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This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we looked at the mechanics of the Delta Airlines program. In Part 2, we looked at its award chart and rules to find valuable awards. In Part 3, we’ll value specific SkyMiles awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on one SkyMile.

Now that we’ve looked at the rules of the SkyMiles program, and we’ve looked at the chart to find some valuable awards, we’re going to value specific awards. As always, to value awards, we need four things:

    • the lesser of the price of paying cash and your subjective value of the award
    • taxes and fees paid
    • miles needed to book
    • miles foregone by not buying a cash ticket

 

Because the very first datum we need is the lesser of the price the award would cost to buy with cash and its subjective value to you, there is a subjective component to valuing awards. So these are my values for these awards. Follow along with the steps in this post to value your own awards to find your own value for SkyMiles.

1. Make a list of awards you’ve booked, awards you plan to book, and dream awards. Include all classes you would consider flying. My list is below. Business class is B, and Economy class is E. I’ve put a B even when the award includes domestic first class on a two-cabin plane because those awards still price in business class. Stopovers are represented by a double slash. (//)

LAX-JFK-LHR, MAD-CDG//CDG-LAX (E) LAX to London, open jaw returning from Madrid to Paris (stopover), Paris to LAX

LAX-CDG//CDG-LOS, LOS-CDG-LAX (B) LAX to Paris (stopover), Paris to Lagos, returning Lagos to LAX

LAX-ATL//ATL-MSY, MSY-LAX (E) LAX to Atlanta (stopover), Atlanta to New Orleans, returning New Orleans to LAX

It’s a short list, partially because for most awards, I need to call Delta to price them, which is a real hassle. But these three awards are the three types I highlighted on the Delta chart as good values, so I don’t think we can do too much better.

2. Price the awards on delta.com or by calling 800-323-2323. For awards with a stopover, search each segment on delta.com to find low level availability, then choose the multicity search option and select the low level itinerary you pieced together. The final screen should price it correctly, but since it’s delta.com, no guarantees.

For awards that can’t be searched on delta.com, call Delta and have them piece together a low level award with a quote for the miles price and total taxes and fees. For my awards, the prices are:

LAX-JFK-LHR, MAD-CDG//CDG-LAX (E) 60k SkyMiles and $105.60

LAX-CDG//CDG-LOS, LOS-CDG-LAX (B) 120k SkyMiles and $275.20

LAX-ATL//ATL-MSY, MSY-LAX (E) 25k SkyMiles and $7.50

3. Price all the itineraries on kayak.com. Search the same dates. Find the cheapest flight with a comparable routing regardless of airline. If the award itinerary includes a stopover as most of my international itineraries do, search as two different itineraries on kayak.com. Write down the prices of the itineraries and also your subjective value of the itineraries. As usual, we’ll be using the lesser of the price and my subjective value. (What am I talking about? “Subjective value”? See this post.) Below is the lesser of the price and subjective value for my itineraries. In all cases, my subjective value was lower than the price, which will always be the case when I’m flying internationally in a premium cabin.

This is how I construct my subjective values. I start with my value of a coach trip from my origin to my destination.

Then, if applicable, I add in how much extra I would pay for flying in the premium cabin that my award is in, of course factoring in the specific airline and seats that my routing will use.

Then if applicable, I add in the value of the en route stopover. If the stopover is in the US, I decide how much I would value a trip from LA to that city. I add the value of a separate roundtrip to the US-stopover city to the sum from above. Why? The stopover is saving me a separate entire roundtrip to the stopover city.

If the stopover is abroad, I add in how much extra it would cost me to get from my destination to the stopover city. In Europe this is usually a pretty small amount because of its budget carriers.

LAX-JFK-LHR, MAD-CDG//CDG-LAX (E) $1,100

LAX-CDG//CDG-LOS, LOS-CDG-LAX (B) $2,200

LAX-ATL//ATL-MSY, MSY-LAX (E) $450

4. Figure out how many miles you’re foregoing on gcmap.com. Use the Great Circle Mapper to figure out the distance of your routing. Add in any multiplier for the status you have on the Delta. This tells you how many miles you’re foregoing by using an award instead of cash for the ticket, and that’s a key component in figuring out the value of the award. I’ll skip listing this for my flights.

5. Plug the four values in the milevalue.com calculator! If you don’t quite understand how to use it, read this post.

6. Order your awards from greatest cents per mile to fewest. For me, the list looks like this:

  1. LAX-ATL//ATL-MSY, MSY-LAX (E)                 1.52 cpm
  2. LAX-CDG//CDG-LOS, LOS-CDG-LAX (B)        1.40 cpm
  3. LAX-JFK-LHR, MAD-CDG//CDG-LAX (E)      1.38 cpm

 

Wow! These value are way lower than United, US Air, American, British Airways, and Southwest. But these numbers represent a narrow claim: the types of awards I’m most likely to take value Delta miles at 1.4-1.5 cents each. I am absolutely positive that many people can find the perfect Delta awards for them that are worth more than 2 cpm. But for me, those awards don’t really exist.

7. Put a single number on the value of a SkyMile. To do this, we’ll have to use our list of award values from above and make adjustments based on the other characteristics of the SkyMiles program we talked about in Part 1. We’ll do that in Part 4, the final installment of the series.

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