Is it Rational to Move Across Country to Avoid Delta?

Jeffsetter Quit Delta

I’m asking for a friend of course…

Longtime readers of Jeffsetter know that I am a Platinum Medallion with Delta and based out of Minneapolis. You also probably know that with every change Delta brings to the table a piece of me dies. This change has me wanting to move away from my home state just to get out of the chokehold I find Delta has me in.

The most recent changes introduced by Delta are a HUGE DEAL and have been covered by Inside Flyer, the Wall Street Journal and pretty much everyone else. The slippery slope of frequent flyer programs changing has begun, and things will never be the same once all of the dominos fall.

What are the Delta changes in a nutshell?

You now earn “Miles” based on how much you spend, not based on Miles flown. In essence, the concept of “Miles” is now arbitrary (and the reason why I am putting it in quotes for the rest of the post). Not only that, but the number of “miles” earned by most passengers will be significantly lower for most casual (i.e. non business) travelers. That means in the past year Delta has raised prices of award tickets in many instances and also decreased the number of “Miles” earned through flying.

My fellow bloggers fear that United Airlines will follow suit within a few months and that American Airlines will probably do the same as soon as they emerge from bankruptcy and their merger with US Airways completes in 2015 or 2016. Once this all takes place, for USA based flyers there is a good chance that earning “Miles” based on the number of miles you fly will effectively be dead.

RIP Miles

Here are some things that will become obsolete with Delta’s change:

  • We can no longer call their program “skymiles” and it should be immediately changed to Skydollars (Better yet, we can just officially name the program Skypesos like Gary has been suggesting for years).
  • The frequent flyer community Milepoint will now need to be called Dollarpoint.
  • The Points Guy will need to rename his dogs name from Miles to Dollars spent.
  • Friends with blogs using the name “Miles” in them may need to rebrand. Food Wine and Miles will become Food Wine and Dollars Spent. Sorry Jason, but you built a house of cards ;).

Earning “Miles” through flying becomes less lucrative

When it comes to earning miles on a reasonably priced flight, you’re screwed. For example, my upcoming flight from MSP to Las Vegas for $400 will traditionally earn me 5,200 miles as a Platinum Medalliion. Beginning in 2015 it would earn me 3,600 miles. That’s a significant reduction and is typical for the trips I pay for out of pocket.

Delta Flight to Vegas

It is unclear at this point how redemptions will be affected by this change, but it’s safe to say that the number of “Miles” needed for a redemption will not be going down in the future since Delta raised redemption prices twice in 2013.

Just how bad will this change be for your mileage earning?

Learn exactly how screwed you are by using Delta’s you’re f****d calculator.

How should you earn Sky “miles” moving forward?

While I am not clear on whether the number of miles you earn with Delta co-branded credit card spending will be affected by this change, it seems that earning miles by spending on credit cards and signup bonuses might provide you with the best options moving forward. Since I earn over 50% of my “Miles” via credit card, this change may not affect me as much as others.

I also strongly recommend getting a card from Chase or American Express to earn flexible points currencies that can be used on several airlines. This is my favorite hedge in the points and miles game.

Back to my ordeal

In writing this blog for the past 17 months, I have written countless posts about how a change Delta made was “the last straw” and yet I keep on coming back for more punishment. This is because in most cases Delta is the only option I have for direct flights out of MSP and I value my time. I could credit my miles flown to Alaska Airlines, but I’m worried that when Alaska and Delta inevitably break up in the future I will have put my eggs into the wrong basket.

This means that most logical thing is to simple move away from Minneapolis to a city that has less Delta dominance. Right now I am eyeing the San Francisco bay area as a target for this move. Great weather, lots of technology startups (my passion) and it’s a hub for someone other than Delta.

That brings me back to the question I used to title this post: Is it rational to move across the country to avoid Delta? Has Anyone ever run away from a city because they are in a hub city for the worst frequent flyer program in the world?

I’m asking for a friend of course.

  • Anon

    What about Chicago? Much cheaper than SFO, much friendlier people, and a decent tech startup community with less hype and more products that don’t just impact other rich people’s lives.

    Oh yeah and tons of competition due to AA/UA hubs + WN focus city.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      I definitely love Chicago and have thought about moving there in the past. It all comes down to the weather. It’s only slightly warmer than MN and to move my life it would need to be a serious weather upgrade.

