As a frugal traveler, you know that airline miles will get you an almost-free flight. However, you also know that earning airline miles can be easier than redeeming them in many cases, especially when you are not familiar with a certain program.
If you collect Delta SkyMiles, things get even more complicated than with any other domestic program. So, you’ve done the easy part. You’ve spent hundreds of hours in the air and earned thousands of miles, and now you want a free trip. If you’re a frequent Delta Air Lines flyer and have SkyMiles to burn, here are some things you should know before redeeming them.
Although this article isn’t exactly everything you need to know about redeeming SkyMiles, it’ll get you started. For more information on how to redeem Delta SkyMiles, check out this FlyerTalk thread.
1. Delta Doesn’t Publish Award Charts
Delta removed award charts from its website a couple of years ago leaving you, the traveler, with no idea what an award should cost. Furthermore, Delta has implemented dynamic pricing to its award tickets, which means the price can fluctuate depending on travel dates, destinations, demand and who knows what else. In other words, some awards require an insanely high number of miles.
However, just because there’s no physical award chart presented to you, there’s still rhyme and reason for the redemption rates. The SkyMiles program has five redemption levels, Level 1 through 5, and the program actually sticks to its (internally known) award chart. You want to book Level 1 awards. Always.
Although it’s not easy to tell exactly what a Level 1 award is, a round-trip flight from the U.S. to the Caribbean should cost 35,000 SkyMiles, to Hawaii and Northern South America – 45,000 miles, to Europe and Southern South America – 60,000 miles, and to Japan – 80,000 miles. This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it should guide you in the right direction. If the flight requires significantly more miles, it’s not a Level 1 award.
2. You Can Use SkyMiles in Two Different Ways
As a Gold or Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card holder, you have two options to redeem your miles. You can use miles to book an award flight when available, or you can Pay with Miles by applying your SkyMiles at a rate of 1 cent each toward any revenue flight. Redemptions start at 5,000 SkyMiles worth $50 toward the airfare cost. Depending on the cash cost of a flight, paying with miles could be a good idea or a terrible idea.
Let’s use a flight to Europe as an example. In an imaginary world where a Level 1 award to Europe is available, you’ll redeem 60,000 miles for a round-trip ticket. Keep in mind that you still have to pay taxes on this ticket. Now, if Delta runs a sale tomorrow and flights are just $450, you’ll redeem 45,000 SkyMiles with zero cash copay. As you can see, the Pay with Miles option has its benefits, but it limits a SkyMile’s worth to just 1 cent.
3. You Can Redeem SkyMiles for Other Travelers
Few people know this, but it’s possible to redeem miles for someone other than the account holder. This holds true for many frequent-flyer programs, not just SkyMiles. If you’re unable to travel and want to redeem your miles while they still have value, it is not against the rules to book an award flight for a friend or a family member. However, it is against the rules to sell the SkyMiles, so your act of kindness truly has to be altruistic in the eyes of the SkyMiles program.
4. Avoid High Cash Copays by Booking Strategically
Delta SkyMiles program implements high taxes on award flights that originate in Europe. So, for example, you fly round-trip from Europe to the United States or book a one-way to Europe with one program and a return with Delta, your taxes on the ticket will be significantly higher than if the trip originated in the U.S. You want to keep this in mind while building multi-city trips with miles from multiple programs. With SkyMiles, it’s best for your wallet to book Europe-bound flights than vice versa.
5. Take Advantage of Monthly Award Sales
In the recent months, Delta has been running monthly SkyMiles flash sales. The offers have ranged and included flights to many destinations, such as Hawaii, Asia, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean. As mentioned above, the program doesn’t publish award charts, but the sales have legitimately been mile saving.
These sales typically last for two days, so you have to have accumulated a stash of SkyMiles and be ready to redeem them in the limited redemption window. Still, if you have SkyMiles to burn, it’s better to get in on one of these flash sales than redeem at high redemption levels or worse—let them sit and devalue.
What would your advice be to those looking to redeem Delta SkyMiles?