At our Award Booking Service, clients most often ask us to construct specific itineraries with their miles. Maybe they want to go to both France and Italy for their honeymoon and have United miles. We take it from there. Sometimes, however, we receive requests that are more like pleas:

“I have 250,000 Delta Skymiles, how can I put them to any use??”

I’ve often argued that Skymiles are strategically useful. If you aim to travel to specific locations that Delta’s partners service, you stand a much better chance of securing award seats.

Delta partner China Southern is one of a handful of SkyTeam members that I advocate redeeming an award. They have an excellent route network from their hub in Guangzhou. China Southern flies a daily nonstop from Los Angeles to Ghuagzhou on the Airbus A380 featuring fully flat bed business seats.

In the past, I routinely saw up to nine business and economy class award seats on this Los Angeles -> Guangzhou flight. Unfortunately, that kind of amazing availability was too good to last. There are now fewer business seats released, but certainly better space than Delta releases on its own flights!

How can you snag one of these now-rarer seats? Why do you want one?

How much does an award cost between the United States and China?

China is considered part of North Asia on Delta’s award chart. Though Delta features low/medium/high tier pricing, awards on partners are always at the “low” level. Below is the oneway cost for travel to China for travel before June 1, 2014.

Before June 1, 2014, US to North Asia will be 70k/120k in economy/business roundtrip

Delta recently devalued their award chart in several spots, including raising the cost of a business class award to North Asia. For travel on or after June 1, 2014, the price in miles has increased. A roundtrip business class award will now cost 140,000 SkyMiles per person as opposed to 120,000. For the foreseeable future (or at least until they roll out a revenue-based model), an economy award is 70,000 SkyMiles per person. Note that Delta does not feature oneway award pricing. You are charged the full roundtrip price in mileage regardless no matter your routing.

After June 1, 2014, US to North Asia will be 70k/140k in economy/business roundtrip

 How do I search for China Southern award availability?

You won’t find any flights on Delta’s own hopelessly glitchy award calendar. Expert Flyer is the place to search for China Southern awards. For more information, make sure to check out Scott’s recent post Using Expert Flyer to Redeem Delta Awards.

What kind of availability are you seeing to Guangzhou?

The days of 8+ business award seats are long gone. I am seeing 2-4 economy seats per day and very sporadic business availability. Here is a rare day in the fall with two business seats.

Things improve drastically in the spring. I am seeing two business seats nearly every day as well as five economy seats.

Are there fuel surcharges on China Southern flights?

Unfortunately, yes. Delta imposes fuel surcharges on China Southern award tickets. A roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to Guangzhou would have about $330 in fuel surcharges. I always try to avoid fuel surcharges when booking clients, but these are relatively modest compared to other carriers such as booking an award to Asia with Air Canada Aeroplan miles.

 

Note that the fuel surcharge is the same regardless of whether you fly business or economy. A China Southern award makes less sense when flying coach, as the fuel surcharges would potentially negate much of the savings versus simply paying for the flight with cash.

Can I have a stopover or open jaw on a China Southern award?

Yes! Delta allows both a stopover and open jaw on award tickets, provided the routing does not upset their computers. You could potentially construct an award below which features a stopover and open jaw, allowing you to see three cities on one trip:

Los Angeles->Guangzhou (stopover)->Shanghai // Beijing->Guangzhou->Los Angeles

For instance, this award would see Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing, although you would have to make separate travel arrangements from Shanghai to Beijing.

That’s just a sample. China Southern has a robust route network from their hub, so you can design a fantastic trip depending on your desired itinerary. Note that fuel surcharges increase modestly if you add segments beyond Guangzhou. I anticipate an increase of about $20 each way.

Are there any other city pairs that stand out to you?

Absolutely! China Southern features nonstop service to Phuket and Siem Reap, two popular Southeast Asian destinations. Phuket and Siem Reap are a trickier awards to book given how small their airports, but the awards are definitely possible by flying China Southern using Delta miles. I discovered this using Scott’s method of perusing Wikipedia for routing ideas. Availability is similar to the LAX->Guangzhou route. I am seeing at maximum two business award seats/day and around four economy award seats.

China Southern also flies to Sydney from Guangzhou (on the A380!) which is considered legal routing from the United States. You could fly Los Angeles->Guangzhou (stopover)->Sydney for 150,000 miles/person roundtrip in business. That’s quite a bit of flying, so it might make sense to route back to the US on Virgin Australia, which is another great use of SkyMiles.

I don’t live in Los Angeles, can I still get in on this?

Delta has by far the worse domestic availability of the four legacy carriers. If there isn’t a “low” level award from your home city to Los Angeles, you won’t be able to add it to the itinerary (or at least it won’t be worth it).

I often advocate clients purchase a positioning ticket, paid with either cash or other miles, to connect to Los Angeles. As long as they leave room for cancellations or delays, it’s the only way to construct such an award given the dearth of domestic award space on Delta.

Recap

Delta SkyMiles are not a good currency to hoard for speculative award travel. SkyMiles are rightly dead last on the MileValue Leaderboard due to the sparse amount of award seats available to members.

However, there are strategic uses, including travel on SkyTeam partner China Southern. Award space used to be fantastic, with up to 9 business class seats available on the daily nonstop between Los Angeles and Guangzhou. Space has decreased, though it is still excellent for couples. Continuing space to the rest of Asia is also excellent, especially to sought after destinations like Phuket.

Note that there are fuel surcharges when flying a China Southern award. Fuel surcharges are the same whether you are flying business or coach, so it makes more sense to redeem for a business class award, where the (fully lie-flat) seat and overall value are better.

Delta SkyMiles are notoriously difficult to redeem at the low-level, but China Southern is an option that’s hard to ignore.




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