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Overview of Delta Air Lines Award Routing Rules

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With major changes to Delta and United’s frequent flyer programs in the past year and more to come from the American Airlines/US Airways merger, I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to look at the current state of airline award routing rules for the US legacy carriers. Each day this week he’ll feature a different carrier, starting with Delta.

Round-the-World Award Tickets will not be issued on or after January 1, 2015
Here’s what you need you know about booking Delta awards.

Delta SkyMiles went through some major changes in 2013 and 2014, including a series of devaluations and the switch to a revenue-based mileage earning system set to begin in 2015. Also coming in the new year, Delta will no longer allow stopovers or open jaws for award tickets. On the positive side, 2015 will mean the implementation of one-way awards, so there’s plenty to review here.

Fees

Money before miles–here’s how much you can expect to pay in fees associated with your award bookings.

Delta Award Fees
Delta’s fee schedule for award bookings.

Direct ticketing (i.e., telephone booking) charge: $25 per ticket. Waived for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members. Delta.com has been notoriously bad at displaying partner award space, meaning you have to call in to book certain awards.  The website was updated very recently, and the jury is still out on whether the changes will eliminate the need to call when booking partner awards.

Award redeposit/reissue: $150 per ticket. Waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallions when using their own miles.

Close-in booking fee: None. The fact that you don’t have to pay any fees for a last-minute booking is a big plus. Just beware that if you want to cancel your award ticket and get your miles back, you must do so 72 hours or more in advance of travel, or you lose your miles.

Delta has a ton of great partners in SkyTeam and beyond.
Delta has a ton of great partners in SkyTeam and beyond.

Airline Partners

Delta is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, so you can earn and redeem miles on the following airline partners (though to a varying degree based on the carrier and fare class, so be sure to check the rules for any upcoming travel you may have):

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • GOL
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen

Here are the Delta’s non-alliance partners:

  • Alaska
  • Great Lakes Airlines
  • Hawaiian
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

The Award Chart

Delta’s award is in a period of transition. Changes are coming on January 1, 2015, but until then the current redemption levels and rules are in place.

You can find the current award chart here, though I have also included it below.

Delta Chart 2014
Delta’s current award chart (through the end of 2014)

And here is what we know so far about the award chart that will go into effect in 2015. It’s too long to copy here, but two notable features are that award levels are the samefor the most part, but there is now a five-tier award chart with more levels in case you want to spend more miles to book the exact award you want. Only time will tell what kind of award availability will be open in each tier.

Also, note that Delta only lets you book economy and business awards, not first class, even on partners that do have first class cabins like Korean Air and Air France.

Zones

Here are the countries included in each zone of the chart:

Zone Countries
US Continental US, Alaska, Canada
Hawaii Hawaii
Caribbean Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Eustatius, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands and US Virgin Islands
Central America Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama
Northern South America Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela
Southern South America Argentina,  Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay
Europe Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark (excluding Greenland), Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (The Former Yugoslav Republic of), Malta, Moldova (Republic of), Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal (including Azores and Madeira), Romania, Russia (West of the Ural Mountains), San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (including Canary Islands), Svalbard and Jan Mayen Island, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Vatican City
Africa Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Libyan Arab Jamahirija, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania (United Republic of), Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Middle East Bahrain, Egypt, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates (composed of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras El Khaimah, Sharjah, Umm Al Qaiwain), Uzbekistan, Yemen (Republic of)
South Asian Subcontinent Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, British Indian Ocean Territory; India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Northern Asia China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of), Korea (Republic of), Micronesia, Philippines and Taiwan (Province of), Russia (East of the Ural Mountains), Guam and Saipan.
Southeast Asia Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos (People’s Democratic Republic of), Macau SAR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor Leste, Turkmenistan and Vietnam
Southwest Pacific American Samoa, Australia, Christmas Islands, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna Islands.

New Rules for 2015

Delta recently announced some drastic changes to its stopover and open jaw rules that will come into effect in 2015. According to Delta’s new rules page:

“Stopovers will no longer be permitted for Award Travel booked on or after January 1, 2015.”

