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Mileage & Reward Programs

Delta SkyMiles Devalued? Let’s Do the Math

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imageThis week Delta Air Lines announced a major overhaul to the way that its frequent flyers will earn miles, starting in 2015. Delta SkyMiles will now be earned based on dollars spent, not distance flown. The transition moves Delta’s 92 million SkyMiles members away from a traditional mileage program of a legacy carrier and more in line with the programs of JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America.

It may mean big changes, not only in terms of how you earn, but—most importantly—how you redeem them. Delta has announced that the traditional award chart will remain, but it will have five price levels instead of three. Delta has promised that the 25,000 mile round trip ticket will exist, and supposedly be more available. Additionally, members can now purchase one-way awards and cash plus miles.

Keep in mind, a few things won’t change. The formula for earning elite status, including the new Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD), will be unchanged. SkyMiles members will still have distance requirements to earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), or status qualifying miles. Additionally, you will still be earning miles through credit card spending.

But, the transition from distance to dollar will result in a whopping decrease of 60 percent or more in points earned. Here are some of the numbers you need to know:

      • a Delta SkyMiles member without elite status will earn 5 miles per dollar
      • a Silver member (25,000 MQMs) will earn 7 miles per dollar
      • a Gold member (50,000 MQMs) will earn 8 miles per dollar
      • a Platinum member (75,000 MQMs) will earn 9 miles per dollar
      • a Diamond member (125,000 MQMs) will earn 11 miles per dollar
      • Additionally, SkyMiles members will earn an extra 2 miles per dollar when tickets are purchased with the Delta American Express card.

Brian Karimzad, director of, which reviews mileage and branded credit cards, noted that the program is “is a big reduction in the number of miles you’ll bank in your account.” In the new system, Karimzad identified a few clear losers and winners: Those who fly on the lowest available fare will generally earn less with this system. Business, international, and even some first class flyers will lose out when flying more affordable fares.

Also, say goodbye to the traditional mileage run,  “as there’s no reason to fly longer distances to earn more miles unless you’re trying to earn Medallion status and the perks it offers.” It’s no surprise that the flyers that opt for the more expensive fares are “the biggest winners.”

Curious to see if the new system will benefit you? Karimzad has a simple formula: “Basically, if your airfare divided by miles flown is greater than 0.2, you’ll generally earn more miles under the new system.” So, let’s put the new program in action.

Check out the math run by the SkyMiles calculator on some popular routes. (Note: all fares are 6 weeks out for domestic and 8 weeks out for international).

ATL to MSP on a $318 fare used to earn you:

  • Regular SkyMiles: 1,812
  • Silver: 2,265
  • Gold: 3,624
  • Platinum: 3,624
  • Diamond: 4,077

In 2015, flyers will earn 12 to 30 percent less on the same route:

  • Regular SkyMiles: 1,590
  • Silver: 2,226
  • Gold: 2,544
  • Platinum: 2,862
  • Diamond: 3,498

JFK to LAX on a $365 fare used to earn you:

  • Regular SkyMiles: 4,950
  • Silver: 6,187
  • Gold: 9,900
  • Platinum: 9,900
  • Diamond: 11,137

In 2015, flyers will earn 58 to 70 percent less:

  • Regular SkyMiles: 1,825
  • Silver: 2,555
  • Gold: 2,920
  • Platinum: 3,285
  • Diamond: 4,015

SEA to NRT on a $1,287 fare used to earn you:

  • Regular SkyMiles: 9,538
  • Silver: 11,922
  • Gold: 19,076
  • Platinum: 19,076
  • Diamond: 21,460

In 2015, flyers will earn 24 to 46 percent less:

  • Regular SkyMiles: 6,435
  • Silver: 9,009
  • Gold: 10,296
  • Platinum: 11,583
  • Diamond: 14,015

For more information on mileage and rewards, check out our tips on:

By Lily J. Kosner for