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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).
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.