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You can do some cool things with Delta SkyMiles. Here are some awesome awards you can book with 25k to 150k SkyMiles.

Delta SkyMiles awards have some generous routing rules too like being able to get a free oneway on an award within the continental US or have open jaws across continents.

But Delta SkyMiles have their limits, which I discovered the other day as I tried to piece together a trick award with a cheap one way to Korea.

What rules can you bend on SkyMiles awards? Which are firm? (with screenshots)

This is an award I wanted to book:

  • Seoul to Los Angeles one way
  • months later, Los Angeles to Sao Paulo roundtrip

This award would be ideal for someone who lived in Los Angeles to get 1.5 vacations for a discount on what each leg individually would cost. And the outbound from Los Angeles to Seoul could be booked with United or American miles or purchased as a one way.

Unfortunately when I used delta.com’s multi-city search tool, this award priced out at 220k SkyMiles.

I wanted Delta’s computer to see the award as Seoul to Sao Paulo (with a free stopover in Los Angeles), returning Sao Paulo to Los Angeles. Since Delta’s chart lists Northern Asia (Seoul) to Southern South America (Sao Paulo) as 80k miles per direction in business class and Southern South America to North America (Los Angeles) as 50k miles per direction in business class, I was hoping the award would price at 130,000 SkyMiles.

I wanted Seoul to LAX before an LAX to Sao Paulo roundtrip

I called in to see if I could put the award on hold by phone and get it to price at 130k miles.

The agent put together the segments, and the award priced at 220k miles, just like delta.com had priced the award. Evidently the computer saw the award as a roundtrip from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo in business class for 100k miles plus a one way from Seoul to Los Angeles in business class for 120k miles–the roundtrip price between the two cities–since roundtrips and one ways cost the same number of Delta miles.

Speaking to a Supervisor

The first agent you call will never have the power to overrule a computer, so I asked politely to speak with a supervisor.

This supervisor was similar to every airline supervisor I’ve ever spoken to. He had some knowledge of awards, but less than most of the readers of this blog. Because he didn’t know much, he trusted the computer 100%. Whatever the computer said, he tried to justify as best he could even though all the reasons he gave were made up on the spot.

When I was connected to him, he had me explain very slowly why I thought the award should price at 130k miles. Satisfied that I was reading the chart right, he was confused and put me on hold to speak with Delta’s Global Ticketing Desk. When he came back, he had the reason that my award was pricing as two awards (220k) instead of one award (130k).

Objection #1

“You can’t have a stopover and an open jaw on the same award.”

He’s actually right that it does say that on delta.com, but he’s not right that that’s a rule for Delta awards. As he gave this objection, I quickly pieced together an award on delta.com, held it, and gave him the confirmation number to look at it.

This award shows an award with both an open jaw and a stopover pricing out as one roundtrip award.

Los Angeles to Atlanta, Atlanta to Washington DC, Memphis to Los Angeles. One stopover and one open jaw for 25k miles.

Momentarily deflated, he put me on hold again to talk to the Global Ticketing Desk.

Objection #2

“Your open jaw can’t straddle two continents.”

My proposed open jaw was between my departure city of Seoul and the award’s final destination in Los Angeles. Those cities are on two different continents. But that doesn’t matter at all when it comes to pricing a Delta award.

A Delta award with an open jaw that straddles two continents correctly prices at the sum of what half of each roundtrip would cost. I quickly put the following award on hold to point out that an open jaw straddling two continents is fine.

This award shows an outbound from LAX to Australia and a return from Asia to LAX.

This award priced at 135,000 miles and $106.70. A roundtrip in business class to Australia is 150k miles and a roundtrip in business class to Seoul is 120k miles; 135k splits the difference.

He was befuddled because I did seem to be right again. I reiterated my contention that my award should correctly price at 130k miles according to Delta’s rules, and I asked him to override the computer’s pricing. He couldn’t do that, but he couldn’t give me a rule I was breaking, so he tried to get rid of me: “I’m just going to let you talk to the Global Ticketing Desk. Please hold.”

I was excited. I have talked to the Global Ticketing Desk before and gotten them to change award prices when I thought the computer was mispricing one. But I haven’t been able to speak directly to someone from the Global Ticketing Desk on my last several attempts because they are supposed to be internal support and not customer support.

Unfortunately my supervisor came back on the line, so it looked like the Global Ticketing Desk had said they didn’t want to talk to me directly.

This did not stop the supervisor from making up more rules.

Objection #3

“You can’t have a complete roundtrip plus an added one way.”

Of course you can, since that’s the basis of free oneways on Delta awards, which I have booked many times before. But to show him he was wrong, I quickly held the following award and gave him the confirmation code.

This award shows a complete roundtrip between LAX and Atlanta with a later free oneway to Las Vegas, pricing at 25,000 miles.

Objection #4

“Why don’t you just fly back to Asia?”

“Thanks for your interest in my trip, but that’s not my plan.”

Objection #5

“Your open jaw has to be shorter than the shorter leg.”

  • Open Jaw: 5,994 miles between my outbound’s departure (ICN) and my return’s destination (LAX)
  • Shorter Leg: 6,156 miles between GRU and LAX on the return
  • Longer Leg: 12,150 miles flying ICN-GRU-LAX on the outbound

I was complying with this rule.

Solutions

My argument was that my award complied with all known rules of the Delta SkyMiles award program to price at 130,000 miles. If the computer is pricing it differently, that’s a mistake that should be manually overridden. I think it’s the airline’s responsibility to promulgate rules and follow them.

The supervisor would not or could not manually override the price.

He would not contact the Global Ticketing Desk again. He had done that twice.

He was willing to try to find a way to get the computer to price the award at 130k. He speculated that maybe if the outbound from Seoul to Sao Paulo didn’t come through the US, the pricing might work out. He spent a few minutes trying to find a routing like that, but eventually gave up.

He said my best bet to continue my quest to get the award for 130k miles would be to contact Delta through its online complaint form.

What We Know

  • You can have a stopover and an open jaw on the same Delta award.
  • Your open jaw can straddle two continents.
  • You can have a free oneway on Delta awards.
  • You can have a “complete roundtrip” plus an add on. (Similar to the last bullet point.)
  • There are other rules that aren’t listed anywhere that determine what awards are possible.

Recap

I swung for the fences to try to get three very long segments in business class for 130k miles by adding a cheap one way to Korea onto an award to Brazil and failed miserably.

Delta not publishing all of its award rules decreases the value of the miles to me, but not all the way to zero. There are still tons of great uses for Delta miles, especially to Australia and Asia.

The best offer to earn SkyMiles quickly is to see if you are targeted through CARDMATCH for the Delta Gold card with 45k SkyMiles after spending $5k in three months as I explained in this post.

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