Category Archives: Delta

Free First Class 2014: Delta SkyMiles Basics

This is the fifteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Delta SkyMiles program.

Why Collect Delta Miles?

Because they exist. It is no secret that Delta miles are less valuable than American Airlines, United, and US Airways miles.

  • Delta releases less award space than its competitors
  • SkyTeam, Delta’s alliance, is the least interesting alliance
  • Delta’s award chart is more expensive overall than all three of its competitors
  • You cannot book one way awards for half the price of roundtrips with Delta miles
  • You cannot book international First Class with Delta miles

But worth less does not mean worthless. Delta miles can be used to get to all six inhabited continents, and Delta miles are often the best to get to Australia in a flat bed.

  • What airlines can you fly with Delta miles?
  • What are the routing rules for Delta awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the SkyMiles program?
  • How can you book a Delta award?

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Amazing Flat Bed Award Space to Australia During Peak Season

Award space is wide open in Virgin Australia Business Class between the United States and Australia during February and March 2015 for 160,000 Delta miles roundtrip.

Premium cabin award space between the United States and Australia on direct flights on United and Qantas is scarce, so this Virgin Australia award space is all the more valuable.

Since 2012, Delta has not collected fuel surcharges on Virgin Australia flights. Roundtrip Delta awards between the United States and Australia cost 100,000 miles in economy and 160,000 miles in Business Class. Virgin Australia Business Class features flat beds that get rave reviews.

  • Where does Virgin Australia fly?
  • How good is the award space?
  • How can you collect Delta miles quickly?

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How to Use Delta Miles to Book an Open Jaw Across Regions

Delta allows one open jaw per roundtrip award that you can use to see more cities on a single award and to unlock free one ways.

A simple, valid open jaw routing on Delta.

A simple, valid open jaw routing on Delta. The open jaw is between Amsterdam and Paris.

Delta allows an open jaw to straddle two regions, so that your outbound can go to Bangkok in Southeast Asia and your return can start from Sydney, Australia. However Delta requires that the distance of the unflown open jaw be less than the distance between the origin and the destination of both your outbound and your return.

While Delta miles consistently get a bad rap, using the methods outlined in this post can allow you to see multiple cities on multiple continents on a single, incredible Delta award.

  • What is an open jaw?
  • What are Delta’s open jaw rules?
  • Where is the value on Delta’s award chart for open jaws?
  • How do you book open jaws on Delta?
  • How do you add a free stopover to your open jaw itinerary?
  • What is the best way to travel between open jaw cities?

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Airlines are Responding to Bank, Accounting, and Consultant Pressures by Opening Up More Award Space

According to the Wall Street Journal, airlines are opening up more award space this year compared to last year because of pressure from banks, accounting rules, and consultant studies.

In the short term, that’s good for us. More award space: woohoo!

But in the long run, these pressures could cause more airlines to move to revenue-based frequent flyer programs. Revenue-based redemptions: boohoo!

Every year IdeaWorks comes out with one of the worst-conceived studies imaginable in an attempt to quantify which frequent flyer programs make redemptions the easiest. Every year, Gary Leff makes correct points about why the study is so dumb.

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The yearly IdeaWorks study makes no sense because it compares all frequent flyer programs without differentiating which offer revenue-based redemptions, distance-based redemptions, and chart-based redemptions.

It ignores prices on the award chart, international flights by United States carriers, partner award availability, and the imposition of fuel surcharges.

Even with all those flaws, the study gets picked up in the Wall Street Journal and parroted as gospel about which programs are better for consumers.

That’s why it’s dangerous for us.

  • Why is the IdeaWorks study producing positive changes in the short run?
  • Why might the IdeaWorks study produce negative changes in the long run?
  • What pressures are on airlines to increase award availability and how can we increase those pressures?

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Current State of Free Oneways

This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free oneways on United and US Airways awards.

A free oneway is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free oneways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free oneways on its awards last week by nixing all free stopovers because free oneways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport.

What’s the current state of free oneways with major frequent flyer programs?

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Comparison of United, Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines Latest Award Charts

Update 4/14/14: US Airways has increased the price of its awards to North Asia in business class to 110k miles roundtrip.

In December, I compiled Comparison Tables of United, Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines Award Charts to show which program had the cheapest awards in each cabin to every country you want to visit.

With Delta announcing a new award chart that takes effect for awards booked January 1, 2015, I have updated the tables for economy and business class.

Check out the updated tables, my analysis, and my thoughts on what other changes we’ll see by 2015.

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Delta Announces 2015 SkyMiles Award Chart

Delta has released its award chart for awards booked on or after January 1, 2015. Check it out here.

Great News: The lowest priced “Level 1″ awards (formerly “Saver”) will remain at the same price or drop compared to the award chart that goes into effect on June 1, 2014.

