all three airlines and included screenshots. The first was a roundtrip ticket from Toronto to London leaving Christmas Day and returning New Year’s Eve. The second is a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to New York on January 5th.

Toronto to London departing December 25 and returning December 31:

AA

American Airline’s lowest price was 80,000 miles and $474.60 and one of the segments would be on their partner airline British Airways. What’s amazing is that the outbound flight would cost me just 20,000 miles but the return was 60,000.

UA

United wanted 85,000 miles and $294.80. One of the segments would be on their Star Alliance partner Lufthansa. What’s interesting is that United also offered an alternative to purchase the reservation using all cash. Economy would be $1,803.10 and first class is $7,203.50. BTW: A first class ticket going over and returning in business class was available for 117,500 Miles and $386.50.

Delta

Delta’s price for a mileage ticket was a whopping 155,000 miles and $261.60 and that’s for economy. Their price for business class was 325,000 miles and $361.50.

Test 2: One-way Los Angeles to New York on January 5th

AA-1WayAmerican Airlines didn’t have any flights available to JFK but they did offer a reasonable alternative to Newark. The nonstop flight was 12,500 miles and $2.50.

UA-1way

United didn’t have any nonstops but they did have seats available on their partner US Airways through Charlotte for 12,500 miles and $30. Again they showed the price if I just wanted to pay cash: $277.10 for economy and $1,512.10 for first/business.

DL-1way

Delta had nonstop flights available to JFK but the price … 40,000 miles and $2.50. Is that just a rip off or what?! That’s more than three times the miles as American and United wanted.

So there you have it! Please let me know (below in our comments section) if you agree or disagree that Delta has the worst frequent flyer program when it comes to redeeming award tickets.

RELATED:  Frequent flier programs are NOT a scam – here’s why you should signup now | Six ways to get the best coach seat on an airplane

Comments

  1. Hi Johnny!

    Happy Holidays to you and congratulations on your first New Year’s together.
    Can’t agree with you more. Even though I am Gold on DL, Silver on BA and 1K on UA, my go to for awards has always been UA/BA.
    Booked 2 business class tickets to South Africa (SAN-IAD-JNB-CPT*-LVI*-JNB-ZRH-ORD-SAN) for 120 K each = 240K and DL wanted 300K for ONE ticket (SAN-ATL-JNB-ATL-SAN), and no additional stops.
    Took another trip this year (SAN-LAX-BKK*-PER*//SYD*-SFO-SAN) for 270K for two business class tickets. DL wouldn’t even allow this routing and offered SAN-LAX-SYD-LAX-SAN for 325K for ONE ticket
    * = stop
    I use Delta for some domestic tickets and occasional attempt at AF flights. BA with its distance based chart is hit and miss, but much easier to use, even with fuel surcharges.

  2. After being Gold and Platinum on Delta for at least ten years, I have had enough of the Skymiles award redemption crap, I am out of here! I said this too many times and I always stayed on (live in Detroit). But this time I am doing it. Downgraded to Silver and looking for greener pastures with an airline which does not make me thing I am in idiot when it comes to redeem. Thank you for writing about this, hopefully DL management hears us. I am not going to bet on it!

  3. Suzanne In VA says:

    This is very informative. I just became a Delta rewards sky miles member and have to agree I have not been very impressed. Its great to know all plans are not the same and I should sign up for American and United too since like you I go with price when I travel vs blind loyalty. Now granted I travel for fun and not for work so only get to do about 9 trips a year but want all the tips I can get, thanks!

  4. Hi Johnny. It’s nice to know things about this. I will be flying to London next month and I will be choosing the BA. I’m glad you shared a helpful and informative post. Thanks.

  5. Jean-Louis says:

    Hi Johnny,
    Great article as usual ( Yes I am Hooked for life !)
    So agreed with the Delta portion of the article. We have signed up for the Amex Delta Reserve card with one goal in mind: to rack up status and miles to visit the folks in France. We booked with 330 days in advance the non stop AF flight for 100000 Miles per person round trip for a trip in November 2011. We now have 300000 miles and were ready to do a repeat booking ( hopefully on AF A380/ the lowest available was 175 000 miles per person Via Amsterdam on KLM ( non regarding of the travel date and at 330 days in advance).
    To add insult to injury, We switched to the Amex Delta Gold card with the promise of additional 30 000 bonus miles that was never given since I already was a Delta Amex Card holder. Sadly enough it took 3 calls to be given that reason….Shame on them ( married to a retired Delta employee that was a Chairman’s Club Award recipient and so ready to switch !!!!!

