delta a350

There’s no way to get around it, the Delta SkyMiles program is one of the most frustrating airline loyalty programs out there. From playing games with award rates to unannounced devaluations, it’s hard to love Delta SkyMiles.

That being said, you still have some very good options for your SkyMiles. In fact, when it comes to SkyTeam awards to Asia, it might even be your best option now that earning Korean SkyPass miles is so tough.

With plenty of Amex Membership Rewards cards (Learn More) to help you earn more SkyMiles  Delta has a distinct advantage if you want to fly to Asia when you compare the award rates of other SkyTeam options.

That’s just one reason why you shouldn’t rule out SkyMiles. Even if Delta isn’t always the most consumer-friendly airline, ignoring them would meaning missing out on some very great award bookings options.

Now, let’s make sure you know how to redeem your Delta SkyMiles.

Need some inspiration? Check out the best ways to use Delta SkyMiles for max value.

Delta SkyMiles Award Rates

Delta One Suite

In 2015, Delta chose to unpublish their award charts which has made it much more difficult to know the fewest number of miles required (saver level) for any given award.

Award Rates Are More Like Guidelines

Here’s a rough estimate of what to expect as saver level on international flights operated from the U.S. on Delta and its partners. Please keep in mind that Delta makes unannounced changes so they could change these rates at any time.

Region Delta Economy Flights Partner Economy Flights Delta Business Class Flights Partner Business Class Flights
Caribbean/Central America/Mexico 17,500 miles 20,000 miles 30,000 miles 35,000 miles
Europe 30,000 miles 32,500 miles 105,000 miles 75,000 miles*
Middle East 35,000 miles 42,500 miles 85,000 miles 85,000 miles
North Africa 30,000 miles 35,000 miles 70,000 miles 85,000 miles
North Asia 35,000 miles 35,000 miles 80,000 miles 85,000 miles*
Northern South America 17,500 miles 25,000 miles 30,000 miles 45,000 miles
South Africa 40,000 miles 50,000 miles 95,000 miles 115,000 miles
South Asia 40,000 miles 50,000 miles 97,500 miles 120,000 miles
Southeast Asia 40,000 miles 45,000 miles 80,000 miles 95,000 miles
Southern South America 35,000 miles 35,000 miles 75,000 miles 100,000 miles
Southwest Pacific 45,000 miles 55,000 miles 110,000 miles 115,000 miles

* If you’re booking an award within 21 days of departure on a partner, Delta requires the following number of miles:

  • Europe: 97,500 SkyMiles
  • North Asia: 110,000 SkyMiles
  • Southeast Asia: 125,000 SkyMiles

If you’re planning to use SkyMiles to book an award to London on Virgin Atlantic, we’ve noticed the award rates are actually higher than what you’ll find to the rest of Europe.

Booking an award on Virgin Atlantic to London, you’ll find that Delta requires a staggering 150,000 SkyMiles for a one-way business class award. After that, the price drops to 120,000 SkyMiles until you’re about two months from departure. From this point on, you’ll see the occasional option to book at 80,000 SkyMiles while the vast majority of Virgin Atlantic options are listed at 86,000 SkyMiles.

Connections Can Increase Mileage Required

Additionally, if your itinerary includes a domestic connection (or connections) on Delta, you might be required to use more SkyMiles. This isn’t always the case but keep an eye out for it.

Variable Award Rates

Since Delta is willing to price awards at sky-high rates on its own flights — especially international business class awards, it can be particularly tough to find reasonable award rates. The example below shows a month of dates from Atlanta to Johannesburg at 465,000 miles per person for a one-way business class award.

Delta Award Rates Australia Example

This has caused a lot of frustration and only service to emphasize the importance of being flexible with your travel dates when booking Delta awards.

If you’re going to book a domestic award on Delta, the award rates vary quite a bit depending on your origin and destination so you’ll want to check multiple dates to get an idea of how few miles you could use.

Honestly, if you want to ensure you’re getting max value when redeeming SkyMiles, run a calendar search and scroll through several months of dates. Yes, this is annoying but we’d rather you take an additional two minutes than get ripped off.

How To Find Award Space

Delta’s award search capability has certainly improved in the last few years, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. As you can see in the table below, you can search for award space on almost all of Delta’s partners.

Aeroflot Delta
Air Tahiti Nui ExpertFlyer
Aerolineas Argentinas Delta
Aeromexico Delta
Air Europa Delta
Air France Delta
Alitalia Delta
China Airlines Delta
China Eastern Delta
China Southern Delta
Czech Airlines Air France or KLM
Garuda Indonesia Delta
GOL Delta
Hawaiian Airlines* Delta
Jet Airways Delta
Kenya Airways Delta
KLM Delta
Korean Air Delta
Middle East Airlines Delta
Saudia Delta
Vietnam Airlines Delta
Virgin Atlantic Delta
Virgin Australia Delta
Xiamen Airlines Delta
WestJet Delta

*Only within Hawaii

Occasionally, Delta won’t show award space that is actually available — this has been an issue with Chinese carriers at times. As a backup, it’s always a good idea to double-check SkyTeam award space by searching with Air France or KLM.

