Free Oneways on Delta Awards

After my popular posts about booking free oneways on United and American, this installment will focus on tacking free oneways onto Delta awards. This article presumes a knowledge of how to book free stopovers on Delta.com, which I covered here.

If you’ll recall from those posts, we need two things to book any free oneway: a stopover and an open jaw. Luckily on its awards, Delta offers both a stopover and an open jaw. That means free oneways are possible on Delta awards!

Delta even allows one open jaw and one stopover on awards within the continental US, which no other legacy carrier allows. That means free oneways can even be added to awards wholly within the continental US.

So far Delta’s free oneways are looking great, but there’s one major problem. Delta’s terms and conditions related to award travel say: “Routing restrictions apply for Award Travel. Valid routings vary based on the operating carriers of the Award Ticket. Any exceptions or variations to these routings may require additional mileage for the award.”

What this means in practice is that to take advantage of a free oneway on Delta, you must live at a Delta hub. Why? Say you live in San Francisco, a non-hub, and you want to fly to Atlanta roundtrip then have a free oneway to Los Angeles. The award would be SFO-ATL, ATL-SFO, SFO-LAX. Technichally the return is ATL-SFO-LAX, which is not a valid routing on Delta, the operating carrier of this award. Valid routings include the direct ATL-LAX and one- and two-stop itineraries through its hubs.

How can you find fare rules that show the valid routings? I don’t know a free way; I use expertflyer, a paid subscription service. If anyone knows a free way, please put it in the comments.

The fact that you basically have to live in a Delta hub to enjoy the free oneways makes Delta’s free oneways more restrictive than American’s–you have to live in a oneworld or partner international gateway city, which is dozens of cities– or United’s–you can live pretty much anywhere United serves including tiny regional airports. But for those of us who can take advantage of free oneways on Delta awards, I’ll give some examples.

The first example is an award wholly within the continental US. Remember that Delta is the only legacy carrier that allows stopovers and free oneways on continental US awards.

This award is a roundtrip from Los Angeles to Atlanta. After that roundtrip I’ve added on a free oneway to Las Vegas for a later date. ATL-LAX-LAS is a valid routing from Atlanta to Las Vegas. It has to be for this award to price at 25,000 miles.

Here’s an example of a failed attempt to add a free oneway to a domestic award:

This award is pricing at 50,000 miles or the price of two roundtrip domestic awards. The reason is that the return of Los Angeles to New Orleans to Atlanta is an invalid routing from LAX to ATL. I won’t list all the valid routings between LAX and ATL, but they only include travel through Delta hubs, and New Orleans is not a Delta hub. Why did it price as 50,000 miles? Delta charges the roundtrip price for one way awards. Since the routing is invalid for a single award, Delta considers this two awards–roundtrip MSY-LAX (25,000 miles) and oneway MSY-ATL (25,000 miles)–which cost 50,000 total miles.

Here’s an example of a free oneway added to the award of an-Inca loving Atlanta dweller:

After the main Atlanta to Lima roundtrip award, the free oneway is added four months later from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The award prices at 45,000, which is the normal cost for an award from the US to Peru on Delta. I’ve highlighted the taxes and fees just as a reminder that Delta does not charge the insidious $75 fee to book an award within 21 days of departure that the other domestic carriers charge. At least Delta gets one thing right.

Here’s an example of the same award except that the free oneway is to the Caribbean:

The same roundtrip from ATL-LIM with a oneway to San Juan, Puerto Rico at the end is still 45,000 miles. Why? Open jaws price at 1/2 of each way’s roundtrip price, and both the Caribbean to Peru and the US to Peru are 45,000 miles roundtrip.

There’s nothing special about putting the free oneway at the end. It can go at the beginning instead. Here’s an example on a trip to Japan:

The roundtrip award here is New York to Tokyo. But before that trip, a free oneway from Nantucket to New York is added, a normally expensive route. This example illustrates that free oneways can be added before the trip to your home airport or after the trip from your home airport.

Let me give one more examples of a failed attempt at a free oneway before I summarize the rules:

Los Angeles to London roundtrip should only be 60,000 miles, but this award with a later oneway from LAX to Minneapolis priced at 85,000 miles. What gives? LHR-ATL-LAX-MSP is not a valid routing between London and Minneapolis according to Delta’s fare rules. That means Delta sees this as two awards, 60,000 roundtrip to Europe and 25,000 for the domestic oneway, that cost 85,000 miles total. This example shows that living in a Delta hub, Los Angeles, is not enough. Your free oneway must also follow a valid routing.