  6. Does not eve surprise me. I unfortunately live in ATL and am pretty much stuck with DL for International. Not only are they the worst in FFY miles, but their customer service is atrocious. almost everything about the company is the worst. I cannot believe they are still in business. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a DL person make me happy over the past 20 yrs I have been flying with them.

  7. David Carr says:

    I had over 140,000 miles on Delta for the last ten years or so. When I read that the program would soon be changing adversely, Exactly a month ago I decided to use my miles for a European trip. Delta website was impossible to secure tickets from April 30th onward (at least for the 120,000 miles needed for two lowest level round trip to a dozen European destinations – not including Great Britain) as everything out of IAD or back used partner KLM and their flights were not available through the summer. After expending dozens of hours on that futile search, including talking directly with Delta & KLM agents, I got transferred to their Atlanta office and a very helpful agent found the earliest possible departure: a 7/22 Delta flight from DCA to Cincinnati, Delta to CDG and change to Air France continuing on to Budapest. Returning on 8/30 (avoiding what would otherwise have been an 11 hour layover by sacrificing to have a four day layover in Paris). The extra $50 to arrange an itinerary was worth it.

    I can’t really generalize from my experience to searches from other US area outside of the District of Columbia/Baltimore area. Nevertheless, Delta’s website for using SkyMiles appears to be nearly comparatively useless for booking European trips on “short” notice. My trip is pure leisure long-term planning possible. It appears that the extra miles required and the extra costs (even though they do have a program too use miles as cash if you are in the right category of at least gold Delta credit card holders) and other disincentives make the program very unattractive. This is especially so in contrast to how easy it was (after Delta had taken over PanAm’s European routes) to book such travel until ten years ago or so ago – when I last easily used my miles for a similar itinerary booked on the exact days I wanted only a couple of months before departure.

  8. The only way to get “low” international tickets on Delta is to book far in advance to top spots. Also, one must book on their partners to get the low fare. So, in October i booked two round trip business class tickets to JNB from JFK for 140,000 miles on AF with a long stopover in Paris. Enough for a full day of fun. Taxes were $184 each. I would never use miles for tickets to London as the taxes areso ridiculous that you may as well buy a ticket.

  9. Anonymous says:

    delta says all levels at all times. what a farce. i tried to book a trip from miami to portland , maine 11 months in advance. the cheapest ticket was 40,000 miles. i am giving up my delta credit card as this program is useless.

  10. Shocked to hear all the negativity with the Delta Skymiles program. I brought over approx 22,000 ffm from NWA when they merged. I went for the Amex promo for 45,000 ffm to get the Delta Amex card. I figured when all is said and done, I’d have enough ffm for 2 domestic tix. The miles from NWA were acquired when I acted as a courier plus at that time there was a NWA promo “Fly international and get a free domestic ticket.” So far I’m satisfied with the NWA part of the deal. I’ll keep you posted.

  11. Years ago my husband did a lot of international business travel and his company always paid for him to fly business class. He usually flew AA, UA or one of their foreign partners. I would often fly with him using my miles. On one trip, he booked Delta because that was the most direct route, and while I didn’t have a problem getting a FF seat, (maybe because he was buying a $7000. ticket?) but the customer service on Delta was so awful….truly dreadful….that we never flew Delta again. We’d rather change planes than deal with them.
    Glad I haven’t flown on them in 10 years and glad I don’t have any of their useless miles!

  12. Have been a preferred travel agent and Delta customer for many years. Delta is the primary carrier from this region (SDF&CVG) Regardless of lead time or FFM accumulated I have almost never been able to book a reward ticket. My Delta Gold AX card is no longer used and Delta customer service both on the ground and in the air is is really disgraceful. Does anybody remember when flying was fun?????

  13. I quit flying Delta years ago–even though I live in the largest hub–ATL– because I could NEVER find a 25000 mile FF ticket. If there was a way to “search the world”, I wonder if could find ANY ticket to anywhere at any time of the year at the lowest redemption level!

