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How to Book a Delta SkyMiles Award

by on February 6, 2011 · 62 comments

in Delta

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Over the next couple weeks, I’m going to be assembling basic guides on the major frequent flyer programs. Since I know Delta best, I’ll start there and continue to edit it with more information as time goes on. If you have any questions, post them in the comments box and I’ll update them in the thread. Hopefully we can all create a constantly evolving source of information on the best way to redeem SkyMiles.

Alliance: Delta is a founding member of the Skyteam Alliance. Partner members include Air France, Alitalia, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air Europa, China Southern, Czech, Kenya, KLM, Korean, TAROM, Vietnam, and future members are China Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas, Saudi Arabian, and Garuda Indonesia.

Other partners: Alaska Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas, Avianca, China Airlines, China Eastern, Gol, Hawaiian, Jet, Kingfisher, Malaysia, V Australia

Tiers:
The Delta Skymiles program is unique in that it has three tiers of awards: low, medium, and high. You can mix and match awards, but the system prices then are a la carte. For flights originating in the US, the award chart can be found here. You’ll notice only coach and business class awards can be booked using Skymiles. Premium economy and first class awards on Skyteam partners are not allowed. All partner awards are booked at the lowest tier, however, if you add a domestic Delta leg that is in medium to a low level partner award, the award automatically charges as a roundtrip low + roundtrip medium – which can insanely increase the price of your award.

One way awards:
The award chart is misleading in that it shows flights as one-ways, but one way awards do not cost half the price of a roundtrip – they cost the full amount. However, if you want to buy a one way award in business class from the US to Europe, instead of paying 100,000 miles for a low tier award, you can add on a fake return on a low coach day and get the award for 80,000 miles instead (1/2 of a 100,000 business and 1/2 of a 60,000 coach).

How to book awards:
The Delta.com award calendar and booking engine is broken. No way around it – they may have been dressing it up lately, but at a core level the system does not function properly. When the calendar shows “low” dates, you may pull up the award and it will actually price out at a medium level. Some days that show medium, may actually price to low when you click through.
Delta.com can book some Skyteam partner awards (like Air France, KLM and Air Europa), but they won’t always show up on the calendar. I’ll explain the best ways to find partner award availability in a separate section.

Delta is a maddening system that can be somewhat tamed if you know the tricks of the trade:

Trick 1: use the one way search to sniff out the segments that are truly low.
Trick 2: do not let the engine “think” for you. Don’t search SAN-LHR and say a prayer it will find the perfect routing at the low level. Use trick #1 and search leg by leg for the low segments. For example, SAN-LAX, and then LAX- ATL, then ATL-LHR. It is a time consuming approach, but is the only real way to find low level segments.
Trick 3: once you find all of the segments you want, piece them them together using the multi-city search. This method is pretty reliable, just make sure to write down the flight numbers of the flights that have low availability.
Trick 4: try calling Delta and asking an agent for help. Some agents (especially Platinum and Diamond lines) can be helpful and they have better search tools. Although some people have reported being kicked off the phone for spending too much time with an agent, so your experience may vary. If you happen to get a savvy agent, use them for all they are worth!

Booking Skyteam and partner awards:
There are several tools that will help you identify actual Skyteam award inventory.
Airfrance.us: Sign up for a Flying Blue frequent flyer account for free and then you’ll have access to their award tool which is proficient for Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Kenya, Air Europa, and TAROM.
Their award calendar is actually on the smarter side, so when you see green dates, it means there are “low” level Skyteam bookable awards.
Wandering Aramean Tools: This free service lets you search Aeroflot, Air China, China Southern, Vietnam, China Southern, Czech, TAROM, Vietnam
Expertflyer.com: This paid service will let you search for Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentinas (future Skyteam member), Air Europa, Air France, Alaska, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czec, Delta (only upgrade space), GOL, Hawaiian, Malaysia, and TAROM.
KVS Tool: This paid service will let you search for Delta awards by tier for Air France, KLM, Czech, Aeroflot, Alitalia, TAROM, Aeromexico, China Southern, Vietnam, Kenya, and Air Europa

Once you find partner space, you can try booking it at Delta.com using the multiple city search for Delta, KLM, Air France, and Air Europa … however, the system is volatile. Your best bet is calling Delta and hoping to get an agent who knows what they are doing. When booking Skyteam partners and the rep doesn’t see the availability that you know is there simply:
1) Ask them to long sell the award (say “trust me”) and wait for HK confirmed (they will know what this means)
2) Hang up and call again. I usually have to hang up 3 or 4 times before getting an agent smart enough to book Skyteam partners like China Southern and Vietnam.

