A Billy Joel song is playing through my head now as I reflect on my first few months of living in the A-T-L. Flying Delta has become kind of a way of life. I’m guessing that’s a phrase you will not read on many blogs, but it is what it is. Many moons ago I wrote a couple of posts on “doing what’s good for you” when it comes to traveling, and that is what I am doing. OK, maybe you’ll give me Delta, but how can SkyMiles be good for anyone? Well, you have to look at a mileage program in two ways, earning elite miles and redeemable miles.
On the elite side, as a Gold Medallion who frequented Atlanta prior to moving here, my upgrade percentage is 68 percent as of today. That’s not half bad. I’ve flown one full Y fare segment this year, so that’s not how I’m getting upgraded. I do have some flexibility, and if I can fly on Tuesday morning instead of Monday morning, I will. I assume that has a little to do with it. Also, I always take the 757 option if there is one. Otherwise, maybe I’ve just been lucky. I think my upgrade percentage might be even higher were it not for Delta’s practice of placing elites who are traveling with companions at the bottom of the upgrade queue. I know I could always split our reservation when flying with MrsMJ, but I just haven’t done so. Perhaps I will change that practice in the future. Other than that little companion upgrade issue (and I’m not really complaining about it…just observing), I cannot complain about elite treatment at Delta. The level of care I get in the air and on the ground has just been top notch, and that’s speaking as a mid-tier elite. I am a little sad about descending to Silver Medallion come March 1, but if I keep flying the way I have been, I won’t be Silver for long….and believe me, that’s a good thing. I’m sure I will look back on that 68 percent upgrade percentage with fond memories while I’m a Silver Medallion in Atlanta though.
The redemption side is where we all know that Delta tends to struggle. I have redeemed one Delta award in the last year, a trans-con First Class trip, for 62,500 miles, and I was nearly flabbergasted that it wasn’t 80,000 miles. Of course, I could have gotten the same roundtrip for 50,000 miles on American, United, or even US Airways. Is Delta’s product so well-soaked in sheer awesomeness that it’s worth the extra 6,250 miles each way? I’m not sure. All I know for sure is that I “paid” the “fare” and didn’t think twice about it. I don’t remember when domestic awards last increased in price for the other airlines, but I have to wonder with load factors and fares where they are, how long will it be before the 62,500 mile award becomes the new 50,000 mile award? On the other hand, I did just search for and actually find 2 Business Class seats on Delta to London at 100,000 miles each, albeit in mid-February. Just when I was almost convinced such things did not exist! Well, people that want to travel to London in mid-February are pretty rare too!
In reality, I am an almost purely domestic traveler. I take perhaps one international trip per year, which is probably why I find the Medallion program so tolerable. Things like upgrades you can use on any fare across the pond just don’t matter that much to me. Knowing with a high degree of certainty what I am getting from an airline does matter. With Delta I can expect a reasonably clean airplane, a high percentage of on-time departures, an equally high percentage of friendly and competent employees, and a product I like from the iPhone app to the Sky Club to the airplane interiors. I use Chase Ultimate Rewards and the Sapphire Preferred and Ink cards to help make up for the redemption shortcomings of SkyMiles, and I have a pretty solid stash of Dividend Miles set aside as well. Although, if the day ever comes that I do not fly enough to maintain elite status, I will be all over Alaska MileagePlan assuming their solid partnership with Delta (and just about every other airline on earth) remains in place. But that’s neither here nor there. For now, I’m in a Delta state of mind, and so far, it’s working for me. YMMV.