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Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways to Redeem Delta SkyMiles

by on December 18, 2012 · 50 comments

in Delta, skyteam, Top 10

If my predictions about changes to Delta’s SkyMiles program in 2013 come true, it’s time to start putting those miles to use on award tickets before it’s too late. Luckily, by taking advantage of some of the lesser-known redemptions (and not necessarily what Delta.com shows you), SkyMiles can be pretty valuable, and there are plenty of ways to stretch them farther on both long-hauls and little-served short routes – especially since Delta allows stopovers and open jaws on award tickets, and in the past I’ve been able to book both. So play around with the multi-city search and you can really juice out your awards.

Here are the top 10 ways you can use your Delta SkyMiles (for now).

Los Angeles to Melbourne aboard Virgin Australia for 150,000 miles and $132.

1. V Australia Awards with Low Taxes: One of best way to get a low-level award to Sydney/Melbourne is to redeem Delta SkyMiles on partner Virgin Australia, whose award availability you can now search on Delta.com. Virgin Australia flies 777-300ER’s daily from LAX to Sydney and from LAX to Melbourne on Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays and LAX-Brisbane on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Using Delta.com to find award availability on Virgin Australia is also relatively easy now and requires 100,000 SkyMiles roundtrip for economy and 150,000 SkyMiles roundtrip for business (Virgin doesn’t have first class). Delta.com has been pricing these awards without the fuel surcharges and just taxes on the tickets, so you’d only have to pay around $120-$160 for tax. I wrote a post a couple months ago about the booking process that you can check out. Tickets normally cost around $11,000 roundtrip on Virgin Australia business, so you’d be getting about 7.33 cents per mile – a pretty great value. The one major drawback in the past, however, has always been that Virgin Australia charges astronomical fuel surcharges in the range of $500-$700 – even for coach redemptions, so you could be looking at spending 100,000 miles and $500 on top of that to get to Oz in economy if these fuel surcharges come back.

Book a Business Class Award to Africa for 120,000 SkyMiles on Air Mauritius.

Book a Business Class Award to Africa for 120,000 SkyMiles on Air Mauritius.

2. Business Class Awards to Africa / Mauritius: Another option is to use your SkyMiles on Air Mauritius or Air France to get to Africa. A business class award ticket from North America to Europe is 100,000 miles while one from North America to Africa is just 120,000 miles – so for an extra 10,000 SkyMiles each way, you’re essentially getting two or more business class flights that are much longer than the trans-Atlantic portions. Delta allows a stopover and an open jaw on award tickets so I was able to book a complex itinerary from New York-Madrid, Stopover (Air Europa), Barcelona-Paris, Open Jaw (Air France), Paris-Mauritius, Destination (Air Mauritius), Mauritius-Paris (Air Mauritius), Paris- Newark (Air France) all legs in business class for 120,000 Skymiles and $450 in fees.You can check out my review when I flew in Business Class on Air Mauritius from Paris to Mauritius. It does take a bit of searching and the best bet is to check the availability using Expertflyer first then call Delta once you have found all flights, so they can piece them together if Delta.com doesn’t show the flights. Kenyan Airways is also a SkyTeam partner and has decent availability to some very expensive airports in Africa, so don’t forget that option when piecing together your dream Africa trip (just call for availability or use airfrance.us to find classic award space).

Intra-South America Awards can be booked on Argentina for 20,000 Skymiles.

3. Intra-South America Flights on Aerolineas Argentina: Delta SkyMiles members may now redeem their miles on one of the newer members of Skyteam, Aerolineas Argentinas. Delta’s award chart states that when redeeming in Southern South America, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, economy awards are 20,000 miles roundtrip, and first class awards are only 30,000 miles roundtrip. I priced out a sample award itinerary from Buenos Aires to Iguazu and was easily able to book it for 20,000 Skymiles and $10 in taxes and fees. These same flights would cost $524.70 if you were to purchase outright on those dates, so using Skymiles you would get 2.62 cents per mile. You can also use SkyMiles to fly Aerolineas to South America from Miami to Buenos Aires, since that is currently the only route that the airline serves in the United States. Business Ccass awards were available for 100,000 miles and coach awards for 60,000 miles and taxes and fees were $65.60. If I was to purchase this outright, it would come to $4,464 for January 7-14th in business class, giving my SkyMiles a value of 4.4 cents per mile.

100,000 Skymiles for Business Class from Los Angeles-Sao Paulo on Korean Air.

