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Delta.com Quirks and How to Work Around Them to Find Low Awards

by on May 30, 2011 · 50 comments

in Delta, Points Guy Pointers

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I’m a big fan of Delta (I’m a Diamond and generally love their domestic upgrades, plane quality, route structure, etc), but it’s commonly known that Delta.com is broken. The award calendar prices trips out at erratic levels, though in my experience, it can be coaxed to reveal better results with a little bit of effort. My goal on this blog is to teach you all how to wrestle delta.com and find the low level awards, because they are there – it’s just a treasure hunt to find them.

Last week I wrote about Delta availability showing up on AirFrance.us’ website. I recommended everyone sign up for airfrance.us because it makes booking Delta awards much easier than using Delta’s own site. If you haven’t done so already and you plan to use Delta miles in the future – do it right now (application link).

Yesterday I was planning my Euro/African summer trip (more details on that soon) and I was trying to find a way home from Europe to NYC in mid July – preferably July 21/22. Delta.com was showing no availability from their European destinations, so I booted up trusty airfrance.us.

I searched AMS-JFK and I saw a low date pop up July 21 – perfect! I’ve wanted to try KLM business class for a while, so I thought this would be a great opportunity. However, the low award space was actually AMS-Frankfurt-JFK, with FRA-JFK on Delta. Interesting.

Airfrance.us is pretty reliable, but I wanted to double-check on Delta.com to see why I hadn’t seen that result in my many searches for low awards. I did a one-way search FRA-JFK on July 21 and indeed there was low availability – but only on FRA-CDG-JFK, with a 17 hour layover in Paris and then Paris to JFK on Delta on July 22 on a 767. The same exact flight I saw on airfrance.us was showing up for 325,000 miles!

I knew 325,000 couldn’t be right, so when I clicked through, it miraculously decreased to 100,000. I’m not making this up folks! How many people searching would automatically be turned off by the result and get frustrated? That’s why so many people hate Delta – it’s not necessarily that there isn’t availability – it’s just that its near impossible to find.

I realized that Frankfurt to JFK was on a 757, which is Delta’s worst international BusinessElite product, so I decided that Paris was actually the best option for me, because I’m flying from Africa (either Mauritius or Reunion). I did a one-way search CDG-JFK on July 22, however the non-stop Delta option didn’t show up and the only thing was a 225,000 mile award through Atlanta. Weird.

I knew the award seat was there, so I went back and selected the boxes: “I am traveling, non-stop only, Delta flight only” and lo and held, the Delta seat came up at the low level. Kind of like magic, huh?

Lessons learned:

1) Never trust award availability on delta.com

2) If you see a green date on the calendar, it means there is most likely a low level award – the only problem is that it may not be displayed

3) Delta.com needs to be guided exactly to find what you need.

4) Airfrance.us is a solid engine, but isn’t perfect and you can’t actually book your flights using Delta miles, so take the information that you find there and try to replicate on delta.com

5) Always click through to the final screen – award prices may actually drop exponentially.

I’m not writing this post to bash Delta, but more so to bring to light the technical failures of Delta.com so they can be improved. In the meantime, I hope TPG readers can be savvy and take advantage of the technology failures. In a selfish way, I don’t mind this low award space wild goose chase, because I can almost always find something that works for me. If it were displayed clearly for all, I have a feeling I would have a lot less options. That being said, I still hope the search functionality is fixed – for the sanity of all parties involved!

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  • Brent

    Thanks for the post on Delta rewards. Should I expect to use 100k points for one-way to/from US/Europe? Meaning, low-award RT should be 100k in business? Just trying to understand – really appreciate your blog!

  • JohnnieD

    Another amazing point is the $300 in fees the CDG-JFK flight would cost if you were starting your journey outside the US!!

  • JD

    Took your advice and signed up, only to discover that Flying Blue doesn’t recognize Delta’s new route to KEF (Reykjavik, Iceland). They don’t even offer “Iceland” as a choice in their list of countries. Makes it tough to search for that JFK-KEF award.

