What in the World to Do With Those Delta Skypesos?

After yesterday’s post on award booking lessons, several readers posed questions about Delta Skymiles that amount to, “if Skypesos are so darned useless, what in the world can I do with them?”

Now, the only time you should actually accumulate Skymiles is if you are hub-captive to Delta and fly enough to earn elite status. Even if you live in a Delta hub, fly Delta, but aren’t earning status then consider crediting your flight miles to Alaska. And for goodness sakes, don’t credit any other sorts of miles to Delta, unless it’s somehow benefiting your quest for elite status — because you might well value upgrades more than awards.

The other time it makes sense to accumulate Skymiles is when the deal is just too crazy good, that even if you have to spend double or trip the usual number of miles on an award it still makes sense — for example a couple of summers ago when you could earn 10,000 Delta miles for a single one-day Avis or Budget car rental. Rack up a few of those, sure, why not?

And Delta bonuses are sometimes big and frequent enough that in spite of your best efforts you wind up with a stash of Delta Skypesos. And you want to make the most out of them. So a totally legitimate question.

The problem using Delta miles is four-fold.
(1) Delta award inventory, especially premium cabin inventory and especially to Asia, is incredibly sparse.
(2) Most of their partner inventory isn’t searchable online.
(3) Their online award calendar (which supports Delta and Air France inventory) is broken.
(4) Their award pricing engine is broken.

And as a result more often than not if you ask for a Delta premium class award to Asia you get quoted better than 300,000 miles. And it’s worth celebrating when you’re quoted straight out of the bat ‘only’ 240,000 miles.

But there are some hidden values in the Skymiles program, and some workarounds to overcome Delta’s technology limitations — their award availability, as bad as it is, really isn’t quite as bad as thier website portrays it to be.

In January I posted about some of the better uses for Skymiles. Contra commenter StuckWithDelta, you shouldn’t “just get a ton of magazines.”

Here are six partner redemption options to consider:

1. Korean is still a partner. Don’t trust Delta website inventory, I don’t really see business class availability on the Northwest website anymore, either. The same thing happened to Air France inventory. The website is just wrong, business class seats still exist, you just can’t find them by limiting yourself to the online tools that the airline provides. Now, Korean doesn’t often make more than a single business class seat available at a time. But it’s a good option.

2. Air France/KLM do make business class seats available stil…

3. Northwest legacy partnerships have been migrated. The first one that stands out is Malaysian. They fly, for instance, Los Angeles – Tapei – Kuala Lumpur. Their business class product is only ‘ok’ but a perfectly good option for getting to Asia. Too bad Delta doesn’t allow first class redemptions…

4. Another Northwest legacy partner is Air Tahiti Nui. Delta miles are actually among the best for getting to Tahiti, since they partner with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui — the only carriers offering service between the US and Tahiti. And in fact you could presumably contruct an award Los Angeles – Papeete – Auckland as a ‘hidden’ way to use Delta miles for getting to New Zealand.

5. As Gene observed, Delta partners with Jet Airways (and Kingfisher). Jet for one has a really top notch product, I have no personal experience with Kingfisher’s. Though at least in the latter’s case I understand award inventory isn’t the easiest to come by, there’s a nice product option for getting to India.

6. Kenya Airways if you fancy Africa… and Vietnam Airlines is joining up.

Of course you have about six weeks left to use Delta miles on Singapore Airlines, look for a single first class seat on the phone with Delta and be prepared to pay over $500 in fuel surcharges, but this remains the single best Skymiles award there is, until the clock strikes midnight on May 15 and these awards turn into a pumpkin.

Beyond that, I suggest having Delta check business class inventory for JFK – Brussels on Jet Airways, always check Air France business class awards especially outside of summertime, Korean is often good for (1) premium class seat to Asia, and China Southern Los Angeles – Guangzhou (with connections beyond) is a good hail mary pass for multiple premium cabin award seats on the same flight.

Now, Delta doesn’t offer anything but their own flights and Air France flights for redemption on their website. So the rest of the partners have to be checked online. And by phone they offer instant ticketing only, no award holds, which makes piecing together awards a frustrating experience.

But say you want to actually use the Delta website? There are some good tips here, as reminded to me by Flyertalk member Bikeguy, in this Flyertalk thread.

You can’t just enter your dates, enter business class, and search for awards and expect the Delta website to return accurate pricing and availability information. (Seriously.)

Instead, if you want business class space at the standard or ‘low’ mileage here’s the process you need to follow:

I will be the first to say DL’s award engine is horrendous at best, however there are ways around it.

Now for the guide (please note, although this guide was created to assist with travel from the US past AMS/CDG, it is also beneficial for all award bookings):

For awards beyond AMS / CDG in J, the best way to search is the following:

Search for USA – AMS / CDG ONE WAY in Y by Mileage.

