Update in 2015: Delta no longer allows stopovers on awards, so free one ways are impossible.

This article presumes a knowledge of how to book free stopovers on Delta.com, which I covered in How to Book Free Stopovers Online: Delta.

We need two things to book a free oneway: a stopover and an open jaw. Luckily on all of its awards, Delta offers both a stopover and an open jaw. That means free oneways are possible on Delta awards though they are more restrictive than with United or American.

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.

Domestic Free Oneway Rules

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 city with connecting Delta traffic. Why? Say you live in San Francisco, a city without Delta connecting traffic, and you want to fly to Atlanta roundtrip then have a free oneway to Los Angeles. The award would be:

San Francisco to Atlanta

Atlanta to San Francisco

San Francisco to Los Angeles

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.

For those of us who can take advantage of free oneways on Delta awards, I’ll give some examples.

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.

International Free Oneway Rules

The rules for adding a free oneway to an international Delta award are different. You don’t have to worry about “legal routings” except that your routing must not exceed the maximum permitted mileage for a routing.

The maximum permitted mileage (MPM) is a number of miles that your actual routing between your origin and destination can be. You can find it on expertflyer.com. See How to Use Expert Flyer.

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.

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?

From Delta’s perspective, the return is London to Minneapolis. LHR-ATL-LAX-MSP is 7,692 miles of flying.

The MPM of London to Minneapolis is far less at 4,813 miles.

Therefore this 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 city with Delta connecting traffic, Los Angeles, is not enough. Your free oneway must also follow a valid routing.

Recap

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. However 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.

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