4. Korean Air Awards to Asia and South America: Korean Air operates several routes to the US and flies non-stop to Seoul from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Atlanta, Honolulu, Washington Dulles, and New York-JFK. Using Delta Skymiles, you can redeem 70,000 miles roundtrip for coach, or 120,000 miles for Business class on these routes. You can read my recent trip report on Korean Air First Class from Seoul to Madrid, and TPG Managing Editor Eric’s review of Korean Air Prestige Business Class from Los Angeles to Seoul. However, Korean Air also operates non-stop service from Los Angeles to Sao Paolo, Brazil aboard their 777-300ER, which offers 180-degree lie-flat seats in business class. On the Delta award chart, roundtrip economy awards are 60,000 miles and business class awards are 100,000 SkyMiles. For March 2013 travel I was able to find that there was plenty of award availability in business class, so I could have scored a roundtrip business class ticket for 100,000 SkyMiles and 58.26 in taxes and fees award. On the same date, the cheapest fare in business class was $6,300, so using your SkyMiles here would be a great value of 6.24 cents per mile. Unfortunately there are blackout dates of:

December 07, 2012 – January 6, 2013
February 7, 2013 – February 12, 2013
March 1, 2013 – March 3, 2013
May 17, 2013 – June 30, 2013
July 19, 2013 – August 25, 2013
September 14, 2013 – September 23, 2013
October 3, 2013
October 5, 2013 – October 6, 2013
December 7, 2013 – December 31, 2013

Business class on China Southern from Los Angeles to Guangzhou for 120,000 Skymiles.

5. China Southern to Asia: Another good option for Delta flyers to use their miles to get to Asia is on China Southern, which is a Skyteam partner airline, and there seems to be plenty of availability both in the near term and several months out. I was able to find availability on January 1-14 in business class on China Southern’s A380 for 120,000 SkyMiles and 363.70 in taxes and fees. If I was to purchase this outright, it would have cost $4,601.47. Deducting the taxes and fees, I would be getting 3.53 cents per mile value with my SkyMiles here and getting to fly one of Asia’s up-and-coming carriers’ flagship aircraft – plus it opens up a new way to get to Asia on Skyteam when Delta and Korean Air award space is tight to North Asia and without having to fly China Eastern via Shanghai.

Intra-Hawaiian awards are available for 10,000-15,000 Skymiles.

6. Intra-Hawaiian awards: Another great use of SkyMiles is for intra-Hawaiian flights on Hawaiian Airlines. These flights can sometimes be very expensive (especially to the smaller islands) but can be had for either 10,000 or 15,000 Skymiles roundtrip depending on if you can find low or peak availability. At the moment Hawaiian doesn’t seem to have much low-level availability through Delta, so a sample Honolulu-Maui flight on April 4-17 would cost 15,000 SkyMiles roundtrip vs. $130 if you paid outright so only .86 cents per mile. Not a high value, but good if you want to use up some spare SkyMiles to save some cash. While the low-level awards are only 10,000 miles, I wasn’t able to find any of them at that level for the next few months – high season in the islands. Hawaiian Airlines flies to Honolulu, Hilo, Kahului, Kailua-Kona and Lihue, so for those looking to head around to multiple islands, this a good value as some of these flights can run up to $300 roundtrip if booking last minute.

Roundtrip business class to Tahiti for 150,000 SkyMiles and $52

Roundtrip business class to Tahiti for 150,000 SkyMiles and $52


7. Air France to Tahiti:
Air France is one of Delta’s closest partners, but instead of using your Delta SkyMiles to head to Paris,  think about heading in the other direction and taking the airline’s non-stop flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti for a tropical vacation.  The South Pacific is lumped in with Australia on the award chart, so the cost is 100,000 Skymiles for a coach award, or 150,000 miles for a business class award. Availability can be tough to find, but they do open up seats last minute (I found two business class seats for December 19) but there is plenty of coach availability for 100,000 Skymiles and 52.60 in taxes and fees. However, Air Tahiti Nui is also codeshare partner with Air France, so I was able to get business class on Air Tahiti Nui, coming back in coach on Air France for 125,000 Skymiles and 52.60 in taxes and fees. If you were to purchase this ticket, the total cost would be $2,647 for going in business and returning in coach yielding a 2.11 cents-per-mile value. That’s not the highest, but because there’s availability and it opens up travel in a different direction, it could be a good way to get to the South Pacific.

Instead of spending $1,600 for first class to Hawaii, you could redeem 75,000 Skymiles.

