An interesting cut to the Delta – American Express relationship


The relationship between the big three banks and the big three airline loyalty programs in the United States is pretty clear: There are tight ties which help ensure that the banks make lots of money giving out points and the airlines make money selling those points. For Delta and American Express that relationship is very, very strong; there are a myriad of cards available from AmEx which earn SkyMiles. Plus there is the Membership Rewards program which can transfer points in to SkyMiles. Well, the rules are changing on the Delta Membership Rewards front.image

Effective January 1, 2015 Delta is making a program-wide change limiting the number of points that can be transferred into a SkyMiles account from any partner loyalty program, including the Membership Rewards program. As a result, there will be 2 important changes that will limit the total number of Membership Rewards® points that you can redeem for Delta SkyMiles: (1) the total number of Membership Rewards points that can be transferred out of any Membership Rewards account into one or more Delta SkyMiles accounts will be limited to 250,000 points per calendar year, and (2) the total number of Membership Rewards points that can be transferred into any individual Delta SkyMiles account will be limited to 250,000 points per calendar year. (A “calendar year” is 12:00 am MST Jan 1 through 11:59 pm MST Dec 31).

Through the end of the year Membership Rewards members can continue to transfer points in to their SkyMiles account at up to 999,000 each day. Starting on 1 January 2015, however, new SkyMiles rules go into place limiting inbound transfers to only 250,000 per year per account. This is a HUGE cut for the Membership Rewards program. And given that Delta is the last of the US-based programs still participating this cut is likely to affect a lot of customers.

Or is it?

How many people are churning through more than a quarter million dollars of purchases each year and moving all those points over to SkyMiles? Maybe not a ton, but what about people who are saving points in Membership Rewards over multiple years and who don’t move them over until it is time to redeem. And getting a few hundred thousand over a few years isn’t all that difficult.

But, keeping with the trends the company has made in recent months, Delta is limiting the ability to move points into its program. Delta wants more control over the SkyMiles points earning process. It is still possible to earn as many SkyMiles as you want through a co-branded AmEx product. And there are a number of other benefits which can be realized on top of just the points with one of the SkyMiles credit cards. But that does reduce the flexibility and fungibility of those points; they are tied to a single program.

Of course, that’s what Delta wants so it makes sense on that front. But, for Membership Rewards, just another of the many cuts – some small and some large – which have eroded the program over the years.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

7 Comments

  1. This is HUGE. I know people who pay for all their business travel with points from MR. This will put a stop to that, at least on DL. Amex becomes ALOT less valuable.

  2. I guess those people who pay for all their business travel with points from MR may not use Delta now. If this situation is HUGE, that could make Delta the World’s Most Rusted Airline.

  3. Joelfreak: Disagree, because MR points can ALWAYS be used at 1.2 cents per dollar with their ‘pay with points’ program.

    IMO, Delta just became a lot less valuable.

    1. I’m in the “would never trade a valuable MR point for a near worthless Delta point in the first place” category. Everybody has different ways of valuing points, I know, but there are really several transfer opportunities that are far better in terms of value received to most travelers. I don’t see this particular action as eroding the value of the MR program at all, but I guess taken in combination with others it could spur MR to enhance elsewhere some aspect of what they do. That would be a great result.

  4. “How many people are churning through more than a quarter million dollars of purchases each year and moving all those points over to SkyMiles”
    ” It is still possible to earn as many SkyMiles as you want through a co-branded AmEx product.”

    Can you explain in more detail about earning thousands of MR?

    1. Earning at that level generally comes from pushing a LOT of reimbursed business expenses through your card. Obviously that comes with a complicit company and very, very few get such an opportunity.

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