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TPG reader Anne is trying to find the best way to maximize her Delta miles for a European vacation this summer:
“I recently decided on a two-week Europe vacation with five city destinations – starting in Berlin and ending in Barcelona – around Labor Day. I’m a novice point collector. While I’ve traveled significantly in the past, I’ve only recently seen the value in loyalty to an airline. I have over 30,000 Delta miles on my own and just got the credit card bonus, so I’m over 60,000 miles (the minimum for a Europe economy flight). Unfortunately, my searches for a roundtrip flight (knowing I’d pay for individual flights to my choice destinations within Europe) have all resulted in a 90,000-mile requirement. And any one-way searches have resulted in the same. My attempts to transfer my Amex Blue rewards were futile, as they would not allow me to transfer to an airline partner. Is there something I’m overlooking and might there be a way to use the miles? Or is my best bet to pay for a Delta flight and continue to rack up the miles? Any help is appreciated!”
1) Amex Blue points cannot be transferred to airlines. You have to upgrade to a Membership Rewards card, like the Premier Rewards Gold or Platinum and then those Blue points become full-blown Membership Rewards points and can be instantly transferred to Delta as well as a number of other airlines and hotels.
2) Labor Day is the end of the busy summer leisure travel season, so economy class awards at the low level are tough to come by. Delta does fly from Barcelona to JFK and Atlanta, but as you noticed, low-level awards are not available. In that case, I’d recommend finding partner airline availability, like Air Europa, which flies Madrid to JFK and has excellent award availability. Most partners don’t show up on delta.com, so you’ll have to use ExpertFlyer or call agents to piece together something that works. (Just note Delta imposes fuel surcharges on Air Europa awards, so a coach award may not make sense, though business class is easier to justify since those tickets are normally 3-5x more expensive than coach). Set Expertflyer alerts for Air France and KLM flights that might work for your schedule – the more flexible you are, the better chance of getting a low level award. While writing this post, I checked SkyTeam carriers the week of Labor Day and found several options on Alitalia and Air France for low-level economy awards – for example Alitalia has 5 coach award seats available on their September 5 Milan-JFK flight – build in a stopover and why not add one more country to the list? I don’t know what your final destination is, but this is just an example of thinking outside of your exact itinerary to get the low-level award booked.
3) If the flight you want to purchase is cheap, it may make more sense to buy the ticket and save the miles for when you can redeem for a low-level award. What is the exact ratio that you should buy vs. use miles? It’s different for everyone, but I personally wouldn’t redeem miles if I wasn’t getting at least 2 cents apiece back in value (so $1,200+ for an economy 60,000 mile award). Though everyone’s situation is different and I recommend using the miles when it makes sense for you.
See these related posts on booking Delta awards:
10 Tips on Using Delta SkyMiles
How to Book a Delta SkyMiles Award
Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on Delta Awards