Let me sum up what this post has covered: Free oneways are available on roundtrip Delta awards in any class to any region either before or after the main award trip. But the free oneways have to be part of a valid routing, which in practice means that you need to live at a Delta hub and fly a route without backtracking to be able to tack a free oneway onto your next Delta award.

Footnote: This post says Delta allows one free stopover and one free open jaw, which it does in practice, and which I had always thought to be official policy. In researching this post, I came across the official award tickets T&C on Delta.com (linked above), which contradicts everyone’s experience booking Delta awards online and over the phone. The T&C read in part: “Open-jaw travel is permitted and counts as a stopover…One stopover is allowed per Award.” Combined that clearly means you get an open jaw or a stopover. You need both to construct free oneways. Luckily the official policy of Delta’s computer and representatives is that you get both.

67 Responses to Free Oneways on Delta Awards

  1. what are other Delta hubs other than Atlanta? thanks.

  2. Also how can i find a valid routings on expertflyer? thanks.

    • Once signed in click Fare Information on the left. When you type in the cities and airlines, many fare classes will come up. If you click, you can type in your cities and Delta. You’ll get a list of fare classes, and you can click on the weird connecting circle icon on the right of the fare’s row to View Routing.
      Here’s the routing rules from SFO-TPA on Delta for example: SFO-ATL/CVG/DTT/LAX/MEM/MSP/ORL/RDU/SLC-TPA

  3. I do not think LAX is a Delta hub either, but the case you show ATL-LAX-LAS is indeed valid. So I guess to take advantage of a free oneway on Delta, you DO NOT have to live at a Delta hub.

    One free way to find valid Delta routing is that searching on Delta.com. Say, you search ATL-LAS, you can find LAX to be one of the layover cities (1-stop flight option), which means ATL-LAX-LAS is a valid routing. If you search ATL-LAX, you can NOT find SFO as a layover city, which means ATL-SFO-LAX is not valid. Again, if MSY is not a layover city for LAX-ATL pair either, so LAX-MSY-ATL is not a valid one.

    This is my quick search and understanding after reading your post and may be totally wrong. :)

    • That is also why LHR-LAX-MSP is not valid in your last case, because: 1. LAX is not a Delta hub. 2. LAX is not shown as a layover city if you search LHR-MSP.

    • That’s a great way to get an idea of the valid routing, checking the routings on Delta.com of paid fares. Good idea, Li.

      While LAX is not an official hub, they do have flights regional jets from LAX, flights to non-hubs like Tampa and Indy, and flights to Hawaii, all very hub-like behavior.

      I guess the rule is just that the routing needs to be valid, usually requires a routing through a hub or hub-like city with through traffic.

      I don’t know of any other semi-hubs like LAX, but if anyone else does, let us know…

  4. Thanks for all your helpful posts!
    Can someone let me know why the following does not work for 25K coach trip:

    DTW-BOS May 27
    BOS-DTW June 4
    DTW-LAS July 12

    I searched for each of the above dates as one ways, and all three flights that I found were “Low” redemption (25K). Though the ticket prices at 50K. What am I doing wrong?

    • That is why we say Delta.com is broken and miscalculate all the time. BOS-DTW-LAS should be a valid one because: 1. DTW is a hub. 2. You can find DTW as a layover city (1-stop flight option) if you search BOS-LAS.

      Try again and always go on until the last page before purchase, sometimes everything suddenly becomes right…in your case, go on with 50K, and maybe in the next page, it will magically become 25K.

      • Thanks for the reply. I did just try to go to the final page. But it’s still 50K.

        • Because your ‘free one-way’ has to be the shortest segment for it to price at 25K. DTW-LAS-DTW-BOS should work.

          • Great catch, Grace. Grace is right. One requirement I should have mentioned about open jaws on Delta is that the distance between the open jaw cities (DTW and LAS) must be less than the distance of the outbound leg.

            DTW-LAS is 1,749 miles, DTW-BOS is 632. Grace is also right that this means DTW-LAS-DTW-BOS would work.

