Calling Delta SkyMiles “SkyPesos”: Clever Nickname, or Racist?

by SharonKurheg

Several weeks ago, there was a big hubbub regarding a Delta passenger who had made it a habit to search out flight attendants who were doing what she perceived to be wrong, take pictures of the “offense,” and complain to Delta Air Lines about it. The airline, in turn, would send her SkyMiles as compensation.

Besides the fact that nobody likes a tattletale, the woman would then gloat on social media about what she had gotten (NSFW warning – adult language).

a screenshot of a phone

Wrote my complaint about Joshua, the FA who hid in the galley and was overall s**tty SDF-ATL Wed (see previous post). Got a personal call from a Delta customer service agent and 8500 Skypesos! Winning!

As we wrote previously, once people found out what she was doing, the woman encountered a whole lot of backlash, especially from flight attendants. On various message groups, there was an uproar about how mean-spirited, selfish and inappropriate her behavior was, and how she should mind her own business. More than a few people also suggested that, on top of all of that, her use of the term “SkyPesos” instead of “SkyMiles” was racist.

What are SkyPesos in relation to SkyMiles?

SkyMiles is the frequent-flyer program of Delta Air Lines that offers points to passengers traveling on most fare types, as well as to consumers who utilize Delta co-branded credit cards, which accumulate towards free awards such as airline tickets, business and first-class upgrades, and luxury products. (thanks, Wikipedia!) So, for example, you can earn X number of SkyMiles for flying on a Delta Air Lines flight or Y number of SkyMiles when you use your Delta co-branded credit card.

Anyway, some travel geeks have taken to calling SkyMiles “SkyPesos.”

Why do they call them SkyPesos?

Pesos are, of course, the primary form of currency in eight countries:

  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Mexico
  • Philippines
  • Uruguay

Some of the eight are considered to be developing nations, and their respective pesos have a relatively low value. Mexico’s peso, in particular, is considered to be a “lower value” currency, especially in comparison to the U.S. dollar.

a graph on a screenAnyway, Delta has devalued (decreased the value of) SkyMiles over the years. They’ve done this in a variety of ways, but for a very basic example, if you want to earn a free flight, especially on one of Delta’s partner airlines, it takes many more SkyMiles than it used to.

So you’ve got frequent flyer miles that are worth less than they used to be, and BOOM – “SkyMiles” become “SkyPesos.” Well, at least if you’re in the “in crowd.”

Gary Leff, the author of View From The Wing, takes credit for inventing the term in 2010. A few months after first using the new word, he said on FlyerTalk:

I believe I’m the person who originally coined the phrase Skypesos, at least the very first use of it on Flyertalk was in a post that I made.

They’re a terribly devalued currency, they are clearly the least useful for obtaining premium class international awards especially if you want more than one seat from the US to Asia. Their website is broken, it often prices awards more expensively than inventory would appear to require. And they don’t even bother to publish an award chart for flights between destinations not involving North America.

Is SkyPesos just a cute nickname, or is it racist?

Honestly, it depends on who you ask. For reference, here’s a definition:

Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

After the Peery incident, Joe (my husband) and I discussed the word SkyPesos and whether or not we thought it was racist.

Joe, who is fully entrenched in the “points & miles” world, but doesn’t use the term “SkyPesos,” thought it was 100% not racist.

I didn’t think the term “racist” was quite right, but I did think comparing the low value of SkyMiles to pesos was condescending, as well as a short, perhaps even subconscious jump into feeding into many Americans’ belief that the U.S. is better than, say, Mexico (because let’s be honest…when Americans think of what countries use pesos, they’re not thinking about Uruguay or the Philippines; they’re thinking about Mexico).

coins and a few bills of currencyBut what do Joe and I know? We’re both from the U.S.

So I asked a couple of Hispanic people I casually knew what they thought of the word. They kind of hemmed and hawed and it didn’t sound like they were comfortable giving an answer. That was understandable to me; although close friends could probably discuss it, it’s not a topic acquaintances would really go into.

