How Expensive Can Delta Mileage Awards Possibly Get?

Delta miles are called SkyPesos for a reason. Sure, I coined the phrase, but it stuck. Because they’re worth less than other major mileage currencies. Sure, there are uses, Air France business class to Europe is reasonably available from some gateways. And so are business class seats on V Australia, especially Los Angeles – Brisbane (though Delta adds fuel surcharges to the awards).

But the hardest thing about using Delta Skymiles awards on these partners can often be the domestic segments on Delta getting to the international gateway.

Delta tends to be the stingiest with award availability. And when they do release seats, it tends to be quite close to departure (but don’t count on trading your ‘high’ award of a lower priced one at the last minute, there are no changes whatsoever within 72 hours of scheduled travel.

To top it all off, the Delta pricing engine is hopelessly broken. Delta’s award charts don’t matter to Delta.com. They’ll price out awards hundreds of thousands of miles more expensively than their award chart promises. After a little bit of poking around you can sometimes figure out why — because one segment is available at ‘high’ price, another at ‘low’, and instead of just pricing the award as ‘high’ they will charge high plus low. Or what should by all rights price out as a legal open jaw will price instead as two separate one-way awards. And since Delta doesn’t offer one-way awards, except at the full roundtrip price, they’ll price the award as though it were two roundtrips.

Yes, people, Delta.com is very broken. (Other issues include spitting up during the booking process, or returning no flight results when plenty of flights exist, only to start the process over and on the next try some flights may come up. Often times, calling Delta agents gets no better results.)

So I propose a game. What’s the most expensive Delta mileage award you can find?

I’ll start off, here’s an award for 720,000 miles. Can you beat it?

Feel free to click on the image to get an up close of the details, if you don’t believe Delta.com can price an award at 720,000 miles!

(HT: Steven S.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. for the past 4 years I have only been on DL metal. i know the game and play it. mfg cares only about $$$$$. we all know how broke the system is. but if you have the rule book and know how to “game” the system you can have all the 100k seats you want to EURO and 25k seats any day you want. yes it takes PM or DM status but that can be had for very little with the flood of MQM AMEX gives out. sure it is silly and dumb but like lucky says, what other airline pays you to fly up front. DL does if you game the system!

  2. I’m not sure which sounds more painful… 720k miles, or 45 hours to go 7300 miles at an average speed of about 160mph (the other leg is a more respectable 460mph average).

    Actually, ok, well all like airplanes, so I 720k miles is worse 🙂

  3. Gary, do honestly think Delta will ever fix this? If they know about these issues (and they must) and haven’t fixed them by now, I don’t think they ever will.

  4. do you know how much approx the fuel surcharges are on the V Australia awards? how long have those been going on? since the partnership started or are they new?

  5. Awful! But I did manage to pick up a DC to EVV roundtrip for 32,500 miles in October. Not like I’d actually pay 400 dollars to fly there, and I can’t think of anything else to use DL miles for. Ugh. Love the airline, but the mileage program just blows…and I think it’s getting worse.

  6. Ok, the game looks kind of fun, but I must confess, I’ve never had much trouble booking Delta anywhere I want to go. Maybe I was just born under a good sign. (Oh, and I read a post once about what comment #1 said and live by it.)

  7. I spent 270K on a roundtrip TPA-JFK-IST in May. As if that weren’t bad enough, the JFK-IST and return flight were on an archaic 767 with old-fashioned recliners. A friend who flies Delta asked what advice I had for him accumulating miles. I told him to fly a different airline. I do now.

  8. Yesterday I needed to get my Dad to London last-minute for a funeral, and had about given up with the Delta website, until I did a last ditch phone call, and the agent found (as you say in the post) AF biz at the low level. So 67K MR points and $350 got him there in (relative)comfort. He was seconds away from booking a BA premium economy ticket for 75K+$650.

  9. Let’s put this in perspective…syd-eze is an extremely thin route. What is the LOWEST priced miles j award you can find with availability on these dates?

  10. @Deltagoldflyer –your post makes no sense whatsoever unless you start explaining. Care to share what you’re talking about?

  11. This is a pretty meaningless post. On pretty much anyone else you just don’t get the availability. I’m not saying availability at 720k is worthwhile in any way shape or form but it is more just a dig at a quirky booking engine

    Still why you promulgate the SkyPesos notion it just makes it easier for those of us who have worked out how to best use this currency. Thanks for that!!

  12. @Phil I could literally have any seat in first class (not business!) on United for half this many miles, I wouldn’t do it at that price but your notion that other airlines wouldn’t offer you availability at any price is simply incorrect, Delta’s any seat availability is more expensive than other airline any seat availability.

    @Matt other carriers can price similar itineraries properly.

  13. @Gary – funny you say that as I plugged in your routing on continental.com and it was unable to offer anything on the return route. Admittedly was offering 150k option on the first piece.

    What this really does it highlight a broken reward engine and fair points about the way it combines rewards at different levels additively. But if it’s broken just don’t use it

    Let’s face it getting to Australia in J is far easier on Delta even on their own metal than it is on United. I have never seen a single low J or F seat on United to Oz

  14. @Phil – I just tried both Continental and United, and was able to select any flight I wanted in Biz, and some in first for 300K or 320K round trip, on the exact dates above.

    Not saying it’s a good redemption value, but at least the booking engine actually works as it is supposed to.

