How To Redeem Delta SkyMiles (2021)

How To Redeem Delta SkyMiles (2021)

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Delta SkyMiles leads the race to the bottom as far as the least valuable air miles in the US. The currency is prone to frequent devaluations, and their website is plagued with booking issues. 

In spite of those things, Delta SkyMiles can still come in handy for any traveler. Curiously award rates between regions outside of the US and Canada are still reasonable in many markets, like 65,000 miles from Central America or Mexico to Europe in business class. 

Delta often launches flash sales on award flights as well, and we’ve seen awards as cheap as 11,000 SkyMiles. 

This guide will walk you through how to navigate Delta.com, what to know about booking awards on their partners, and how to handle any changes or cancellations. Let’s dig in! 

Using the Delta Website

Delta.com is a flashy website, but underneath its skin there are persistent issues. The website is much, much better than it once was, but you can’t book multi-city itineraries without risking the website bug out on you, and even something as simple as cancelling an award will sometimes produce an error message. 

With that being said, the best course of action is to only book itineraries such as roundtrips or one-ways online. That’s really all you should be booking anyway, as there isn’t much benefit to booking multiple legs on a single PNR. 

Searching for awards on Delta.com

Whenever you start a search on Delta.com, it’s best to start by looking at one-ways. Even if you’re booking a round trip, searching for one-ways will lead you to the cheapest prices. 

You’ll want to enter your origin and destination, desired date of travel, and cabin of service. The calendar view will only display prices in the cabin you’re searching for. 

Once you click through to a particular date, the Delta website will only show you award options for you selected cabin or higher. That means if you search for economy class awards, you’ll see options for economy, premium economy, and business/first class (depending on the market). 

It’s important to note that basic economy awards are only available on Delta metal. If you’re traveling on any of Delta’s partners, economy will be the lowest available cabin. 

What are the different cabin types?

One thing that can be confusing on Delta.com, especially in regards to partner award flights, is the cabin names. Delta lists the cabin types as: 

  • Basic Economy
  • Main Cabin
  • Delta Comfort+
  • First Class
  • Delta Premium Select
  • Delta One 

Basic economy is the cheapest economy class ticket. It’s the most restrictive, but of all basic economy fares Delta’s is actually the most generous. You’re the last to board, but you can take a carry-on and you’re allowed to change your ticket for free. Basic economy fares are only for travel on Delta operated and marketed flights.

Main cabin is a standard economy cabin fare. You will be in one of the last boarding groups, but before basic economy. You can’t check bags for free, unless you’re flying between long haul international markets. For all partner awards, main cabin refers to economy class awards.

Delta Comfort+ is similar to the main cabin fare, but you have extra legroom seats. Delta’s done a fantastic job at segmenting the market, and Delta Comfort+ includes additional snacks and beverage items not available in the main cabin. You’ll board before passengers in the main cabin, and you have dedicated overhead bin space. Delta Comfort+ is only available on Delta operated and marketed flights.

First class is exactly what it sounds like: Delta’s first class cabin. One thing that often confuses people is that Delta does not offer a true first class product on any of their international routes. Business class is their highest cabin for any international flights, but it’s sometimes branded as first. First class is really a domestic first class seat, which is usually a plush recliner seat or lie-flat seats on select routes, like services between New York-JFK and San Francisco and Los Angeles, and flights to and from Hawaii from the Midwest and East Coast. You’ll only be searching for first class awards if you’re flying domestically or within the US, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America and want to travel in the highest cabin. 

Delta Premium Select is what Delta’s genius marketing folks in Atlanta have named their premium economy cabin. This cabin is only available on select long haul international routes, onboard the A330-900NEOs A350-900s. If you’re flying a partner in premium economy, this will also be called “Delta Premium Select” on the Delta website. Delta Premium Select is premium economy, which is available on select Delta flights and partners offering a premium economy cabin. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for this guide: Delta One. Delta One is what those folks in Atlanta have branded Delta’s international business class cabin. For any of Delta’s destinations in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia: the highest cabin is branded as Delta One. This is almost always a flatbed seat, which varies from a staggered configuration on their B767s to reverse herringbone seats on their A330, to the fully enclosed suites onboard the A330-900NEO and A350-900. For the majority of all partner awards, Delta One is the partner’s business class cabin. The one exception is Aeromexico flights between the US, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America being branded as first class. If you’re looking for business class award space on a partner, Delta One is the cabin you’ll be searching for.

Searching for one-ways

Whenever you start a search on Delta.com, it’s best to start by looking at one-ways. Even if you’re booking a round trip, searching for one-ways will lead you to the cheapest prices. 

Whenever you start a search on Delta.com, it’s best to start by looking at one-ways. Even if you’re booking a round trip, searching for one-ways will lead you to the cheapest prices. 

Once you’ve found flights that work, you can search for return flights in the other direction if you’re booking a round trip. It’s important to note that booking round trips in certain markets will save you a considerable amount on any surcharges. 

For example, if you’re using SkyMiles to fly to Europe, you’ll save on the surcharges by booking a round trip, even if it’s a round trip with an open jaw. That’s because Delta assesses hefty surcharges for travel on Delta and most of their partners for travel originating in Europe. 

