Getting Big Value from Delta SkyMiles?!

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We all have our own favorite miles and points programs, and while our collective absolute favorites are likely to vary a bit based on location, travel patterns, etc. it is rare that someone in the miles and points world puts Delta SkyMiles high on their favorites list.  That’s not because of anything Delta does wrong in the air, because they actually are regarded to have a better in-flight experience than some other US airlines, but their frequent flyer program is always on the cutting edge…of devaluation.

Not only are they usually on the leading trend of making it harder to earn, and more expensive to burn miles, but their low level award availability is a bit of a unicorn.  You hear about low level awards, but they just never seem to show up when you are looking for them.  Okay, maybe unicorns are slightly more rare than low-level Delta awards, but not by much. 

I write about opportunities to earn Delta miles here and there, but I don’t talk about them as much as the other programs.  I think that is probably justified, but something happened this week that reinforced why having miles in a variety of programs, including, (gasp) Delta, is important.

I mentioned already that we were trying to get my husband’s family together to attend a Kansas City Royals World Series game next week, and while we were able to devise a plan pretty easily to get my husband there with very minimal expense, his brother still needed to come in from the New York City area.  Last minute airfare started at about $500 round trip with lengthy routings that wouldn’t work for the one night trip, and the nonstop flights he needed on Delta were $1,100.  The tickets to get in the World Series game are going to be expensive, but having to spend $1,100 just to fly to the right city would be very painful.  I don’t know my brother-in-law’s budget as well as our own, but that probably would not happen in our household, even for the World Series.

I started to look for ways for him to get to Kansas City on miles, and what would you know, I found a unicorn.  The nonstop flights he wanted were available on Delta at the lowest 25,000 miles round trip price, and to add the cherry on top, Delta has no close-in award booking fees.  Having no close-in booking fees is very unusual for a traditional US airline frequent flyer program, so Delta seriously kicked the other program’s tails in this case.

Delta had the nonstop flight he needed available at the saver level and with no close-in booking fees.  That flight would have cost $1100 with cash, and he was able to book it for 25,000 Delta miles + $11.20 in taxes/fees.

Delta award availability

While I was on the phone with my brother-in-law, he kept saying “I don’t understand.  Are they really going to just give me an $1,100 flight for just 25,000 miles and eleven dollars?”.  I giggled at his “lightbulb moment” knowing his path into the world of miles is now complete, and I also made sure to mention that he should never expect to get this much value out of SkyMiles again!

You never know when a specific program will be the best one to get you where you want to be.  Have the programs you focus on the most, but don’t ignore opportunities to have at least a basic stash of miles in other programs like Delta.  At the very least have transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.  If you had Membership Reward points you could always transfer those to Delta in these unicorn-like situations where they were the best option by a mile, or by 25,000 miles to be exact.

Many programs sometimes have better award availability at the last minute when there are unsold seats, so the close-in booking may have actually worked in our favor in terms of availability at the saver level.  The close-in availability combined with no close-in booking fees was a very fortunate combination and moved Delta up at least a notch in my book.

Have you ever had a program you often ignored surprise you by having the best award option to get your family where they wanted to be?



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  1. MP, interesting. In my searches I usually find a lot of decent availability from NYC. And for some reason DAL is usually quite competitive into and out of MCI(World series nothwithstanding).
    In fact, often mileage runs using MCI are very compelling. Not sure why.
    Well done.

    • Thanks, patterns for prices and availability are always fascinating. We got lucky with this one I think. I’ll take it though. 😉

  2. One other (small) Delta sweet spot… for some reason, Delta thinks that Morocco is in Europe instead of either the Middle East or Africa (as most of the other airlines do).

    As a result, saver economy tix are only 30k each way and availability is generally very good (Air France metal from US to CDG to Rabat).

  3. Wow, that sounds dangerously close to an endorsement without quite getting there. I am glad you weighted it properly with all the negatives associated with their program. Some of the other bloggers have taken the route in the past of overselling Delta by taking the rare good points and over emphasizing just to get people to click on their links.
    I stopped visiting their sites after that. I enjoy your blogs more than all the others so I am glad you are not following their path.
    I am not a mommy but I enjoy your writings and great tips very much. Keep it up.