In the flights displayed, look for those priced at 100,000, with seating in First / Business.

If you cannot find any 100,000 mile flights with First / Business seating, do another search but search for J this time.

Do this over and over until you find a 100,000 mile one way routing. Generally, it will be Business / First seats within your coach search. I think the problem most have is we tend to search for Business seats by selecting the business drop down. This is a big no no. Always select a coach search first, and seek business within, its often cheaper.

Next, perform another one way search in J for the AMS/CDG – EU. I generally find plenty of EU J inventory available.

Then, perform the same in reverse for your travel back to the US.

Once you find one way itineraries at the low mileage level, you perform a multi-segment award search. Be sure to select the flights you found earlier in the process at the low tiers.

Sometimes you may have to break down the segments even further such as TPA-ATL, ATL-CDG, CDG-OTP, in order to find the lowest available tiers.

One thing I have noticed is that so long as the DL Award Calendar shows J available at the low tier, it is, only you have to search to find it.

Again, you need to search segment by segment. Search one-way, not round trip. Delta will show you the full roundtrip award price, but if it does that at the ‘low’ level then the segment is available. Don’t search roundtrip, because the return can mess up the pricing.

Fine one-by-one each segment, a segment at a time, showing availability at the ‘low’ award price.

And then use the multi-city award booking, entering segment-by-segment, to select the exact flights you found at the low level. And the website should price it correctly.

Boy do I miss the old Northwest website, I miss when Delta.com showed more partners, and I miss when Delta would put awards on a 72-hour hold so you could work through this mess piece by piece. And of course I wish that Delta would even publish an award chart for trips that involving travel to or from North America, so we know what those are supposed to cost (they don’t, seriously).

All among the many reasons I’m strongly negative on Delta Skymiles. But there are things you can do to improve your award redemption, though it takes a good bit of work.

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. […] I really appreciate Scott’s question.  I assume that since Scott found his way here to MJ on Travel, he’s more than likely read View From the Wing.  I don’t know if it’s good blogger etiquette to refer a reader to another blogger, but I’m going to do just that.  If you’re interested in learning more about how to successfully burn SkyMiles, please read Gary’s recent post on this very subject. […]


  1. It’s just that Delta miles are so easy to earn, it takes so little effort. I have seen decent available to AMS on KL and onwards, which I find using Flying Blue (who has a pretty decent award calendar) and then call in to DL to book.

  2. Gary – isn’t this the Delta award chart?


    Also a suggestion – if you aren’t worried about Elite status and are seeking a specific type of award (continental US to Hawaii or the Caribbean) it’s actually more economical to credit to AF Flying Blue than Skymiles. I recently found the same availability as on Delta, but the awards are 30/60K for Hawaii, and 25/50K for the Caribbean, less than on Skymiles.

    AF Flying Blue is not a good value prop to Europe though because of fuel charges.

  3. @AS – that’s the Delta award chart, but as I say it only shows pricing for travel that begins or ends in the continental US, Alsaka, or Canada.

    How much does travel cost intra-Asia? From Europe to Africa? Our only clues are the old Northwest chart, but there’s no guarantee that remains accurate, as Delta does not publish such information.

  4. hey gary, thanks for this great post, i have like 400k delta miles with almost no use for them…
    i have 2 quick questions about skymiles…
    1) you mention kenya airways. nwa used to have intra-africa flights for 25k using kenya airways. for delta, i called and its 60k. has this partnership and deal migrated? i need to get a few people from uganda to s africa for the world cup and kenya has a bunch of availability…

    2) has any flyertalker ever gotten an answer from DL management on why they dont publish their award chart?

    also a comment to echo what someone said above about flying blue
    flying blue has a more economical chart for palces like israel and some of the middle east where it is only 50k for a flight from the usa (alitalia has that too).


  5. Way too much work for what I consider sub-par business/first product. I just used most of my 400k miles on a real nice, big flat screen tv and a few other items from SkyMiles Marketplace as a wedding gift for my “little girl”

  6. Gary, thanks for the info! I know there are lots of ATL-based DL flyers who are hub captive (status is almost worthless flying to and from Atl, on a recent flight from RIC some platinum medallions were sitting in Y) who need ways to use miles. These are great suggestions.

  7. Thanks for the great info, Gary! What about RTW award from Delta? Any experience booking it?

  8. Or wait for another complete financial cataclysm to ditch those Delta miles! In Feb 2009 I used Delta.com for 2 biz class seats for Mar 2009 Easter week travel San Francisco to Johannesburg & back (SFO-SEA-AMS-JNB-CDG-SFO)… for only 240,000 miles. And the best part: it was Alaska/NWA/KLM/AF so didn’t actually have to fly DL.

