Top 11 Ways to Redeem Delta SkyMiles

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What with Delta’s recent announcements about instituting a new revenue-based SkyMiles earning structure in 2015, and a new five-tiered award chart that will go into effect as well, plus upcoming award chart devaluations, you might be thinking how best to dispose of your SkyMiles…or SkyPesos as many folks have been calling them for a while now. So for all you Delta flyers out there who are dumping Delta like I am, and looking to burn through your miles before they get you even less than they do now, here are some ideas for the best redemptions.

Has Delta's recent devaluation got you rethinking your elite status?

I covered the Top 10 Ways to Redeem Delta SkyMiles last year, and though some of them are the same, with the award chart is changing, partners shifting (like Delta losing Hawaiian as a partner), and alliances growing, there are a lot of new options as well, so read on.

1. Virgin Atlantic Awards to London With Low Taxes: Delta and Virgin Atlantic launched a new partnership last June that means avoiding fuel surcharges that can top $1,000 by using Delta miles to fly Virgin Atlantic. Award availability on Virgin’s flights through Delta.com is tight, and the search engine pulls up Delta awards much more prevalently than Virgin Atlantic awards, but it’s worth calling up Delta and talking to an agent to see if they can pull up any availability the web site isn’t showing. That said, there are some awards out there still, like this roundtrip on Virgin from JFK-London later in March (the 18-25, to be exact):

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 2.47.18 PMRight now, this roundtrip award will only cost you 100,000 miles and $309.50 in taxes/fees, but after June 1, it’ll go up to 125,000 miles, so if you can travel before then, that’s best. Virgin would charge you just 80,000 miles, but over $1,200 in taxes and fees, so since Delta’s miles are being devalued anyway, I’d much rather spend an extra 20,000 of them and save $900!

Taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges buying through Virgin would be over $1,200!
Taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges buying through Virgin would be over $1,200!

2. 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 search on Delta.com. Using Delta SkyMiles means you avoid paying surcharges of about $500-$800 (even on some coach awards!), which you can read about here. Virgin Australia flies 777-300ER’s daily from LAX to Sydney and from LAX to Melbourne and Brisbane several days a week. Award availability is tight, but if you can fly at the last-minute, like TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen did a couple weeks ago, you can score some amazing redemptions. We booked his ticket in Virgin Australia business class for 150,000 miles and about $200 in taxes/fees roundtrip, and there is some availability close in – and you might have to book an economy return then change it once more availability opens up for that leg closer to your return date (yes, it’s a gamble, but it can really work!).

I got 2 seats to myself.
Virgin Australia business class is a great use of miles.

Again, I would try to book what you can sooner rather than later because a roundtrip business class redemption will be going up from 150,000 miles to 160,000 miles. Tickets normally cost around $10,000 roundtrip on Virgin Australia in business, so even using 150,o00 miles you still get a pretty good per-mile value.

3. Intra-European Awards: Delta partners with not one, but six European airlines, so one of the bright spots in its award chart can be redeeming for sometimes expensive intra-European awards on partners like Air France, KLM and Alitalia for 30,000 miles roundtrip in economy or 50,000 in business class (these levels won’t change post-June 1). To take an extreme example, let’s say you were in Paris and wanted to pop over to Vienna. You could book this roundtrip non-stop business class award on Air France for 50,000 miles and 155 EUR ($215).

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The same itinerary wouldn’t even price out on Delta.com when trying to buy normal tickets (instead it produced convoluted itineraries on KLM), but booking through Air France, the total came to $1,142.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 2.38.02 PMGranted, I’d never pay that much for an intra-European business class ticket, but hey, that’s the going price and at certain times, fares really are sky-high, so having miles is a good back up, and using them is a great strategy that could save you a fortune.

4. Korean Air to South America: One of the interesting off-label routes Korean Air flies is from LAX to Sao Paulo, and though it can be hard to nail down award availability on Delta.com, you might have better luck calling Delta. Right now, flying from North America to Southern South America costs 100,000 miles roundtrip in business class, but after June 1, it’ll be 125,000 miles, so if you can get down there before June, you’ll be saving 25,000 miles and it means that West Coast flyers don’t have to transit through Atlanta, Detroit or New York JFK to catch Delta’s own flights down there. Just note, Delta blacks out a lot of dates on Korean Air, sometimes for months at a time, so you should check out the most updated list here so you don’t get too frustrated trying to book one of these.

Aerolineas Argentinas flights can be expensive!
Aerolineas Argentinas flights can be expensive!

5. Intra-South America Flights on Aerolineas Argentina and GOL: Speaking of South America, Aerolineas Argentinas partnered with Delta and joined SkyTeam back in 2012. Though it offers an extensive network of flights around Southern South America and there’s plenty of competition from LAN, even economy flights in the region can be very expensive for foreigners, making SkyMiles a great option to have if you want to save some money. According to Delta’s Southern South America award chart, economy tickets are 25,000 miles roundtrip and business class is 40,000 miles roundtrip for awards within Southern South America, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. That’s still 5,000 miles and 10,000 miles more than they used to be, but can still be a good value on flights like those between Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls or Mendoza or Ushuaia that can all be well over $500 even in economy. Note, you can also fly Aerolineas from Miami to Buenos Aires for 60,000 miles in economy and 100,000 miles in business plus about $60 in fees, but that business class redemption goes up to 125,000 miles for travel starting in June. For more information on using Delta miles to book Aerolineas awards, check out this post.

