10 Tips on Using Delta SkyMiles

by on October 28, 2010 · 41 comments

in Delta, skyteam

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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. 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 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 :-)

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • kym

    I’m considering waiting until the last minute to book flights for a get away with our Skymiles points to Grand Cayman in Feb. I’ve noticed as I’ve been playing with the “book award ticket” feature on that they seem to drop the required Skymiles points the closer you get to that date. For instance, flights leaving this weekend were requiring 42, 000 points day before yesterday. Today the same flight is only requiring 35,000. Is it normal for it to drop like this? Am I an idiot for waiting until the last minute for a trip next month in the hopes of getting a good deal?

  • The Points Guy

    35,000 is the lowest you are going to get for an award ticket to the Carribbean, so I’d book that ASAP.

  • kym

    Thanks. I’m probably not making sense. The dates for when I actually want to travel are next month (50,000 +/- skymiles). I am just watching the required points go down, down for travel this week (to 35, 000) and wondering if that might happen again as the dates I actually want to travel (mid Feb.) get closer. Your post suggests that Delta does lower the point requirements last minute…I’m just not sure I should hedge my bets on that happening next month or just buy a regular ticket now. I only have 36, 000 Skymiles right now. Thanks for any input. I am really soaking up your blog…great ideas. Can’t wait to use some of them!

  • Jill

    Thank you so much for these tips! I’ve been trying to piece my award puzzle together and using the mult-city is such great advice! You’re right… the award calendar is broken and it can get quite frustrating to get a good deal….especially since I don’t have very many points right now. :)

    Last night I tried the multi-city leg research and at the last minute, one of my legs changed from low to medium. Gaaaah! I’m so close though, I can feel it!

  • Lee

    This is cool. Thank you for posting it up!

  • Jim

    The KLM flight I want is available on Flying Blue at the low (“classic”) level, but the Delta search engine and representatives don’t see it. Does KLM reserve some rewards seats only for Flying Blue members, and not release them to its partners? Might they release more seats for this flight, and if so, when? Do I have any options or am I out of luck? Thanks!

  • The Points Guy

    Jim- Delta has a problem seeing KLM awards sometimes (especially business awards). Ask the agent to “long sell and wait for HK confirmed” for that flight segment. An experienced agent will know what that means and be able to manually get the ticket to price. If its a classic award, you should be able to book it.

  • Jim

    Thanks so much for your help. I’ve since talked to five different Delta reps, all of whom report the same thing: their computers show no availability for the flight, and there’s nothing they can do. When I ask them to long sell, they say “If there was availability we could sell it, but nothing is showing up.” When I point out that it’s still available at the classic level on Flying Blue, they say that sometimes airlines keep seats for their own members and don’t release them to partners. Help!

  • The Points Guy

    Jim- its aggravating as can be, but hopefully you will get a rep who can help. You may have to keep trying. Otherwise, double and triple check the flight is actually bookable on Air France as a classic award- sometimes that site does show phantom availability

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  • Amit Modi

    Trying to send my wife and two daughters to San Jose, CA from ATL in the month of July. All flights are available at 40,000+. How can I get tickets at 25,000 miles. They would like to go after July 4th and come back before July 28th.

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  • ania

    How do I figure out which flights are low? Just by searching various options, or is there another way?

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  • Roodmom

    When is the best time to fly to Hawaii using the lowest amount of points, I wont use 77,000 points, thats too much!

  • Seanbouabid

    I am trying to go from Miami to Vancouver Dec 10-17th and they want 50,000 miles when I only have 45,000. Is 50,000 miles expensive for canada?

  • Rina

    I was just told by a rep that I have to sign up for a Delta Sky Miles Gold Card in order to use my miles at all…. is this true??

  • Anonymous


  • Tovah

    Can I book Delta Skymiles in first class Air France from the US to France?

  • Anonymous

    Nope- you can only use Delta miles to redeem for coach or business class

  • Tovah

    Are there any Skymiles awards I can redeem for first?

  • Anonymous

    Domestic first or international business class

  • scott

    How do I book using Korean Air from Seattle to ICN-Seoul?

  • EMC

    Trying to book award travel IAD-JNB. Whatever needs to happen in between to get a decent fare is fine. I haven’t managed to find anything below 100,000, even if I enter all “low” one-way segments as a multi-city search. Any suggestions? Delta is useless over the phone.

  • arjun

    When I try and book 2 seats it increases each award by 5k miles. Could I just book 2 seats separately so it’s 10k miles cheaper?

  • Frenchetta28

    New to the sky miles system. i have 95,000 miles and would like to fly from nyc to london. how many miles would that be? Is it better to fly delta partner airline? Thanks

  • Robert

    Wow–#1 is extremely true. Thanks for saving me a bunch of miles.

  • Dr_michellemoore

    I just tried booking a flight to Hawaii on Alaska using my skymiles and even though alaska showed award availability at 20,000 one way, Delta said that they had only 32,000 award level. I called alaska to get help and they said that it was because they only alott a certain amount of award levels to delta and I was stuck with having to pay more miles. Is this true? Ive read everything you’ve written and what they say just doesn’t seem right. Help please

  • girldoc

    I just got off the phone with Delta AGAIN and I am losing my mind. I just want to book a one way ticket from san diego to maui on Alaska using skymiles (and I tried the suggestion of saying short sell it and wait for the HK confirmation) and was told that it would not be 20,000 points like the alaska award chart said it would be 52,000 based on round trip because even though it was an alaska air flight I would be using skymiles through Delta. So is that true, am I stuck with what they said?

  • thepointsguy

    Delta doesn’t do one way awards at half the price. Minimum for coach roundtrip to hawaii would be 35,000 and if it’s all Alaska legs it will be at low level.

  • Liz

    I’m planning to go from San Diego to Orlando in December. I have 67k miles. As of now, its 50k per person..ugh. Should I wait and accumulate more miles or bite the bullet and pay the $500? I’m worried the required miles wont go down & flights will get booked or am i being a worry-wart?

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  • CrysandKeith

    Is the around the world trip for 300,000 or 350,000 a good option for a honeymoon? Are there any tricks I should know about for getting the most from this trip? Also can you get upgraded to first and if so how?


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  • Tiffany

    I just had my skymiles card October of 2012 and I love it. I already have 80,000 miles on it. Love it! I wished I applied for this before I went on my vacation in southeast asia in October 2012. I bought my ticket 2 months before I decided to get a Skymiles Delta Gold.

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  • june

    Trying to use AMEX miles to fly to Paris in October…hopefully business class. What do you think is the best we can do. don’t mind Virgin to London then bullet train; Air France or KLM would be great …..will have to join their rewards programs first before transferring I think…but that’s okay. Thank you for your help !!!

  • gatorgirl

    starting to plan trip to south Africa for travel in 2015. Need to decide how best to fly from south florida to Johannesburg using points for business class and on whom so I can start directing my points to correct place. also, do you know if I already have skymiles in acct., can I use my sapphire preferred points together with them and if so, how?

  • Tyler

    Hey points guy,
    I’ve recently booked my awards ticket roundtrip boston to london for 60k miles. I’m trying to fly my gf out of kc to meet me there and the lowest from there is almost 100k. I was thinking of having her do a rountrip from kc to boston to get on my flight and there are still flights from boston available for 60k miles but the direct flight I’m on is now 78k. I’m a diamond member but only have 47k in my account right now. trying to figure out how to best pull this off, any suggestions would be wonderful.

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