8. Book awards on Alaska Airlines: Part of Delta and Alaska’s expanded partnership allows more opportunities for SkyMiles members to redeem for flights on Alaska Airlines. This is great for added availability domestically and to Hawaii, since Delta normally doesn’t have much saver availability. I was able to price out an award ticket in first class from San Diego to Maui on January 6-13 for 75,000 miles roundtrip. The same flight would cost $1,620 for a first class seat, meaning my SkyMiles were worth 2.16 cents per mile in value. You can also reap value from your SkyMiles by booking domestic flights on Alaska Airlines, since it’s hard to come by low-level domestic awards on Delta on the West Coast, which is Alaska’s main corridor but is underserved by Delta.

9. Round the World Business Class Award: One of SkyMiles’ great features is that you can redeem them for Round The World tickets both in economy and business class. You can redeem 280,000 Delta miles for a business class Round the World trip, with up to 6 stopovers, and since Skyteam partner availability is decent, planning these isn’t as hard as you’d think. If you are short on miles, you could redeem for 180,000 miles in coach, but having just flown around the world myself in a short amount of time, I would try whatever you could to get an award like this in business!

Mexico City- Paris for 100,000 SkyMiles and ?? in taxes on Aeromexico.

Mexico City- Paris for 100,000 SkyMiles and 153.24 in taxes on Aeromexico.

10. Aeromexico & GOL Awards: Another partnership Delta has formed is with Aeromexico which increases Delta’s presence in South America. However, you don’t need to just use them to go south- Aeromexico operates a number of flights to Europe and has pretty good availability. I was able to find availability on Aeromexico for a Business Class award on September 1-11 for Mexico City-Paris for 100,000 SkyMiles and 153.24 in taxes. To purchase this ticket outright it would have cost $3,740.14, so using my SkyMiles I was able to reap a value of 3.58 cents per mile. Aeromexico also opens up much of Latin America as Delta increases its footprint there with partnerships like the one with Aerolineas. Generally when booking with Aeromexico, there is decent amount of availability and this gives another option for those in North America to get to Europe if you don’t mind routing through Mexico. Wondering how to get down to Mexico City? You could book on Alaska Airlines or even consider using your British Airways Avios for a distance-based award on American Airlines – you’d only need 10,000 to get there in economy from LA.

Sao Paolo-Iguassu Falls for 20,000 SkyMiles and $17.57 in taxes.

Sao Paolo-Iguazu Falls for 20,000 SkyMiles and $17.57 in taxes.

GOL Intra South America Award: Delta is also partners with Brazilian carrier GOL, which adds a slew of intra-South American options to your booking choices, especially around Brazil, which is enormous. SkyMiles members may redeem for awards within South America for 20,000 SkyMiles roundtrip. I was able to find a coach award from Sao Paolo-Iguazu Falls, which also has an airport on the Brazilian side (be sure you book the right one!) on February 7-10 for 20,000 SkyMiles and $17.57 in taxes and fees. The same flights would cost $498 so using SkyMiles you’d be getting a 2.41 cents per SkyMile. It might not make sense to come here through Brazil if you’re not traveling there anyway because of visa requirements, but if you are already in Brazil, this could be a great way to use SkyMiles to see one of the natural wonders of the world.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JNFSXN4ANC7RH5VQCOEJGFUJZQ Nick

    A few additional thoughts regarding #2…Air France also flies to Madagascar (TNR) from Paris-CDG and Reunion (RUN) from Paris-Orly, and both of these are classified as North Africa (120,000 miles r/t in business). The RUN flights still have decent O class availability, with some dates in February having as many as 9 available seats (which I verified to be bookable on Delta.com). TNR is a bit more limited but still there.

    Another option to Africa is the CDG-JNB flight. It’s operated by an A380 and generally has pretty good O class availability. South Africa does up the mileage to 140,000 r/t in business class.

    As Brian mentions, Kenya Airways is another great option, and right now is the only SkyTeam option to the Seychelles (through Nairobi). My wife and I will be using this routing in May and easily found space on AirFrance.us.

  • Dennis

    Fantastic article! Thanks for pointing out the various airlines that honor SkyMiles. I shared this article with the wife so she can start thinking about trips in 2013. Keep up the great work!

  • Brennan

    Is it possible to use Delta SkyMiles to purchase an upgrade to business class for someone else? My wife is flying to Paris next spring and she’s currently flying on a paid, economy ticket (I’m not sure which fare class). I’d love to use some of the Delta miles I have lying around to buy her an upgrade to business. Thanks!

  • Faye

    I have only several thousand Skymiles and am very happy to use them for my Wall St Journal subscription renewals.

