Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Delta Skymiles Are So Frustrating

I wrote an article rather recently praising the value of flexible miles (such as American and Delta) while criticizing the fixed value of Capital One miles.

This post is the counter argument.

Capital One miles have a fixed value, and can be redeemed at one cent per mile on any ticket available for purchase.  40,000 Capital One miles can be redeemed for $400 off any flight, and for many, this easy conversion system makes life a lot simpler when firming up travel plans.

The legacy carriers, such as Delta Airlines, allow miles to stretch quite a bit further than their Capital One counterparts.  Delta, for instance, publishes an award chart with "Low" "Medium" and "High" award tickets.  A "low" award ticket for domestic round trip travel is 25,000 miles, "medium" is 40,000 miles, and "high" is 60,000 miles.  Delta markets this award chart as user friendly.  Travelers never have to worry about award seats not being available!  They are always bookable with miles....not always at the price you want to pay, though.  Let me explain three reasons why booking Delta awards isn't always a bed of roses.

1. "Low" level tickets are often extremely hard to find

I decided to take a look at travel from Atlanta to Honolulu in November or December.  Ms. CCT and I traveled this route last year, but we paid cash because the fare was so low.  The award chart, unfortunately, was a grizzly mess when I checked.  There were very few green (low) dates.  Nearly every day was at "medium" or "high."  After saving for a long time, you can imagine how defeating it is to see that the trip you envisioned will cost nearly double what it would with another airline.

Where Have All The Reasonable Awards Gone?
Delta is very proactive in making sure highly in-demand award tickets are only bookable at the "medium" or "high" level.  Tropical destinations in the winter and Europe in the summer are just two prime times for Delta to adjust the price in miles to their favor.  Be forewarned.  If you want to try to steal a "low" award during these times, you need to be active very early. Plan to book around one year before your actual travel dates.

2. The calendar may show "low" awards that don't really exist

This problem comes from first hand experience and it really highlights the IT issues that Delta.com has.  A "low" coach ticket award from the U.S. to Europe costs 60,000 Skymiles.  This is very reasonable and in line with what the other carriers are charging.  Because I have family in Madrid, I thought to take a look at the Atlanta-Madrid route in November.  See below.

Lots of Green Options!
There are many green (low) dates on the calendar, so on the surface it looks like I shouldn't have any trouble finding a "low" 60,000 mile award.  In the picture above, I highlighted two green dates and clicked to book.  Unfortunately, a nasty surprise awaited me.

Hey!  That's Not What I Wanted!
Sure enough, the least expensive award available was 75,000 miles.  I have no idea how their system is computing things, but you can imagine how irritating this can be.  If you play around with the calendar long enough, you can see that the Delta Award calendar is truly a broken mess.  Some people have reported seeing business class tickets to Asia for over 550,000 Skymiles a person!  Even a "high" award is 350,000 Skymiles, so where are they getting these insane numbers from?  For me, these little glitches are the reason people get so turned off in booking award travel.

3.  No One-Way awards

Like U.S. Airways, Delta charges the same number of miles for a one-way as a round trip award ticket.  This greatly limits the flexibility of Skymiles, especially when you are faced with a rather expensive award booking.

Skymiles: The Rare Way To Get to Mauritius
I've given you some reasons to avoid Delta Skymiles, but there are some really good values if you plan ahead and are flexible.  For instance, Delta has incredible coverage of Europe from JFK and Atlanta.  You can get to places such as Budapest, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Prague relatively easily.  They also have some interesting airline partners, such as Air France.  With Skymiles, you can visit exotic destinations such as Mauritius by routing an award ticket through Paris on Air France.  No other North American carrier will get you therein such an easy manner!

Don't fret because in future posts I will show you some ways to harness the Delta Award Calendar.  There really are some good deals to be had with Skymiles.  Don't lose hope!  If you are planning on booking a Delta award ticket or have some Skymiles lying around, don't hesitate to email me.  I can help.  Until tomorrow!

-Charm City Traveler


  1. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I'll try to get the hang of it! gmail email login

  2. Travelers never have to worry about award seats not being available!
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  3. For me, these little glitches are the reason people get so turned off in booking award travel.
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