SkyMiles have seen a lot of changes the last few months:

  1. First Delta announced a devaluation of its award chart for awards flown June 2014 or later. (You can still beat this devaluation!)
  2. Then Delta turned that into a double devaluation, speeding up some of the price increases to February 2014.
  3. Last week Delta made a giant announcement that earning SkyMiles would become revenue-based starting in 2015. We learned that the 2015 chart would have five price tiers and would allow one way awards, but we didn’t see the price tiers.

Delta 2015

Luckily, after some intense pressure and scrutiny (h/t Gary Leff), Delta released their 2015 award chart early. Both the economy and business award charts can be found here, and they aren’t bad.

The economy chart’s Level 1 prices are identical to the June 1 chart except that roundtrips to the Middle East and South Asian subcontinent are going back down to 80k miles each. This was their price until Delta’s 2014 devaluations.

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The business award chart is identical to the June 2014 chart at Level 1 except that Northern South America is dropping from 90k miles roundtrip to 80k. That’s a great adjustment as 90k was just way too high for a roundtrip to Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, or Ecuador.

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There are a few other changes in price at the higher award levels, but as usual, our goal for ourselves and our clients at the MileValue Award Booking Service will be the lowest price Level 1 awards.

I think we can breathe one major sigh or relief. Level 1 award prices are not going up, and that means that award space on Delta’s SkyTeam partners will remain affordable.

I’m also glad Delta will finally introduce one-way awards for half the price of a roundtrip, and we’ll be able to book award tickets in Economy Comfort.

But the big question–and one we won’t have answered until at least 2015–is what level Delta will tend to release its own award space at.

We have no idea the amount of Level 1 availability that will be released with this new five-tiered award chart. If it’s anything like Delta’s current yield management, don’t expect to find many domestic segments at the lowest levels.

Further Reading

Scott wrote a great post about the Top Four Delta Awards You Need to Fly Before It’s Too Late which is still applicable after today’s announcement.

Book Scott’s favorite SkyMiles awards that cost between 25k and 150k miles under the old chart before 2015 if you can. Otherwise, time will tell in seeing if saver availability improves under the new five-tier system.

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The New York Times Understands Miles a Lot Less When It Doesn’t Quote Us

The New York Times just ran a really bad article about Delta’s move to a revenue-based frequent flyer program in 2015.

I’m going to delve into the Times article since many MileValue readers discovered the blog from a New York Times article (“How to Get a Seat Out of Your Award Miles“) in which I was quoted extensively. Bill was also quoted extensively in a recent New York Times article about frequent flyer miles: “Elite Status on Airlines Loses Some of Its Appeal.

It seems when the Times doesn’t quote us, they get the story about frequent-flier miles wrong in some really obvious ways.

The central premise of the guilty article is its headline: Now May Be a Good Time to Bail on Frequent-Flier Programs.

Let me refute that in four sentences:

  1. Frequent-flier programs are a way to earn miles, which are a rebate good toward future flights.
  2. Delta slashed how many miles people will earn on almost all flights, but not to zero.
  3. You still will earn at least a 6% rebate toward future flights.
  4. Ditching a small rebate like 6% toward future travel is just burning money, and there’s no reason to do it.

Why is now not a good time to bail on frequent-flier programs? Why else does the article get dead wrong? How does this all affect what rewards card to use?

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The Top Four Delta Awards You Need to Fly Before It’s Too Late

Note that this post was almost posted yesterday before news broke that Delta is moving to a revenue-based frequent flyer program–at least on the earning side. This post discusses flying before Delta’s June 1 devaluation to its award chart, but can also be read as a general plea to burn Delta miles before January 1, 2015 when more changes are coming.

Delta’s upcoming June 1 devaluation is a little different than United’s was. Delta’s award prices are increasing for flights flown June 1, 2014 or later no matter when you book them.

To get the current, lower prices on Delta awards, you have to fly your award by May 31, 2014.

Most of Delta’s devaluation is happening to its business class award chart.

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Roundtrip Business Class Prices in Thousands of Delta Miles

So what are the top four Delta awards you need to fly by May 31, 2014?

1. Europe

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Delta SkyMiles Earning Will Be Revenue-Based in 2015 (The Sky is Not Falling!)

Earning Delta miles will be revenue-based starting January 1, 2015. Instead of earning miles based on the distance of your ticket, you will earn based on the price you paid.

 

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Though earning miles is changing drastically for Delta flyers, redeeming them might not change so drastically.

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What do we know so far and what do we still not know?

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A Ranking of Miles from Most Broadly Useful to Most Niche

I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored my those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should  know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

Which miles do I consider broadly useful? Which programs do I consider niche programs? What are the niche programs’ strengths?