If you book an award from the US to Europe round trip, the surcharges aren’t assessed as the US is considered your point of origin, and there aren’t any surcharges.

Partners that don’t show up on Delta.com

It’s important to remember that not all of Delta’s partners show up on Delta.com. Depending on what region you’re traveling to, you’ll want to double check what other partners might have award space that don’t show up on Delta’s website. 

There are a few partners that don’t show up on Delta.com. Those include:

  • Aeroflot*
  • Air Europa
  • Air Tahiti Nui**
  • Czech Airlines
  • Kenya Airways

*Aeroflot awards aren’t available via SkyMiles for the time being; no word on when these will return.

**Awards on Air Tahiti Nui aren’t bookable using Delta SkyMiles (If you have experience booking this successfully, please let us know!)

Air Europa can be useful for travel from the Americas to Europe, especially between the East Coast of the US and the Caribbean to Spain. Czech Airlines operates regional flights to/from Czechia. TAROM operates flights to/from Romania. Xiamen Airlines operates flights within China and to a few select international destinations. The best place to check availability on these carriers is with Flying Blue on either the Air France or KLM websites. 

Air Tahiti Nui operates flights between Los Angeles and Tahiti, but awards aren’t available on the carrier. We’ve run into this issue countless times. Availability doesn’t always line up with what you see on either AA.com or ExpertFlyer.com. If it does line up, agents aren’t able to issue tickets. It’s frustrating! If you’re trying to book Air Tahiti Nui, the best way to do so is by using AAdvantage miles.

Kenya Airways is an especially challenging carrier to book awards on when using SkyMiles. We’ve written a separate guide which you can find here that goes over all of the ins and outs when traveling on Kenya Airways. 

Running into married segments on Delta.com

It’s important to note that with a few exceptions, you generally can’t piece together awards for travel on Delta like you used to be able to. Delta agents are trained that the price is the price. For example, you can’t look for a saver award from New York to London in business class with Delta or Virgin Atlantic, then look for a saver economy award from Cincinnati to New York to connect that with. You’d need to search for Cincinnati to London to get an accurate price. 

There are exceptions to this though, which we’ll cover more later. You generally can add partner segments to award flights where the overwater segments include travel on one of Delta’s partners. 

For example, if you’re flying from the US to Australia, you could look at award space with China Eastern from Los Angeles to Shanghai, and then a separate segment from Shanghai to Sydney to add to that first booking. You could book LAX-PVG online, then call to add the PVG-SYD segment later. That can be a tricky process, which we’ll cover later. 

But whenever you’re traveling on Delta, it’s important to remember that the price is the price when you’re using Delta SkyMiles. 

How to book awards that don’t show up online

For Delta’s carriers that don’t show up online, these are the steps you’ll have to take to book them. 

Aeroflot Awards Aren’t Available to SkyMiles Members

While Aeroflot offers flat beds in business class on their long haul flights, and a true business class experience even on short haul awards within Europe, unfortunately you can’t use SkyMiles to travel on the carrier. 

Frustratingly, the Delta website suggests Aeroflot awards are available online. However if you look for space on any of Aeroflot’s routes, the website will return an error message. You can find space via Flying Blue, but it won’t be bookable online. 

If you call to book by phone, the SkyMiles agent may see a memo saying the the link between the two carriers is broken. 

The link sadly shows no signs of being fixed, as this is an issue that’s been going on for years now. Assumably this is due to some kind of disagreement between the two carriers, as you can redeem Flying Blue miles for travel on Aeroflot with no issues. 

It’s a real shame, as Aeroflot offers a fantastic product that feels fit for James Bond, or anyone keen to travel behind the Iron Curtain. 

How to book Air Europa Award Flights Using SkyMiles

Air Europa operates flights from Madrid to New York and Miami, and availability is actually quite good. (Well, in pre-COVID days at least.) Their product isn’t cutting edge by any means, but if you can score business class awards on their B787 you’ll be treated to a lie-flat seat, tapas, and cava. Olé!

Air Europa also operates flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, and Central and South America. For travelers looking to go from the Americas to Europe it can be a useful carrier. Air France and KLM also release more seats on these routes than they do to the US, which I’d book before I booked Air Europa. 

The best place to search for Air Europa award availability is via Flying Blue. You can use either the Air France or KLM websites to do that. If you’re not familiar with Flying Blue, you can find our complete guide to navigating the program here. 

Once you’ve found flights you like you’ll want to call Delta reservations and tell them you’d like to redeem SkyMiles for travel on Air Europa. It may take a few tries to find an agent who’s familiar with the carrier, but once you do it’s a fairly easy process. You’ll need to provide the agent with the routing and be sure to specify the cabin of service, and they’ll confirm availability and the pricing.

How to book Czech Airlines Award Flights Using SkyMiles

Czech Airlines has a base in Prague and operates flights across Europe. If you’re flying within Europe, you can search for award flights on AirFrance.com or KLM.com. You can find a full guide for doing that here. 

