Booking an award with Delta Skymiles – tips and tricks

So I have booked a number of Delta Skymiles awards this year. And I invested a good part of the last weekend to change my most recent award.

Here are my learnings:

Aspirational Awards

Delta has a competitive award chart with no fuel surcharges (when starting in the US):

US – Maldives 120k Delta Skymiles (Low Level Business for instance with China Southerns new A380 or Korean Airlines)

US – India 120,000 Delta Skymiles (Low Level Business for instance with Saudi Airlines)

US – South Africa/ Seychelles/ Reunion 120,000 Delta Skymiles (Low Level Business incl. the longest operating flight Atlanta to Johannesburg)

US – Australia 150,000 Delta Skymiles (Low Level Business i.e. on VA Australia)

US – Tahiti 150,000 Delta Skymiles (Low Level Business i.e. on Air Tahiti)

Availability

Availability is tight for transatlantic space in business on the low level awards especially in summer.

Since Delta blocks Air France trans-atlantic business class redemptions and Delta barely releases any space on the low level in business there is just KLM, Aeroflot and Alitalia left. KLM availability shows on Delta.com but is mostly phantom – agents say it does not show for available for them. Aeroflot used to have great availability but most flights are now 0. Alitalia has a good J product on some routes notably Boston to Rome. I just snapped the last business class seat in all of June up for my trip next week.

Availability on Saudi is still good but only helps you for Middle East/ India trips. Korean Airlines, China Eastern, China Airlines and China Southern all have reasonable availability over the Pacific.

Domestic First/Business Class availability is pretty reasonable as well i.e. compared to what United makes available.

To look up availability I'm using airfrance.us/ expertflyer.com and delta.com.

Expertflyer.com works well for the Chinese based airlines and Aeroflot. Airfrance.us works well for Air France, Alitalia, Vietnam Airlines, Aeroflot, KLM, Kenya Airways. Since Air France is often blocked when using Delta Skymiles, try to find days with lower fuel surcharges since they usually indicate a non-AF flight is available.

delta.com works well for Delta flights – not much else.

Stopovers

Layovers under 24 hours internationally and 4 hours domestically are NOT considered a stop-over. But did you know that the layover just before your international section can be 12 hours long and is still not considered a layover?

A maximum of 4 legs per outbound/inbound are permitted.

But did you know that you can have 12 legs as well? To do so you need to construct 4 legs outbound – stop another 4 legs – destination 4 legs inbound.

Delta allows one stop and one open-jaw – these rules are strictly enforced by the computer. If you violate them the price will jump upwards.

Routings

Delta does usually prohibit creative routings such as Europe via Asia. However the computer only checks MPM (Maximum Permitted Mileage) and if a fare is published, the routing itself is in the hand of the agent so keep calling.

Partners

Some agents are top-notch while others don't even realize China Eastern is a partner. Some agents come up with blackout dates for random partners. Don't let yourself be fooled – keep on calling until you get what you want to hear.

Kenya Airways seems especially tricky for agents. I once called 12 times and got everything from not available, not a partner, no business class seats, no flights to SEZ to mileage required from 120k to 480k (i kid you not).

Conclusion

If you are ok with travel in business class (no First Class using Delta) there are some fantastic awards. However the amount of work and planning (space often is blocked out 10 months in advance) is mind-boggling and makes sure only few 'experts' can redeem for low rates for fantastic awards.

Delta Skymiles can be a earned through a variety of methods that involve a bit of time but make the miles nearly free to earn. But there is a 'cost' to redeem them properly now.