How to find hidden value in the Delta award chart (or lack thereof)
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Delta officially says they don’t have an award chart. For their own flights, they tend to base the award price on the cash price — or, perhaps more accurately, demand. Searching peak dates can return truly offensive award prices.
However, flying on Delta’s partners in the SkyTeam alliance, award prices are mostly a different story. After performing tons of searches, there are definite consistencies between the majority of award “regions.” If you’ve recently earned a welcome bonus from the best Delta credit cards, don’t worry. There are still a handful of decent uses for your miles.
In short, while their international and partner awards have moderate pricing consistency, all their North American flights vary a lot from place to place.
The international Delta SkyMiles SkyTeam “award chart”
Delta has severely devalued its loyalty program TWICE since October 2020. That is genuinely pathetic and really putting people off (including us) from collecting their increasingly worthless miles. For instance:
- Business class flights between the U.S. and North Asia cost 35,000 miles more than just five months ago.
- Business class flights between the U.S. and Europe cost as much as 45,000 miles more than just five months ago
If you know where to look, however, there are still some quality deals alive on partner airlines. For example:
- Fly to Southern Africa for 115,000 Delta miles
- Fly to the Middle East for 85,000 Delta miles
- Fly to Central America for 35,000 Delta miles
Honestly, pretty much all the other regions have increased. Expect to pay:
- 165,000 miles to Southeast Asia in business class
- 120,000 miles to Northern Africa in business class
- 120,000 miles to India in business class
All these represent a sizable increase over the last few months.
How to navigate the Delta award chart that isn’t there
An official Delta award chart exists only in theory. Getting a good price is a combination of:
- Being flexible with your dates
- Looking closely at the options
- Trying a couple of tricks to get an award to price lower
- Getting lucky
Delta prices its flights roughly based on cash price (especially for domestic U.S. flights)
Say, for example, you’re in Indianapolis and want to visit Orange County around November. How many Delta miles do you need for a one-way coach flight? That should be an easy question, but…
That’s not very helpful. 10,500 miles, 12,000 miles, 14,500 miles, 18,500 miles 21,000 miles, 24,500 miles, 28,000 miles. It’s totally random… Or is it? Check this out.
Here’s the exact same calendar with cash prices instead of miles. As you can see:
- On the dates the cash price is $158, the award price is 10,500 miles
- On the dates the cash price is $179, the award price is 12,000 miles
- On the dates the cash price is $199, the award price is 14,500 miles
- Etc., etc.
In most cases, Delta makes sure you won’t get a value much greater than 1.5 cents for your points. They adjust their awards accordingly.
Add a partner flight to get a lower price
Say you’re in Chicago and want to travel to Seoul. How many miles do you need?
Another mixed bag. However, while Delta prices its own flights roughly based on the cash cost, that isn’t true with partners. Based on this search, the clue that we’re looking at partner flights is the ~$26 tax charge instead of Delta’s usual ~$6 fee.
Remember, you can always click “Price Calendar” to get five weeks of pricing.
Delta partner awards always price at the lowest tier. Based on this, we know Delta wants at least 50,000 Delta miles for a one-way coach trip from Chicago to Seoul (though there are exceptions, like when there’s a flash sale). These awards are not based on the cash price.
In this case, each Delta mile is worth just over 2.1 cents ($1118 – $26 in taxes/50,000 miles).
The above 50,000-mile flights are a combination of Delta and Korean Air. So long as a partner flight is used even in part on the itinerary, your flights should price lower.
So what’s the lesson here? Try to look for partner awards — or add a partner flight to your Delta award to drop the price.
With Delta, nothing’s hard and fast. You simply have to play around with it until you find something you like.
Tricks like filtering for partner flights don’t always produce results. At times, there’s no logic whatsoever.
And booking with a partner, in the example above from Chicago to Seoul, lowers the price for the coach award, but may actually raise the business-class price. So you’re better off flying the partner to save on the coach seat, but flying Delta airplanes can save you a lot of miles for the premium cabin (I have a feeling the routing is a factor here.)
What does it all mean? How many miles do you need for an award flight?
Based on these patterns, we can deduce:
- Domestic Delta award seats are usually tied to the cash cost of the ticket
- International Delta coach award seats are loosely tied to the cash cost of the ticket – but not always
- International Delta premium-class seats have semi-set prices and are usually a better deal
- Partner awards at the lowest levels are usually a good deal
This means if you want to fly Delta domestically, you get ~1.25 cents of value per Delta mile, while for international awards, you’ll usually do better flying a partner airline (or at least adding a non-Delta segment to the award).
I recommend running test searches spread out over a few months, and using the 5-week calendar view, to check the average lowest prices for a given route. That requires having a travel goal in mind before you start saving your miles.
For example, I ran searches from Memphis to Maui round-trip in coach across a span from January to April to get a sense of the pricing. Based on this, I know I’ll pay anywhere from 28,500 and 90,000 Delta miles (LOL). If I wanted to travel several months from now and book an award in a month or two, I still have to remember the price could be higher or lower when I’m ready to book.
In the absence of an award chart, Delta flyers have to make their best guesstimate for how many miles are required for an award ticket on Delta flights and they have ways to figure out the best price for a seat with Delta’s airline partners.
It’s easy to run searches on Delta’s website — and select international partner awards still represent huge value and savings with Delta miles when traveling to the Middle East, Central America, and a couple of other choice locations. Even adding a partner segment to your award can drop the price, but not always, as there are plenty of anomalies.
Ultimately, the best approach to Delta miles is to set a goal, then collect the miles you need – not the other way around. With some searching, there are still values to unlock, though they’re becoming harder to find a solution Delta marches toward revenue-based rewards where your miles are worth 1 cent each — not to mention their continual devaluation of partner awards.
Do your best and keep poking around until you find what you’re looking for.
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