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As a Delta Platinum and SkyMiles connoisseur, I thought I’d give some advice on how to best use your “hard earned” SkyMiles.
1) Don’t let the Delta award calendar do the thinking for you. The online search engine is broken – period. Even if it shows “low” awards they often price at crazy levels. The best way is to piece together your itinerary is one leg at a time. So if you want to go from Boston to Madrid, figure out what flights are “low” level from BOS-JFK/ATL and then find out what flights are low JFK/ATL and all the way back. Once you have all low level legs, use the multi-city search and piece them all together. The Delta engine will automatically stick you with medium/high legs, thus repricing your itinerary to needlessly expensive levels.
2) Try to use partners as much as possible. Any partner availability will be at the low level. For Air France/KLM/Kenyan availability, create a Flying Blue account, which will allow you to search by month. Expertflyer.com is a great paid tool that allows you to search for Air France, Aeroflot, China Southern, Malaysian, Air Europa, Alitalia and Alaska award availability. Once you find the routes with availability, try booking them on delta.com using the multi-city search and if that isn’t working, call and feed the phone agent the information.
3) Book last minute awards. Delta opens up a lot of last minute award tickets and they don’t charge a last minute booking fee, unlike US and American.
4) Call for availability. While some reps will brush you off, it is possible to find a gem who will work hard to help you get the award you want. Trust me, the reps are just as frustrated as we are that the online search engines are broken.
5) Get creative on routing. Remember that Delta has a lot of US hubs – Atlanta, New York JFK/ LGA, Detroit, Memphis, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. If JFK-LAX is only showing at the “medium” level, try doing JFK-SLC-LAX, which is often available at low levels.
6) Don’t try to redeem for international first class – SkyMiles are only available for coach, domestic first and international business class.
7) Upgrading is expensive on Delta, but can be worth it. I recently upgraded a $900 Hawaii trip using 30,000 miles, which I felt was a good value, since I earned almost that many miles with my Platinum bonus and promotions.
8 ) Always check to see if first class is available for the same or less miles. I’ve seen many 60,000 mile coach itineraries that are available at the “low” first class level of 45,000 miles.
9) Don’t forget about non-Skyteam partners! Skymiles can be used on Alaska, Avianca, Virgin Australia, Air Asia, JetStar, Air Tahiti Nui, Hawaiian, China Airlines, Jet and Kingfisher. Most of the time you have to call to get availability on these partners.
10) BE PERSISTENT. Checking a million different one-way routings and partner availability may be tiring, but persistence pays off. And if you don’t feel like bothering with it, you can always use my award ticket booking service