  4. I redeem several tickets a year, but have never redeemed one on Delta, though I have 120,000 miles and always check Delta first. So far there has never been a ticket available to a destination I want to go to at a time I want to go. When they start allowing one ways next year, I figure my chances will double as then I’ll only have to find one unicorn, not two, in order to use those miles.

  5. I was also surprised to get a 25k award recently to JFK, nonstop from west coast, on my exact dates. Maybe it’s a New York thing. Where did he get the Skymiles if he’s not into miles/points?

    • Stannis, he isn’t anti-miles so had a few from actual delta flights over the years. He actually used his wife’s for this though since he didn’t have quite enough. She had just enough. I bet he gets more soon though. Ha!

  6. I think the example you give is a great reason to keep Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles around as well. Flying Club points likely could have been used for this redemption as well, and they are a much easier currency to earn than Skymiles. Too many people write off Flying Club miles as even more useless than Skymiles.

  7. In defense of SkyMiles, I live in NYC and have found more saver level seats with Delta than the other airlines. I have over 1 million United and AA miles on the books, but the Delta (and to a lesser extent, BA and US Airways) miles are the ones that move the fastest. The non-stop flights I want on United and AA are basically never available at the saver level. I have PM status on Delta so that opens up more availability from what I understand. In the last 2 years I’ve redeemed over 2 million Delta miles, all in international business class at the saver level (mostly to Europe but also Australia). My balance is now close to 0 but with the upcoming changes to the program in 2015 that’s not a bad thing.

  8. In defense of Skymiles and thanks to Delta points, I learned that Delta is the only domestic airline that provides a free domestic one city stopover on a round trip award.

    I used a skymiles award to fly from LAX-JFK, 3 days later JFK-SAV and finally 4 days later SAV-LAX all for 25,000 skymiles. To do this on their website, you need to first establish the city pairs, check availability for each flight at the desired award level, jot down the flight numbers and dates, and then book a multi city award. If all fall into the same award level, it works.

  9. I have always been a Delta fan. I may be in the minority but I usually find an award ticket for the flights I want. Also, Delta won me over a few years ago when my dear friend got terminally ill and I had to cancel her ticket and her husband’s ticket for an upcoming trip that we had planned. We had booked them with award points. They cancelled the trip, redeposited the miles and waived all fees. None of us had any kind of status with Delta. There has been other times that they have changed flights in my favor without any fuss. Maybe this is not a big deal for some folks, but customer service means alot to me. I keep a stash of AA, United, MR, Ultimate Rewards. I think I am covered pretty good for now. 🙂 It is good to have a balance.

  10. SteveT – you can do one better, I did a stopover and an open-jaw for a 25k award. IAD-MSP (stop a few days), MSP-DEN (stop a few days), bought DEN-PHX on WN, then came home PHX-IAD. It priced out at 25k using the multi-city search though errored and put the itinerary on hold. Called in to ticket, agent reviewed, and ticketed it without issue.. a great deal.

  11. We are hub captive and have status on DL so we usually fly it. Two free bags per person, free premium seats, etc. all help with kids. In any case, we fly msp-yyz about 1x a year. Always a $600+ flight; usually 25k miles. Next year’s earning reduction will be bad for me as an ocassional business traveler for scheduled conferences but not my husband who is a last-minute business traveler.

  12. So with 8 months advance planning I was able to redeem 250K (125K per person) for 2 business class tickets LAX-LHR (Virgin Upper Class) / return from AMS on Delta with a stopover in ATL for the Thanksgiving week (Saturday 11/29 home). Last flight was ATL-MSP-LAX but I knew there’d be a schedule change and I’d be able to get a nonstop (happened today!). Taxes were low compared to Flying Club. Skymiles Rocks! lol

  13. Had the same experience getting my Dad to Detroit for a funeral within a week of travel. Everyone else was 50K, DL was 32,500 which saved us $900. While I don’t have much use for the miles, DL’s ground and air product is far superior (read: consistent) than the other carriers, IMO. I jumped ship from UA this year for DL and haven’t looked back.

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