I've been flying Delta across the Atlantic for around ten years now, sadly not as often as I would like, nor frequently enough to fully benefit from the advantages of the SkyMiles program. Nevertheless, despite never flying more than three times in one year and only ever sitting in Economy class, I have managed to earn 5 free transatlantic fares in that time. Never managing to grace BusinessElite (as Delta have been calling their merged Business and First Class product for the past couple of years), I can't really comment from personal experience on how beneficial the programme is for these flyers - all I can say is the friends and colleagues who have the experience of BusinessElite have mixed feelings over SkyMiles. A big gripe for me is that SkyMiles is aimed directly at US citizens - understandable to a certain degree considering the airline's nationality and it's route network, but it seems to almost neglect its European members. The most we get is a European newsletter. Out of the four largest US carriers, Delta is the worst at tailoring its services towards the needs and interests of its non-US clients. For example, United and Continental provide UK biased websites (as they do for other Euro countries) with offers and American offers a mile earning affiliate credit card with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Delta is poor with on-line mile earning opportunities too - I have earned over 5000 miles with United and 3000 with US Airways by filling out on-line surveys and clicking links etc, and I?ve yet to fly with US Airways! I've not been able to earn one single SkyMile with Delta like that - although it is fair to argue that the whole concept of a frequent flyer scheme is to reward you for your loyalty, not sitting on your backside at home!! All in all, a reasonable if not fantastic programme!
The reason for collecting Delta Skymiles is not so much to get freebies, but to reduce the amount of queuing. You get a point for each mile that you fly, with the usual range of bonuses for flying with expenisive tickets, on under-used routes, and on wet Tuesdays in November. This means that you get about 7000 miles if you fly a return trip from Gatwick to Boston. To get a free return transatlantic flight takes 50,000 miles. A one-way upgrade to business class is 20,000 miles. However with only 10,000 miles, you get a Medallion card. This means you can avoid the long queues at check in and use the same desk that the Business class users use, and of course you don't need to spend the points to get this - you just have to have earnt them. Compared to other reward schemes, Delta Skymiles are pretty ordinary. A Medallion card is easier to get than a BA Silver card, but with a Virgin Atlantic Freeway card, then you get a free return transatlantic flight after flying just 30,000 miles.
Delta's program is simply there. Take the miles if you got them coming but don't go out of your way to use delta just for their mileage program. It seems that they are doing the bare minimun of a program out of competitive obligation. They don't create any new and interesting partnerships beyond the normal credit cards, hotels, and car rentals. They are sometimes involved with the long distance phone companies but those promotions are sporadic. They should take a cue from American and do the cereal box mileage coupons. Another point of contention I have with them is that their deals are so limited on their website. For instance as of May 31, 2001 their webfare Deltamile special was New York to DC for 15,000 miles rather than the normal 25,000. What moron would burn 25,000 miles anyways on a run where there are numerous commuter flights or better yet a train ride that will get you there faster. To me the Delta program is just there, going through the motions but only half-heartedly. Still they have some monoploies on certain flights, otherewise good service and fair prices so I deal with them on that regard not because of the frequent flier program.