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This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we looked at the mechanics of the Delta Airlines program. In Part 2, we’ll look at its award chart and rules to find valuable awards. In Part 3, we’ll value specific SkyMiles awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on one SkyMile.

In this post, I’ll detail what I think are some of the best SkyMiles awards from North America. Of course if you don’t want to go to the places I’m mentioning, these awards are worthless, so there is a huge subjective component to finding valuable awards. But in this post I’ll focus on objective factors like the quality of the seat, the number of miles needed compared to competitors, and number of cities visited.

Every airline’s chart has some good spots and some weak spots compared to its competition. Below I’ve mashed up the Delta chart on the left with the American Airlines chart on the right. There’s no special reason I chose the AA chart for comparison, but I think it’s a pretty average chart. I’ve put awards that use fewer miles on Delta than American in green boxes. I’ve underlined awards that use more miles on Delta than American in red. If the awards are equal, I didn’t do anything special.

On the American chart, domestic awards, awards to Hawaii, and awards to the Caribbean are left off, but I’ve looked those up and notated the Delta awards appropriately.

To me, nothing stands out as an incredible award. Even the boxed awards that use fewer miles than a comparable American award are often places where American just happens to have expensive awards and other competitors are the same price or less than Delta. For instance, Delta only charges 120k miles roundtrip from the US to Africa in business class. It is boxed as being cheaper than American. But United also charges 120k, and US Air only charges 110k.

All that said, there are some good uses for Delta miles.

1. Coach to Europe. Delta charges the industry standard 60k miles for a roundtrip in coach to Europe. But it has a good route network in Europe since partners KLM and Air France both have decent availability. Because Delta allows a free stopover and a free open jaw, great routes that allow three destinations on one award abound.

For instance: Los Angeles to Minneapolis to London (destination)

Buy a cheap oneway ticket to Copenhagen, then return

Copenhagen to Paris (stopover) to Los Angeles.

Business to Europe is also the standard 100k that other airlines charge, but make sure you fly on a Delta 767-400ER if you are flying business class to Europe since Air France, KLM, and Delta’s other planes have angled seats.

2. Business to Africa with a stopover in Europe. For 120k miles, you can fly business class to all of Africa except South Africa. On the way, enjoy a stopover in Europe.

Example: Atlanta to London (stopover), London to Nairobi, returning to Atlanta. This route would feature the fully flat seats of a Delta 767 and a Kenya Airways 777.

3. Domestic coach with a free stopover. Domestic coach? Yes, domestic coach can be a good deal with Delta miles if you can find low level availability and want to combine two destinations on one trip, one of which is a Delta hub, since you can get a stopover along any legal routing.

Example: Minneapolis to New York-LaGuardia (stopover) to Atlanta (destination), returning Atlanta to Minneapolis.

Other routings might be a great use of Delta miles if you want to go there, but nothing stands out as a great redemption from looking at the chart. There are plenty of bad redemptions though.

1. Australia. 100k/150k for coach/business is horrible compared to competitors. Plus once you get there, SkyTeam has no partner with a solid route network.

2. South America. Northern South America is more expensive on Delta than on its competitors. And Southern South America doesn’t have the extensive route network of other alliances. Plus Delta’s partner in the area, Aerolineas Argentinas is one of the worst airlines in the world.

3. Asia. Again Delta’s competitors have an edge on price here. Plus, I’d rather fly airlines on the other alliances like Singapore and Cathay Pacific than the meager SkyTeam offerings.

This is a pretty weak showing for Delta. Looking at the chart produced a lot of bad award options and few good ones. The SkyTeam’s lack of size and Delta’s expensive chart conspire to provide weak options.

Even when there are no good options, though, there must be a best option. As with all miles decisions, the best option for you is subjective, but I would generally look along the lines of Europe and Africa, using other airlines’ miles for trips to Asia and South America.







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