Despite my many beefs with the Delta Skymiles program, I do my best to identify ways that those miles can be used as productively as possible.
Some Skymiles Award Challenges
You can’t use Skymiles for one-way awards without paying the roundtrip price (but if you must fly one-way at the ‘high’ level on Delta aircraft, don’t just book a one-way — book a one-way high, and return at the low level for whatever date that is available, it will bring down the price of your one way to the average of high and low, rather than the roundtrip high price).
And you can’t use Skymiles for international first class awards.
But with their airline partners especially, if you know where to look, you can get good international business class availability to get most anywhere.
Great International Business Class Options on Delta’s Partners
I’ve frequently pointed out that Delta miles are actually the best for the two toughest awards there are: French Polynesia and Australia. French Polynesia because they partner with both airlines flying from the mainland US to Tahiti (Air Tahiti Nui and Air France) and Australia because they partner with Virgin Australia, Virgin Australia has the best award availability to Australia especially on the Los Angeles – Brisbane route, because those seats are even available at Delta.com now, and because they’ve stopped charging fuel surcharges for those flights as well.
I’ve highlighted the great award availability on Korean, now seearchable on the Delta website, and the great availability on China Southern from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, China and beyond (albeit last time I checked, with fuel surcharges, and no searchable at Delta.com). You can fly Korean and China Southern to Australia as well, with a stopover in Asia in one direction if you wish.
And award availability from the US to Saudia Arabia and beyond on Saudia is truly out of this world good. The business class product is a generation behind world standard, but there are no fuel surcharges and you can get a whole family to India on miles as one example of its usefulness.
Finally, despite an inability to book Air France business class award space, that space appears to be back.
Another Option I’m Having Great Luck With: Aeroflot
Today I would like to add Aeroflot to the list of surprisingly easy and non-obvious redemption opportunities in the Skymiles program.
Aeroflot is a full member of the Skyteam alliance. You can combine it with other airline partners using Delta awards. And while the name itself may conjure up Soviet-era backwardness, they fly modern Airbus aircraft and conform to world standards is pretty much all respects.
Aeroflot awards do incur fuel surcharges, the same as would be included with a paid fare. In my experience Aeroflot’s surcharges are lower than most European carriers — JFK – Moscow roundtrip currently runs $233. If you fly JFK – Moscow – India it will be double that amount.
Where You Can Go With Aeroflot
Aeroflot flies to New York-JFK (twice daily), Washington Dulles (twice a week) and Los Angeles (five times a week). Their other North American flights are Punta Cana, Cancun, and Havana.
Availability is out of this world good, at least if you’re looking for two (and not more than two) business class award seats. You can find that most days from New York and from Washington Dulles (on those days the Dulles flights operate).
You can also on occasion get Delta award seats from New York JFK to Frankfurt, and from various gateway cities to London. Aeroflot availability from London and Frankfurt to Moscow is equally good for two passengers.
Note though that I pretty much never see more than two business class seats at a time available on Aeroflot.
Once you make it to Moscow, you can use Aeroflot as an unexpected way to get to Dubai or to Delhi. With two daily flights to Dubai and one to Delhi I’ve found award availability to be very good. And in fact, it’s less flying to go from New York to Delhi via Moscow than it is to transit Paris.
I haven’t booked Aeroflot to Istanbul but it’s within allowable maximum mileage to fly there via Moscow so that’s a major destination option as well, in addition of course to nearby Russian destinations.
Aeroflot serves the Maldives, one of the toughest places to get to on a frequent flyer award because of limited service by airlines that are members of the major alliances. But it’s only three-times weekly and I find that coach award space is plentiful (often as many as 5 seats available on a flight) but business class is not.
Unfortunately Delta’s award rules do not permit flying from the US to North or South Asia via the Atlantic — so you can’t use Aeroflot to get from the US to China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, or Aeroflot’s other destinations in the region.
How to Find Aeroflot Award Space
Delta.com does not allow you to search for awards on Aeroflot.
Neither does the usual standby for Skyteam award availability, AirFrance.us. Update: Not sure what I was thinking because indeed the AirFrance.us website shows award availability on Aeroflot. You need to have a Flying Blue frequent flyer account, but do not need any miles in that account, in order to search for the space. If you’re looking at transatlantic flights you can distinguish days when Aeroflot is available from when Air France is available by lower taxes and fees (“from $143” rather than “from $500″… showing on the calendar along with mileage cost on a one-way award).
Delta phone agents can’t be relied upon to tell you what is available. You could luck out and find one who knows that Aeroflot is a partner and how to find Aeroflot awards. But a Delta phone agent telling you nothing is available doesn’t mean nothing is available.
You can hang up call back, and assume after three no’s in a row that there’s probably no space.
Or you can do the award search on your own. There are three places you can do that — determine which flights have availability, and then ring up Delta and ask for awards on those particular flights (and if you get told they aren’t available when you know that they are, hang up and call back).
You can search Aeroflot award inventory at Expertflyer…
… and also with the KVS Tool
Finally, Wandering Aramean offers a free award search option that covers Aeroflot (registration on his site required).
Aeroflot offers a modern but not world class business class product — angled flat shell seats on their Airbus long haul fleet.
Roughly speaking I would expect them to be on par with other Skyteam carriers Air France or KLM. They are not a top quality Asian carrier, they are Russian but compete effectively against their European counterparts. I have not flown them. But I wouldn’t be afraid to, either.