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The Two Best Ways to Get a Couple to Asia with Miles

Yesterday I posted “Not April Fools: Delta Has the Best Award Space to Asia I’ve Ever Seen.

I showed screen shots of how incredibly available–every day for months–Saver award space was on Delta flights from the west coast to Asia. And I said: “Delta currently has some of the best award space I’ve ever seen on any airline on international routes on almost all of its west-coast-to-Asia routes for all of 2014.”

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100% Saver availability is the best I’ve ever seen.

What I didn’t say is that all the screen shots were for one-passenger searches. Almost no Delta flights from the west coast to Asia have two Saver award seats in business or economy.

The omission inspired Gary Leff to write Delta Is Great for Award Availability If You Don’t Like Your Spouse. The post is a bit “glass half empty” for my taste, trying to find problems related to award availability instead of solutions.

Let me offer two solutions to the problem:

Problem: Delta flights from the west coast to Asia only have one Saver award seat per cabin on most days in 2014. That isn’t great for couples traveling together.

Solution #1: Book one economy roundtrip and one business class roundtrip on the same flights. Or you can even book one roundtrip with a business outbound and economy return and one roundtrip with an economy outbound and business class return.

Solution #2: Collect miles that can book routes with incredible award space for 2+ people to Asia.

Full glass-half-full details on both solutions after the jump!

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Not April Fools: Delta Has the Best Award Space to Asia I’ve Ever Seen

Update 1/16/14 at 1:59 PM Hawaiian time: All the calendars shown are for one-passenger searches. There is almost no space for two passengers on the same cabin on the same flight.

Delta infamously offers the least Saver award space of any US-based airline. Imagine my shock, then, when I saw that there is economy and business class award space on Delta’s flights from the west coast to Asia every day for long stretches of 2014.

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Fly to These Cities and Beyond Easily with Delta Miles

Delta currently has some of the best award space I’ve ever seen on any airline on international routes on almost all of its west-coast-to-Asia routes for all of 2014.

There’s incredible award space in economy for 70k miles roundtrip.

There’s plentiful award space in business class–on fully flat beds–for 120k miles roundtrip for flights completed by May 31, 2014 and 140k miles roundtrip for flights from June 1, 2014 on. (The price increase is part of Delta’s no-notice double devaluation.)

I know from working with clients of my Award Booking Service that many miles collectors shun Delta miles because of their bad reputation. If you want to go to Asia that’s a huge mistake for several reasons:

  • Incredible route network from the West Coast to East Asia on unique routes, plus connecting flights from Tokyo to seven other cities in East and Southeast Asia
  • Unbeatable award space on all of the routes for 2014 in economy and business class
  • Fully flat business class beds that receive excellent reviews
  • Competitive miles prices in light of United’s devaluation
  • Extremely easy-to-earn miles; Delta miles can be earned on several Delta cards plus Delta is a transfer partner of AMEX Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

Not only are there a lot of cards that can earn Delta miles, but many of them have extremely low minimum spending requirements to get the bonuses.

For instance, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express comes with 30,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending only $1,000 in the first three months.

Even the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which has a minimum spending requirement of $5,000 to unlock its 25k bonus Starpoints, has a minimum spending requirement of less than $1,000 per month since it is one of the few cards that gives you six months to meet its spending requirement. (And of course 20k Starpoints transfer to 25k SkyMiles.)

Where does Delta fly in Asia? How good is the space? How can you collect Delta miles?

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Work Arounds to Delta’s Recent SkyClub Devaluation

Per the email below that I received late last week and this FlyerTalk thread, Delta has just announced some dreaded SkyClub “enhancements.”

As of May 1st, The Platinum Card® from American Express cardholders will no longer be granted complimentary guest access. Previously the cardholder and up to two guests would be allowed admission to Delta SkyClubs provided they were flying Delta the same day. Now any additional guests besides the Platinum cardholder will be forced to shell out a whopping $29.

SkyClub Email

Changes of this kind are never good, especially coming right on the heels of the announcement that Platinum cardmembers losing American Airlines/US Airways lounge access on March 22, 2014 and Delta’s historic double devaluation of their award chart.

Fortunately, there are a few workarounds to this new Delta problem. Losing a great credit card benefit is never a good thing, but these solutions below hopefully ease the sting.

What are the workarounds to losing guest access to Delta SkyClubs? How can you circumvent these negative changes?

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How to Put a Delta Award on Hold

Buried in Delta’s major award chart devaluation last year was a second piece of bad news: Delta awards could no longer be put on hold under any circumstances.

But there had to be a way, I thought. So I put the question out to twitter.

And Fly Free Frequently came back with my dream answer.

There is indeed a way to put Delta awards on hold–and it’s quite simple–that he shared with me and said I could share with everyone!

How can you put an award using Delta miles on hold? Why would you want to?

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