Now Troy has written up a similar guide for Delta Skymiles.
Delta’s availability on its own flights tends to be much less generous than most other airlines. But they do have some pretty good partners, and those partners often have decent availability. But Delta makes the process more cumbersome than most airlines to find the great partner award availability, and to get it at the ‘low’ award level price.
First, because the Delta website is very limited in the partners it has on offer.
Second, because for most cases the only way to ‘hold’ an award is on the website, otherwise it’s instant ticketing only, which makes tinkering difficult.
Third, because Delta agents aren’t very adept at working on partner awards in most cases, especially the more obscure partners. As Troy points out, the various partners have different award booking codes and the process for agents to search for those awards is varies tremendously by airline.
Fourth, because even if you can find space on a Delta partner it can be tough to get to the international gateway city where the partner flies. You can almost always find business class seats on Air France from Washington DC to Paris in particular, that flight goes Airbus A380 in June and then it’s wide open. But just try getting award seats on Delta to DC, it’s a challenge. (Folks on the West Coast have it a bit easier since they can use Delta partner Alaska Airlines for their feeder flights).
Despite these challenges, with some work and some understanding of how the Delta system works, it can be made to work for you.
Some of Troy’s key points for finding award seats yourself:
- Delta.com shows you award availability for Delta, Alaska, Air France, KLM, and Hawaiian
- Alitalia, Tarom, Kenya Airways, Aeromexico, Air Europa, China Southern, and Vietname Airlines (in addition to Delta, Air France, and KLM) can be searched on the Flying Blue website. Sign up for an account and you can search award space even without miles in your account.
- V Australia awards can be searched by signing up for their frequent flyer account (you can’t use a US address when you do so). It’s not 100% clear to me whether Delta’s system will let you book any ‘low’ mileage award that shows up there or not, or if when I’ve been told no it’s been agent error. Still, the availability is pretty darned good especially for Los Angeles – Brisbane, even in December.
- It’s not really possible to search Korean Airlines awards that are available to Delta online on your own. Even if you get a Korean Airlines Skypass account, their availability will differ from what Delta will let you book.
Now, just because a partner is offering the award doesn’t mean you’ll get Delta to book it. As noted, Korean will offer award seats but I’ve almost never seen Delta have access to more than one at a time. Sometimes booking the one will cause a second to open up, if indeed Korean is offering more than one, but not always.
Still, you need to piece together your awards segment-by-segment. Most of what you find will be available when you call up Delta and get a knowledgeable, patient agent.
I laid out the logic of how to use the Delta website to find (and hold) award seats on those airlines that are supported by Delta.com in a previous post.
- You search just for a single segment, not from your starting city to your destination. Search one-way, because you don’t want lack of availability for your return to mask which seats are actually available. And it’s often even better to search for coach, even when you want business class.
Say that you’re looking for transatlantic business class. Search just the international flight, one-way. Do this until you find a 100,000 mile one-way routing (Delta charges the same price for one-way as for roundtrip). Even if you’re searching coach, it’ll show you the 100,000 mile (double miles) coach seats and the 100,000 mile (‘low’ price) business seats. Now you’ve found seats that are available, note the flight times and flight number, you’re part-way to your award.
Search each segment that way, for your outbound and for your return, until you’ve found the flights you want.
Sometimes you can book this all, then, on the Delta website using their multi-segment search. Select the exact flights that were available when you looked up each flight. And enter each and every segment separately into the website.
Note though that Delta has some blackout dates for their partners. And some of those dates are just blanket across the board. So if the partner blacks out specific routes, Delta just blacks out the partner. Since the partner itself isn’t blacking out the seats, sometimes an agent will forget to check blackout dates and will ticket it anyway.
The routing rules are generally quite liberal, but not clearly spelled out or published. You can have both a stopover and an open jaw on international awards. They do enforce ‘maximum permitted mileage’ on some routes but not all and I don’t even know which ones, though Troy suggests it’s mostly intra-Asia. The problem here is you don’t know up front whether something is allowed or it isn’t. So if an agent says no, is it because it’s really not allowed? Or because the agent was ill-informed? The maximum number of segments permitted on a Delta Skymiles award is eight.
One of the most annoying things about trying to piece together awards with Delta is the inability to hold seats without ticketing them. Delta only permits holds for the most part to be initiated on their website. And then only for a day (which is, in practice, up to 2 days based on when you do the hold and that it expires at the end of the following day). And as Troy notes and which I didn’t know, itineraries departing from Asia can actually be held for 7 days. Since the rules are byzantine and the process of booking complex, holds would make things so much easier.
So fortunately there are workarounds. If you book whatever happens to show up as available online, you have a reservation that is held and then call to add segments or change segments. And sometimes the agent will let you leave it on hold after they’ve done their work. If the agent doesn’t want to let you keep holding it, have them leave the reservation alone and try the next agent. And since you have a held reservation, you can just ticket it online and even avoid the $20 telephone booking fee.
Fees: American adds fuel surcharges to British Airways awards, Delta adds them to several partners though fortunately not to Air France redemptions. They add an international origination surcharge — seriously, a fee for starting your trip outside the United States. These together can make your award redemptions expensive, starting outside the United States the fees can mean that coach redemptions are uneconomic relative to just buying the seats outright.
Another challenge in all of this is, how much do the award flights even cost? There is no award chart for itineraries that don’t fly to or from North America. Troy offers some anecdotal evidence for a few routes:
Intra Asia, 20000 Econ/40K business
From Asia to Oceania via ICN or NRT, 150K business, otherwise, 120K business
From Asia to Europe 80K econ, 120K business
Asia to Africa, 120K econ, 180K business
Europe to Africa, 100K Business
Europe to Central Asia/India, 80K business
Within Africa, 80K business
Troy points out also that there are pricing glitches, awards may be available at the ‘low’ level and a routing may be valid and the Delta system just will not price it at the low level, even though by all rights it should. And there’s nothing you can do about it. The example he gives is New York to Los Angeles via Phoenix, it will always price as two awards even if you otherwise comply with all rules and the space is there.
Finally, since the way that I like to use my miles is international first class awards whenever possible, and Delta does not even offer as a feature of the program the ability to redeem for first class, the program just isn’t a priority for me. They used to allow first class redemptions on Singapore, but that’s been gone for about 8 months, the Singapore partnership is over. I’ve heard some reports of redeeming for first class on China Airlines through Taipei, but I haven’t tried it myself, I don’t know whether this is an urban legend or it’s real.
Still, Delta miles can be worth all of this effort! Because they actually offer the best redemption opportunities to Australia and to Tahiti which are otherwise the two toughest awards to get. And of course Delta miles can be so easy to earn.
You just have to work the system, and follow Troy on his TM Travel World blog because he probably has more experience booking awards with Delta Skymiles than anyone else. Me, I’ve redeemed about 80 million miles in the last 12 months for folks but mostly on Star Alliance and Oneworld carriers, whenever possible.