Also, “For Award Travel ticketed on or after January 1, 2015, all open jaw itineraries will be priced based on One-Way Award Travel pricing rules.”

Essentially, Delta is eliminating stopovers and open jaws on all awards in favor of just allowing one-ways. That might seem like a small price to pay given the increased flexibility offered by one-way awards, but stopovers and open jaws can be tremendously versatile as well, so it’s worth reviewing the current rules and booking your award travel before January if possible.

Routing Rules: Open Jaws, Stopovers, Segments and More

Through the end of 2014, Delta SkyMiles award bookings must be round-trip. That said, Delta does allow some flexibility with awards, so you can play around with your travels a bit.

Delta currently allows you one stopover and one open jaw on your awards. For the purposes of Delta awards, a stopover is a stay of over 24 hours internationally or over 4 hours domestically. An open jaw is where you fly to one city and fly home from another, or fly out of one city and return to another.

For an example of an itinerary with a stopover, you could book a trip on Air France from New York to Istanbul via Paris with just a quick two-hour layover. Then you would stay in Istanbul for a few days, which would be your destination. On the return, you would fly back through Paris but stop there for a few days. This would be your stopover. You would then continue home.

For an example of an open jaw, you could fly from New York to Rome to catch a cruise that lets you off in Istanbul and returns directly from there to New York.

JFK FCO IST JFK
An open jaw from New York to Rome, returning from Istanbul

Now for an itinerary example that utilizes both. If you really wanted to maximize your miles with a trip to Europe, you could fly from JFK to Amsterdam and stopover there for a few days (or weeks), then continue on to Paris (destination) and spend some time there. Find a way to get yourself over to Italy and enjoy some time there; then take an Alitalia flight back from Rome or Milan (open jaw).

JFK AMS CDG MXP
A combined stopover and open jaw

There are some limitations to these routing rules. You cannot build in stopovers that don’t make geographical sense–-for instance, flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles to catch a flight to Barcelona, or flying from Seattle to New York to catch a flight to Seoul.

Note than you can book an open jaw that straddles two regions–-for instance, flying into Hong Kong (North Asia) and out of Singapore (Southeast Asia).

SEA HKG SIN
An open jaw that straddles two regions

Keep in mind that the distance between your two open jaw destinations cannot be greater than that of your outbound and return legs, and that you will be charged the greater number of miles depending on which region requires more.

So if you’re originating in the US, you can’t fly from New York to London, and then back to New York directly from Johannesburg on one award, because the distance between London and Johannesburg is greater than that of your outbound flight from JFK-LHR.

Delta also only allows you 8 segments for an award ticket, and each individual flight is a segment, so if you’re coming from or going to an out-of-the-way destination, it pays to keep a tally on how many flights you’ll need to take. To frame it another way, Delta will allow you two connections per origin and destination for domestic travel (6 segments total) and three connections for international travel (8 segments total).

One-Ways

As of now, you can only book round-trip awards using Delta SkyMiles. That is, you will still end up paying the same amount of miles whether you travel roundtrip or one-way.

However, starting in 2015, Delta will institute one-way awards for half the price of round-trips. That means that the stopover and open jaw rules will change. Since one-ways will be possible, you can just book to the first city you want to visit, then book another award continuing from there to your destination, and finally book another ticket home. For the most part, one-way awards are more useful, but if you really stretch your miles by taking advantage of the stopover and open jaw rules now in place, you might end up having to use more miles once the new rules go into effect.

Note that many FlyerTalkers have reported not being able to book Delta awards with stopovers on Delta.com anymore, and when you go to the Multi-City award search page, it does indeed say that you must call Delta directly to book a ticket with stopovers, so that is likely a sign of things to come.

Now if you want to book a stopover, you have to call Delta.
You now have to call Delta to book a stopover.

Mixed-Level Awards

Delta will price out mixed-level awards where one direction might be at the saver level and the other is at a mid or peak level. Partner awards will always be at the saver level. If there is saver availability on your outbound segment, but only mid or peak level for your return, you can book a mixed award.

