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With all the negative news from Delta lately, including award chart devaluations, the slashing of elite benefits, and more restrictive lounge access policies, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from Delta frequent flyers who increasingly feel that banking SkyMiles with Delta is a losing bet. Fortunately, when you fly Delta, you can bank SkyMiles with many of its airline partners, albeit at different rates. Here’s a rundown of the best choices.
A few of Delta’s partner airlines have mileage earnings similar to those on Delta:
Alaska Airlines: With changes coming to Delta and Alaska’s elite benefits partnership on May 1st, it’s hard to say how much longer the partnership between these two airlines will last – but it’s probably safe to bet that when their current agreement ends in 2015 renewal might not be a sure bet.
For now, however, Alaska’s Mileage Plan program allows flyers flights to earn both elite-qualifying miles and bonus miles on Delta flights, with a minimum of 500 miles per flight. MVP members earn 50% Elite Bonus and MVP Gold and Gold 75K level members earn 100% Elite Bonus on miles flown, but these bonus miles do not count toward elite qualification.
Mileage Plan offers the following mileage earnings for eligible Delta flights:
- First Class (F,P,A,G): 100% + 50% bonus miles
- Business Class (J,C,D,I,Z): 100% + 25% bonus miles
- Economy (Y,B,M,S,H,Q,K,L,U,T,X,V,E): 100%
What’s great about Alaska is that it also lets you earn EQM’s on all its partners – which Delta does not – so banking Delta miles to Alaska can be just a part of your strategy since Alaska partners with other behemoths like American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Air France/KLM and Emirates, among others. Then when it comes time to redeem, you also have those great partners to choose. All in all, Alaska’s Mileage Plan is a very dynamic alternative. The program is also a 1:1 Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner, so you can top up your account with your SPG points and for every 20,000-point transfer, you get a 5,000-point bonus.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue: Its partnership with Flying Blue is one of the closest Delta has. Within AF/KLM’s joint Flying Blue program, Delta flights can count towards two types of miles: Award, for earning or spending, or Level, which count toward elite status. Most Delta domestic flights earn a minimum of 500 Award and Level miles, and most international tickets earn a minimum of 750 apiece; this includes all flights marketed as DL, AF, KL or SkyTeam and operated by Delta.
Flying Blue offers the following mileage earnings for Delta flights:
- First Class: 150%
- Business Class: 150%
- Premium Economy (W,Z): 125%
- Economy (Y,B,M,S): 100%
- Economy (H): 75%
- Economy (Q, K, L): 50%
- Economy (U, T, X, V, E): 25%
Keep in mind that Flying Blue is also a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, which enables mileage accrual with cards like Premier Rewards Gold and Business Gold Rewards, as well as the business, personal and Mercedes-Benz versions of the Platinum Card. It’s also a 1:1 SPG transfer partner.
Though Flying Blue did undergo a rather big devaluation last year, the program does have some highly useful elements including that you can book one-way awards (which Delta says it will start allowing in 2015, but not at the moment), discounted promo awards of 25-50% off, and a better award search engine and more availability on AF/KLM than Delta shows if travel to and within Europe is your goal.
Virgin Atlantic: Due to their closening relationship, VA’s Flying Club allows good mileage-earning rates for Delta flights. In order to bank Delta miles with VA, book your Delta flights directly on +44 871 22 11 222 using your Flying Club membership number, and then show your Flying Club membership card at check-in.
Flying Club offers the following mileage earnings for Delta flights:
- First Class (domestic flights only): 150%
- Business Class: 200%
- Discounted Business Class: 150%
- Economy: 100%
Flying Club Silver – 50% bonus of the base flown miles
Flying Club Gold- 100% bonus of the base flown miles
Not only that, but there are reciprocal lounge and elite benefits:
- Reciprocal Delta Sky Club and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse access at applicable airports for Upper Class and BusinessElite passengers, Flying Club Gold members and SkyMiles Platinum and Diamond members
- Priority check-in, boarding, baggage handling and additional baggage allowance on all Virgin Atlantic and Delta operated flights worldwide – not just those within the codeshare agreement – for Virgin Atlantic Upper Class and Flying Club Gold members as well as Delta BusinessElite and SkyMiles Gold, Platinum and Diamond members
Virgin Atlantic is also a transfer partner of both Amex Membership Rewards and SPG, as well as Chase Ultimate Rewards, meaning that points you earn with Chase’s premium Ultimate Rewards cards – the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus – can transfer to the airline.