  • gpapadop

    >>>>>>it’s just a treasure hunt to find them.

    It should not be! This is the most glaring deficiency of all frequent flyer programs on Planet Earth…no, the galaxy:-) Every time a normal SM person tries to find the low level awards should not be feeling they just got raped! DL execs have made a business decision not to spend the necessary resources to fix this glaring hole in their program. Just imagine, if this was fixed it will catapult DL to the top in the airline world (IMHO). Until they fix it I would be after them until cows…come home or I join the long list of frequent travelers who moved to another airline…Which I will likely do in 2013. In the meantime, I am looking to do 3 quick domestic DTW ORD trips to bump up to Platinum…darn it, I am a sucker:-)

  • Ann

    Do you have tips for Asia travel?
    I love reading your blog. Keep up the good work.

    thank you!

  • Richard

    “Always click through to the final screen – award prices may actually drop exponentially.” Yes!

    And search again and again as the options increase with each new search.

  • The Points Guy

    @Brent- 100,000k is the low level award for either roundtrip or one way US to Europe. Ive never redeemed more than that for a European award- plus i always add in a stopover city and open jaw!

    @Johnnie- you are right- Delta does have a weird “Foreign origination” surcharge on trips that begin in Europe.

    @JD- JFK-KEF is an uncomplicated route so you should be able to book that award using Delta.com. Im not sure where you are based, but you will probably have the hardest time finding low award space to JFK so search each leg one by one. Its time consuming but you should be able to piece it together. A couple weeks ago there was a ton of low level JFK-KEF space in coach and business

    @Gpap- I know its frustrating, but there are work arounds in the meantime so dont get too worked up. In the end there are still amazing values to be had for those who are diligent and persistent.

    @Ann- sure- i can do a post on Asia, but the concepts are similar- search route by route and piece together your trip with low awards. I can definitely give tips on Asia though- thanks for the suggestions!

    @Richard- the numbers displayed are erratic but persistence pays off- just keep trying!

  • Dov

    I did this yesterday with af.us I saw availability on KL and than called delta to book the flights and they were not available
    looks like AF and KL has the same model like M&M classic award inventory is kept for redeeming on FB and only a small percentage of that is released to partners

  • The Points Guy

    @Dov- all classic awards should be bookable with Delta miles. There have been issues where untrained DL agents can’t seem to secure KLM awards (they recently changed the award booking classes and many don’t know the new booking classes). However if you keep calling you should be able to get a smart agent who knows how to book a KLM classic award. Try replicating it on delta.com too- sometimes that works- then you put it on hold and have the agent put in all the other segments you want.

  • Ann

    As Delta.com is broken what asia partner airlines do you search to like in europe you use KLM or Airfrance.

    thanks for your help.

  • The Points Guy

    @Ann- expertflyer.com is good for China Southern, China Eastern and Malaysian (coach) availability. I find a lot of LAX-CAN on China Southern availability so if you can get to Lax, you can get to Asia (and the intra-asia availability on China Southern and Vietnam is amazing).
    You have to call to get Korean availability and delta.com isn’t 100% broken. Try searching leg by leg on the trans-pac routes (for example all of the gateways to tokyo narity- DTW/MSP/JFK/ATL/SEA and then work your way back.

  • Sergey

    Does AF business class better than Delta? If yes, which AF aircraft to choose A-330, A340 or B747?

  • The Points Guy

    @sergey- its a matter of preference. Check out my air france experience here http://thepointsguy.com/2010/07/air-france-business-class-jfk-cdg/

    I found the seats to be decent, but not really amazing for sleep (they are angled so I felt like I was sliding). Air France has the same seat on all aircraft.

