Do consumers really need more ways to earn frequent flyer miles?
Delta thinks they do, and is adding 350 new Internet retailers to the list of companies that award miles in its SkyMiles frequent flyer program.
As do all major programs, Delta already had a mileage mall, a network of about 150 online retailers that rewarded SkyMiles members with miles for purchases. The newly launched SkyMiles Shopping mall features a jaw-dropping 500 retailers. That's more than twice the number of merchants participating in the other largest networks.
But it isn't just the network's size that impresses. Unlike the other mileage malls, Delta's now boasts a robust search-and-compare feature that adds real value to the shopping experience.
To test the site's capabilities, I searched for an Apple iPod Nano. The query yielded a list of 14 merchants, selling the item at prices ranging from $109.99 to $155.21, and awarding from one to three miles per dollar spent. It was then up to me to choose what I considered the best combination of price and miles, factoring in whatever I might know about a particular merchant's reputation for service and reliability.
This, without a doubt, is the future of mileage malls.
If I'm slightly underwhelmed by the innovation, it's because SkyMiles Shopping is the right product, but at the wrong time. Or put differently, it's the solution to the wrong problem.
Consumers aren't crying out for yet more ways to earn miles. What they're longing for is a way to simply and reliably redeem their miles for goods or services of real value. And to the extent that the increase in earning options increases the number of miles in SkyMiles members' accounts, it can only exacerbate the problem of limited award availability.
So while SkyMiles Shopping may be the future of mileage malls, it doesn't address the more important question: the future of SkyMiles.