  • Sfobuddy

    With just 12 days left in this year, I can’t imagine DL will spring a 2013 change on us. That said, I can see them introducing something on March 1st – the start of our new elite year. I would hope DL would at the very least let flyers know there is a change-a-coming, so we can plan strategies for 2014.

  • Shawnb1986

    I have 251K Delta miles in my account. I want to use these miles to take a friend along with me somewhere nice. The delta award tools is obviously bad any tips on how to really use it and figure out where I will get the best deals with out using Expert Flyer?

    Should I login to each SkyTeam partner airline and make a search than call Delta? I don’t have an expertflyer account.

  • Brennan

    I may have partially answered my own question. Of course, I found the answer via Google, not via Delta’s own website: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles/use-miles/delta-upgrade-awards.html. It appears that I can purchase a one-class upgrade for either 30,000 or 50,000 miles roundtrip, depending upon the paid fare class.

    Of course, this gives no indication of whether it is possible to do this for another person, or only yourself… Time to call the Delta rep…

  • johnny

    delta miles don’t expire though

  • Michael

    If I have 15,000 sky miles in one account, 25000 in another and 50,000 in another, what are the best redemptions out of LAX (possibly using Alaska miles). Thanks!

  • thepointsguy

    well you can’t combine miles cheaply or redeem for one way awards, so id try to get that 15k account to 25k at least so you can redeem for a roundtrip domestic award. As you mention, Alaska is a great option because their availability is better than Delta’s low-level.. so maybe a trip to Alaska would be the best bang for 25k per ticket?

  • thepointsguy

    You can use airfrance.us, though it doesn’t align perfectly. Depending on where you want to go, buying a one month ExpertFlyer subscription could save you a lot of time and frustration

  • thepointsguy

    I agree they should let us know a change is coming, though they haven’t been known to do that. They usually just implement changes and let savvy members put the pieces together. However, with such a huge program change, I’m thinking they will let people know in advance.

  • thepointsguy

    Correct- and it has to be a super expensive Y,B or M fare, so I doubt the fare you purchased is eligible. Delta makes it extremely expensive to upgrade internationally compared to the other US carriers

  • thepointsguy

    Safe travels!

  • thepointsguy

    Nice.. Reunion is on my list!

  • JohnnieD

    Good luck getting tatl seats on af or klm. Dl award availability is very hard tp come by…….

  • Dan

    Hey Brian, are the taxes obscene on Delta redemptions to Europe, like BA? Does it vary by partner?

  • Dan

    to clarify, I meant does Delta charge large fees on partner awards to Europe and are some higher than others? (i.e. Air France vs. AirEuropa vs. Alitalia)

  • thepointsguy

    Nothing like BA as long as you start in the US. Air Europa does have fuel surcharges, but their US to Europe flights are limited (I think just NYC at this point). It isn’t hard to find flights with ~$50 in fees roundtrip. London and Paris business class will be more expensive.

    If you begin a flight in Europe they tack on about $200 more in fees as some “foreign origination surcharge”. Otherwise fees are reasonable.

  • thepointsguy

    Agreed, unfortunately.

  • thepointsguy

    In my experience Air Europa was the only trans-atlantic partner award that had a fuel surcharge

  • http://twitter.com/bwvanlan Brett VanLandingham

    Brian,

    Do you foresee any transfer bonuses with Delta anytime soon?

  • thepointsguy

    Nope..though I have no solid information, but the fact they haven’t had one all year leads me to believe there won’t be one anytime soon

  • Michael

    GREAT info Brian — Q: Did you provide a posting on how to redeem Skypesos on Alaska? Is there a link out there or advice on best way to do so? Thanks!

  • Huzefa

    TPG – What about Skymiles redemption on Saudia, one of Skyteam’s newer members. Not surprisingly, they are not searchable on Delta’s website, but from what I hear they have very open availability in business class for those passengers looking to travel from the US to the Middle East/Southwest Asia. Could you possibly do a review on it?!

  • Austin

    Looking to get to SE Asia (BKK/SIN) using Delta. Based in PDX but willing to leave out of elsewhere (tried, SEA, SLC, SFO, LAX). Looked for connections through NRT and ICN. Having trouble finding low level availability. Any thoughts on other ways to get there?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=59500267 Jon Miller Time

    back in May I got domestic coach on Delta MSP-HLN for 55,000 skymiles roundtrip with Thursday departure and following Sunday return. I’ve seen them even cheaper lately.
    I booked them about 90 days out and the cash value was $900.

