Delta Air Lines is offering a new use for SkyMiles, allowing frequent fliers to redeem them for a flight on a private jet.
It's an unusual partnership launching Tuesday between Delta subsidiary Delta Private Jets and SkyMiles, one that the airline says its competitors won't be able to duplicate because they don't own a private jet company.
For travelers, cashing in miles for a private jet flight won't be cheap. A Delta frequent flier would have to redeem 2.5 million miles to get a $25,000 jet card, the lowest-level jet card available. That's enough to fly about five hours on a light jet like a Cessna CJ2 or CJ3, which can seat six to eight passengers.
"We've been trying to expand the usage of our miles," said SkyMiles managing director Karen Zachary, including newer options like redeeming miles for a beer or champagne in a Sky Club. "We have people who really keep a lot of their miles to use for very unique experiences.... We've also heard that people would love to use them for holiday gifts to take their family someplace."
Just how many frequent fliers have 2.5 million miles saved up?
"Thousands," Zachary said.
How many of them will actually use 2.5 million miles for a private jet flight?
"Honestly we have no idea. There's nobody that's done this before," Zachary said. "We hope that the aspirational aspect will actually draw people in."
For Delta, that would help to reduce its liability from accumulated miles in customers' accounts. "We want them to use those miles," Zachary said, "not just because of the financial impact but also because of the experience when people are engaged."
SkyMiles is also currently offering a promotion allowing Delta Private Jets customers to earn miles on their jet card
Delta Private Jets COO David Sneed expects the chance to redeem SkyMiles for private jet travel might even prompt some Delta American Express card holders, such as small business owners, to change their spending habits to earn more miles.
The company has recently drawn other links between Delta Private Jets, which has about 70 aircraft in its fleet, and the airline.
Many customers fly private most of the time, but might fly commercially for long overseas flights, according to Sneed. The company recently announced plans to expand its Porsche transfer service for such connecting customers, and sees the SkyMiles partnership as a way to capture market share, Sneed said.
"We don't think we'll see this duplicated anywhere else," Sneed said.