            How do you know your open jaw cities? If the first and last cities on your award are different, your open jaw cities are those cities. This will be the case for all free oneways for US-based flyers.

            If the origin and final cities are the same, then the open jaw cities are the outbound’s destination and the return’s origin.

  5. This is so good!
    The comments here are super helpful

    • I was glad I was sleeping when the post came out, so I could get out of the way and let readers post some great info.

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  7. does this work for paid tickets as well?
    thx E

    • No. This is exclusively a trick with awards. But in some cases you may find a stopover or an added oneway doesn’t increase a paid tickets’ cost. That will all be determined by Delta’s computer algorithms.

  8. This may be a stupid question, but I’ve read all the posts and I couldn’t find an answer. What is the purpose of the free one way?

    I’m assuming that I would do an award redemption in March, for example, and include a free one way on the end of it.

    Let’s say that I go to Europe and back, an my free one way is from MSP to DTW. Then, later in the year, I would do an award redemption with a free one way on the beginning of the trip, DTW to MSP, and then go off to Europe again?

    That would, in my mind, make the two free one ways into a ’round trip’ ticket. Is that the point?

    • You can use the free oneway in many ways.
      You can combine two of them for a free roundtrip. See my post: Three Vacations on Two Awards
      You can use the free oneway for the outbound of a second vacation, returning on a paid ticket or a separate award. For instance, I have a free oneway coming up LAX-TPA. I added it to an AA award from Melbourne, Australia to LAX. I will book a separate Southwest award for the return TPA to LAx.
      Or you can use the free oneway any other way you would use a oneway flight. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

      • This may be a really silly question-but can’t figure it out. Just learning and researching about all this-not an avid traveler yet but hopefully… How do you put the last return on the trip after you do the regular round trip. Any help?

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  11. Do all legs of the itinerary need to be onDelta metal? Based on your examples above it would appear so, but can you combine the domestic free one-way with a partner redemption. For example, a round-trip from NYC to Rome on Alitalia with a one-way Delta flight to LAX tacked onto the end?

    • No, legs can be on any partner. The reason those examples are all Delta is that this post was written before other partners were added to delta.com, and I wanted to keep it simple. This post will be updated in the next week or two.

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  13. Is there any way JFK-SAN-SFO-JFK would work? JFK and SFO are Delta hubs, but not sure if having SAN in there messes it up.

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  18. Why is MSP-BZN-MSP-LGA not working? I live in MSP and wanna go to BZN and LGA in a same trip. It prices out as 50000 mile.

  19. I’ve targetted MSP to AMS April 5 (2013) with a return April 14 showing green/low level availability. I’m interested in tying on the free one way to Boston from MSP Sept. 10 or 11 which also shows low level. Should this work as per routing. IF not, is there anywhere from MSP worth the ‘tack on’…. ;-)
    also, how long do you have to finish the Boston leg in this example?

    Thanks for any insight anyone has on this, I hope to book it soon!

    • You always have one year to complete all award travel from the date of booking, so you’d have until at least 3/26/14 to fly to BOS. I don’t think BOS would work though because I think the backtracking will exceed MPM. I haven’t looked it up though, so it might work. Look west for your free oneways in this case.

  20. Thanks for all the useful tips. I am trying to get the following itinerary for low-leve:

    LAX-SLC
    SLC-CVG
    CVG-IAH

    I found low level flights for all sectors, but when priced together it comes higher. Is that because you can’t take a stopover (SLC) plus an open jaw (IAH, which is not really open jaw but I don’t know how else to describe it)?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I managed to get CVG-JAX-CVG-YYZ for 25k after following all the tips and am quite chuffed about that. Thanks to all!

    –ATD

    • I’m not sure. I would expect that to be 25k. Unfortunately if it’s not, you don’t have much recourse because an agent is unlikely to overrule the computer on it. Your only recourse is to call Delta at 800-323-2323 and ask them to price it at 25k. Tell the supervisor to talk to the Global Ticketing Desk.

      • I’m confused by this. There’s no OJ, so how can you work the trick? One of the routes has to be an OJ (either legs 1-3 or 2-4)…. right?

