It’s a Great Time to Use Delta Miles for Travel on Virgin Australia

I consider using Delta miles for travel on Virgin Australia to be the absolute best use of Skypesos. Delta even allows online booking for Virgin Australia awards and has stopped collecting fuel surcharges when redeeming for that carrier.

While Delta miles tend to be the toughest to use of any major carrier, award availability tends to be quite bad. They don’t permit one-way awards for half the cost of roundtrip (neither does US Airways). Their agents are clueless, their award booking website offers limited partners and is generally quite broken. International first class awards aren’t allowed.

And yet ironically the miles are better for travel between the U.S. and Australia — one of the toughest frequent flyer awards there is — than anyone else’s. And that’s not just because they will let you go the long way via Asia (such as on Korean and China Southern) and certainly not because it’s easy to score premium cabin seats on their own Los Angeles to Sydney flights. Instead, it’s because they partner with Virgin Australia. And Virgin Australia has by far the best availability between North America and Australia of any airline. This is especially true on Virgin Australia’s Los Angeles – Brisbane flight, where I have even seen four business class award seats on the same flight during the absolute ‘peak of peak’ Christmas and New Years period.

Milepoint member JWHPN messages me to share his recent experiences booking Virgin Australia awards with Delta miles. And the lessons seem worth passing along, since they reinforce things I’ve written in the past about making the absolute best use of Delta miles.

Their comments below, followed by my additional commentary and explanation.

Delta’s award calendar might be even more broken/misleading than before they “enhanced it”. Delta’s calendar doesn’t show low award space internationally to AUS/NZ until you clicked through on the day you wanted and sorted by miles per passenger, even on some days that the calendar showed no availability. The VA website is still your best friend trying to use Delta miles.

The Delta website will show you a calendar of what dates various awards are available. Do not trust it.

You need to find flights day by day. Search one day at a time. And you will come up with awards that are available even though the calendar says that they aren’t.

If you want Virgin Australia business class award seats the best way to find them is to sign up for a Virgin Australia frequent flyer account. Yes, there are restrictions on what countries’ residents are supposed to join although of course you don’t need them to mail you a membership card — just to instantly set up your online access to their website so that you can search for award space.

Awards that are available at the lowest mileage cost are also going to be available for use with Delta miles. Find those flights on Virgin Australia’s website, then try to book at And if you can’t get the Delta website to display the flights, call Delta. Just recognize that Delta agents don’t always even know who their partners are, let alone how to find award seats on those partners, so you may have to call more than once.

When Virgin Australia updated their booking systems a week ago, they dumped a ton of award space out there. I was seeing 5/6 out of 7 days a week worth of award space available thru February and March, which is supposedly high season down there. I’m still seeing space 2-4 days a week into march from LAX-SYD/BNE/MEL

Virgin Australia award space seems to go in spurts, sometimes there is an absolute ton, sometimes it dries up, then it’s available again. The amazing thing is how many award seats are available during peak season, on all of their flights but in my experience especially the Brisbane flight (which not coincidentally is also the flight that’s easiest to redeem for on Qantas as well.)

With the system changeover, all the Virgin Australia flights that used to be coded DJ are now VA coded. Meaning you can book way more connecting options now. I was able to add on SYD-ZQN to my award itinerary, saving me another 1200 dollars. To me, this a huge development, because with Skymiles you can do open jaw AND a stopover, and now you don’t have to use extra miles to build out the rest of your trip.

Virgin Australia has consolidated flights former Virgin Blue flights, and now that those flights area operated as Virgin Australia (“Virgin Blue” wasn’t a Delta partner) you can include those flights as part of your award ticket.

American miles can be used don Qantas and that’s great for intra-Australia travel. Now Delta miles are good for such travel as well. Star Alliance, which partners with Air New Zealand, has a hole in their redemption map for those intra-Australia flights.

Thanks for the reminders, JWHPN!

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, 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. Being able to redeem on trans-Tasman flights is nothing new. I booked BNE-WLG months before the Sabre transition. You just had to know that if the VA website showed space on the DJ flight number, you would call DL and ask them to check the corresponding VA flight number. (In almost all instances, it was as simple as changing the carrier designation and the flight number stayed the same.) The Sabre transition has resulted in being able to see VA seatmaps on (but not select your seats) and trans-Tasman flights booked in the forward cabin have had their fare class changed from Z (business) to P (premium economy) since VA does not operate their 738s with business seats to New Zealand.

    What would be a major development is if would accept more VA destinations for online booking. It’s not possible to ticket LAX-BNE-(anywhere in New Zealand) online at this stage, for instance.

