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Here’s Delta’s new (unofficial) award chart for partner redemptions - and you're not going to like it

Oct. 28, 2020
11 min read
Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class
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Although Delta doesn't publish an award chart, and the amount of SkyMiles you need to book a Delta flight can fluctuate wildly, partner redemptions have relatively fixed prices. That being said, without award charts, Delta can choose to raise these rates at any time. And unfortunately, that's exactly what it just did.

Delta has quietly increased the price of many partner awards. Additionally, it appears that Delta is now charging more miles for flights booked between 21 and 59 days before departure and even more miles for those booked within 21 days. This change was first noticed by a user on Flyertalk and was further investigated by TPG.

There's a lot to uncover, so let's dive right in.

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Higher "saver-level" rates

Unfortunately, we're seeing higher award rates for partner awards across the board on flights to and from the U.S. Delta hasn't published an award chart in years, but always offered partner awards with saver award space at a set price. Unfortunately, these have gone up across the board on both SkyTeam alliance partners and non-alliance partners.

Business-class awards were especially hard-hit by these changes. For example, Virgin Atlantic flights to and from the U.S. now cost 95,000 miles instead of the previous 86,000-mile price. The price of economy tickets has also risen 10,000 miles to 35,000 miles one-way.

(Photo by Delta)

We found the same pricing for flights operated by SkyTeam partners like Air France and KLM. This also shows us that Virgin Atlantic award pricing is now in-line with SkyTeam partner prices for transatlantic awards. Keep in mind that Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and KLM officially launched a joint-venture earlier this year.

Likewise, flights to North Asia have seen a big price increase too. A Korean Airlines flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Seoul (ICN) is now pricing at 40,000 and 102,500 miles for economy and business class, respectively. This is 5,000 more miles in economy and 17,500 more miles in business class.

Here's an unofficial Delta partner award chart we made that reflects these changes:

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DestinationEconomyBusiness
Central America17,000 miles35,000 miles
South America25,000 milesN/A
Europe35,000 miles95,000 miles
Middle East37,500 miles85,000 miles
Northern Africa35,000 miles95,000 miles
Southern Africa50,000 miles115,000 miles
Asia40,000 miles102,500 miles

Note that due to extremely-limited availability to certain regions (i.e., South Pacific and business class to South America), this isn’t a totally comprehensive look — but you can still see the devaluation.

Unofficial close-in mileage charge

To make matters worse, Delta now upcharges partner awards booked closer to departure. You'll pay extra miles for flights booked 21 to 59 days in advance and even more for flights booked within 21 days. In other words, you must now book exactly 60 days or more in advance to get the lowest price for partner awards.

The extra charge appears to be set by destination and is consistent across all partners — with a few exceptions. You'll pay surcharges between 2,500 and 120,000 miles when booking close-in to your day of travel. Again, these aren't published surcharges, but we ran a handful of surcharges and found pricing is consistent across the board.

For example, a Virgin Atlantic flight booked within 21 days of departure now costs 55,000 miles in economy and 195,000 in business class. This is over twice the cost of a saver ticket booked under the previous award chart. Flights booked within 60 days of departure price at 40,000 miles in economy and 170,000 in business class.

Interestingly enough, though, these changes are different for transatlantic flights operated by SkyTeam partners like Air France. You'll pay 135,000 or 55,000 miles for a one-way business or economy transatlantic ticket booked within 21 days of departure. Additionally, flights booked 21 to 59 days from departure on these carriers cost 40,000 in economy and 105,000 in business.

North Asia also sees a significant increase when booking close-in. Economy flights cost 5,000 miles more when booked 21 to 59 days from departure and 10,000 miles more when booked within 21 days. Due to the lack of award availability, we couldn't find business class flights less than 60 days from departure. But we imagine that, like Europe, the close-in booking fees are high.

