After yesterday’s post on award booking lessons, several readers posed questions about Delta Skymiles that amount to, “if Skypesos are so darned useless, what in the world can I do with them?”
Now, the only time you should actually accumulate Skymiles is if you are hub-captive to Delta and fly enough to earn elite status. Even if you live in a Delta hub, fly Delta, but aren’t earning status then consider crediting your flight miles to Alaska. And for goodness sakes, don’t credit any other sorts of miles to Delta, unless it’s somehow benefiting your quest for elite status — because you might well value upgrades more than awards.
The other time it makes sense to accumulate Skymiles is when the deal is just too crazy good, that even if you have to spend double or trip the usual number of miles on an award it still makes sense — for example a couple of summers ago when you could earn 10,000 Delta miles for a single one-day Avis or Budget car rental. Rack up a few of those, sure, why not?
And Delta bonuses are sometimes big and frequent enough that in spite of your best efforts you wind up with a stash of Delta Skypesos. And you want to make the most out of them. So a totally legitimate question.
The problem using Delta miles is four-fold.
(1) Delta award inventory, especially premium cabin inventory and especially to Asia, is incredibly sparse.
(2) Most of their partner inventory isn’t searchable online.
(3) Their online award calendar (which supports Delta and Air France inventory) is broken.
(4) Their award pricing engine is broken.
And as a result more often than not if you ask for a Delta premium class award to Asia you get quoted better than 300,000 miles. And it’s worth celebrating when you’re quoted straight out of the bat ‘only’ 240,000 miles.
But there are some hidden values in the Skymiles program, and some workarounds to overcome Delta’s technology limitations — their award availability, as bad as it is, really isn’t quite as bad as thier website portrays it to be.
In January I posted about some of the better uses for Skymiles. Contra commenter StuckWithDelta, you shouldn’t “just get a ton of magazines.”
Here are six partner redemption options to consider:
1. Korean is still a partner. Don’t trust Delta website inventory, I don’t really see business class availability on the Northwest website anymore, either. The same thing happened to Air France inventory. The website is just wrong, business class seats still exist, you just can’t find them by limiting yourself to the online tools that the airline provides. Now, Korean doesn’t often make more than a single business class seat available at a time. But it’s a good option.
2. Air France/KLM do make business class seats available stil…
3. Northwest legacy partnerships have been migrated. The first one that stands out is Malaysian. They fly, for instance, Los Angeles – Tapei – Kuala Lumpur. Their business class product is only ‘ok’ but a perfectly good option for getting to Asia. Too bad Delta doesn’t allow first class redemptions…
4. Another Northwest legacy partner is Air Tahiti Nui. Delta miles are actually among the best for getting to Tahiti, since they partner with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui — the only carriers offering service between the US and Tahiti. And in fact you could presumably contruct an award Los Angeles – Papeete – Auckland as a ‘hidden’ way to use Delta miles for getting to New Zealand.
5. As Gene observed, Delta partners with Jet Airways (and Kingfisher). Jet for one has a really top notch product, I have no personal experience with Kingfisher’s. Though at least in the latter’s case I understand award inventory isn’t the easiest to come by, there’s a nice product option for getting to India.
6. Kenya Airways if you fancy Africa… and Vietnam Airlines is joining up.
Of course you have about six weeks left to use Delta miles on Singapore Airlines, look for a single first class seat on the phone with Delta and be prepared to pay over $500 in fuel surcharges, but this remains the single best Skymiles award there is, until the clock strikes midnight on May 15 and these awards turn into a pumpkin.
Beyond that, I suggest having Delta check business class inventory for JFK – Brussels on Jet Airways, always check Air France business class awards especially outside of summertime, Korean is often good for (1) premium class seat to Asia, and China Southern Los Angeles – Guangzhou (with connections beyond) is a good hail mary pass for multiple premium cabin award seats on the same flight.
Now, Delta doesn’t offer anything but their own flights and Air France flights for redemption on their website. So the rest of the partners have to be checked online. And by phone they offer instant ticketing only, no award holds, which makes piecing together awards a frustrating experience.
But say you want to actually use the Delta website? There are some good tips here, as reminded to me by Flyertalk member Bikeguy, in this Flyertalk thread.
You can’t just enter your dates, enter business class, and search for awards and expect the Delta website to return accurate pricing and availability information. (Seriously.)
Instead, if you want business class space at the standard or ‘low’ mileage here’s the process you need to follow:
I will be the first to say DL’s award engine is horrendous at best, however there are ways around it.
Now for the guide (please note, although this guide was created to assist with travel from the US past AMS/CDG, it is also beneficial for all award bookings):
For awards beyond AMS / CDG in J, the best way to search is the following:
Search for USA – AMS / CDG ONE WAY in Y by Mileage.
In the flights displayed, look for those priced at 100,000, with seating in First / Business.
If you cannot find any 100,000 mile flights with First / Business seating, do another search but search for J this time.
Do this over and over until you find a 100,000 mile one way routing. Generally, it will be Business / First seats within your coach search. I think the problem most have is we tend to search for Business seats by selecting the business drop down. This is a big no no. Always select a coach search first, and seek business within, its often cheaper.
Next, perform another one way search in J for the AMS/CDG – EU. I generally find plenty of EU J inventory available.
Then, perform the same in reverse for your travel back to the US.
Once you find one way itineraries at the low mileage level, you perform a multi-segment award search. Be sure to select the flights you found earlier in the process at the low tiers.
Sometimes you may have to break down the segments even further such as TPA-ATL, ATL-CDG, CDG-OTP, in order to find the lowest available tiers.
One thing I have noticed is that so long as the DL Award Calendar shows J available at the low tier, it is, only you have to search to find it.
Again, you need to search segment by segment. Search one-way, not round trip. Delta will show you the full roundtrip award price, but if it does that at the ‘low’ level then the segment is available. Don’t search roundtrip, because the return can mess up the pricing.
Fine one-by-one each segment, a segment at a time, showing availability at the ‘low’ award price.
And then use the multi-city award booking, entering segment-by-segment, to select the exact flights you found at the low level. And the website should price it correctly.
Boy do I miss the old Northwest website, I miss when Delta.com showed more partners, and I miss when Delta would put awards on a 72-hour hold so you could work through this mess piece by piece. And of course I wish that Delta would even publish an award chart for trips that involving travel to or from North America, so we know what those are supposed to cost (they don’t, seriously).
All among the many reasons I’m strongly negative on Delta Skymiles. But there are things you can do to improve your award redemption, though it takes a good bit of work.