    Delta has a number of different business class products- their old school (757 and most 767-300) are recliners that I find quite comfortable. Delta also gives out nice comforters with huge down pillows. I find the food to be better on Delta. If you get a Delta flat-bed, 767-400 and 777LR (some ER), it will be much nicer than Air France. The A330 is also an angled lie flat, similar to Air France’s.
    Overall, I’d give the edge to Delta, but it depends on personal preference. I’ll be reviewing their lie-flat 777LR product next weekend, so stay tuned!
    Here is a report of their 757 business class product JFK-LAX (similar to their european service)
    http://thepointsguy.com/2011/04/delta-businesselite-jfk-lax-review/

  • Sergey

    Thanks, TPG! One last question. If, for example, only 1 business seats available in low mileage and I need 2. If I book this one business seat and another one in coach, and later another business seat will be available – would it be possible to change a coach seat to business seat without any fee?

  • Mooper

    I’m part of a panel Delta is using for feedback. I share many of your sentiments, and believe me, I’m pushing hard to get the point across. Most of the animosity they receive is because of poor perceptions stemming from the award search and calendar, not because of an actual lack of perks or availability. They have huge upside available by fixing this one issue.

  • The Points Guy

    @sergey- Delta charges $150 change fee for ANY change to an award, including class of service.

    @Mooper- I agree they can “turn the boat around” by upgrading the technology. The award calendar can truly act possessed at times!

  • xlax

    Do I need to have points in my Flying Blue account to search? Even though I know from Delta.com that there’s availabilty, I am getting this message: “There are no flights available for the selected departure date. Please modify your requesollowing messsage.” What am I doing wrong? Thanks.

  • The Points Guy

    @Xlax- no miles needed. What route are you searching?

  • xlax

    LAX-YUL. Not thrilled about using miles for this, but I have orphan Sky miles that I can top off with AmEx transfer and the r/t fare is about $650 for this summer. Thanks for this. . . and all the other great help.

  • The Points Guy

    @Xlax- try search for LAX-DTW/JFK/CVG/MSP/ATL and then from that hub to YUL

  • xlax

    Thanks!

  • gpapadop

    To Mooper – PLEASE hammer DL on this issue: FIX THE BROKEN AWARD SEARCH ENGINE. They have made a business decision NOT to spend the $$ to fix it as the IT infrastructure and overhaul needed appears to be massive! But I think that they should spend WHATEVER IS NECESSARY to fix this as they can not afford NOT to fix it! A regular SM member will NOT do what TPG is saying…heck, I am considered above the regular SM members and I am even super frustrated…just imagine the regular frequent flier user we all know, they WON’T go and to these workarounds…Then again, that is why perhaps DL mgt won’t fix it as so many SM members end up paying the double, triple 0r quadruple the miles required after they give up in frustration. My point is that each time a SM member goes through this ordeal they do NOT forget!!!!If I had a $10 bill for every time I heard from SM members how they can not find award seats at the lowest level…I would be rich:-)

    Thank you! Are there any seats available for the DL panel? Do they give you SMs as compensation? :-)

  • Mooper

    @Gpapadop – As I wrote above, I’m pushing hard to do exactly that. I’m not sure where you received information that they took a business decision not to fix the problem… everything I’ve seen indicates otherwise, but that they are just being excessively slow and potentially too small in scope. My guess is that they are underestimating the PR goodwill of not only fixing it, but fixing it quickly and to a degree that makes it best in class like many of their other program features. I don’t think that availability is the issue – I think it is the accuracy and interface that is causing availability to be *seemingly* the issue.

  • sbe

    When I try searching the AF site for ATL – Dub in Apr 2012 it first shows me plenty of availability on the calendar but then when I click it gives an error that there are no flight on that day.

    Am I doing something wrong or is the AF site not real bright?

  • gpapadop

    Mooper – Jeff Robertson, top gun at SkyMiles, was in a panel at NYC and from the writeups of the meeting and back and forth at a Flyertalk thread, trust me, I am definitely RIGHT on at this!