  • Santastico

    Delta has become the cancer of the airline industry. They start with this nonsense and suddenly they will have infected all other airlines in the industry. Thus, moving from MSP won’t make that much difference in the long run. For all that I hate this airline, this may be working on my way. I still did not have time to digest all the buzz around the changes but as a MSP based flyer I am a typical passenger that spends a lot of money to fly very few miles on Delta today. My typical weekly flights are to IND, OMA, RDU, BMI, DSM which give me very few miles (sometimes they are 500 miles round trip) but cost always around $1000 per ticket. Yes, tks to Delta I pay $1200 to fly MSP-OMA-MSP and earn 563 miles round trip. My other flight schedule is on paid business class to Europe which also does not earn huge mileage compared to flying to Asia or Brazil but still costs around $7000.

    Thus, Delta may be doing me a favor since I spend a lot of money to earn very few miles with them.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Business flyers benefit the most out of this for sure, but it’s also harder to redeem the miles with an award chart devaluation, so it’s likely a wash for many. There are very few people who will benefit from this change. At most it’s the 4% of Delta flyers that bring in 25% of their revenue, but they are also the ones who probably have the biggest unused points balances.

  • Ven

    Love San Fran, but seriously you could live an entire second life in Minnesota (second house, second car, second vacation, second breakfast lunch and dinner) and still spend less money then moving to SFO. If Weather is your thing, move to the south. Chattanoga, TN has gigabit fiber, Austin is pricey but has a great tech commuinity, etc.

    • Ven

      Albeit Chattanoga will put you next to ATL, so maybe that isn’t the best plan. :)

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      We looked at Tennessee for a minute but decided against it in the end. The whole smoky mountains corridor seemed really cool.

  • pc

    SFO is a very, very expensive place to
    live compared to MSP. If you are looking at a move to the west coast,
    I see two affordable options that are equivalent to MSP : PDX metro
    area and the South SEA area, specifically Tacoma. Both are AS hubs and
    both have pluses and minuses: PDX , more folksy but less tech
    companies, South SEA, less folksy but with tech companies up
    the wazoo 30 miles away in Seattle/Redmond. Unless you are looking
    at taking a huge pay cut via the cost of living adjustment, I would
    avoid the bay area entirely.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Appreciate the tips! Definitely have PDX and SEA on the list of acceptable cities for moving.

  • http://www.pointswithacrew.com/ Dan Miller

    Heh – I live in CVG so I’m in a similar boat, but I don’t fly much (obviously not as much as you). For me these changes aren’t too bad since I don’t earn many (any?) of my miles from flying

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      I hope that there are some positive effects here from the changes as well, but I fear that making it harder to earn miles flying is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, allowing one way awards will now allow them to take the sacred cow 25,000 mile ticket and charge 15k to 20k each way. Then they would market it as “we have reduced the price of flying with miles!”

  • Nick Boylan

    If you move to a UA hub you will get the same thing, with worse service. While Delta abuses its members, they at least provide a nice inflight experience. There is no escape from this trend, so might as well shift to either cheapest flight, or best inflight service rather than try to escape. What this change and the probable copying does is makes me seriously consider WN for my flights (since they have a decent operation in ATL now)

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Excellent points. I would never move because of the airline, but having a non-Delta option definitely would be a “pro” on the pro/con checklist of considering a new city.

  • Wendy

    I live near Toledo, Ohio. My airport of choice is DTW. But I refuse to fly Delta. If I was going to pick someplace to move it would be Florida’s gulf coast between Sarasota and Fort Myers.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Florida would be nice right now! My parents are down there in the winter so I can just visit them!

  • Bill Rubin

    It all depends on what you value as your own priorities (and whether you have a job that gives you the flexibility to live where you want). Most don’t have that choice. IF you do, then you need to decide whether having nonstop service to most places you visit for work/pleasure is more important than being able to earn flights to places you want to visit for pleasure. People seem to rip on United, but as a United Lifetime Gold, who now can fly whatever airline I need with the best routing and price, I have now routinely flown American, Delta, and occasionally Alaska when their routing/price is best. In premium cabins, American entertainment is slightly better and there is more wifi, but otherwise I don’t see a huge difference between the major carriers. Service varies across all of them, though Alaska seems the most friendly overall. Still, United offers me the best opportunities to fly premium cabin flights using miles anywhere I want to go with very few exceptions, and United GlobalFirst is perfectly suitable for us, even when we compare it to the best First Class airlines we’ve flown (Cathay, Asiana, British, Air France, Lufthansa, and American most notably). United GlobalFirst is far superior to the best business class products we’ve flown on all of the above, and definitely better than Virgin Atlantic Upper, Delta BusinessFirst, etc. United BusinessFirst is also about as good as most business products out there in terms of the hard product–which matters most to us. Food and service are nice, but I’ll take a great flat bed and entertainment system over food and service for the most part. So I find United and American the best airlines on which to earn miles overall…but United has far more partners reaching far more places from which to choose. Go to a hub like LAX or SFO where United and American both vy for top spot (or Chicago) and call it a day! We live south of LAX, so we use miles on United and Star mostly, but increasingly also use OneWorld through BA/AA when appropriate or available for a better First Class. We use Chase Ultimate Rewards the most, since we can transfer them to United or BA and still access OneWorld awards…and we also use SPG Amex and Amex Membership Rewards cards to diversify further to the programs we need. Life is OK.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Great to hear Bill ­ you make a lot of good points and I agree with the assessment.

