Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Maximizing Delta’s Award Routing Rules

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Back in January, Delta quietly raised award redemption rates for partner flights starting October 1. On the positive side, the airline introduced discounted awards of just 5,000 miles each way on certain routes last year, and axed its phone booking fees. With those changes and more to contend with, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at the airline’s award routing rules and how you can maximize them.

Want to snag some Delta awards? Here's what you need to know.
Want to snag some Delta awards? Here’s what you need to know.

Delta underwent some major changes back in 2014 and 2015. Those included overhauling its entire SkyMiles program by making mileage earning revenue-based, devaluing its award charts and then actually no longer publishing them at all, as well as introducing one-way awards, changing its stopover and open-jaw award pricing and ending round-the-world awards.

This all means that it’s more complex than ever to book the Delta awards you want and to make sure you’re maximizing your miles to do so. Today, let’s take a look at Delta’s award routing rules to see what they might mean for you and your travel plans.

Fees

Sure, we talk about award flights as “free” tickets, but in reality, you might find yourself getting hit with all kinds of fees, so it’s best to be prepared. Here’s the page where Delta publishes its award ticket fees.

A breakdown of Delta's fees - though you won't be charged phone-booking ones anymore.
A breakdown of Delta’s fees — though you won’t be charged phone-booking ones anymore.

Telephone booking charge: Delta used to charge you $25-$35 per ticket unless you were a Gold, Platinum or Diamond Medallion. But as I mentioned above, the airline recently said it would waive these fees for all customers. Just note that the fee page still displays the charges, but they should not apply to your bookings.

Award redeposit/reissue: $150 per ticket. Waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallions when using their own miles. Also note that miles for award travel are non-refundable for flights canceled or changed within 72 hours of the original flight departure time, so if you do cancel or change your award, be sure to do it outside that window.

Close-in booking fee: Delta excels in this area since it does not charge close-in booking fees for flights within 21 days, like many of its competitors do. 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.

Airline Partners

Delta has partners both in SkyTeam and outside the alliance.
Delta has partners both in SkyTeam and outside the alliance.

Delta is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, so you can earn and redeem miles on the following airline partners (though now you earn miles 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 Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen

Here are Delta’s non-alliance partners:

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

The Award Charts

As I mentioned, Delta no longer publishes its award charts and looks like it will raise some partner awards by unspecified amounts come October 1, 2016. However, you can use this previous post with old charts as a rough guide to the cost of various awards.

Delta’s awards are zone-based. Here are the countries included in each region:

Region Countries
US/Canada 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, 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

Routing Rules

The SkyMiles program underwent some dramatic updates last year. Here are some of the biggest takeaways.

One Ways, Open Jaws and Stopovers

Last year, Delta basically switched its rules from allowing stopovers and open jaws but not one-way awards to allowing one-ways (which pretty much take the place of open jaws by Delta’s logic) but not stopovers.

First, the negative. Whereas stopovers used to be a great way to explore more than one destination at the price of a single award, now if you have a stop of more than four hours domestically or 24 internationally, you will be charged for two separate awards. So you used to be able to do things like book an award from New York to Paris (stopover), stay a few days and continue on to Istanbul (destination). Then say you wanted to take a cruise from Istanbul to Rome, you could book your return award from Rome (open jaw) to New York.

Routings like this are no longer possible as a single round-trip award.
Routings like this are no longer possible as a single round-trip award.

However, now if you wanted to book the same itinerary, you will now have to book one award from New York to Paris, a separate one from Paris to Istanbul and a third from Rome back to New York, so you’ll end up redeeming more miles.

On the plus side, being able to use Delta SkyMiles to book one-way awards is a fantastic development and one that, in general, makes the currency much more versatile.

Mixed-Level Awards

A mixed-level award is where one leg or segment is priced out at one level, like the Saver level, while another is at a different (higher) level. While partner awards will always price out at the saver level, this situation might arise if you have a round-trip where, say, the outbound segment is at the Saver level and the return is at a higher level.

For example, here’s a round-trip business-class award from Los Angeles to Brisbane for 295,000 miles.

LAX BNE rt

This itinerary includes a Virgin Australia flight on the outbound and then both a Virgin and a Delta flight on the return. If it were a Saver-level award, it would be just 80,000 miles each way, or 160,000 miles round-trip, as you can see if I just take the LA-Brisbane one-way on Virgin Australia.

LAX BNE 80k

But it’s that return at a much higher level that’s raising the mileage price — to a jaw-dropping 215,000 miles! While it’s good news on a certain level that Delta will price out mixed awards so you can put everything on one ticket if you’re willing to pay the higher mileage rate, this can also throw your search results out of whack.

It's that return that raises the redemption.
It’s that return that raises the redemption.

In this case, you might want to book each direction one at a time. You could bide your time and just book the outbound while monitoring the prices of returns and hope one of them dropped to the Saver level.

Maximum Permitted Mileage

Like other airlines, Delta has Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) amounts for various city pairs. Per its SkyMiles Rules & Conditions specifically, “For international Award Travel, if a published routing does not exist between two cities or service is not offered via a published routing, travel must be within the maximum permitted mileage. Completely open tickets will not be issued.”

That means if there’s not a flight between two cities, you can book multiple segments that route through other airports than your origin and destination, but the entire distance must fall within the airline’s maximum permitted mileage.

Here’s there things get a bit tricky. Delta doesn’t actually publish its maximum permitted mileage numbers between various cities. Instead, however, 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.

ExpertFlyer MPM

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 New Delhi (DEL). According to ExpertFlyer, the MPM is 9,543 miles. This is how Delta will determine which flights you can use to get there.

JFK DEL MPM

I’ve plotted out a couple plausible routes using GCMap that you might think would work, given Delta’s partners, including via Taipei on Air China, Shanghai on China Eastern, Paris on Air France and Moscow on Aeroflot.

JFK DEL routes

However, only those two routings via Europe fall within the MPM, so your award searches will only turn those up, like this one via Moscow on Aeroflot:

JFK SVO DEL

But if we look at the MPM for Los Angeles to Delhi instead, that ends up being 12,031 miles, and opens up a lot more options.

LAX DEL MPM

In fact, a quick award search shows flights both via Asia (Shanghai on China Eastern) and Europe (Moscow on Aeroflot). So paying attention to your origin/destination and MPMs can have a big impact on your travel plans.

LAX DEL

Those are the major factors when it comes to Delta award routing rules. For more information on SkyMiles and booking awards, check out these posts.

Additionally, if you’re looking to boost your SkyMiles balance, now’s a great time to take advantage of Delta’s current credit card sign-up bonuses. The carrier is offering increased bonuses through July 6 — you can currently earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, or earn 60,000 bonus miles plus $10,000 MQMs after spending $2,000 in the first three months with the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express.

Do you have any tips for maximizing Delta’s award routing rules? Share them in the comments below!

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now
  • Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle in sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
None 15.49%-19.49% Variable $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 2.70% Excellent Credit