Stopovers/ Open Jaw:
Delta is actually flexible with awards and allows two stopovers or a stopover and an open jaw. For example if you were going to take a European cruise that left from Athens and returned to Istanbul and you also wanted to see Paris, you could book ATL-ATH (Destination), IST-CDG (stopover), CDG-ATL (return) all for the price of a roundtrip ticket pending award availability of course.

Cancelling an award ticket:
In order to change an award, you must redeposit the miles and rebook. Delta charges $150 per ticket, unless you are a Platinum or Diamond Medallion member, who have unlimited free award deposits. If you have an award booked in the future that you want to change, you may want to wait until there is a schedule change and then Delta may allow you to redeposit or rebook for free.

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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  • Marina

    Very helpful! I am going through hell trying to book my honeymoon to Italy right now. I keep on finding one seat on flights but not two which is not ideal for a honeymoon :) Is it worth it to sign up for those paid sites to try and find flights?

  • James

    Thanks PointsGuy–I’m also planning a trip to Italy, coincidentally enough, and with only 200,000 skymiles I’ll need low awards and, by extension, all the tips I can get. I also would like to hear your answer to Marina’s question–is ExpertFlyer worth it for people who don’t do more than one award redemption a year?

  • The Points Guy

    For European trips, you should be able to do Delta.com one way searches and use Airfrance.us to find most availability. It’ll take a while, but just focus on one leg at a time and write down anything you find and hope to piece it all together. The more flexibility you have, the better chance of finding a low award for multiple people will be.
    Some tips- Air France has good availability out of IAD and Montreal (where they are flying their new A380 aircraft)
    KLM ATL-AMS has good availability, but it doesnt show up on Delta.com and the agents sometimes refuse to book you- you have to ask them to long sell it.
    BOS-LHR and MIA-LHR (new routes) also have some good availability.
    The biggest issue is finding the domestic legs at the low level, so thats why its good to live in a Delta hub city. I find that almost all domestic awards are at the medium tier.

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  • abcx

    Does DL charge YQ on 9W awards?

  • Sergey

    Is it possible to mix cabins for international trip on award tickets? For example, domestic leg in coach, international in business? Would it be less than 100K SkyMiles?

    Another question – I see that if you have some miles on Alaska Plan program, a trip to Europe in business on Delta will cost 90K miles, while Delta offers the same trip for 100K SkyMiles. Why it is so?

  • Jimmy

    I have a trip from ATL to RNO at the end of March and would like to extend out my layover in SLC to hit the slopes. Following your tips, I was able to get a ATL/SLC with a 12 hour stop in SLC, then onto RNO. My return flight is 2 days later, RNO/SLC/ATL with just over an hour stop in SLC. I was able to get this ticket for 25,000 miles!

    So I thought… why can’t I extend out my stop in SLC on the way back too? So looking at the one way segments, there is low availability, but when I piece them all together, with the 12 hour stop in SLC on the way to Reno and then a 8 hour stop in SLC on the way back to ATL, the price it spits out is 37,500 even though all the one way segments show at 25,000. Any ideas? I’m about to call the Platinum line as well and see what they say.

  • The Points Guy

    You can only have 1 stopover on a domestic award, so the system is pricing it as a roundtrip with stopover + 1/2 of another low level roundtrip award

  • The Points Guy

    FYI on domestic itineraries you need to keep a connection at 4 hours or under for it to not be considered a stopover- thats why it priced at 25,000 for your initial trip. The minute you go over that 4 hour mark, it’ll bump it up

  • The Points Guy

    ABCX- I’ve never actually booked a 9W Delta award, but my gut would say that if you originate in the US, then your fees will be $150ish and if you originate in Brussels or India, you are looking at $450+ which are “foreign originating” fees that Delta charges to European and some Asian departure points

  • The Points Guy

    Sorry for the multiple replies- forgot I had a lot of questions to answer!
    Sergey- yes, you can price an award 1/2 and 1/2 so if you are going US to Europe one way in business class low level and one way in coach low level, the trip would be
    50,000+ 30,000 miles= 80,000.

    Where it gets tricky is mixing a low level and mid/upper level awards on the same leg. It’ll actually price it cumulatively low tier plus mid/upper tier. This is why Delta awards become crazy expensive because a high tier award doesn’t include legs that are in a lower class- it would be high tier+ lower class if that makes any sense.