For example, a round-trip saver award for this itinerary from LAX-Sydney aboard Delta would cost 100,000 miles. A peak award in economy would be 190,000 miles.

This is an example of a mixed itinerary.
This is an example of a mixed itinerary.

This itinerary works out to 145,000 miles because the outbound is a saver award at 50,000 miles and the inbound is a peak award at 95,000 miles. Add them together and you get 145,000 miles.

Maximum Permitted Mileage

Like other airlines, Delta has Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) amounts for various city pairs. That said, Delta agents can usually stretch this by 5% or even more if you make a good case for it.

Use ExpertFlyer to look up MPM.
Use ExpertFlyer to look up MPMs.

You can look up MPMs by calling the airline or by subscribing to ExpertFlyer and going to the Travel Information tab and selecting Maximum Permitted Mileage.

Then just enter your city pairs, the airline, and a sample date, and the search tool will generate the MPM for you. For example, let’s use New York JFK to Johannesburg.

The MPM for JFK-JNB is
The MPM for JFK-JNB is 9,565.

As you can see, the MPM is 9,565 miles. The actual flight distance if you wanted to take Delta’s own flights from JFK-Atlanta-JNB would be 9,199 miles, well within the MPM.

Here’s where things get interesting. Let’s say you wanted to really maximize your miles. Instead of flying Delta itself to South Africa, you could fly Delta or KLM from JFK-Amsterdam, have a stopover for a few days, and then continue to Johannesburg from there. According to GC Map, that routing is just 9,227 miles, which is also well within the MPM, so you get two trips for the price of one.

Why not add a stopover in Amsterdam if it falls under the MPM?
Why not add a stopover in Amsterdam if it falls under the MPM?

MPM rarely tends to be an issue with Delta unless you’re really pushing the envelope, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

According to Delta's site, Round the World tickets will be ending.
According to Delta’s site, Round the World tickets will end in 2015, so book now!

Round the World Awards

Starting January 1, Delta will also discontinue its Round The World SkyTeam tickets, so if you’re interested in booking one, look into it now. For complete info, read the post I wrote on it in October, but here are the most important details.

Delta RTW awards are 180,000 SkyMiles in economy or 280,000 SkyMiles in business class. As usual for SkyMiles, there are no first class awards.

The rules for Delta round-the-world tickets are as follows:

  • Travel must terminate in the country of origin without extending beyond the point of origin.
  • Flights must continue in one direction.
  • Backtracking is not permitted.
  • Flights operated by codeshare partners must permit local traffic between the stopover point and the destination.
  • The most direct routing applies.
  • A maximum of three stopovers per continent is allowed.
  • A maximum of six stopovers and 16 segments is allowed for a round-the-world award.

Your flights must be in one direction (east to west or west to east), meaning you can’t fly from New York to Chicago and then to Paris, for example.

Your stopovers per continent and overall are limited, so pay special attention to the stopovers you plot.

Though your east-west direction is limited, you can maximize your travel by considering the north-south axis as well. For instance, you can head from Asia to Africa before Europe (after all, Kenya Airways is a SkyTeam member), or hit South America (perhaps on Aerolineas Argentinas) once you cross the Atlantic before a stopover in Mexico (Aeromexico) and a return to the US.

Amex's Delta cards will no longer levy foreign transaction fees starting May 1.
Delta Amex cardholders get access to more economy saver award space.

More Award Space for Delta Cardholders and Elites

One more quirk to note. If you’re a Delta Gold Medallion or higher and/or a Delta Amex cardholder, and if you’re logged into your SkyMiles account to search for an award, you’ll notice a box is checked that says “I am traveling.”

Delta I am traveling

Make sure that box is checked, because it will give you access to increased award availability on domestic coach award tickets. You can find all the details in this FlyerTalk thread, but it’s handy to keep in mind for your next award search.

Have any other questions or tips about Delta award booking and routing rules? Share them in the comments below.

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