Korean Airlines: Korean’s SKYPASS program offers the following mileage earnings for Delta flights:
- First Class fares (F,P,A,G): 150%
- Business Class (J,C,D,I,Z): 125%
- Economy (Y,B,M,S,H,Q,K): 100%
- Discounted Economy (E,N,O,R,V,W,X,L,U,T): No miles
As you’ll note, severalof Delta’s discounted (and not-so-discounted) economy fare classes don’t earn any miles so this probably isn’t the program of choice for your average bargain-hunter flyer, but if you’re regularly buying eligible business or first class fares, you still get a pretty decent earning rate.
However, also be aware that SKYPASS has a rather complicated award booking process which involves calling the airline, faxing (yes, faxing) them forms and presenting the credit card you used to book the ticket at check-in. Korean is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner.
Mileage Earning Comparisons
To see what your Delta flights will earn you with each of these four programs, we looked at a few sample roundtrip flight itineraries on Delta and compared the total miles flown to each program’s mileage percentage. We didn’t include Medallion bonuses since those vary widely.
Atlanta to Chicago, First Class (G) for $525
- Delta: Currently 1,770 miles and $525 MQD’s, starting in 2015 2,626 miles
- Flying Blue (150%): 1,770 miles
- Alaska (100% + 50% bonus): 1,770 miles
- Virgin Atlantic (150%): 1,770 miles
- Korean (150%): 1,770 miles
So you’re pretty much earning the same amount of miles no matter which program you bank your flights to. Just note that because of the price of this ticket, you’ll actually be earning more miles under Delta’s 2015 spending-based mileage program since this is one of those high-revenue routes to which the new program is geared.
Los Angeles to New York (JFK) in Business Class (C) for $4,388: 7,425 SkyMiles
- Delta: Currently 7,425 miles and $4,061 MQD’s, in 2015 21,950 miles
- Flying Blue (150%): 7,425 miles
- Alaska (100% + 25% bonus): 6,188 miles
- Virgin Atlantic (150%): 7,425 miles
- Korean (125%): 6,188 miles
Still decent earnings, especially in the programs at parity – Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. You’re giving up a 25% mileage bonus by banking to Alaska or Korean.
New York JFK to Los Angeles in Economy (X) for $388
- Delta: Currently 4,950 miles and $340 MQD’s, starting 2015 1,940 miles
- Flying Blue (25%): 1,238 miles
- Alaska (100%): 4,950 miles
- Virgin Atlantic (100%): 4,950 miles
- Korean Air (0%): 0 miles
So especially taking into account Delta’s 2015 new earning rules, if you mainly buy discounted economy fares, you’re better off banking to either Alaska or Virgin Atlantic – and definitely not Korean or Flying Blue thanks to their meager earning rules on these fare classes.
Seattle to Tokyo Narita in Economy Class (X) for $1,580:
- Delta: Currently 9,573 miles and $1,495 MQD’s, in 2015 7,475 miles
- Flying Blue (25%): 2,394 miles
- Alaska (100%): 9,573 miles
- Virgin (100%): 9,573 miles
- SKYPASS (0%): 0 miles
So to draw some generalities – if you’re a discount economy flyer, your best bets for banking miles are Alaska if you want another domestic carrier, or Virgin Atlantic if you don’t mind having to call up a British call center for your travel plans.
On the business/first class side of things, you’re doing well in all the programs and scoring lucrative bonuses with Flying Blue, Virgin and Korean especially, but the hassle of dealing with a foreign mileage program from here in the US might be more than you want to take on. However, Flying Blue is a great choice if you want to keep your miles in SkyTeam.
When banking miles with these programs, keep in mind that it can take 2-6 weeks for the miles to process and show up in your account, so it’s important to hold onto all receipts and boarding passes until your miles appear. If your miles haven’t appeared after 6 weeks, you’ll have to call and file a claim using this paperwork. Note that Korean has a faster processing time than the other programs, with a wait time of 3 days to 2 weeks.
Notes on Other Delta Partners
Several of Delta’s additional partner airlines also allow you to bank 100% mileage or more in some flight/fare classes, such as Aeromexico, Alitalia and China Airlines. Note that partner airline Hawaiian only allows SkyMiles account holders to bank miles on inter-island flights, while partner Virgin Australia only offer mileage banking for citizens of Australia and New Zealand.
Delta’s hotel partners don’t enable SkyMiles account holders to bank miles, only earn miles at the rate of one, two or three miles per dollar spent, or between 250 and 1,000 miles per stay. The airline’s rental car partners also don’t enable mile-banking, but instead offer miles for bookings, at rates that range from 50 to 500 miles per day of a rental.
Are you one of the flyers planning to ditch Delta? If so, what are your mileage plans? With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.