How much is a Delta SkyMile worth? This nearly bankrupt cruise line wants to know

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By Christopher Elliott

American Queen Voyages, which is teetering on the brink of insolvency, is holding up Terrance Hardy’s refund. The reason? It can’t figure out how much a Delta SkyMile is worth. 

Question

My wife Judy and I booked a cruise on American Queen Voyages two years ago. The trip was scheduled to depart Chattanooga, Tenn., last fall on the American Countess

Four days before our departure, we received a notice from American Queen Voyages that it had changed our final destination from Memphis to Louisville, Ky., because of low water levels in the Mississippi River. 

I found it hard to believe that they did not know about the low water levels more than four days before departure, but we were able to change our return flight. Since we had made our original flights on Delta using air miles, we did the same for the flight change. 

American Queen asked us to submit documentation for flight change costs, and I sent them on Oct. 27, 2022. Two months went by with nothing but an automated reply, so I attempted to reach someone at American Queen Voyages by telephone.

It’s impossible to contact anyone there regarding refunds by telephone. I reached out to one of the executive contacts that you publish on your site and a few weeks later, I got a reply from a woman in sales who promised a refund, but it would take approximately 60 days to process.

It has now been over one year since I submitted the requested documentation, and they no longer answer my emails. Can you help me get the $930 back that American Queen Voyages promised us? — Terrance Hardy, Escondido, Calif.

Answer

American Queen Voyages should have paid you promptly for the rescheduled flight. You were more than patient with the company. You made polite inquiries by phone and email, but nothing seemed to work.

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Before I continue, a note about the timing of your case. You booked a cruise on American Queen when the company was struggling to stay afloat. This was an open secret in the travel industry. Experienced travel advisors were urging their customers to avoid American Queen Voyages — and, as it turns out, they had a reason to do so. (Related: Delta Air Lines rescheduled my flight by 9 1/2 hours. Do I have to accept this ticket?)

But your refund misadventure is more complicated than it appears. You had booked your tickets using your Delta SkyMiles. When you asked American Queen Voyages for a refund, you included copies of your old and new itinerary. You explained that you had to redeem another 31,000 miles each for the new trip. You asked American Queen Voyages for $930 by calculating the value of a mile at .015 cents per mile.

What is the value of a Delta SkyMile?

Delta SkyMiles, the loyalty points issued by Delta Air Lines, don’t have a fixed value. Experts have argued for years about how much these miles are worth.

  • Airlines and their apologists would like you to believe a mile is worth as much as a dollar per mile.
  • Delta values its miles at about 1 cent per mile for internal purposes.
  • Among experts, the value of a SkyMile fluctuates between 1.2 cents and 1.6 cents per mile.

Ultimately, the value of a SkyMile is up to you. Since loyalty programs are treated like an unregulated currency, you have to decide how much a SkyMile is worth to you.

Most frequently, program members used SkyMiles to redeem flights on Delta and its partner airlines. And the cost of a flight in miles depends on the route, demand, and availability. On average, a domestic roundtrip ticket on Delta costs around 25,000 miles. However, prices can range from 10,000 miles for a quick flight to over 100,000 miles for an international flight.

My opinion? The true value of a SkyMile is probably far lower, and in some cases, it’s close to worthless. Here’s my take on loyalty programs.

And that’s the problem here. No one knows how much a Delta SkyMile is really worth.

Why American Queen Voyages is confused

The American Queen Voyages system was likely set up to give cash refunds for actual money spent. Trying to figure out how much a Delta SkyMile was worth may have confused it.

If that’s true, then someone at American Queen Voyages should have said something to you. Maybe they could have made a counteroffer on the mileage? Or explained the company’s policy about reimbursing passengers for their miles? A $930 reimbursement is essentially the cost of a new plane ticket, so it might have made more sense to just buy a new ticket. All of those things should have been worked out before you submitted your expenses to American Queen Voyages.

It’s also possible that American Queen Voyages’ delay was the result of its financial distress. In a moment, I’ll tell you how that turned out.

The experience you had with following up on your reimbursement is not unique to American Queen Voyages. Many travel companies drag their feet when it’s time to issue refunds. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the American Queen Voyages customer service managers on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. A brief, polite email to one of them usually helps solve this type of problem more quickly. In your case, unfortunately, it didn’t.

You reached out to my advocacy team. I contacted the company on your behalf and after several inquiries, I received an email that American Queen Voyages was “currently expediting this reimbursement.” You finally received your $930 refund.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. A few weeks after I resolved this case, American Queen Voyages ceased operations.

About this story

This case covered two of my favorite topics — bankruptcy and loyalty programs. I’m kidding. I cringe when I have to write about any of these subjects because it usually means one of my readers has lost a lot of money. But not this time! I’m lucky to work with the best team of advocates in the world, and they did not allow American Queen Voyages to go down without rescuing Hardy’s $930. I’m grateful to Will and his team in our Facebook group, to Andy and his editors, to Dwayne and Mel in our advocacy department, to Dustin in our art department and to our fearless researchers who kept the American Queen Voyages page up to date until the bitter end.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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