Last night in Seoul, I went to dinner with several points and miles friends who were also in town. While enjoying Korean BBQ (I am officially BBQed out btw), we naturally shifted our conversation to points and miles. My friend Eric started talking about Delta miles and how they actually had some sweet-spot redemptions if you think outside the box and use partner airlines.
I’ll be honest. I rolled my eyes because I don’t fly Delta. In fact, I rarely pay attention to any SkyTeam partners. I’ve been so focused on Oneworld and Star Alliance that I’ve forgotten about the other possibilities. So I was all in ears in at least hearing him out and talking to other Delta-lover-friends about their favorite Delta SkyMiles redemptions.
I told my friends that Delta miles couldn’t tempt me because I can do everything with my United and American Airlines miles. I challenged my friends to name five destinations that are best served by Delta miles.
Basics of My Friends Argument:
- 100,000 Delta miles is too many miles to pass up.
- You can book an awesome one way award in a few months.
- Delta miles are useful wherever you live and extra useful if you’re a Delta hub captive.
- There are at least five places for which Delta miles are the best in the world.
He says 100,000 Delta is too many miles to pass up.
Delta miles are always worth 1 cent toward any Delta flight through the Pay With Miles program. I think Pay With Miles offers a poor value, but even through it, the 100,000 miles would be worth $1,000.
If you use your Delta miles for international business class instead, the points can be worth 1.5 or 2 cents plus.
You can book an awesome one way award in a few months.
You don’t have to go all in with the Delta SkyMiles program to get value. Starting January 1, 2015, you can book one way awards with SkyMiles. At that point, 50,000 miles will be enough for a one way award anywhere in the world.
Delta miles are useful wherever you live and extra useful if you’re a Delta hub captive.
He gave me some uses below for people who live in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. Those are hardly places where Delta has a monopoly. And if you are hub captive, Delta miles are even more valuable since Delta and its SkyTeam partners should have a lot of international flights from your home airport.
He says there are at least five places for which Delta miles are the best in the world.
I said that Delta miles don’t tempt me because I can do everything with my United and American Airlines miles. He disagrees. He says these awards are best booked with Delta miles:
- West Coast to Europe
- To Australia Direct in Business Class
- To Tahiti
- To Argentina
- To East Africa
West Coast to Europe
(Delta miles are also great East Coast to Europe, but they are far superior to United and American miles from the West Coast to Europe.)
United and American Airlines have almost no award space on their direct flights from the West Coast to Europe, especially in Business Class.
Here’s American Airlines‘ award space on their direct Los Angeles to London flight in Business Class next summer, when there is zero saver award space. Same story in first class on the route. There’s no point in showing award space for AA’s partner British Airways because with BA flights, you’d pay big fuel surcharges.
United has two direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco to London. The San Francisco route has two first class seats next summer. Neither has any business class space. You won’t find much award space on the Lufthansa flights either for next summer in premium cabins.
Contrast that to Delta’s west coast award space for next summer. He searched June 21 through July 10 on Award Nexus for award space on Delta partners Alitalia, Air France, and Virgin Atlantic.
Over that 20 day period, there are 23 flights with award space on 15 days. Award space is wide open for 125,000 Delta miles roundtrip from the West Coast to Europe in Business Class during summer 2015.
To Australia Direct
When he goes to Australia, he doesn’t want to go via Asia, which can add 12 hours to the travel time (I personally loved going to Sydney via Asia on the Singapore suites). He prefers to fly directly from the US to Australia.
American Airlines miles are great for doing that in economy on Qantas flights. But for business class and first class, necessary for a 15 hour flight in my opinion, Qantas releases almost no award space (1 day in June 2015).
United does barely better with only five days with premium award space for two passengers next summer across its three routes.
There is slightly better award space on Air Canada’s Vancouver to Sydney flight, which you can book with United miles.
But American and United miles can’t hold a candle to award space you can book with Delta miles. Delta partner Virgin Australia has a beautiful fully flat cabin in Business Class. And it has wide open award space. Next June there is award space every day in June for 2+ people in business class between Los Angeles and Sydney. This is unsurprising. Even during the peak December through March range, Virgin Atlantic opens a lot of award space.
To Tahiti (and Bora Bora)
There are two airlines that fly from the continental United States to Tahiti, both from Los Angeles: Air France and Air Tahiti Nui. No one flies to Bora Bora, so you fly to Tahiti and hop a paid flight from there.
Delta partners with both those airlines, though it collects fuel surcharges on the Air Tahiti Nui flight.
American only partners with Air Tahiti Nui, and does not collect fuel surcharges.
United doesn’t partner with either.
French Polynesia is one of the hardest destinations to reach with miles, and you can get there with Delta miles easiest.
I told my friend that I loved visiting Argentina last April, and its summer from December to April is the best time to visit. Most people seem to agree, so award space is hardest to find during the South American summer.
American has a medium amount of economy award space and very little business or first.
United has almost no award space on its flight from Houston, but more if you don’t mind connecting in Central America on one of its partners.
Delta doesn’t have much award space on its flight from Atlanta, but its partner Aerolineas Argentinas has award space almost every day on its Miami to Buenos Aires route in economy in January 2015. (Southbound on the left and northbound on the right.)
You can book a roundtrip in economy on Aerolineas Argentinas for 60,000 Delta miles. A roundtrip in business class costs 125,000 miles, and there is also space almost every day. Unfortunately Aerolineas Argentinas business class isn’t very nice.
Compare that award space almost every day with Delta miles to award space with American Airlines miles. There’s award space some days southbound.
And there’s award space some days northbound, but you won’t mistake this award space with AA miles for the ample award space with Delta miles to Argentina over next summer in South America.
To East Africa
American Airlines miles are terrible to Africa. The main partner with flights to Africa is British Airways, and you don’t want to pay those fuel surcharges.
United miles are pretty good to Africa, but he is selling me on the idea that Delta miles are better to East Africa.
Here are the options next April from New York to Nairobi, Kenya. He chose Nairobi because Kenya Airways is a Delta partner. There are award seats almost every day with one or two stops.
I do commend my friends for coming back at me with pretty solid and convincing research. What intrigues me the most is the Virgin Australia awards because I can’t stop hearing how fantastic the Virgin Australia product and service is.
While I am still not intrigued enough to get the Delta card myself (I have hundreds of thousands of American, United, and US Airways miles to burn, and I don’t hoard points), it’s nice to know that Delta miles aren’t entirely the enemy (I will soon have a separate post of terrible uses of SkyMiles).
To get the best value of the awards described below, you’ll probably need 1-2 Delta cards (1 business and 1 personal). And an improvement for once – starting next year, you can book one way awards with Delta miles.
What do you think of my friends’ arguments? I’m still a stubborn cookie, but maybe one day I’ll break…