  2. If you live in LA or somewhere nearby? Sure

    If you’re an east coaster however, you’re effectively paying a $400 fuel surcharge (or 25,000 extra miles) per ticket when you factor in needing to spend on positioning flights – and for the vast majority of us who don’t have top tier status…. 5+ hours in coach as well

    I’ll take my chances with *A and find a routing through Asia or Europe that works

    As worthless as Skypesos are, I’d still rather use 110K Dividend miles to get there in business class the whole way than 150K SkyPesos + $400 positioning flight + transcon flights in coach

  3. @RQ: I had no problem finding OMA-MSP-LAX flights in F to connect to my LAX-BNE flight. Not saying I had a ton of choices, but I found a good option with just the right amount of connection time. AS flights can also be booked, and the MPM for US-Australia is generally large enough that routing via SEA is an option.

  4. @RQ
    I actually was able to find JFK-LAX direct options to get me to my LAX-SYD segment in both Y & J. I’ll concede your point that elite status helps. I chose the Y option because it was direct, and as a Plat, I could get two exit row seats, and still get a possible upgrade/change if it opens up last minute.
    I actually chose this itinerary over another one I had booked that was exactly what you described. 110k US Airways miles per person, would’ve gotten me 4 flight segments in Sinagpore J. I was very tempted to use that one, but the extra time on the ground in AU/NZ by going West versus East made it worth it to me.

  5. @JW HPN

    A quick look at Delta C availability from JFK to LAX has about 1/3 of the month available in March, April, May, and then almost nothing until the end of August

    Business class doesn’t have any seats between March and November

    So basically, “best case scenario”, if you have a ton of flexibility you’re using 150K miles + > 10 hours in coach

    “most likely scenario”, you’re using 150K + ~$400 + > 10 hours in coach

    But then, if you have a ton of flexibility, even more so you should look towards *A or OW since the one real advantage of this is supposed to be that availability is wide open

    This is still a pretty terrible use of Skypesos for most of us. I don’t blame Gary for this though…. I know he puts in a ton of effort to find any redeemable quality about SkyPesos, but it just isn’t there

  6. I agree with both RQ and JW HPN’s analysis. I live in NYC and have family in Melbourne. The only tickets I seem to find with Skypesos from NYC to LAX is via ATL or DTW with awful connecting times. Throw in an overnight at an SPG LAX hotel airport with an extra domestic flight from SYD or BNE to MEL and we’re talking about $400+ extra. Then there’s the 110,000 US Airways option that entails 3-4 stopovers either in SIN or BKK. But then, here’s my analysis: the problem with Skypesos is that it’s really not easy to use them. I’ve always rationalized that I get my Skepesos’s worth by flying on AF but I just received a flight change from Delta substituting all of my AF flights with Delta’s. I’m contemplating just redepositing those miles and using them to fly VA to Australia and be done with them. So the dilemma becomes: 100,000 to Europe in crappy “premium” Delta or 150,000 + $400 to Australia? (Not considering *A, US or AA’s chart for comparison). To the Delta representative Paul Skrbec who reads this blog, I’ve pretty much had it with Delta and I’m glad to have to have always been elite with AA. Collecting miles/flying with Delta was more for convenience since I’m based in NYC. Not anymore. Sure, there are 300 million of us living here in the US and I’m sure one less member won’t put a dent towards your bottom line. But I’m customer who will gladly pay F fares if that’s what’s needed to get me from point A to B in comfort. I will now inconvenience myself and fly on AA and UA if necessary so that my hard earned miles won’t be so thoroughly devaluated.

  7. You can also use Alaska to get to the West Coast — I booked DCA-LAX in first to position myself for
    my Virgin Australia flights (LAX-MEL-BNE and SYD-LAX, with a stopover in MEL and the open jaw between BNE and SYD filled by a 4500-Avios Qantas flight.)

  8. @ Bill

    But when you factor in 4,500 Avios + 50,000 Alaska + 150,000 Delta, you’re talking a total of 204,500 Skypesos for one passanger. That’s almost two US Airways business class tickets from DCA to Australia.

  9. @Gavin: As I indicated earlier, you can include AS flights on your DL award. Thus, you’re not spending any AS miles to get to LAX. AS flights available to DL are always at low. Thus, DCA-LAX-BNE/SYD/MEL is still just 150K round trip.

  10. @ Mitch

    Thanks Mitch. Learned something that AS on DL are always at low. Appreciate it. But I haven’t had any luck finding LAX – MEL with VA. And then I still need to get from NYC to DCA but that’s another issue.

  11. @Gavin: AS flies to EWR, too, so you could do EWR-SEA-LAX-BNE-MEL. LAX-MEL is only three times per week. Definitely look at LAX-BNE and then BNE-MEL. I find that it’s rare to find a day where there’s not VA space from LAX to one of their three non-stop destinations in Oz.

  12. AS is a great option if you’re at a hub on the west coast. It’s less useful for those of us in the northeast, since the flights are limited and availability is underwhelming (especially in business)

    If you’re lucky, you can get AS C from the east coast – so if you’re lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to sit in a terrible coach product for 10 hours of your journey

    No thanks…. I’ll take a slightly longer but far more comfortable routing on *A or OW, and save myself tens of thousands of miles

  13. Setting aside availability, would you choose Qantas or Virgin Australia for a better business class product? I’m holding a Christmas flight on AA F/QF J DCA->LAX->MEL. LAX to MEL is on the A380.