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>being excessively slow and potentially too small in scope

    The engine is so screwed up and that is why it appears they go at it at “too small in scope”….ever since the merger they keep “plugging” the massive leaks and as other leaks appear they leave them there until they plug a few others ones as others open up:-)…You catch my drift? Jeff said what I am saying in his own words!! Don’t you think if they intended to fix it they would have done so by now. Instead I think it has actually gotten worse!!! Oh, I forgot, now all miles don’t expire, yippee!! You need to follow that DL thread on FT…but I think everyone has given up and left it:-)

  • Sterling

    First thanks for a great blog I enjoy your tips and advice. This post on the navigating the award booking is very helpful.

    As we all know the Delta website is terrible. I often have serious issues trying to book flights as I primarily travel for business between Tanzania and the US using Delta/KLM. Do you have any pointers on finding mixed fare class tickets (discounted and Y,M,B)?

    I have been getting lucky the last few trips finding mixed class tickets and using miles for my upgrades. I will hit Platinum in July and maybe Diamond latter this year, so I am also thinking that the system wide upgrades would be a good choice benefit for me. But as you have pointed out in other posts it is expensive to buy Y/B/M often nearly the same as business and upgrades are hit or miss.

    So any tips on putting together a mixed fare ticket/choice benefits recommendations?

  • michael

    If you wanted to fly business nyc-lax using 25,000 miles on Delta, how would you go about doing it? Would you fly a partner airline? I need to fly July 20th but Delta wants to charge me 80,000 skypesos.

    Thoughts?

  • Lawrence

    Thanks for your tips on delta.com. I’ve been reading and following the instructions religiously but still am unable to find any low awards. Maybe it’s only applicable for planes leaving from the US as I’m in Singapore.
    Earlier this year there were quite a lot of low level award tickets but my points weren’t quite enough. Now that I’ve chalked up enough, all low tickets are gone! Not a single one left. Did Delta just changed policy?
    However I am able to find flights on AirFrance’s website flying by China Eastern.

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  • Dov

    I am still not able to get does classic level flights that is available on airfrance.us for KLM
    delta agents say that it is not necessarily available for classic redemption with skymiles

    you suggested that I call againto get a smart agent who knows how to book a KLM classic award but it seems that i am getting that same answer every time i call

  • Sam

    Delta sucks. Can’t seem to get a low award ticket to Korea no matter where I fly from or when I fly. And they have by far the most routes in that direction. Yet it is no problem getting one from Continental/United or American.

  • clara

    hi TPG. i am new to all of this and having a hard time with the delta site. any tips on searching for a straightforward SFO to/from NYC trip? can’t use the airfrance trick, can I?

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  • http://WanderlustandtheGirl.com/ LAbackpackerchick

    This is great! I only have 40k miles with Delta and I’ve had trouble trying to figure out what to do with them. I followed your tips and found a round trip from LAX to Hawaii for 40k. Tax is only $5! I think I’ve found a great birthday gift for my dad with this :-)

  • HOLDENMEISTER

    OMG, this totally works!!!! I just booked two biz class seats LAX to CDG for 200,000 total. THANKS!!!

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  • Ablaner

    Find low level green dates to Tokyo in Busines class at 120,000, but when selecting:
    We’re sorry. One or more of the flights you selected just sold out. Please search again to view and select alternate flights.

  • xsquatchx

    i am absolutely convinced that delta refuses to change their skymiles booking site to discourage the redemption of skymiles. i have a nice cache of miles and am trying to book a trip to singapore this winter with my wife. delta.com is giving me ludicrous redemption prices. i’m going to try this.

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  • Ilian

    Agreed. I am doing a search almost two years later and the Delta.com site is still broken. It is surprising that Delta leadership has not taken any actions to remediate the issue. I am certainly one frustrated customer and will search other airlines.

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  • megan

    keep getting an error message after submitting my request on AirFrance’s search tool. yuck.

  • greg slusarz

    I am flying to the Philippines in august, however i will be buying return flights for 2 people, myself and my fiancee. Any tips other than the new credit card i will have that has good sign up bonus. I could really use some great advice. thanx!!

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