One-way awards make Delta's new award chart (mostly) irrelevant

Delta released their 2015 award chart today ahead of schedule, and much digital ink has already been spilled over it. My sense of the pulse of the blogger community is primarily relief:

  • Lucky writes that "Delta has just released their 2015 SkyMiles award chart, and it looks pretty good."
  • Mommy Points says "the award chart that was just released doesn’t appear to be that bad on the surface."
  • Delta Points is glad that "the good news is they did NOT devalue (very few went up) the chart more than the two times they already did last year."
  • The Points Guy gives a more nuanced perspective, concluding "I actually think the new redemption chart could have been a whole lot worse."
  • Gary agrees, saying "I also expected the changes to be worse."

Personally, I can't wait for January 1, 2015.

One-way awards change everything

Last week I rejected Frequent Miler's suggestion that earning miles flying on paid Delta Airlines tickets has long been passé: under the system ending December 31, 2014, even a Diamond Medallion who hacked fairly aggressively would still earn a majority of their Skymiles through miles earned on paid tickets, thanks to 125% Diamond Medallion bonus miles.

Now that we know Delta is retaining a traditional, region-based award chart, I am prepared to say that I think the 2015 Skymiles program will be an improvement for me — even though it means I'll end up flying Delta much less.

How is that possible? Thanks to one-way awards.

A real-life example will illustrate this neatly. Later this month, I have a Delta award ticket, flying out of New York on what appears to be the perfect flight: it's a non-stop flight to my destination, it leaves early in the afternoon, and it leaves from what I'm told is New York's most convenient airport, La Guardia. And I was able to book the ticket at the "saver" level, costing just 12,500 Skymiles each way, while a paid ticket would cost $390. On my outbound ticket, I'm getting over 3 cents per Skymile in value!

My return flight to New England is booked at the "standard" level. While I've been checking award availability every morning, and am fairly confident a "saver" level seat will open up before my flight (which I can switch into for free, as a Platinum Medallion), in the meantime I've spent 32,500 Skymiles on this award ticket: 12,500 for my outbound, and 20,000 for my return.

A one-way ticket back to New England costs just $146. I'm getting less than a cent per Skymile for my return ticket – but currently, I'd have to forfeit 12,500 Skymiles in order to book my own, paid, return ticket.

Starting January 1, use Skymiles when – and only when – it makes sense

Starting January 1, you'll be able to redeem your Skymiles for my "outbound" flight above, getting over 3 cents per Skymile in value, and pay for your return ticket – or use another rewards currency – saving your Skymiles until another valuable redemption opportunity comes along.

Historically, Skymiles has been the program where you can earn miles the fastest, but have to redeem the most miles for flights that work with your schedule.

The 2015 changes to the program turn that calculation upside down. There's no longer any point trying to earn Skymiles through paid airfare. However, the miles you earn through credit card and portal purchases have become more valuable, not because awards have grown cheaper, or because availability has increased, but because one-way awards allow you to use miles when – and only when – it makes sense for you.

That's obviously going to be less often than under the current award chart. Fortunately, you'll have fewer Skymiles, so you shouldn't mind too much!