I think everyone by now is convinced that Delta Air Lines wants to make the world’s worst loyalty program. SkyMiles is probably the most un-trusted loyalty program in the world. The entire foundation for Delta’s program is the fact that Delta makes any changes they want, whenever they want, without notifying members in advance. Oh yeah, and they don’t even publish award charts.. insane, right?!
The most disappointing part of all of this is that Delta is actually a really good airline, the best out of all American carriers – hands down. Their route network is extensive, their ground staff and cabin crew are friendly, and they have the best lounges out of any American airline. It is such a shame that they’ve decided to basically destroy loyalty.
The one important aspect to know about SkyMiles is that Delta makes changes all the time – the price you see is only valid when you see it and if you book it right away. In one day, I’ve had Seattle – San Francisco jump from 20k to 10k to 13k to 17k to 12.5k to 15k (one-way Economy)… I checked every few hours and the price kept changing. Delta’s goal is to align the price of a ticket in miles to the price of a ticket in cash, which is why the prices keep jumping.
Nevertheless, there are still a few good ways to use SkyMiles – most involve traveling on a partner airline.
Fly Around North America for 5k Miles
You can book a one-way flight within North America for as little as 5k miles in Economy Class (plus $5.60). You won’t find these prices on all routes, but generally if a flight is short in length, you can get it for 5k miles… assuming you book 21 days in advance. If you are within 21 days of travel, Delta loves to dramatically increase prices. The same flight that cost 5k miles can cost 40k if booking last minute.
- Seattle to San Francisco
- San Francisco to Los Angeles
- Salt Lake City to Chicago
- Atlanta to Miami
- New York to Montreal
- Detroit to Toronto
Those are some examples where you can get a good deal if booking in advance. American and United charge the standard rate of 12.5k miles one-way in Economy for a North American flight, but since Delta changes prices all the time, 5k miles is the lowest you can usually book a flight for. It is important to note that it won’t be available on all routes on all dates, but you can usually find a short flight for 5k miles.
Fly Partner Airlines to Europe in Business Class
In addition to SkyTeam partners, Delta also partners with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. You can earn and redeem miles on those Virgin airlines – redeeming can be a great deal, especially as no fuel surcharges are imposed when originating your trip in North America.
You can fly Delta’s partners to Europe in Business Class for 75k-85k miles one-way. Keep in mind that Delta frequently changes the price in miles and decides what it costs. You can fly Air Europa, Air France, Aeroflot, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic… just to name a few.
The best award availability will be on Aeroflot and Alitalia, especially in Business Class. While the Business Class products of these airlines aren’t amazing, it still is Business Class.
Fly to Asia with SkyTeam Partners
SkyTeam has a strong presence in Asia – China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, Korean Air, Garuda Indonesia, etc. You can fly Business Class from North America to Asia for 85k miles one-way. The best choices would be Korean Air and China Airlines. If you wanted to fly Economy, you can do so for 35k miles one-way.
You can fly around Asia with SkyTeam partners in Business Class for 40k miles one-way. It does depend on which Asian countries you are visiting. The general rule is “the longer the flight, the more miles it costs”.
One important aspect to note is that when purchasing your ticket that originates in some Asian countries, you must do so at least a few days in advance and can’t book last minute – not only that, you will have to visit a Delta office to ticket your trip! Insane!
Fly from North Asia to South Pacific for 65k Miles
You can redeem Delta miles for travel from North Asia to the South Pacific for 65k miles one-way in Business Class. Korean Air operates flights to some exciting and gorgeous South Pacific destinations (such as Fiji), and Delta miles can get you there.
If you will be flying on Korean Air, you can build in a long layover in Seoul on the same ticket and visit the city for a day. Remember that Delta’s website must show you the option with a long layover on one ticket – otherwise two tickets will be required. Keep in mind that the maximum time a layover can be is 23 hours and 59 minutes.
Korean Air’s Business Class product isn’t bad, but some aircraft aren’t lie-flat, so you will want to make sure the route you are flying on will feature lie-flat seats in Business Class.
Fly on AeroMexico
AeroMexico – Mexico’s national airline and SkyTeam member is very close friends with Delta. Not only can you redeem Delta miles on AeroMexico, award availability is great – in Economy and Business Class. You will find that AeroMexico has great domestic as well as international award availability. Amsterdam, Madrid, and London are the easiest long-haul destinations where there is a lot of availability (even sometimes last minute).
Domestic award availability in Economy is generally wide open. You can redeem your miles for something creative like Puerto Vallarta – Guadalajara – Mexico City – Cancun and have layovers up to 23h59m in those cities on the way from Puerto Vallarta to Cancun. Delta Medallion Members are entitled to extra benefits on AeroMexico, like upgrades.
While Delta miles certainly aren’t the world’s best (far from it, actually), there are still some creative ways to redeem them on unique routes. The best way to burn your SkyMiles is on Delta’s partner airlines or on short domestic Delta routes where you can redeem as little as 5k miles for a one-way Economy flight.
If you are still collecting Delta miles, I highly encourage you to look elsewhere and collect other types of airline miles. In general, all people should be collecting transferrable points – such as AMEX Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, as they provide you with the maximum value and freedom to transfer to multiple airlines.