Free First Class 2014: Delta SkyMiles Basics

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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?

Mileage Price

Delta has two region-to-region charts, one for travel booked in 2014 and one for travel booked in 2015, both of which can be found here. The two award charts are basically identical for Level 1 (formerly “Saver”) award space. The 2015 chart is actually cheaper for a few awards at the Level 1 price.

A region-to-region chart means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

The chart for travel on Delta currently has three prices in each cabin: the Saver, Standard, and Peak prices.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 1.50.57 AM

We redeem miles for Saver awards, the capacity controlled awards that cost the fewest miles, which are not available in every cabin on every flight. Standard and Peak awards cost twice or more what Saver awards cost and are available on almost every flight.

To have a multi-segment award price at the Saver level, every segment in that direction must have Saver award space.

For redemptions made in 2015, there will be five levels of prices in each cabin. We’ll want to redeem for Level 1.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 1.52.41 AM

Which countries are in which region of the chart can be found by clicking on any region.

Partners

Delta is a member of SkyTeam. That means you can use its miles on all these airlines:

  • Delta Airlines
  • Aeroflot (Russia)
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Europa (Spain)
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines (Taiwan)
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM (Netherlands)
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines (Lebanon)
  • Saudia
  • TAROM (Romania)
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines (China)

Delta also has several partners that are not a part of SkyTeam. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines
  • GOL (Brazil)
  • Hawaiian Airlines (only interisland flights)
  • Virgin Atlantic (United Kingdom)
  • Virgin Australia

Subject to other routing rules, which I’ll detail below, you can freely combine Delta flights, SkyTeam partner flights, and other partner flights onto a single award.

Routing Rules

You can NOT book one way awards with Delta miles for half the price of roundtrip awards. Starting in 2015, this changes! You will be able to book one way awards for half the roundtrip price.

Roundtrip Delta awards can have one free stopover (in addition to the destination) and one open jaw.

Beyond that, awards have the same routing rules as paid tickets. You can search the routing rules for paid tickets on Expert Flyer. For most domestic itineraries, your legal layover points are specified. For most international awards, a Maximum Permitted Mileage that you can fly is specified, and you can layover anywhere.

All award travel must be completed within one year of the original booking. Changes can’t extend this time frame, so if you can’t fly within one year of your original booking, you’ll have to cancel you award.

Stopovers

One stopover is allowed on all roundtrip Delta awards, even those that are within the continental United States.

A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.

Open Jaws

Roundtrip awards can have one open jaw.

Keep in mind that an open jaw is not a hole in the middle of a single one way award. Those are prohibited.

Free One Ways

Free one ways are possible on Delta awards. Since a free one way requires a stopover at your home airport and using an open jaw, booking a free one way on a Delta award means you cannot use a stopover or open jaw en route on the main award.

The free one way can be BEFORE your main award TO your home airport or AFTER your main award FROM your home airport.

The free one way can be to most places in the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada.

For full details on Free One Ways on Delta Awards, check out this Master Thread.

Special Features

Delta.com’s search results are extremely buggy.

You can look at award results on a monthlong color-coded calendar, so you don’t have to search each day individually, but this calendar is often wrong. It rarely–if ever–includes partner search results in its calculations, showing only the price level of a Delta-metal award each day for a month.

For more information on this problem and solution, see this post.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes

Delta awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.

These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 if you fly to a high tax country. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.

Fees

Phone Fee: There is no award booking fee for awards booked at delta.com. Calling Delta to book an award incurs a $25 per person fee, which is waived for Gold Medallions and higher.

Changes: There is a $150 fee per person to make changes to Delta awards, which is waived for Platinum and Diamond Elites. No changes are allowed within 72 hours of departure.

Cancellation: There is a $150 fee per person to cancel Delta awards, which is waived for Platinum and Diamond Elites. No cancellations are allowed within 72 hours of departure.

Full details on Delta’s award fees can be found here.

Fuel Surcharges

Delta collects fuel surcharges on many of its partners. See a near-complete list here.

How to Book Delta Awards

Very few of Delta’s partners can be searched and booked on delta.com.

Partners that can’t be searched online can be searched by calling Delta at 800-323-2323 or by searching other SkyTeam award search engines.

If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book your Delta awards. We have the expertise to search every Delta partner to maximize convenience and luxury while minimizing out-of-pocket cost.

Bottom Line

I don’t love Delta miles, but I collect them as part of a balanced miles strategy.

Delta miles are great to Australia and can be used to fly to any inhabited continent.

Delta’s award chart is expensive for economy and business awards, and you can’t book First Class awards at all on international flights.

One stopover and one open jaw are allowed on all roundtrip Delta awards, so free one ways are possible on all roundtrip Delta awards, even those wholly within the continental United States.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Scott:
    Nice post on the miles people most like to bash (except maybe Spirit). I agree that they are worth collecting. I collect a lot of Delta Skymiles via my Suntrust Debit Card, and AMEX Delta Platinum cards that should get me Gold Status this year. I just used a few hundred thousand booking my family’s Christmas trip to Cabo (PHL-SJD). at 65k/pp (plus about $90 in taxes), they were cheaper than United which was charging 75k/pp, and American/US Air charging 97.5k/pp. Also, since the flights were going for $1650/pp cash, I figured it was a great use of points. I found that Delta Skymiles are an excellent compliment to United and American miles. Also, looking at using them for a Virgin Austrailia flight in 2015.

  2. So other than flying Delta, a few credit cards, and some shopping portals, how do you collect all these Delta points? Which is the best credit card for collecting Delta points if you’re not flying Delta or one of their team?

    • Delta is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards and 20k Starpoints transfer to 25k Delta miles.

      The best earning rate for Delta miles would be with the Premier Rewards Gold card. It’s #7 on this list –> milevalue.com/List

  3. Scott, thanks for this nice summary.

    Can you give any suggestions on the best way to search Garuda Indonesia award space that Delta would have access to?

    Thank you,

    Lanny

  4. So you are saying you can’t book award flights international on first class, yet Delta let me book a business class seat. Isn’t that the same thing? Delta metal.

    • Domestically, Delta (and most airlines) have two cabins usually called economy and First. You can book both with Delta miles. Internationally many airlines have three cabins, economy, business, and first. Delta only has economy and business. You can book those two with Delta miles and their partners’ economy and business. You cannot book their partners’ international first class with miles like Korean or China Southern First Class.

  5. I really like Delta skymiles as
    1. It is near my home airport. I don’t live middle of nowhere
    2. it doesn’t expire, unlike United that expires in a year.
    3. the service is slightly better than the other mega size airlines.

    What do you think ?

    • United expires after 18 months of no earning or redeeming. It’s trivially easy to earn or redeem, so I don’t consider this important.

      I almost never use United or Delta miles to fly United or Delta. I use them to fly their partners, so the quality of the airlines doesn’t matter to me.

      Delta miles are definitely the least valuable, but when they allow one way redemptions on 1/1/15, they’ll be closer in value to United.

  6. So, is there a way to book Delta first class, like using Flying Blue or Korean Air miles? If so, how much does, say from US-China cost? Thanks.

    • Delta has two cabins on all its planes. Domestically the front cabin is First Class. Internationally it’s called Delta One (formerly Business Class.) There is no true Delta international First Class cabin, so no miles can book the non-existent cabin.

      Delta miles can book its flights and its partner flights. Flying Blue and Korean miles can also book all SkyTeam partners including Delta.

      To figure out how many miles any award is, I’d say to google the award charts of the miles you want to use, but Delta has eliminated its award charts –> https://milevalu.wpengine.com/delta-no-longer-has-an-award-chart/

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