        If you think of OJ as legs 1-3, then unflown portion is LAX-CVG, which doesn’t work (too far). If you think of OJ as legs 2-4, then unflown is IAH-LAX (but that’s the longest too).

        Also, I’m betting SLC-CVG-IAH exceeds the MPM and is not a valid routing anyway…

  21. Great post. Not officially the same thing, but similar concept:
    Nairobi-Lima (stopover)
    Lima-Mexico City
    Mexico City-Paris
    Business class all the way is 110k miles. Combines stopover and open jaw.

    • Noce. That’s a way to see several cities on one trip. This is a way to book 1.5 trips for the price of one.

      • I originally booked a RTW award, then changed tactics and split off the “Pacific” portion and the “Atlantic” portion into two separate reservations. That allows for stopovers and “return” trips on each portion.

  22. (btw there’s a 4-month gap in Mexico city, during which time I’ve got other roundtrips covering my way back to my home in US)

  23. (sorry for multiple posts):
    What you didn’t mention (but I’m sure you know) is that this is also a great strategy for reducing the number of miles required for an award. Just end up in a different region with a lower award price.

  24. Anyhow, in the end I got this, first flight tomorrow:
    LAX-SLC
    SLC-CVG
    CMH-LAX

    which also works well for us. Thanks to all.

    –ATD

  25. Any advice if the below routing would be possible for 25k Delta miles?

    CVG-JAX or GNV or MCO-YYZ-CVG

    Tried my best to figure it out but doesn’t seem possible. But I’m confident the experts here can tell me for sure. . . .

  26. is there a way to book NYC area (JFK, EWR, LGA and/or PHL) to SLC (salt lake) Round trip, plus add a 1 way back to Salt Lake city? I’ve tried JFK – SLC-JFK, PHL-SLC. and some other variations but can only get them to book at 50,000 even thought 25,000 are available for normal round trips and legs from JFK, EWR, and PHL.

    I do this route almost every month so would love to get some free one ways. Thanks for anyone help. E

  27. I tried to do

    ATL – PVG -ATL – MIA

    But keep getting errors. I live in ATL and go to Shanghai every summer, just try to add some free one ways, any other destinations that might work? Thanks.

  28. Hello,
    I am booking a trip from Houston to anchorage then open jaw Vancouver to Houston.
    Could I add a stopover anywhere? Vegas or SanFrancisco would be nice. I just don’t have any idea how to do this. Please heeelp!

    • No for two reasons:

      1) you get one stopover and ONE open jaw. your award would have two open jaws.
      2) Houston is not a valid transit point on a Delta award between Vancouver and SFO or LAS.

  29. Can you add a segment after you’ve ticketed it or do they have to reissue the ticket? Say one has LAX-GRU-LAX ticketed and wanted to add LAX-CCC, but was concerned that the award space would not be there if the ticket had to be reissued. Anyone have any experience if this can be done?

  30. So I want to fly SLC to PDX to OAK to SLC. I have gotten all the low fares dates and flights. When I do a multi-city flight and click the award button it shows me the low level flights from SLC to PDX and from OAK to SLC but the low level from PDX to OAK does not show. It just gives me a bunch of other flights. It ends up being 52k miles. So why does it not work? I am guessing it has something to do with a hub city but SLC is one so…?

    • You will not be able to ticket this award for 25k. SLC to OAK via PDX is not valid. I don’t get the 52k price, though, it should be 50k.

      • @mileValue,
        Thanks for the quick reply. Can you explain to me why it is not valid? Is it because SLC to OAK is 543 miles and PDX to SLC is 588 miles? So if I switched the order to SLC to OAK to PDX to SLC would that work?

        Also if I am understanding you correctly I could fly from SLC to PDX and PDX to SLC then have an open ticket to a third destination like LAX. What are the limitations on that third flight? From what I read it just has to be shorter than the original flight. Anything else?

  31. Also, if you book a flight and you have a buddy pass can you get the same flight for a spouse by using the buddy pass?

    • I don’t know what you mean by a buddy pass, but I doubt you could use it with an award ticket. Read the terms and conditions.

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  33. Any idea why this won’t work?
    ATL – JFK
    JFK – LIO
    LIO – JFK

    I’ve tried several others too and can’t seem to get it tacked on to the beginning. I’ve been able to add a oneway on the end, like DEN and LAX for example.

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