Airport Frequent Flyer

Now, Redeem Delta Miles for Lounge Libations

Delta is preparing to accept miles as payment for premium drinks at its network of airport lounges. Will SkyMiles members drink to that?

In Delta’s new-for-2015 revenue-based loyalty program, money and miles are linked as never before. On the earning side, miles are awarded according to program members’ spend. And on the redemption side, miles have a more or less preset cash value (although here, there’s a decided lack of transparency on Delta’s part).

So, money as miles and miles as money, the two increasingly interchangeable.

The latest step in that direction will apparently be the ability to redeem Delta miles for drinks in the airline’s airport lounges. As reported by TravelSkills and confirmed by Delta, the airline is testing the program at its San Francisco lounge, in preparation for a rollout across all lounges that offer premium beers and cocktails for sale. (Lower-end beverages will still be available for free.)

When redeemed for lounge libations, miles will be worth 1 cent apiece, or 100 miles to the dollar. So an $8 Martini or Bloody Mary will set you back 800 miles, and a $40 bottle of J. Lohr cabernet sauvignon would cost 4,000 miles.

To pay with miles, customers scan their SkyMiles membership card or boarding pass and key in their account password.

What’s telling here is that predictable predefined miles-to-dollars conversion rate. For better or worse, SkyMiles members in this case know exactly what their miles are worth. And at a penny a mile, it’s decidedly on the paltry side. In fact, if that conversion rate reflects Delta’s thinking about the value of miles generally, program members may well find themselves longing for the days when miles’ value was more fluid. You remember, when the value of miles varied, and had plenty of upside potential. The good old days.

Reader Reality Check

A penny a mile: Enough?

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.