While we’re on the subject of getting the most out of Delta Skymiles, I wanted to point out that it’s possible to get one-way awards for less than the published price on their award charts.
First, some context. United, American, and British Airways (among other programs) offer one-way awards for half the cost of a roundtrip. Alaska Airlines and Aeroplan offer one-way awards for half roundtrip cost only on their own flights and not on partners. US Airways and Delta do not.allow one-ways at all for a discount, they charge the full roundtrip award even if you only fly one-way.
Different programs have different features, and this in and of itself isn’t an indictment of the program. But I do find it to be a real drawback, since I can’t combine Delta miles one-way with American or United miles the other in a reasonable way. Still, US Airways doesn’t have one-ways at a discount and I find Dividend Miles to be an excellent program.
Rather than just complaining I try to pass along tips, sometimes they may be obvious and other times should be obvious but in the confusing world of frequent flyer rules can be hidden in plain sight. But in any case we can make the most of the programs and rules as they’re given.
Delta’s one-way pricing leads to some absurdities, compared to programs which offer one-way awards.
Let’s take a quick look at Delta’s award chart for economy tickets (departing or arriving North America).
Delta shows just 12,500 miles one-way for domestic coach as a saver award, but the award chart offers up pricing each way based on roundtrip purchase.
The least expensive one-way domestic coach award is actually 25,000 miles.
If you asked Delta for a one-way award and need last seat availability, they’re going to charge you 60,0000 miles for that seat. Because you get a ‘high’ level award, and even though there’s no return flight in the reservation you get charged ‘high’ pricing both ways.
In contrast, American charges 12,500 miles for a one-way domestic coach saver award, and charges 25,000 miles for last seat availability — if there’s a seat for sale in coach and you want it for points, it costs no more than 25,000 miles.
The same award Delta wants 60,000 miles for, American wants just 25,000 miles.
(United has pricing similar to American’s, but they reserve true last seat availability for their elite members and holders of the United Explorer co-branded credit card.)
To take another — extreme — example, business class on Delta to South Asia at the saver level runs 60,000 miles each way, meaning 120,000 miles roundtrip. “High” availability can run 350,000 miles roundtrip. So if you wanted a ‘high’ level one-way award it would cost you 350,000 miles.
But we can reduce the cost of these awards.
Here’s the key phrase from their award chart:
Award mileage shown is each-way based on a required round-trip or multi-leg Award Ticket purchase. Customers can combine Economy, First, Business and BusinessElite® cabins and dates at various mileage levels
This provides several ‘outs’ and ways to reduce the cost of an award.
Always book a return, even when you aren’t going to use it.
You aren’t going to save miles booking a one-way ticket. If you’re flying an airline that Delta adds fuel surcharges to there can be an additional cost to have a return (and there may be additional airport taxes as well). But you can save miles, and you might even wind up using the return at some point.
If you had to book a ‘high’ level one-way domestic coach award, Delta would quote you 60,000 miles.
But if you paired that high level outbound with a saver level return, they would price it as 30,000 miles for the outbound (high) and 12,500 miles for the saver return. Just find a flight — any flight — that has saver space in the future and you can get the one-way outbound you want for 42,500 miles instead of 60,000.
That’s not nearly as good as American at 25,000, but it’s still a savings of 17,500 miles!
The lesson here is especially when you have to pay more than the minimum miles for a saver award, find saver award return since Delta is going to ‘average’ the roundtrip price of the outbound and return so you can lower your cost.
Use a Coach Award for the Return Even If You’re Flying Up Front for Your One-Way
A one-way ‘high’ award for domestic first class is 50,000 miles each way. If you booked Detroit-Los Angeles in First Class and needed last seat availability, just one way, Delta would charge 100,000 miles.
But if you added Los Angeles – Detroit (or Los Angeles – Atlanta as a for instance since open jaws are allowed) in coach, at the saver level, for any future flight where it’s available even though you won’t use it then you get to combine the two prices.
That’s 50,000 miles for your outbound and 12,500 miles for your return — the award now costs 62,500 miles instead of 100,000. And it’s even closer to what American would charge for the same thing (50,000).
Use an Open Jaw and Travel back from a Different Region to Reduce the Cost
If you needed ‘medium’ availability for business class to Northern Asia it’s 110,000 miles each way based on roundtrip purchase or 220,000 miles roundtrip — so 220,000 miles if you request just a one-way.
If you needed ‘high’ availability for business class to Northern Asia it’s 170,000 miles each way based on roundtrip purchase or 340,000 miles roundtrip — so 340,000 miles if you request just a one-way.
But open jaws are permitted.
So you could fly New York – Tokyo one-way with Delta in business class for 170,000 miles outbound last seat availability.
And then add Honolulu – New York one-way return in coach or 20,000 miles at the saver level.
Now your one-way award last seat availability in business class costs 190,000 miles instead of 340,000 miles. That’s hardly a value, but it’s a savings of 150,000 miles. And believe it or not there are people booking these 300,000+ mile awards!
An open jaw means you return from a different city than the one you arrived in. Delta will permit you to return from a different zone.
A legal open jaw requires that the unflown segment — in this case Tokyo – Honolulu — is shorter than either flown segment (New York – Tokyo and Honolulu – New York).
I haven’t tested how stringent Delta is in enforcing this requirement. But assuming that they are, the example I offered would work — but change Tokyo to Bangkok and it would no longer work, because the unflown Bangkok – Honolulu open segment is longer than Honolulu – New York.
Towards Better Value in an Emergency
This may be useful when you’re ‘stuck’. You need a last minute ticket, the mileage cost is exorbitant, but you don’t have other miles available or in sufficient quantity for the award. Your back is up against the wall and you’re realistically consider paying out of this world award prices.
Nothing in this post is about getting superior value from Delta. It’s about reducing the mileage you’re gouged as a result of their three-tiered pricing and lack of one-ways awards at half the cost of roundtrip.
Which means it’s something to file away and recall when you need it, rather than something most people will employ every day.