How To Book Award Tickets With Delta SkyMiles

Delta Search Bar

Assuming you can find the award space you want (at the desired award rate), it’s generally not too difficult to book with SkyMiles. Just run your search from the Delta homepage with your origin, destination, dates, and number of passengers.

You’ll want to select “Advanced Search” which will show a dropdown menu and allow you to choose to book with miles and your desired class of service. You’ll be shown a week of dates but you can expand to 5 weeks from the search results page which can make it much easier to find award space.

Once you’ve selected your date and flight, you can complete the booking right there.

If, however, you want to book an award on an airline partner that can’t be found on your Delta search, you’ll need to call Delta (800-221-1212) after searching with the appropriate site (see table above). Make sure you note the flight info before making this call so you can provide it to the phone agent.

Delta SkyMiles Routing Rules

Delta doesn’t restrict your routing in the weird way that American Airlines does so they have that going for them, at least. Similar to American, you won’t be able to include a stopover on your itinerary. Unlike American, Delta does not allow you to put awards on hold while you transfer points.

Let’s talk about the two major rules you need to know before booking an award with Delta SkyMiles.

Maximum Permitted Mileage Restrictions

Delta one Suites Cabin

First up, we have Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) restrictions. If you’re not an avgeek, you might be wondering what the heck that means. Don’t worry, that’s totally normal.

A simple definition of Maximum Permitted Mileage is that it’s the maximum number of flight miles you can fly between your origin and destination. It factors in possible connections and can be different based on whether you cross the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.

Delta requires the number of miles flown on an award ticket to be within the Maximum Permitted Mileage if your award is not a published route — a route that your search on Delta’s site provides.

Unfortunately, Delta does not provide a way to check Maximum Permitted Mileage so you’ll need to use ExpertFlyer — a subscription site — if you want to do so.

If you’re trying to piece together an award segment by segment, you’ll want to have the MPM info on hand. As you run your search, you can enter the segments into GCMap to see the total number of flight miles.

For the vast majority of people booking awards with SkyMiles, this won’t be a major consideration but this can help guide you if you’re someone who likes creative routes.

Married Segment Logic

Next, we have married segment logic which has been the bane of many people’s award booking experience. Yes, this is another term you might not have heard.

This best way to describe married segments is that you have two segments that can be booked together on one itinerary but that cannot be booked individually.

For example, I might see a saver level award from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to London Heathrow (LHR) with a connection at New York (JFK). However, if you searched for New York to London, the flight wouldn’t show. This is married segment logic and it can be extremely frustrating.

Unfortunately, Delta uses married segment logic but it’s good to be aware of this so you don’t tear your hair out in frustration.

How Delta Handles Surcharges

air france 777

Delta doesn’t always pass on carrier-imposed — “fuel” — surcharges but it’s important to know when they will so you can avoid any nasty surprises.

While they won’t hit you with surcharges flying to Europe on their own flights as well as Air France, Alitalia, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic, you will be on the hook when you fly from Europe.

Additionally, don’t be surprised if you see surcharges on some partner including, but not limited to:

  • Aeroflot
  • Air Europa
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Kenya Airways
  • Vietnam Airlines

For many, the most common sticking point will be flights returning from Europe. The surcharges are steep and often make using another program to book an award a good idea — United comes to mind as they don’t pass on surcharges out of Europe.

Change And Cancellation Fees

You can change your award ticket up to 72 hours prior to departure for $150 — waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members. If you want to cancel your award booking and redeposit the miles, that is also $150 and again waived for Platinum and Diamond members.

How To Earn Delta SkyMiles

Perhaps the biggest bright spot with Delta SkyMiles is its relationship with American Express Membership Rewards. While Amex also issues co-branded Delta cards (Learn More), it’s the ability to transfer Membership Rewards points to Delta that we really like.

American Express offers several cards with bonus categories that make it easier to earn Membership Rewards faster (Learn More). Whether you spend a lot at grocery stores and gas stations or on flights and hotels, you can easily set yourself up with a combo of cards that will help you earn 2X to 5X on many purchases.

Final Thoughts

We often give Delta a hard time — and they often deserve it — but that doesn’t mean that the SkyMiles program never provides some good award booking opportunities.

Perhaps, one day, they’ll learn that just because they can make a negative change to the program, doesn’t mean they should. Until then, we just have to remain diligent in keeping an eye on what they do and using SkyMiles when they provide solid value.

Spencer Howard

Spencer Howard is a credit card rewards and award travel expert. He’s living proof that points and miles can unlock many of the greatest travel experiences and uses his skills to tick off new bucket...

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  1. You publish this on a day that they launch a Skymiles flash sale to Europe ex-USA. The dates are pretty restricted, but it allows for open-jaw tickets at the 128,000 mile price from non-hubs and hubs alike. How serendipitous.

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