  • Jimmy

    That makes sense about 1 domestic stop-over and the why the price went up when I tried extending my second layover. However… I called the Delta and they made the change for me without too much hassle at all! =) You think it’s Platinum privileges? Or something that they can do over the phone that the online system doesn’t allow? When the girl was looking to make the change on her computer, she said, “Looks like there is no additional fees or mileage needed. Let me get it done manually for you.” Then that was it. Thoughts?

  • The Points Guy

    Take it and run.. just double check they didn’t actually take out 37,500 miles from your account!

  • Sergey

    Thanks, The Points Guy. One more question – I plan the following trip: TPA-JFK with stopover for 3-5 days, JFK-KBP, and then DME-TPA on a single itinerary. As I understand, this trip contains one stopover and open jaw. Does Delta permit such travel award? I tried to play with Continental, but it seems that Continental does not like this itinerary.

  • The Points Guy

    Sergey- that should be fine. I just booked clients on
    ATL-ATH, destination. Open jaw IST-CDG (stop), CDG-ATL

  • John

    A little unclear about using airfrance.us to find low level business awards. this is because, while registered with Flying Blue, I have no status with them. so it seems I can’t really search for business on the FB site. When I try, I get this: Flex Awards are only available to Silver, Gold and Platinum Flying Blue members.

  • TammyB

    Do you have any tips for how far in advance one should book to use skymiles? Or is it all just a matter of luck.

    I once started checking for a trip from GRB to CVG 6 months ahead for an August trip…all the options were over 40,000 miles. But then on a whim I tried checking for just a week out, and it was only 25,000. so since I didn’t HAVE to be in Cincinnati on a particular day I decided to hedge my bets and sure enough, at the end of July I was able to get a ticket for 25,000 for the next week.

    Now I need to book a trip from GRB to MFR, in July, and I’m getting 40,000-52,500 for flights. but I HAVE to be in MFR on July 7.

    Any feeling as to whether I hsould hedge my bets again, or is it crazy to think the price will go down for a summer trip?

    thanks!

    :-)

  • mike

    Flying Blue shows me great availablility for one connection. I can’t get it to work for two connection flights. I am flying from US city with no direct international, to East Europe city (no direct flights from US).

  • mike

    I was able to do the two connect rewards without much trouble with Northwest website.

  • ilene

    Points guy, can you help with a related question on stopovers on domestic awards?

    I called delta today to see if that was possible, and they flat out said no, even though on the website it says awards have one free stopover – no specification of domestic or international.

    I want to take a triangular route atl – NYC – fort lauderdale and it would seem that I could have a roundtrip to FLL (currently 25k miles) with a free stopover in NYC.

    So my questions: 1) is this possible? did the agent tell me wrong? 2) if possible, can I do it through LGA instead of JFK? 3) How do I book this? I’m silver medallion, not that that has any weight with delta. Who do I ask for that will know the rules?

  • Andrew

    EF doesn’t show China Airlines (CI) space… Perhaps you got it confused with Air China (CA)?? Definitely NOT the same.

  • Lena

    Hi! From the Award chart a one way from USA to Brazil should be 30,000 miles, but I can’t get anything even near that. I tried different options that should be legs.. like JFK to Sao Paulo but still get around 90,000 miles most times of the year. Any hints?

  • Anonymous

    Delta doesn’t do one ways, so the cheapest would be 60k roundtrip. 90k is mid tier, which is what Delta is known for- they usually drop it down to lowest levels in the couple weeks leading up to flights. Frustrating, but no real way around it other than searching for the low segments one by one!

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  • manish

    Hi,

    I’m trying to put together an award from detroit to cape town over this christmas…and I see klm availability on the expertflyer tool, but the delta agents dont see it at all? I asked them to long sell, and said i would wait for HK confirmed (what does that mean btw), and the first rep i got said ok (he asked me if i worked for an airline), and still came back with nothing. What am i doing wrong?

    Thanks!

  • Kskmurty

    Myself and my wife live in Mumbai, India. We both havae 85000 skymiles to our credit. We want to use them for a trip from Mumbai to Australia and return in April, 2012. I am a layman and intend to use my
    skymiles for the first time. Other prts of the world we have already seen. So interested only in touring Australia and Newziland, Will you please advise us the modes operandi. both of us are senior citizens.
    My E mail ID is [email protected] Thanks, K.S.KRISHNAMURTY.

  • Jack

    Does anyone know if you can combine multiple Skyteam partners into a single Delta award ticket? For example, can I fly Delta for my outbound leg and Air France on the return?

  • Anonymous

    Yep- I’ve had as many as four Skyteam partners on an award plus Delta!