Delta also partners with GOL in South America.
Delta also partners with GOL in South America.

Delta’s other South American partner is the Brazilian airline GOL, which is a Brazilian airline with a great South American route network. The redemption levels are the same at 25,000 and 40,000 miles for economy and business class respectively, which might seem high, but can be great to use on expensive tickets like those from Rio or Sao Paulo to Iguazu Falls, which can be $500 roundtrip.

You can use Delta SkyMiles to fly the China Southern A380.
You can use Delta SkyMiles to fly the China Southern A380.

6. China Southern to Asia: SkyTeam has several useful Asia-based airline members including this one based in Guanghzou. The airline also seems to offer plenty of availability both in the near term and several months out still, even aboard some of its flagship A380 routes like the one from LA to Guangzhou, making this a good option to use SkyMiles to get to Asia (especially since you can now spend up to 72 hours transiting through Guangzhou without a visa before continuing on to another country). Though economy awards will remain at 70,000 miles roundtrip before and after June 1, business class tickets will jump 20,000 miles up to a new level of 140,000 roundtrip for travel after June 1, 2014, so better start booking! Delta.com does not display China Southern award space, so I would use ExpertFlyer to search for award space before calling Delta.

7. Korean Air to the Maldives: One of the best ways to get to the Maldives is to fly Korean Air from one of its North American destinations including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and New York via Seoul Incheon. Now, this kind of routing is way too much for Delta.com to handle, so you’ll have to call in to Delta. The bad news is, Delta already raised award levels to the South Asian Subcontinent region to 85,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 140,000 in business class, but the good news is that they seem to be fixed there for the time being, so there’s not a huge time crunch.

The business class cabin aboard Korean Air's A380.
The business class cabin aboard Korean Air’s A380.

TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen flew Korean Air Prestige business class on the A380 from LAX-ICN, and we both flew first class on the 777-200 from ICN-Madrid, and both are solid products (though you can’t redeem Delta miles for first class on partners).

8. Air France or Air Tahiti Nui to Tahiti: There are several ways to use miles to get to Tahiti, but using Delta SkyMiles is among the best. That’s because the airline partners with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui – the two major carriers that fly here. In either case, you need 100,000 miles roundtrip in economy or 150,000 miles roundtrip in business class now through May 31, then that business class redemption will go up to 160,000 miles, so why not plan a spring trip there? As I keep saying, Delta.com is terrible with searching partner award availability, so I would suggest using ExpertFlyer instead, where you can look for awards on both Air Tahiti Nui and Air France, and which will show you accurate award space that you can then call to book.  Taxes and fees tend to be about $50 on either partner.

Why not fly Air France to Tahiti for 100,000 miles and $56?
Why not fly Air France to Tahiti for 100,000 miles and $56?

9. Alaska Airlines Awards to Hawaii: Though as of now Delta and Alaska are still partners, Delta is making an aggressive push into the Pacific Northwest and Alaska’s hub of Seattle, so they might not be playing nice for much longer. Coupled with the fact that Delta and Hawaiian Airlines recently ended their partnership, now might just be the right time to book awards to Hawaii on Alaska since it has a lot more flights from the West Coast to the islands than Delta. The one downside is that Delta did just increase both economy and business/first awards to Hawaii by 5,000 miles roundtrip, so economy will be 45,000 miles and business/first will be 80,000 miles now – not great at all, but if you’re looking to burn some Delta miles, this could be a good opportunity while it lasts. I was able to find award availability from several West Coast cities including Los Angeles, San Jose, Portland and Seattle to various Hawaiian airports including Maui OGG and Lihue LIH on Kauai, like this sample first class Alaska roundtrip from San Jose to Maui in April for 80,000 miles and $5.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 3.58.50 PMBooking the same itinerary on Alaska would have cost $1,599.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 4.01.42 PMAn expensive ticket that gets you about 2 cents per mile in value – not the highest, but definitely decent for a SkyMiles valuation, and a great way to put Delta miles to use to get to Hawaii.

Aeromexico flies to London, Paris and Madrid in Europe.
Aeromexico flies to London, Paris and Madrid in Europe.

10. Aeromexico Awards To Mexico and Europe: One of the award levels that didn’t change February 1 and won’t change June 1 are the 30,000 miles roundtrip from North America to Mexico in economy and 60,000 in business class on Delta’s partner, Aeromexico, which has its hub in Mexico City, but also offers flights to various other destinations south of the border. Something interesting to consider is actually hopping an Aeromexico flight to Mexico City then continuing on to Europe from there. Economy awards will remain at 70,000 miles roundtrip (so not great), and business class awards will go up from 100,000 miles to 125,000 miles June 1. The reason I mention it is because there’s actually very good award availability usually on the airline’s routes to London, Paris and Madrid, so it might be worth making a little detour to Mexico City.

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11. Round the World Business Class Award: What with Delta’s major award chart devaluations, one bright spot is the fact that Round The World awards don’t seem to have changed from 180,000 miles in economy and 280,000 miles in business class, so if you maximize the 6 allowed stopovers and various SkyTeam partners, you can still reap a ton of potential value from your SkyMiles. Something to consider if you’ve got the time and energy to plan it. For more on how to do it, check out this post.

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