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New Promotion Cuts Price of Delta Miles in Half

I reviewed the latest permanent addition to the benefits packages associated with Delta’s co-branded SkyMiles credit cards issued by American Express—no fee for the first checked bag—just last week.

Now, hard on the heels of that development, Delta has launched a new limited-time offer for its cardholders: a bonus for Delta miles purchased with a SkyMiles credit card.

Offer Details

Through June 30, holders of SkyMiles credit cards will receive a 100 percent bonus on Delta miles purchased and charged to their cards.

In addition to the extra miles received, cardholders will earn double miles for the purchase itself.

Delta miles normally cost 2.8 cents apiece, plus a 7.5 percent excise tax. So, for example, if you purchased 10,000 miles for $280 (not including tax), you would receive 20,000 miles (the 100 percent bonus), plus 560 miles (two miles per dollar spent instead of one).

A maximum of 60,000 miles may be purchased annually. With the bonus, a cardholder could purchase as many as 120,000 miles, at an effective price of 1.4 cents each, not including the tax and leaving aside the effect of the extra miles earned for the transaction.

Deal or No Deal

Bonuses for purchased miles tend to be modest—10 percent, say, or 25 percent at most. Until this latest Delta promotion, the most lucrative such offer I had seen was from US Airways, a 100 percent bonus on up to 50,000 purchased miles.

With the bonuses for both the miles purchased and earned, Delta’s offer trumps US Airways’, if only slightly.

This isn’t a competition, though. Ultimately it comes down to the offer’s value proposition. Are the miles worth around 1.4 cents each? And that, of course, depends on the availability of award seats. Here’s what Delta has to say on the subject, in its own FAQ:

If I buy miles, will there be award seats available?

Award Travel seat inventory is dynamic and always changing. Delta cannot guarantee availability. Travel to prime destinations during peak periods may require unrestricted inventory which requires additional miles to secure those seats. Award Travel availability depends on the flight, the date of travel, the expected demand for the flight, the season, the destination, and various other factors.

That’s a caveat that would apply to miles earned or purchased in any airline’s frequent flyer program. How does Delta in particular score when it comes to making seats available for award use?

According to a recent report on award availability, Delta is the second worst among the largest U.S. airline programs, behind, coincidentally, US Airways.

In the study, the researchers were able to successfully book award trips only 12.9 percent of the time on Delta. For comparison, the top airline in award generosity was Southwest, on which they found award seats 99.3 percent of the time.

Which suggests another caveat: While paying less is always better than paying more, sometimes even less is too much.

Reader Reality Check

Do you think 1.4 cents per frequent flyer mile is a good buy in general?

Is it good buy when it comes to Delta miles?

If you think you might take advantage of this promotion, what are your plans for redeeming the miles you purchase?

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