  14. John, when I first read your header, I thought to myself, He’s wrong; they’re all equally God-awful. But you’ve presented an ironclad case, so now I’m convinced you’re right. One almost have to admire Delta: It isn’t easy to win mention as having the worst frequent flyer program in a field that includes American, United, and other bad actors who fiercely compete for the Worst Frequent Flyer award.

  15. I am not in any way a fan of Delta, but I have to say their mileage program came through for me three times in the last two months when I needed to fly relatives for a medical emergency. While the other airlines wanted 50K miles @ and were charging for last minute booking, I got three tickets, from different places on different days for 25K @ on Delta. One of these tickets would have cost $800!

    I’ve said it over and over in the last few years… There is no trick or tip that’s going to tell you how to get the best airline deals. Of course, it pays to be flexible, but the it all comes down to one simple fact — it’s too expensive to fly an empty plane. If the seats aren’t selling, the airline is going to drop prices and make more FF seats available,

    Marcia

  16. I totally agree with the comments above. I am trying to book flights one year in advance( well actually 331 days which is the most in advance the airlines will allow) and while there ARE low mileage seats available in business from UA and AA, there are none or only one ( sneaky sneaky) from Delta. Unfortunately, besides the mileage in all of my FF accounts, I have 500,000 miles in my AMEX account and both AA and UA removed themselves from the AMEX program….it is a shame….i am very depressed about this…..

  17. Peter Jensen says:

    It’s all in the yield (revenue) management, where Delta may be more clever. Comparing these three carriers without knowing how many seats were available on arguably two odd travel dates (Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve) is a bit unfair.

  18. I just booked a ticket on Delta and flying tomorrow. Booked it a couple of months ago. Cost me 40K miles and $10 for a RT cross country flight. They may not be the best but doesn’t mean you can’t get some deals with them.

  19. Joe Stein says:

    I also had a Delta American Express and used up my mileage and cancelled my AX card…This is the worst mileage program out there..British Airways is also a BAD choice…I booked a business class from JFK to London and they wanted $1192.00 for fuel surcharge and Taxes, and almost never mileage flights available…So far United is the best program…

  20. Jean-Louis says:

    Avoid at all cost eh automated system. they removed the menu with dates and mileage needed to a set destination. instead for a LAX to CDG will ONL:Y offer Delta metal via CVG, ATL SLC or else. Just call Delta and ask for the Air France Non Stop ( on the A380 ) oh surprise with some flexibility, 100000 miles Bizz class tickets on the A380 non stop flights are available.. just booked mine.
    For the pacific sector the same 100000 miles got me a r/t coach ticket to Tahiti. chose the AF flight numbers instead of Air Tahiti nui ( even if one segment is flown on ATN, result : $ 53 tax per person instead of the $ 400 + tax and fuel surcharges requested for the same flights on ATN flight numbers….

  21. Thanks for this story, Johnny. I’ve avoided Delta like the plague since I learned what my 27,000 miles with them are worth. I just tried to transfer those miles to my wife so we could at least burn them on a flight from San Francisco to Bozeman. The catch? Turns out its $270 just to transfer the miles. Some deal! I can only hope there are tens of thousands of others choosing not to fly Delta knowing how little they value their frequent flyers.

  22. May 2014, which is a better program/alliance..Delta or United. I am trying to decide. I use One World for my main alliance but I want to build miles in another, but not all 3. I don’t think a beginner should try to build in all 3 but I could be wrong about that. I know Chase Sapphire can transfer to United so that’s one thing to think about before deciding…Delta’s hub in Atlanta is close to my home airport Nashville but Judging by the comments on this post I would say Delta is horrible but something could have changed recently so I would appreciate any feedback! Thank you!

    • Johnny Jet Johnny Jet says:

      Delta has a good product — just a horrible FF program if you don’t spend a lot $$$ on tickets. I would say Star Alliance if you want to redeem miles

  23. I agree. I am DL’s Platinum, but when I priced out for my trip to Maldives, it was 4 times more than Star Alliance. I booked Star Alliance business class with less than half of Delta’s economy. I wonder if Delta knows about this and take it seriously for royal customers.

Trackbacks

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