  • Umut

    I’m writing this from denver airport. I just used 80k miles round trip from Anchorage to Denver on a business class dec 16 to 18z I had 74k delta miles on my account & transferred 6k from Amex membership rewards. By this way I don’t have any delta sky pesos left. Feels great. Good bye Delta

  • Leo

    Hi Brian, are 70K Delta miles enough to fly r/t in economy from SFO to PVG on Korean Air? If so, what’s the best way to book it? Thanks for the advice.

  • Harry

    Hi. I have 95k miles and prefer to use them to Israel from DC or NY or Phil or balt. Any idea of the best protection to maximize those points for Israel before I get devalued?
    Thanks

  • BobChi

    Excellent post, as I’m accumulating more SkyMiles than usual and need to find worthwhile redemptions. I’m very interested in exploring the South America options more as I’m targeting the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Only a few months and flights will start to come open for that. Ideally I’d like to see games in at least three interesting Brazilian cities, combining the Cup with general sightseeing in each location. So your Gol discussion is fascinating, and I’m wondering if by then TAM will be in OneWorld so Avios can come into play.

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  • Erin

    I am trying to book award travel from IAD-RAB but Delta says its unavailable whereas AirFrance.com shows Classic Award availability. What am I missing?

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  • Lisa

    I know this is an old discussion – but wanted to let you know that I was able to pay less than $65 for a Skymiles economy award ticket for the NONSTOP NCE-JFK round trip, originating in Nice. (That was the first time I ever saw it that low). Key is NONSTOP…

  • Adamhoolhorst

    Does anyone know if you can book CDG-MRU rt for 20k miles in J without originating in the US? I happen to be in Europe for work and would love to surprise my wife with a trip out there. It’s showing 100k RT from Europe to Africa, which is obviously not as good of a redemption as the 20k tack-on from a US-Europe redemption!

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  • B8Ral

    How can you transfer miles from your other Amex card to your Delta Amex card?

  • http://twitter.com/tenchirob7 Robert Marin

    It be great if Delta partnered with ANA or JP for skymiles members to fly to Japan. I doubt they will do that though.

  • Jane

    FYI … after countless hours scouring Expert Flyer and finding the only flights and availability exactly what I needed for flights on China Southern CDG-CAN-AKL and AKL-CAN-LHR and all excited to book business class using miles for 2 people, I called Delta Platinum only to find out that CZ now has the same blackout dates as KE and VA (12/10 – 12/31) so it is impossible to fly from Europe to NZ/AUS for Christmas unless we want to go before Dec 10th! Any ideas on other things I might look for or am I out of luck?

  • BossLady

    Excellent post!!!. I am new to this game, so please be patient. I checked Delta.com and can easily see LAX to SYD. Does this only work if you leave from LAX? What if you want to do ORD-LAX-SYD. Can you do this with Virgin Australia for the same amount of miles?

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  • Blowfish Feeder

    Just did the AF flight to Tahiti and Back. Got the tickets for 100k (per person) round trip coach. Jfk -> LAX -> PPT, PPT -> LAX (cash flight back to LGA). Probably could have done better had I known to search each leg then stitch them together.

    But the real comment here. TRY TRY TRY to get on the Air Tahiti Nui flight, the Air France planes are OLD and it’s one of the worst planes I’ve even been on. Granted, very thankful for the free flight to (near) paradise. But I wish I had known to keep looking.

    If you are stuck with the AF76 / AF77 flights in coach, take the center of the plane. I @#$@ you not. There is no individual air on that plane, only the general ventelation over the aisle. It all blows into the center. 3-4-3 config. The center 4 were all wearing jackets, the 3 on both sides (we had the left side, then the right) sweat their butts off. Middle seat of the 3′s are the worst as the entertainment system heats up the bottom of the seat even more.

  • greg

    where can i check available seats before calling the call centre?

  • Natalie

    So this may be a stupid question, but I’m going on a trip from MSP to Tokyo, and found flights on Delta for 70,000 miles. However, I checked out Alaska Airlines, and they have flights for 60,000. Is there a way for me to use my SkyMiles on the Alaska Airlines site? Or can I somehow talk to a Delta rep and get it for the 60,000? The flights are all on Delta, also, but when I look them up on their site, it’s more than the initial flights I looked up (95,000).

  • Justin

    The intra-South America economy awards are great, but it would be very helpful if you could point out economy redemption rates alongside the business class ones. This blog – and so many others – are becoming increasingly irrelevant for those of us dabbling with less than 100K miles annually, or those of us who like to maximize our miles for as many trips as possible.

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