You can redeem your frequent flyer miles for some amazing trips, but just how much value are you getting? This post examines ten great ways to redeem miles through the Delta SkyMiles loyalty program.
A word of caution: some people derisively refer to SkyMiles as “SkyPesos” and assign them a low average value of 1.2 to 1.4 cents per mile (CPM). The main reasons for these complaints are that the program is not very transparent and has some customer unfriendly rules. For example:
- The award chart isn’t published, making it easier for Delta to change the cost of an award at any time without notice.
- There are no last-minute booking fees, but all awards are banned within three days of departure. (Sometimes the best availability is at the last minute.)
- First class awards are also prohibited, even on airlines that may offer them to other partners.
Despite these limitations, there is still value to be found in the SkyMiles program whether traveling on Delta or its SkyTeam alliance partners. Several of the awards listed here may offer two or three times more than the “average” value. However, the lack of first class award tickets on international routes does impose an upper limit since those often represent the most valuable use of miles. With that in mind we tried to focus on business and economy class awards that can provide an amazing experience in addition to a great value.
We looked at real flights at least six months in the future (to avoid the higher prices you might find just a few weeks before departure) and compared them to the number of miles required to book the same itinerary. You can likely originate in a different city within North America without redeeming any more miles, adding connecting flights on Delta Air Lines or Alaska Airlines.
Note: All sample itineraries were found using the Matrix search engine, a free service of ITA Software.
(1) Virgin Australia Business Class — Los Angeles to Sydney
Delta colleges 160,000 miles for business class travel to Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific on its partner Virgin Australia. The airline is upgrading the business class cabin on its Boeing 777 fleet, but award space may not be available until a week before departure, Keep an eye out and make flexible reservations at your hotel in case your departure date changes from initial expectations.
This sample non-stop itinerary between Los Angeles and Sydney is an eye watering $8,125.06! Using miles instead provides a great redemption value of 5.08 CPM.
(2) KLM Business Class — San Francisco to Amsterdam
Air France and KLM, joint partners in the Flying Blue loyalty program, are also members of the SkyTeam alliance. Next to Delta you’ll find that they offer some of the best award space between North America and Europe for 150,000 miles in business class. This sample itinerary from San Francisco to Amsterdam is normally $5,244.96, representing a value of 3.50 CPM.
(3) Korean Air Business Class — New York to Bali
If the brisk spring weather in Europe doesn’t appeal to you, head to Bali instead. Korean Air provides convenient service from several U.S. gateways on both coasts, and from there it’s relatively easy to reach other destinations. You can travel on the flagship Airbus A380 in business class with minimum connecting time in Seoul and find yourself on a beach in no time! Expect to redeem 140,000 miles instead of paying $5,257.06, an opportunity to redeem miles at a rate of 3.76 CPM.
(4) Virgin Atlantic Business Class — New York to London
Those who frequently hop across the pond for business or pleasure should take a look at Virgin Atlantic. It’s not member of SkyTeam but still partners with Delta Air Lines, allowing you to book a round-trip ticket for just 125,000 miles in “upper class” — a value of 2.28 CPM. Be sure to visit the incredible Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK before your flight, which offers free salon services and even a billiards table to pass the time.
(5) Alaska Airlines First Class — Minneapolis to Hawaii
Everyone wants to escape to Hawaii at some point during the cold winter months. While Delta is an option, the airline is a partner with Alaska Airlines, which has more routes from the West Coast than any other mainland carrier. (That means more opportunities to find award availability.) You can fly Alaska the entire way or connect on Delta.
A first class ticket from Minneapolis to Honolulu normally costs $2,347.01 — or just 80,000 miles, for a value of 2.93 CPM. It’s not going to be a lie-flat seat, but that option is only available on a very small number of flights, usually non-stop routes from East Coast hubs. This remains a solid choice for reaching the islands from anywhere else.
(6) Air France Business Class – Los Angeles to Tahiti
Like a few other loyalty programs, Delta SkyMiles provides the opportunity to book non-stop awards to Tahiti by partnering with Air Tahiti Nui. But Air Tahiti Nui doesn’t offer a life-flat seat in business class, so you sacrifice some comfort for convenience. There’s a better option if you use your miles to book on Air France instead. For 160,000 miles you get a superior seat that would normally cost $3,501.16 between Los Angeles and Papeete — a value of 2.19 CPM.
(7) China Southern Business Class — Los Angeles to Guangzhou
Delta’s partner China Southern has great availability between Los Angeles and Guangzhou, from which you can connect onward throughout Asia. Award tickets are also relatively cheap at 140,000 miles round-trip in business class. However, Delta collects a carrier surcharge for travel booked on China Southern — in this case $387 — so expect higher than average fees for this award.
A typical fare is $4,083.66. After deducting the carrier surcharge, this award still offers good value at 2.64 CPM.
(8) Aerolineas Argentinas Economy Class – New York to Buenos Aires
Have you always dreamed of visiting Patagonia? Economy class awards on Aerolineas Argentinas from New York to Buenos Aires are just 60,000 miles round-trip with many options for onward connections. Award space is also pretty good out of Miami. Using miles instead of paying $1,048.16 for this fare results in a value of 1.75 CPM. It isn’t the best redemption in the world, but it’s still above average and priced well for the aspiring backpacker.
(9) Delta Air Lines Economy Class — Atlanta to Anchorage
Delta considers Alaska to be part of the same geographic region as the contiguous U.S. and Canada when it comes to pricing awards, which means you can travel round-trip for just 25,000 miles in economy class. It’s a great option whether you need a one-way ticket on either end of your Alaskan cruise or just want to visit the 49th state to see your first glacier.
This sample fare from Atlanta to Anchorage would normally cost $1,770.21, representing a whopping value of 7.08 CPM when redeeming miles instead. It’s actually the best deal in this entire post! Connecting flights on Alaska Airlines are also available.
(10) Delta Air Lines — Domestic Awards Starting at 7,000 Miles
Delta also provides discounted domestic awards on some routes, but it doesn’t publish firm rules that determine which routes are eligible. Instead you’re likely to find the largest discounts on routes that are shorter, inexpensive or simply have low demand.
For example, the standard one-way price for a domestic award in economy class is 12,500 miles. Searching from Seattle to Salt Lake City during the winter ski season resulted in several non-stop flights priced at $153.10. However, award tickets on some of these flights were 12,500 miles and others were 7,000 miles. Booking one of the cheaper award tickets would raise the CPM from an unimpressive 1.22 to a more attractive 2.19.