That’s when I took to social media and asked a large group of people from a variety of Latin American countries, all strangers to me, what they thought; specifically if they thought the term “SkyPesos” was racist (after giving a quick summary of how the term came to be). Their responses appeared well thought out and honest, and some were, I thought, a little surprising. Here are some of them:

  • It’s not racist per se but I think it plays into American arrogance. The “look how poor the rest of the world is compared to great USA” thing. That said, and while I can see and understand if people get offended, I think most of us wouldn’t care. I would roll my eyes and go on with my life. Their relationship with some airline is not something worth being annoyed at lol.
  • I don’t think it’s racist but it is classism; it’s punching down, it’s claiming superiority.
  • I don’t think you can be racist against a coin, but it does leave a sour taste in my mouth if they’re making the joke, because it plays on the myth of American superiority.
  • I can definitely see how it could be a bit offensive, as it reinforces the idea that latin america is inferior bc the peso is of lower value. But tbh I think the average latino would look at that term, go “huh”, and then move on rather than waste energy getting offended
  • Couldn’t care less, and I come from a fairly privileged background that lets me travel internationally occasionally. Millions of people in LATAM have ever set foot on a plane, don’t know who Delta airlines are and what sky miles /pesos/liras are. We have jobs, families, utilities to pay. You know we have functional societies too? That being said, I think if you explain the joke some people here may find it funny per our self deprecating sense of humour, specially from countries with high inflation.
  • I don’t think it qualifies as racist. To be so, it should have, in my opinion, like a “bad intention” or be deliberately said to provoke and offend. It depends on the context. This is just a condescending and probably distasteful joke. Many white Americans, out of the ignorance produced by being a cultural hegemon, can be culturally insensitive or condescending about other cultures. That’s a preventable gateway to racism, but not racism per se.
  • It’s racist. There will be a whole group of people claiming that they use the term and they are not racist themselves (“the least racist person they know”), they have a mexican friend (he’s Guatemalan) etc, but they are enabling a whole another chunk of population that is very racist and happily adding it to their vocab while engaged in travel discussion.
    To feign ignorance about the racist portion of their online community and continue to engage, enabling them, and thinking “oh I didn’t mean to offend you bro ;)” is something racists and their enablers have done all the time in other areas of culture.
  • This one was my favorite: Why not SkyFeet? “Mile” measures distance, so it only makes sense to devalue it to a smaller measurement.

So IS “SkyPesos” racist/offensive?

Points and miles people who use the term, of course, probably don’t think it’s offensive at all. Not even when they’re talking about the low value of pesos as part of “SkyPesos'” definition. I mean, in that FlyerTalk discussion back in 2010, to paraphrase one of the first comments to “Why are Delta’s SkyMiles called SkyPesos?” they suggested it was because SkyMiles were worthless, like pesos.

“Worthless, like pesos.”

Racist or not, making a play on words, from “SkyMiles” to one that includes the term “pesos,” a currency that’s historically not worth as much as the almighty US dollar, is, if nothing else, callous. And to use some of the other adjectives my Hispanic helpers used, perhaps condescending, classist and distasteful, while suggesting Americans’ sense of arrogance and mythical superiority.

What do you think?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


JakePB June 3, 2024 - 12:34 pm

Taking the best comment one step further…how about SkyInches?

rene June 3, 2024 - 1:17 pm

Delta has pushed the value of SkyMiles to 1 cent each in 2024. Years ago the Corp folks were terrified that a SkyMile would be viewed as only worth 1 cent but now they embrace it. Thus my term SkyPennies is the correct verbiage!

derek June 3, 2024 - 1:35 pm

It is generally not racist unless the user uses it with racism in mind.

Part of the problem is the lack of knowledge of many Americans. (is that a racist statement?). If it were called SkyRupiahs based on the low value of the Indonesian rupiah) or SkyZimbabweDollars, the listener may not get it.

I have pretty much given up on SkyMiles. I burned most of them. I do not play the credit card welcoming bonus game much. I do not like getting few miles when I used to get 5,000 miles on a transcon. The award levels, no longer published, are far higher than before.

DongDong June 3, 2024 - 1:37 pm

I propose we rebrand SkyMiles to be SkyDongs. The devaluations have made it so that the Pesos exchange rate isn’t significant enough anymore. The Vietnamese Dong is better aligned.

T June 9, 2024 - 10:11 am

It’s not racist to say that another country’s currency is valued less than the U.S. Dollar. (Comment edited by YMMV to remove sections that were rude and off-topic)

Peter June 9, 2024 - 10:55 am

First, I’d venture the pesos tag is much more a reference to Argentina than Mexico’s relatively stable peso. Second. Puh-leeeasse. It’s a joke about highly devalued currency, nothing racist about it. SkyZimbabweDollars and SkyBolívares doesn’t really have the same comedic ring. This lunacy has to stop. If everything is racist, nothing is.


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