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What China Southern's SkyTeam Exit Means for Delta Flyers

Nov. 16, 2018
8 min read
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The announcement that China Southern will exit the SkyTeam alliance came on Thursday. The signs of an impending exit from the alliance had been accumulating for months. Delta and Air France-KLM, the biggest players in SkyTeam, had entered joint ventures with rival China Eastern, and American Airlines, the biggest member of rival alliance oneworld, had bought a stake in China Southern.

The 20 current SkyTeam airlines. Soon to become 19, as China Southern leaves.
The 20 current SkyTeam airlines — soon to become 19, as China Southern leaves.

Now that China Southern's SkyTeam exit on January 1, 2019 is announced, the question becomes what SkyTeam's loss of one of the world's largest airlines will ultimately mean for Delta flyers. While many questions remain on exactly how this will play out — especially in regard to timing — here's what we know right now. (We reviewed China Southern's trans-Pacific first class last year.)

Existing Tickets

This should go without saying, but SkyTeam has said it anyway: existing tickets — including award tickets — will still be honored, even after China Southern officially leaves SkyTeam. That does not, however, mean that reciprocal elite status benefits and mileage earning will necessarily still apply to these reservations.

Reciprocal Elite Status Benefits and Lounge Access

It can be assumed that reciprocal elite status benefits and lounge access will be going away. What we don't know at this time is exactly when that will happen. So far, SkyTeam has been quite vague on this point, saying only that "it will not happen overnight," that it would take place "throughout 2019" and that updates will come in the coming weeks and months.

You might miss out on China Southern's lounges, though TPG found that you wouldn't be missing much. (Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)

Award Bookings

While we don't know exactly when the ability to book award flights on China Southern (CZ) will end, what we do know is that they're currently still available to book throughout the end of Delta's currently-open award booking calendar. So, if you've been eyeing booking a China Southern award flight with your Delta SkyMiles, you'll probably want to book that sooner rather than later, since we don't know how much longer they'll be available and we do know that they'll be honored if ticketed.

Historically, I've found China Southern award flights to have lots of availability for booking through Delta's website, especially for flights within East Asia. While I'm not seeing quite as much CZ award availability for flights within East Asia as I have in the past, I still see several flights available through the end of the schedule. Long-haul flights are also still available to book, such as this round-trip from New York-JFK to China Southern's hub of Guangzhou (CAN) in October of 2019.

You can still book China Southern long-haul flights with SkyMiles, such as this JFK-CAN round-trip.
You can still book China Southern long-haul flights with SkyMiles, such as this JFK-CAN flight.
China Southern short-haul flights can also still be booked with SkyMiles, such as this ICN-CAN round-trip.
China Southern short-haul flights can also still be booked with SkyMiles, such as this ICN-CAN flight.

Once China Southern flights are no longer available for SkyMiles redemption, though, the good news is that SkyTeam still has multiple other airlines in the region. Even with CZ availability gone, Delta flyers will still be able to redeem SkyMiles for flights on Korean Air, China Eastern, Xiamen Air, and Taiwan-based China Airlines.

Earning Miles and Status Credit

Last but certainly not least, we get to earning SkyMiles and credit toward Delta Medallion status from China Southern flights, one of the largest benefits for Delta frequent flyers who are flying with partner airlines. Normally, booking partner-marketed flights can be a great way to earn SkyMiles and credit toward Delta Medallion status, since partner-marketed flights earn SkyMiles and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) according to a percentage of the distance flown, rather than based on the fare price.

Flights marketed by China Southern don't earn nearly as much as flights marketed by Delta's closer partners, such as Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, or China Eastern, and you won't get a Medallion mileage bonus. However, it's still possible to earn more MQDs than the fare you paid, especially in Premium Economy... for now.

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Delta's Partner Earning Chart for China Southern... for now.

For example, according to this chart, a JFK-CAN round-trip (16,004 miles flown) would earn 4,001 SkyMiles, 4,001 MQMs, and 800 MQDs if flown in the Deep Discount Economy Z fare class, even though the fare would only be $645. If flown in the Premium Economy S fare class, the flight would earn 16,004 SkyMiles, 16,004 MQMs, and 3,201 MQDs, even though the fare would only be $941. TPG currently values SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, making those those 4,000 and 16,000 SkyMiles hauls worth $48 and $192, respectively.

Premium Economy booking on China Southern. 6543 RMB = $941 USD.
Premium Economy booking on China Southern. 6,543 Yuan = $941 USD.

What we don't know is how long this chart will last, even for bookings made now. As such, if you're booking a China Southern revenue flight for next year and wanting to credit the flight to your Delta SkyMiles account, it might be wise to book the flight as a Delta codeshare (i.e. with a DL flight number) rather than booking it under the China Southern (CZ) flight number.

Flights booked with Delta codeshares generally earn SkyMiles and Medallion status credit just as if they were operated by Delta itself, with SkyMiles and MQDs being earned according to the price paid for the ticket. While Delta could potentially change its rules for earning on Delta-coded flights, this seems much less likely than them devaluing — or even completely eliminating — earnings for CZ-coded flights after China Southern leaves SkyTeam next year.

For example, if you wanted to book that China Southern flight from JFK to CAN for next year and credit it to Delta, rather than booking flight CZ600 through China Southern you may want to consider instead booking the Delta codeshare — flight DL6783 — through Delta if the price is similar or better.

Booking the DL6783 codeshare instead of CZ600.
Booking the DL6783 codeshare instead of CZ600. Not a good deal in this case.

Of course, if the price is much more by booking through Delta instead of China Southern (as would have been the case in this particular example,) then you're better off just booking the lower price and ignoring the possibility of getting no miles. And there's always the chance that Delta could stop crediting flights operated by China Southern even on its own codeshares, though this seems less likely than partner earning for CZ-coded flights being removed.

The most effective way to mitigate the risk of not getting Delta miles for your flights next year, however, may be to simply avoid China Southern for revenue bookings and book with another Delta partner instead. Even with China Southern leaving SkyTeam, SkyTeam continues to have Korean Air (KE), China Eastern (MU), China Airlines (CI), and Xiamen (MF) in the region. And, with Korean Air and China Eastern being joint venture partners with Delta, mileage and status credit earning is much higher on flights marketed by those airlines than it is with China Southern, anyway.

Much is still unknown right now regarding how the China Southern SkyTeam exit will play out for Delta flyers — especially in regards to timing. Those with China Southern bookings for 2019 will definitely want to keep an eye out for further news regarding their SkyTeam exit over the coming months. However, booking your award flights soon and considering whether to book Delta codeshares or flights marketed by a different partner airline instead of by China Southern for 2019 may help ease the impact.

Featured image by AFP/Getty Images