  9. Just curious – have you ever requested an interview with the head person of the Delta SkyMiles (Jeff whatshisname?) It would be interesting to see what he has to say about all of their limitations. On the DL blog they’ve blamed a lot of stuff on the NW integration but they’ve had enough time to fix it by now. Hopefully they didn’t fire the NW IT staff – their site was actually pretty decent.

    I’m a Diamond Medallion stuck in a (significantly decreased) Cincinnati Delta hub. Have held Platinum since 2003. In my opinion, availability was better (but not great) before they introduced the 3-tier system. Now it can be a real challenge to find the lowest award tier and when you do, frequently the flight segments suck (i.e. a 40 minute connection to an int’l flight in JFK or an 18 hour layover).

    Delta has been driving me away from them, with the elimination of the FRA, LGW, FCO, and AMS direct flights to Europe and then jacking up our negotiated biz fares on the remaining flight to Paris and Asia. Compound it with getting ripped off on award tickets and it’s really difficult to want to fly Skyteam. I’ve moved most of my business to Star on LH M&M – 2 weeks ago I just qualified for Senator status again this year.

  10. I find it incredible that DL does not publish an award chart for departures ex North America. I had a bunch of NWA miles which have now been converted to DL miles, and I find it extremely frustrating that I need to play phone roulette to figure out what flights are available and then at what cost. By the time they publish an award chart, they’ll probably raise their redemption levels. Ugh

  11. This is a horribly misleading article for anyone who knows how to find inventory and doesn’t care much much about international travel. Most SM participants redeem domestically, where availability is rampant if you have a little flexibility. Sure – an internationally-focused SM member might be up a creek without a paddle, as this article suggests, but not everyone flies internationally.

  12. I was bummed out reading the post. However, yesterday I had no trouble booking on line two business class IAD-LIS tickets on our first choice dates (mid-week) in October with a three day stopover at CDG on the return. Each round trip was 100K miles. I didn’t have to perform any tricks on the web site to get the routing to come up.

  13. Thank you for providing a candid assessment of the program that frustrates so many of us. Would you actively encourage defections from Delta on account of their loyalty programme?

  14. If you can fly decent legs from a hub then it’s not all that bad a deal for Delta, but I don’t have international experience. Flying SLC – IAH is VERY easy on an award ticket, plus one that costs only 25k miles RT. Not much issue with flying coach on those flights either, since they’re all Skywest planes.

    I don’t fly much, but it’s been nice to have used up all my miles back in Feb just to have accrued enough miles for yet another award ticket already.

    I used to work for Worldspan and have to say that it’s great that Delta’s finally doing better things with their online presence, even if it’s still lagging behind other providers. I’m not sold on Delta, but we’ve had decent experience with them.

  15. thanks for the tips. how does one credit their skymiles over to alaska? i thought that was not allowed?

  16. I decided to try out the new thai air asia partnership, it is a pretty good deal as far as points but the booking could still be better compared to other programs. It is 20k miles for a round trip from bangkok to bali (or any se asian destination). You make a reservation on the website and then a representative from thai air asia calls you back in 3 days to confirm that there is an available flight. The best thing is that they only require 7 days advance booking wo fees.

  17. 3,200 miles for one year of The Economist is the only consistent good redemption out there.

  18. To #11, maybe you’ve had luck but I’ve found SM domestic availability to be anything but “rampant”. In fact, while I’ve redeemed dozens of awards on NW, CO, AA and US over the years (domestic and int’l, coach and biz — almost all at saver levels), I don’t think I’ve ever been able to redeem a single DL mile. My only opportunities seem to have been bad connections for double or triple the miles (and DL flies nonstop virtually everywhere I’d want to go from my city) so I’ve always had far better options on other airlines.

  19. I’ve been struggling with finding a biz class seat with delta online as well, via either CDG or AMS, and was excited to see your post above on how to trick the system,… however.. I do not see a way to search award seats by Y or J. I assume that you mean to search for a one way pay ticket FIRST and then go for the award seats? I’m sorry, but would love a clarification on the steps above

  20. please help! i had been a platinum and am night dancing as fast as i can to retain gold. Through a mis calculation, i will need to acquire 2340 miles before dec 31st
    i will be away ( flying on delta as far as they will go, to Martinique,) and stupidly booked the return Jan 1st- thus losing the return mileage MQM credit
    i can fly on Sunday Nov 21 or Thursday Nov 11st for sure
    but i need to find a great ticket b/c i will basically be flying to get the miles and nothing more.
    does anyone have any suggestions where i might find a well priced RT ticket on Delta to obtain the elusive
    2340 MQM’s i neeed to retain gold status? this is really urgent. I am close to JFK and LGA any rapid and well thought out suggestions would be appreciated! namaste

  21. ps
    i am new to the delta blog, and dont know how to navigate it. will i find my replies on this page, where i wrote?
    thank you for your patients

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