Reducing the Cost of Delta Skymiles One-Way Awards

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.

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. Thanks for the caveats, and the suggestions are useful. Ways to make a dreadful program merely awful.

  2. The one thing to be mindful of is checking the impact on taxes and fees on the dummy return. They will go up for the additional flights…even though you are not flying. Avoid London dummy flights at all cost due to their high tax.

  3. excellent! Thanks Gary!

    Of course, you could try to match up the “dummy” return with a ticket you might actually use in the future, right? so, if you were going to LA a month later, could you book your return flight home – LA-NY at 20K miles – and actually use it?

  4. Heard about this awhile back and kept it in the back of my mind. (Very) long story short, I had to fly my daughter home from HKG last summer. Her return flights were cancelled so I looked to see if I could get her home on DL. Of course, I could get her home in Y for 160K (High). That was alot of Skypesos, so tried a few things and was able to get it down to 110K. Her return was easy- HKG>DTW>ROC. I wanted her to end in BUF but no award seats-short drive anyway.
    The second half of this ‘RT’ award is BUF>JFK>DUB in Y in March for her to visit a friend. Even if she doesnt use it, it saved me 50K Skypesos. Not sure what rule allowed this routing but it seems that one can cross both oceans on a single award. BTW, I booked this award 24 hrs before departure.
    The last part of her flight from HKG that I still dont understand was that when her boarding pass was scanned at the gate, it gave out a loud beep and the gate agent gave her a new boarding pass for a seat in business and told her to enjoy her seat and her flight. When she got home she told me that she will never fly again in the back of the plane……..

  5. @Kathy (Will Run for Miles) – yes that would be even better…And for a change fee (assuming your status doesn’t get you out of such) you can even change the return provided you do so more than 72 hours before travel

  6. Thanks, Gary. The 72-hour rule on DL awards is another rule that makes SkyMiles suck. It’s a shame, I love the in-flight product (wifi, HBO on Demand, Showtime, satellite TV, etc.).

  7. Also keep I’m mind that you can get a true one way on a delta flight by booking on air France. Of course, this is of no help if you only have delta miles, but great if you have membership rewards that can be transferred to air France.

  8. @Mark – 72 hour rule applied only to originating. Once you’ve departed, you can change the return *any* time without a fee (provided you are Platinum or Diamond).

  9. “If you’re flying an airline that Delta adds fuel surcharges” – then you only get saver inventory, so its probably not an issue.

  10. @Gary I tried to price it online JFK-NRT and return HNL-JFK under 1 booking and the system calculate it as 2 one ways for a total of 380,000
    340,000 for JFK-NRT
    40,000 for HNL-JFK

  11. Yeah, Gary, open jaw across regions doesn’t work…you can push and push and sometimes get it priced manually. But, as a general rule, it’s no go.

  12. To be honest, I would not even recommend flying on Delta unless you have miles to burn. One is better off using an alternate airport or changing the dates in order to use a one way mileage award on either United or American. Hopefully, Delta will realize they are losing customers because of this aspect. I use to look forward in traveling to Colombia on Delta but then their mileage requirements skyrocketed for a round trip starting at 45K miles whereas AA still does an off peak amount for a very reasonable 30K miles. Check it out on each of the websites.

  13. Also be aware that Delta will NOT let you book a flight anywhere for 12,500 Skymiles. Their awards chart says you can, but if you call and ask them where you can fly, they will tell you that’s based on round-trip prices. So even though it says it’s a one-way price, you have to book the return flight as well which is another 12,500. The lowest price they have is actually 25,000 Skymiles regardless of whether it’s a one-way or round-trip flight.

  14. Delta sky miles is the WORST of any major carrier…..and delta execs obviously do NOT CARE…try sending them an email and IF you get any responce it will be auto reply. They should be sued for bait and switch by advertising a one way from 12500 miles which is IMPOSSIBLE to book as they require a round trip…why that is not considered FRAUD and /or False advertsising is a mystery…come on lawyers..somebody file a class action suit against Delta as short of legal action they will continue to screw their sky miles members.

  15. Just looking at Air France website, it appears that they permit booking one way on DELTA (I tried ATL-FLL), but I never went all the way through the booking process, so I don’t know if it really works. A couple of years ago, they threw up roadblocks earlier in the process, but now I can get a full quote with taxes.

  16. Just to put customers through such nonsense should earn them a boycott. Indeed I fly monthly and have refused to pick more convenient flights if they’re Delta for this reason alone. I doubt if I’ll come back to them either based on the elitist Skymiles devaluation which flips off all but their richest fliers.

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