  • Teamthree

    This was unbelievably confusing. And it was no help. Beginning with your very first paragraph… What the heck do you mean a one wY ticket costs the same as a round trip? Don’t you mean that you cannot book a one way ticket? You must book a RT ticket… Even if you don’t use the return leg. Get some help writing because nothing here makes any sense.

  • Anonymous

    You can book a one way ticket but it will cost the same as a round trip. What’s so confusing about that?

  • O. M. Bennett

    Can you give a link to a Delta chart showing how many skymiles it costs to fly from Richmond, VA to Los Angeles?
    Thanks,
    OB

  • MJLouise
  • Mmt

    AF site is showing award at “flex” level, not “classic”. How does DL price flex level awards on AF or KL?

  • CC

    AFAIK you cannot search SU with KVS

  • flysolo

    You’re kidding! First, it makes perfect sense. Second, what a nerve you have to criticize somebody who takes their time to write a tutorial just for the sake of sharing. Get a life1

  • Cyclekleen

    I want to travel from the USA to London and then to Paris, Amsterdam and then back to the USA. Any suggestions on what order I should fly to minimize the use of points?

  • Mitch

    How can I book a one-way flight from the States to China on China Eastern using Delta miles…for the life of me I cannot figure out to do this on the Delta site…only shows Delta flights.

  • Mitch

    How can I book a round-trip flight from the States to China on China Eastern using Delta miles…for the life of me I cannot figure out to do this on the Delta site…only shows Delta flights.

  • Swoodvc

    Hey! Very helpful site. I have a question; I am trying to book a flight from NYC to Aruba for my honeymoon. I swear I looked and it was 50,000 miles and then an hour later it was 60,000 miles. Does the milage change? Will it continue to increase? Is there a way for me to be alerted if the mileage requirement drops again? I guess that’s more than one question, but thanks!

  • Percussion

    Actually, the Delta site is confusing, and this article helps to make sense of it. Just used the methods above to book our next vacation to the Caribbean!
    Thanks Points Guy!

  • Andrealmeidanyc

    I’m looking to book a ticket from JFK to ATH but its 125000 for coach. Any help on getting around that?
    Thanks. Andre

  • Rmexico

    When AF website is showing “green” (classic/low) availability does that mean delta can book it? Delta agents telling me that they “have to split avalability with AF” , ala starnet blocking and they don’t have access to it. Is this true? thanks for your help

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  • Phudson

    Great input. I did exactly as you said. Took me about 3 hours to review all segment options to go to France and back from Italy. While many of the options were closed, I was able to find 2 itineraries that only used the low value points (100K) for a first/business class trip their and back. Thank you for your guidance. I was getting very frustrated with Delta and their tool.

  • http://www.comediandan.com/ Comediandan

    I’ve never read anything that was so lucid, clear and easy to understand. I think the problem is with your reading comprehension skills.

  • Mike Conrad

    Delta is absolutely astonishing. I’d built up a number of Delta miles without trying–just because I was required to fly Delta on various domestic routes. So just for the heck of it, I looked up award travel to a few European destinations. 245,000 miles is the typical offer, with others at 370,000 miles. And this for Delta’s business seat which doesn’t compare to other airlines.

    Why on earth would anyone do this? I can fly first class (REAL first class) on other airlines for 67,500 miles each way. How does Delta even stay in business? They have a horrible reputation and then pull tricks like the above on those foolish enough to accumulate Delta Skymiles. Amazing.

  • joseph

    Wow, thanks so much for the tip on searching one-way to find the low mileage flights and then using that info to book RT. Awesome advice!!!

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  • Amy Levin

    I just heard on March 19, 2013 that Delta will start offerng one-way award tickets. I got this information when calling Alaska to book a Delta award ticket using Alaska miles.

  • thepointsguy

    It’s Alaska that is introducing one-way partner awards beginning March 17.

  • K

    What other airlines can you recommend for the example you gave? I’ve been very unhappy with Delta as well and figured all airlines would be about the same.

  • Mike Conrad

    Delta’s the worst I know of by a fair margin. I’ve had much better redemption success on AA, UA, and even BA with their extra charges. Happy flying!

  • Lawrence

    Hey pointsguy, thanks for this site! I really learnt a lot!
    However, I tried finding flights to Europe from Asia and the website only looks for Delta flights, which means I have to fly through USA. That’s a very very long flight and the points used are double at low levels. Do you know of any other ways to see just partner flights or do I just have to call them?

  • Kevin Hawkins
  • shmo

    can i book open jaw in the states?

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