  14. Every time a find a RT combination on Delta for NYC-SYD and go to choose the flights, when I get to the last leg, Delta responds:

    “We’re sorry. One or more of the flights you selected just sold out. Please search again to view and select alternate flights.”

    Never fails – I’ve tried about 14 combinations for 100,000 miles RT to SYD. It seems Delta does not want to give up that reward for 100,000 miles Anyone else experience this sneaky trick?

  15. @RQ,

    *A and OW are stronger alliances, but I’ll trade 10hrs in exit row coach with the possibility of an upgrade, and minimal (for me) out of pocket for another 12-24 hrs in my vacation destination and less total travel time. But that’s obviously partly due to my personal preferences. I think you have to agree that compared to paying retail, it’s still a great value at 150k plus $50-400. Heck, if Delta brings back the 1.1cent transfer deal, I might stock back up on Delta miles speculatively.

  16. @JW

    There are very few mileage redemptions out there in a premium cabin which aren’t great value “compared to paying retail”

    And yes, there are some circumstances this might work – if you live in a west cost hub and/or have status

    But for the overwhelming people who aren’t Delta Diamond and live in Seattle…. this is just another glaring example of how terrible skypesos are

  17. I booked my flight a month ago and AS availability on DCA-LAX at the beginning of July was wide-open. Availability on AS really isn’t that bad from the East Coast.

  18. @Gary SQ can also redeem VA awards, so while not all Star Alliance carriers have access to intra-Australia awards, neither do all SkyTeam carriers either.

  19. We are going to Australia next month on DL awards. Outbound is LAX-MEL and the return is SYD-BNE-LAX in business. Couldn’t find seats to get to LA at all (y or c). Ended up using avios for AA flights using 34k Amex pts with transfer bonus from Amex to get 50k. Transcontinental in coach is not very attractive but without the Skypesos I wouldn’t be going on this trip. Also, we are criss crossing Australia on Qantas flights using avios and AA miles. There was better availability on AA than BA except on one short flight.

  20. I just tried to use Skymiles for

    SYD-LAX-SJD(Cabo) (Destination)
    SJD-LAX (Stop)
    LAX-SYD (End)

    Flights across the Pacific were with VA and LAX-Mexico return with AS.

    Pricing desk of Delta priced this as two awards instead of one at 150k miles. I was told that this was an “unpublished fare” and therefore it would be priced as two tickets. Anyone with a similar experience? It appears others have not had this issue combining AS and VA on the same award ticket.

  21. Thanks so much. I’m actually planning a trip to Australia for November this year from the East Coast. I’m working on getting myself the last bit of miles I need and firming my plans through work.
    I’ve already started looking on the VA site for flights.

  22. Can you redeem Delta miles for purely domestic Australia VA awards as well? if so, what’s the required mileage?

  23. Wowza. I didn’t even notice that DL’s intra-SWP chart was that awful. I used BA for intra-Australia travel when I was there. In May, I’ll be using 45K AA miles to fly QF F on the A380 from SYD to HKG (starting in AKL, actually). That closes the open jaw on my Delta award: OMA-WLG//HKG-OMA.

  24. @ jjl – Regarding that message “We’re sorry. One or more of the flights you selected just sold out. Please search again to view and select alternate flights.”

    I’ve been searching some domestic Australian flights using Delta too, and I find this message comes up EVERY TIME. I’ll search a route, pick the flights that are available, go to price it, and boom – get that same message for one of the legs. I give up, come back the next day, and try again – having the exact same experience…with the same flight that initially shows as available, then suddenly flips to “just sold out” (yeah, right). Either their system is broken, or it’s doing this intentionally (or both). Sux.

  25. Just booked my ticket! 150,000 RT from LAX to BNE and then another 32,000 miles for my JFK to LAX flight in coach. Didn’t have enough to do it all in Business. I can’t wait! Thanks to you and the other bloggers for helping with tis. Otherwise I would have paid $2,000 to fly in coach.

  26. Just booked for 320,000 (2 people) for SFO-LAX-SYD RT (SFO-LAX in Delta First, LAX-SYD in VA Business). Worked like a charm, lots of availability, and only $128/pp in fees

    BTW, it didn’t give me a chance to pick VA seats *AND* didn’t show VA booking ref; will call them and ask about the seats in a few days

  27. @Tony Teng: DL.dumb doesn’t provide partner booking references for any other carriers, so that’s not surprising. DL agents likely won’t be able to help with seats either. However, at the moment, the DL iPhone app is allowing seat selection for VA flights. Once you get the VA PNR, you can check on (free tool for viewing info in Sabre PNRs) to make sure that the seat went through. I was pleasantly surprised when I was recently able to select 5K on the TPAC well over a week before the flight. So far still there. (Flight’s next week.)

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