  15. @Phil yes this point is about Delta’s pricing engine, not about availability. But Delta telephone agents are no peach with this either. And I do flag — and have flagged here many many times — that Delta miles happen to be the most useful for getting what in my opinion are the two most difficult frequent flyer awards that there are for a US-based flyer, premium cabin seats to Australia (because of V Australia partnership) and Tahiti (because Delta partners with both airlines flying from the Continental US to French Polynesia).

  16. What prize are you awarding to the winner Gary? Maybe you can get Cap1 or Southwest to sponsor it — they could award the winner 5% of the DL mileage cost in their own miles! That would make this a real contest and great advertising for them. Maybe the winner could even get a cameo on the Alec Baldwin commercials!

  17. @Andrew – I am not a DL apologist. I hate the lack of domestic availability as much as the next guy. But the constant and continuous trashing of SkyMiles becomes tiresome. This year we went as a family of four from Montreal to Mauritius and back through Seychelles with stopover in Paris for 480k miles. I just booked the four of us to London next August, 4 on the same flights with proper flat bed in J, right in the middle of the Olympic games, for another total 400k. I have challenged Lucky in the past and I would challenge Gary now to replicate that on Star Alliance (challenge is find *A availability from ANY North American gateway DIRECT to LHR for four people at frankly any time of the year – maybe if Virgin joins that gap will be filled but right now it’s impossible). And you can only do it on OneWorld by paying BA’s excrutiating fees.

    @Gary – agree about the phone agents, though I generally get somewhat better luck calling the Platinum line. But as others have pointed out you usually have to mention the house is on fire and hang up many times before you work out you are talking with someone who knows what they are doing. Now see my little challenge above – prove me wrong 🙂

    As for getting to Australia in premium, yes the V Oz is a nice option (not so nice with the $500 YQ now) but I also find availability from LAX-SYD on DL’s own metal is not terrible, certainly way better than QF or UA. And if you can work around the blackout dates using KE via ICN is a great option particularly with the seemingly wide open new A380

    @CDiddy – continental.com said there was no routing for EZE-SYD? (SYD-ATL, EZE-SYD is a pretty weird request frankly!)

  18. @Andrew – OK here goes. DL gives out much better seats for DM & PM. You can get a boat load of MQM’s with AMEX cards. I pay for about 1 or 2 trips a year and have PM status and this year wife will have it too.

    Next, they over sell all the time. Every year I make $2000-5000 in bump vouchers and use them to pay for my 1-2 paid trips a year.

    Next, like in golf, you can use the rules to help you. I book flight with as many legs as I can get within the rules with as little connection time as I can get. Then, I wait for a schedule change and can now get the exact flight I want for 100k (book at 100k biz to EURO and now under schedule change rule not award travel rule).

    Bottom line, DL is crazy. But they give away points and vouchers like they are water from the local fountain!

    O’ and lastly if you are DM or PM most of the time the medallion line reps will do what ever you want if they can get away with it and as we know with the crazy 72 hr rule they can override just about anything they want if they want and if you are nice to them they often do!

    This is no way to run an airline but where else can you fly with status up front for free (or nearly free)?

  19. @DeltaGoldFlyer – nice work, like the idea you suggest of booking crazy tight routings and then waiting for the inevitable change

  20. @Phil,

    You’re probably right. My search didn’t include EZE, just the start and end (SYD/ATL) with indifference to the connections. Either way, I’m not spending 300K points on a business class ticket on either airline.

  21. @Phil there are plenty of destinations where 4 seats are available in premium cabins with Star Alliance. I’ve done four seats in first class in the Jet Airways suites on Thai Paris-Bangkok for goodness sakes. If you say “4 premium seats to London direct from North America” then yes, I have done it — on Air Canada. If you say one-stop from the West Coast to London, I say no worries, many a time done it on Lufthansa…. I disagree with you that “LAX-SYD on DL’s own metal is not terrible” QF availability is definitely bettter than Delta’s, sorry.

  22. To be fair, EZE-SYD is a ridiculous journey to try to book with Delta anyway. I did a search for this on ITA Matrix, and couldn’t find a Skyteam/Delta partner option for sale.

    Yeah, the problems of Skymiles are manifold, but choosing an itinerary that is completely illogical hardly proves the point.

  23. @maccoinnich this was just a game, who can come up with the most expensive Skypesos redemption at Delta.com? And how would such an award compare on other carriers..?

  24. But for decent availability to Australia in business class, considering other (lack of) options without transiting Asia, not all that unreasonable.

  25. I understand where you’re coming from. I’m from singapore and I too am having problems finding a low season from Singapore to U.S.A or Europe with my delta Skymiles. I was initially under Northwest Airlines Skymiles but when delta took over, they became so stingy and I felt my miles can no longer be put to good use…

    However, just a piece of advice, if you are searching for a route which isn’t served by delta (even though it’s served by its partners), you have to call Delta’s customer service hotline and book over the phone as the delta agency in my country told me that Delta’s website system cannot correctly calculate the Milage cost when it comes to flying with other airlines thus the number of miles needed shown on their website is going to cost more than what it actually is. Example, for my case, Singapore to Europe toys trip costs 80,000 miles but their website told me 205,000 miles because delta doesn’t have a flight from Singapore to Europe. So therefore, do call them. There could be a chance you find a better deal…

    Overall, I still find them very unreasonable and won’t fly with them anymore once I’ve used up my miles. Being only a 3 star airline, their prices are sometimes worse than a five star airline like Qatar and Singapore airlines…

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