  • Jason

    are you kidding? do you have family or friends in Minneapolis? A relationship? You’d honestly move to another city because of an airline? What happens when you move to SF and then UA then makes the same change? DAllas? Well, then AA makes the same change. Make a move to SF because of the job situation or because of some compelling family/ social situation. Not because of a stupid airline.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Yes I am kidding about moving because of a frequent flyer program. Family, friends and jobs are the most important factors in any move. We just happen to haves job offer in San Francisco on the table right now so that is part of the impetus for talking about moving there. Weather is a factor as well.
      With that said I would lying if I said that I am not romanticising ending up in a city with a new airline though.

  • http://www.mattfinholt.com Matt Finholt-Daniel

    Nice post, Jeff! Every time I think about this my face gets red and steams starts blowing out of my ears… They truly don’t value their customers anymore.

    My boss, a Diamond Medallion for the past 6 years, sent me an email earlier today with some details about a trip that he and his wife are taking to Singapore this year. My jaw hit the table when he included a screenshot of the calculator. Check out the attached photo for the results of his $1277.30 ticket.

    Here’s a suggestion to American, United, or any other carrier out there… Give me a deal where I can transfer my miles to you and send a few more flights to Minneapolis. I WILL switch my allegiance without looking back.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      Glad you enjoyed it Matt ­ I do think that would be a compelling offer to transfer entire mileage balance between airlines. Not sure I’ve seen that before, so it might not make sense for them economically (since miles do have an expense with them it would costs thousands of dollars to issue your new miles).

      What I have seen is status matches between airlines. For example, I could likely do a status challenge with United based on my Delta status and become an elite with their program. The problem comes from the fact that United will eventually follow suit and do the exact same thing as Delta. The big problem I have with Delta is that they keep on taking things away without introducing anything meaningful to make up for it. It’s also frustrating to see all of this take leading to record amounts of profit. It’s basically taking from their customers pockets and putting it into the pockets of shareholders and executives with stock options. In my opinion a consumer needs their $100 more than an executive needs $1 million in profit sharing checks from screwing a consumer.

      That screen shot is crazy! I would have a very similar experience on my South Africa flight in April as well if it were flown in 2015.

  • Drew

    Delta flyers crack me up.

    Two things.

    1) Try being stuck in a United hub. I live in Houston, which is a great, wealthy, international gateway, and yet we are stuck with a terrible airline. Delta’s frequent flyer program is terrible, but, at the very LEAST, Delta flyers have access to a top-shelf flying experience. I am normally stuck with United because of direct flight access, but, I flew Delta a few years ago and was so shocked by Delta’s outstanding service I was left speechless.

    2) Your solution is simple: fly Delta, and credit to Alaska. I also have Alaska miles, and it’s a fantastic program that has 50 trillion partnerships. As a friend calls them: “The slut of the skies.” Alaska is a great airline with good customer service and a ton of partners. Fly Delta, get the good in-flight experience and credit all your miles to Alaska. Problem solved. I promise.

    • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

      I appreciate the differing perspective. There is a lot more to flying than just the loyalty program and Delta is a great airline for paid fares. Definitely something to consider with Alaska but I still have two major concerns:

      1. That Alaska and Delta won’t last for the long haul. That would mean I’m earning miles on a program that I would never fly otherwise and earning elite status there as well. When the shoe drops on Delta/Alaska relationship then I’m stuck in limbo land.
      2. I get upgraded 75% of the time as a Platinum Medallion and I value those upgrades over the ability to use miles efficiently. Alaska elites are much lower in the upgrade queue. That’s why moving to United would be appealing ­ I could still get the upgrades for paid flights + have miles that are more flexible and easier to use.
      I might be wrong about that assumption though. My blood has run so blue and red the past few years that I have had blinders on for the realities of flying other programs.