Delta just took another step toward devaluing its rewards, but I'm still convinced SkyMiles are worth having

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  • A few years ago, the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program stopped publishing an award chart.
  • Since then, there have been a series of devaluations of Delta SkyMiles, bringing the potential value of the currency down.
  • In the latest move, Delta One business class flights to Europe were raised to a minimum price of 105,000 SkyMiles each way - just one year ago, the baseline price was 70,000 miles.
  • Despite the devaluations, Delta SkyMiles are still worth collecting, and there are still some sweet spots within the program.

A few years ago, Delta's SkyMiles frequent flyer program removed its award chart from its website.

Since 2013, Delta has periodically devalued its frequent flyer currency. While this is fairly common for airlines, Delta's devaluations have been more frequent and aggressive, and were accompanied by Delta removing its award chart in 2015.

This week, Delta made its latest unannounced, no-warning devaluation. Beginning at some point over the past few days - and first reported by several blogs Wednesday morning - Delta raised the baseline "saver" prices across the board on Delta One (business class) flights between the US and Europe.

Devaluations on business class flights to Europe

Just one year ago, these flights cost 70,000 SkyMiles each way at the evident saver level. They were raised to 86,000 miles briefly during the year, then rolled back to 82,000 miles. Now, the lowest price available is 105,000 miles for a one-way ticket. That represents a 50% increase in just around a year.

It's worth noting that this price only applies to flights operated by Delta. Flights on partner airlines like Virgin Atlantic and Air France still show at a minimum price of 86,000 SkyMiles, although this may change.

It's unclear whether this is a permanent price increase or if it will be rolled back; however, the continuous devaluation of SkyMiles is frustrating - especially for those who frequently fly the airline (disclosure: I am a Delta Medallion member). Personally, I enjoy using miles to for experiences I couldn't otherwise afford - like first or business class flights.

However, despite the devaluations of the SkyMiles currency - and the evident effort to drive them to a final, revenue-redemption-tagged value of 1¢ each - there are compelling reasons to keep collecting them, and to keep flying Delta if its your airline of choice.

Here's why.

First: How award travel usually works

In most cases, the cash price and the miles price of a ticket aren't linked. The cash price of a ticket might fluctuate up and down leading up to the departure date, but the miles price tends to be fairly consistent, and is based on a published award chart.

Each airline prices its award tickets based on slightly different things. American Airlines and United publish relatively simple award charts. When you look up a route (for instance, North America to Europe) you'll typically see at least two prices.

The first, "saver," is the cheapest. There are usually just a few of these seats available, and they may become open periodically between when the flight schedule is published and when the flight leaves. The second price, "standard" or "anytime," is typically much higher.

Because Delta doesn't publish its award chart, it's harder to figure out what's a good price for an award flight versus a bad price. However, the airline appears to still use a tiered chart to set award pricing - it just doesn't make the chart available to customers to reference. By paying attention to prices for particular routes can help you figure out the usual minimum, or "saver"-level price.

That's how this devaluation was spotted - by looking at the minimum available price across the schedule.

Credit card welcome bonuses and benefits

Delta has three different mainstream personal credit cards, as well as three business credit cards. That makes it easy to earn points through new membership bonuses. Each card counts as a separate product, so even though you can only earn each bonus once, you can earn three of them.

American Express, which issues Delta's credit cards, periodically runs promotions offering higher welcome bonuses, up to double the normal amount of points for new members who meet the requirements.

For example, AmEx is currently running one of those promotions until April 3.

During the limited-time promotion, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers 60,000 Delta SkyMiles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is offering 75,000 SkyMiles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Delta's premium card, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, also offers 75,000 miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles, although you'll need to spend $5,000 in three months.

Additionally, AmEx Membership Rewards points, the company's in-house rewards, can be converted into Delta SkyMiles.

The ease with which you can earn more SkyMiles from credit card rewards - let alone flying - helps offset the pain of devaluations. And that's without discussing the benefits Delta cardholders get on flights.

Learn more: Click here to learn more about Delta's three main personal cards

A constant stream of flash sales on award flights

Using SkyMiles to fly international business class to a specific destination with inflexible dates continues to be expensive.

For those with more flexibility, however, Delta has been offering a stream of flash sales on award flights, and some of the deals have been remarkable.

Deals have included round-trip flights to Europe for 32,000 SkyMiles in the main cabin, domestic routes like Boston to Nashville for 10,000 SkyMiles round-trip, flights to Asia for 30,000 SkyMiles round-trip, and many more. Flash sales even pop up sometimes for Delta One, such as 98,000 SkyMiles for round-trip business class flights to Europe. There are different deals every few weeks, and while some of them are middling, some are spectacular and offer a significantly outsized value.

If you have a degree of flexibility in your leisure travel plans, these flash sales make it worth keeping a store of SkyMiles on hand, ready to redeem.

Earn elite qualifying credits while paying with miles

A unique benefit that Delta offers its credit cardholders, Pay with Miles lets you redeem miles towards airfare at 1¢ each - for example, you can redeem 20,000 SkyMiles for a $200 ticket.

What's unique is that you'll earn Medallion Qualifying Miles - or MQMs - for the whole flight, even if you pay for the whole thing with miles. You'll also earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) and redeemable SkyMiles on any part of the base fare you pay for with cash.

This lets you get the best of both worlds: You can redeem miles for free (or discounted) travel, but still get MQMs to help you qualify for Medallion elite status the following year.

While the 1¢ per mile valuation isn't ideal, it can be rewarding on less-expensive, longer distance flights where you'd be missing out on MQMs by booking a normal award flight.

For example, last year I used Pay with Miles to fly to Europe on a fare that was around $425. I spent 40,000 SkyMiles and $25, but the MQMs I earned helped me break the barrier for Platinum Medallion status this year. To me, that was a worthwhile redemption.

Keep in mind that this is only available to cardholders, and is different from the Miles + Cash option that anyone can use. On that fare, you won't earn any MQMs, MQDs, or redeemable miles, even if you pay part of the fare with cash.

Reliability and satisfaction

Delta has a reputation for reliability and consistency, and according to the Wall Street Journal, that reputation is well-earned.

In the publication's annual rankings, Delta was the best US airline in terms of on-time arrivals, number of cancelled flights, delays, complaints, and mishandled baggage.

Anecdotal opinions of airlines are, by nature, subjective, but American Airlines and United frequent flyers tend to be less satisfied with overall service, according to JD Power rankings. Delta's SkyMiles program is ranked higher than the other two airlines of the big "US 3," despite the devaluations. Other factors and benefits, like service, benefits, and reliability, outweigh that negative.

Bottom line

Delta's SkyMiles devaluations are frustrating, especially for loyalists. However, there is still plenty of value to be found, and if you plan to stick with Delta anyway - whether because of the airline's reputation for reliability, or for other benefits of the SkyMiles Medallion program - there are effective ways to use SkyMiles, even with the devaluations.

Whether that continues to be the case - and whether Delta loyalists continue to stick with the airline as further devaluations take place - remains to be seen.

$95 annual fee: Click here to learn more about the Gold Delta SkyMiles card from Business Insider's partner: The Points Guy.

$195 annual fee: Click here to learn more about the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card from Business Insider's partner: The Points Guy.

$450 annual fee: Click here to learn more about the Delta Reserve card from Business Insider's partner: The Points Guy.

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