Just how alike are frequent-flyer miles and money? They’re hardly interchangeable, but they are more alike every day.
American Express and Delta have begun offering many Delta SkyMiles credit card holders a novel option: Borrow frequent-flyer miles to use today; pay back the miles later. It’s a version of the venerable buy-now-pay-later sales come-on, with miles instead of cash.
Here’s how it works.
Delta SkyMiles cardholders log into their American Express accounts and click the Benefits tab. Look for the “Request Fly Now, Earn Later” button. Click on it and, depending on the customer’s account status and history, the number of miles available to borrow will be displayed.
Once the miles have been borrowed, SkyMiles members have six months to earn back the borrowed miles via charges to the designated credit card. (Only credit-card miles count toward replacing the loaned miles.)
At the end of the six-month period, the cardholder will be charged 2.5 cents for every borrowed mile that remains outstanding.
Deal or No Deal
On the plus side, the ability to borrow against future mileage earnings is a real value-add for SkyMiles members.
On the minus side, first and foremost: The payback price of 2.5 cents per mile is usurious. Anyone finding himself with a negative balance at the end of the six-month grace period will be paying a significant penalty for the convenience of borrowing miles.
Another negative: Only credit-card miles count toward repaying the loaned miles. It makes sense, since American Express is the lender, but it makes repayment just that much harder.
Overall, this is a positive step for the SkyMiles program. It does come with a caveat, however: Don’t borrow more miles than you can realistically expect to repay within six months.
Reader Reality Check
Is this an option you would take advantage of?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.