Here's a look at the award chart with close-in fees added for all regions:

Destination60+ days from departure (no close-in fee)21-59 days from departureWithin 21 days of departure
Central America17,000 miles (Economy)

35,000 miles (Business)

19,500 miles (Economy)

37,500 miles (Business)

22,000 miles (Economy)

40,000 miles (Business)

South America25,000 miles (Economy)30,000 miles (Economy)35,000 miles (Economy)
Europe (Virgin Atlantic-operated)35,000 miles (Economy)

70,000 miles (Premium economy)

95,000 miles (Business)

40,000 miles (Economy)

75,000 miles (Premium economy)

170,000 miles (Business)

40,000 miles (Economy)

105,000 miles (Premium economy)

195,000 miles (Business)

Europe (SkyTeam-operated)35,000 miles (Economy)

95,000 miles (Business)

40,000 miles (Economy)

105,000 miles (Business)

55,000 miles (Economy)

135,000 miles (Business)

Middle East37,500 miles (Economy)

85,000 miles (Business)

37,500 miles (Economy)

85,000 miles (Business)

37,500 miles (Economy)

85,000 miles (Business)

Northern Africa35,000 miles (Economy)

95,000 miles (Business)

40,000 miles (Economy)55,000 miles (Economy)
Southern Africa50,000 miles (Economy)

115,000 miles (Business)

50,000 miles (Economy)

115,000 miles (Business)

50,000 miles (Economy)

115,000 miles (Business)

Asia40,000 miles (Economy)

102,500 miles (Business)

45,000 miles (Economy)50,000 miles (Economy)

Again, due to the lack of award availability, this isn't a totally comprehensive look, but the differences are noticeable.

Related: Everything you need to know about maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets

Not all awards went up in price

Not all partner awards went up in price — at least not yet.

First off, these changes seem to only apply to flights to and from the U.S. Interestingly enough, it appears you may be able to get around paying a "close-in" fee by flying through another region. For instance, although partner business class flights to Europe booked less than three weeks in advance should cost 195,000 miles, you can pay less than half of that by adding a connection in Mexico, with Delta's partner Aeromexico.

Though not always the case, we're also seeing savings when bundling a Virgin Atlantic flight with an Alitalia flight.

Additionally, at least one region — the Middle East — doesn't appear to be charging any close-in fees. In fact, coach prices for flights to cities like Tel Aviv (TLV) appear to have gone down in price by 5,000 miles.

Further, there's no change to North America flights to the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and South America when booking at least 60 days out from departure. It's worth noting that this only applies to flights on carriers like Aeromexico. Delta flights are still subject to dynamic pricing, so you may be able to find better deals.

Related: Delta offering targeted status challenges up to Diamond Medallion

Timing of these changes

The timing of these changes doesn't seem to be a coincidence.

Just last week, United raised partner award prices (for the second time this year) for close-in bookings. However, United only increased the prices of partner awards ticketed within 21 days of departure and only by a maximum of 4,500 miles each way.

Additionally, this comes at a time when demand for travel is still extremely low and airlines are bleeding cash. Delta likely sees this as an opportunity to save money, as higher prices would mean fewer partner redemptions and less cash paid to partners for those flights. The airline might also think that since fewer people are searching for flights now, they might not notice the increase once things go back to normal.

Related: Delta to mortgage SkyMiles program for up to $6.5 billion to help weather coronavirus hit

Likewise, this could be a ploy to capitalize on those booking last-minute trips to countries that are admitting Americans during the pandemic.

Whatever the reason, it's unfortunate to see Delta roll out a huge partner devaluation while the travel world is already hurting due to the coronavirus pandemic. In our eyes, this shows that Delta is focused on reducing SkyMiles liabilities on its balance sheet — not customer satisfaction. This is understandable but comes at a time when travelers may be already reconsidering their loyalty choices after the pandemic.

If you're in this boat, consider earning transferrable points from here on out. These points can be earned with a credit card and transferred to a handful of airlines and hotel partners. For example, American Express Membership Rewards has over 20 transfer partners, including British Airways Avios, Delta SkyMiles and Avianca LifeMiles. This gives you flexibility in how you redeem points and, in turn, protects you from devaluations.

Related: Coronavirus devaluations will hurt airlines long-term — here’s why

Bottom line

The data here shows us that Delta has increased the price of all partner awards for flights to and from the U.S. — mostly when booking close to the date of departure. These devaluations are massive in some cases and further reduce the usefulness of SkyMiles for anything but domestic flights within the U.S.

Thankfully, there are still a few ways around these changes. You can achieve old partner pricing by booking flights from the U.S. to Europe via Mexico with SkyTeam partners. Airlines like Air France, Aeromexico and KLM all operate these routes. You can also get lower rates by booking last-minute flights with SkyTeam partners instead of non-alliance partners like Virgin Atlantic.

Screenshots by Delta.

Featured image by Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class suites on the Airbus A350. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy)

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  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more