Frankly speaking, redeeming SkyMiles on Czech Airlines generally isn’t a great value. It can be tough to line up partner availability for long haul awards, unless you’re doing something like connecting from Amsterdam or Rome to Asia with China Airlines, or from Paris, Frankfurt, or Barcelona to Seoul, for example. You could look for a segment from Prague to any of those hubs to connect with another partner. 

Otherwise if you’re traveling entirely within Europe, it’s best to look at paid flights or use points via a travel portal for paid tickets. Delta levies hefty surcharges on award travel within Europe, so in addition to paying at least 12,500 SkyMiles you’re looking at a minimum of $100+ in taxes and fees. For a last minute ticket that’s otherwise very expensive it could make sense to redeem miles, but more often than not paid tickets are the way to go. 

Booking China Airlines award flights using SkyMiles

While award space on China Airlines shows up on Delta.com, there’s a lot to know about how to put together an itinerary for travel on China Airlines. We’ve written a separate guide, which you can find here, as there’s a lot to cover.

Booking Kenya Airways award flights using SkyMiles

Award travel on Kenya Airways is also really complicated. You have to know exactly how to walk an agent through the booking process, so we’ve also written a separate guide for redeeming SkyMiles on Kenya Airways. 

Booking Other Itineraries That Don’t Show Up On Delta.com

While SkyMiles award pricing can seem outrageous, you can often mix partners onto a single award across regions without running afoul of routing rules. That means you can fly carriers like Air France from New York to Johannesburg via Paris, or China Eastern from Los Angeles to Sydney via Shanghai. 

Many of these routings don’t show up on Delta.com, so you’ll need to search for the partner space segment by segment. What we recommend doing is booking what you can online, then calling Delta’s Singapore reservations line to add any additional award segments. 

For example, here’s a flight from New York to Shanghai in business class with China Eastern: 

Here’s a segment from Taipei to Sydney in business class: 

You could book the New York to Taipei segment online, then call to add the Taipei to Sydney segment manually. 

Avoiding surcharges when using Delta SkyMiles

Delta levies fuel surcharges for award travel in a few different cases. There are some cases where hefty surcharges are inevitable, like for travel on China Eastern or Kenya Airways, or when beginning award travel in Europe and flying Delta, Air France, KLM, or Virgin Atlantic on a long haul flight.

There are a few tricks to save on surcharges in certain circumstances.

Flying China Airlines or Korean Air from Europe

If you’re flying from Europe to Asia or the South Pacific, a great place to look for award space is with China Airlines. China Airlines serves Amsterdam and Rome with nonstop flights from Taipei. You can connect onwards to Asia, and unlike with travel between the US and Asia, most connections show up online. 

If you’re flying onwards to Australia or New Zealand, you’ll need to search for space for those legs separately and call the Singapore call center to add them on later. 

Routings from Europe to Seoul with Korean Air are also a great option. Korean Air serves more cities than China Airlines, but has an inferior business class product. 

Flying via Taipei Instead of Shanghai or Guangzhou

If you’re flying from the US to Asia (or the South Pacific), looking to China Airlines instead of China Eastern or China Southern could save you a few hundred dollars in surcharges. 

Delta levies surcharges for travel on China Eastern and China Southern, while they don’t levy surcharges for travel on China Airlines. Considering China Airlines offers a much, much better product than either carrier, this one’s a no-brainer! The only thing you’ll have to worry about is finding award space. 

Getting help from Delta Airlines

An area where Delta really excels is the customer service department. When it’s a phone call or a direct message on Twitter, Delta’s agents are some of the best in the industry to deal with. They’re competent, friendly, and responsive. 

While you can’t always get what you ask for, more often than not you’ll find the carrier more than willing to assist in times of irregular operations or with any changes before departure. 

I was once caught up in a traffic jam on the wait to the airport when flying a SkyMiles award for travel on Virgin Atlantic, and knew I was going to miss check-in for my Delta flight. The Twitter team reaccommodated me in KLM business class without so much as batting an eye. Their service is truly top notch, even for a general member with no status! 

There are a few roundabout ways to get the support you need, if social media or texting doesn’t work. Calling the international manual reissue desk

Calling the international manual reissue desk

Back in the day the magic words for booking Delta awards was “international manual reissue”. Wanted to piece together an itinerary segment by segment, but couldn’t get it to price? A transfer to the international manual reissue desk would get that sorted, as they could ticket just about anything. 

The international manual reissue desk is harder to reach these days, and less useful than they once were. Now that the “price is the price”, there are few issues they can help with. 

If you’re struggling to add a partner segment to a booking, and the agent can’t get the award to price, you might suggest the international manual reissue desk. Lately however the call center in Singapore is our go-to for assistance with this, and they’re pleasant and eager to help.

Contacting Delta via Messages

Delta is an innovative airline when it comes to ways to reach out to the airline. If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, you can send the airline a message via Apple’s Messages app. When you open the “Fly Delta” app, click the left menu, and at the bottom of the menu there’s a “Message Us” option. That will redirect you to message Delta via Messages. 

If you’re an Android user, the same functionality exists, but it’s via SMS. 

The only complaint about this method is it takes a bit of time to reach an agent. It takes a few messages before being passed along to an agent, and the average wait time is between 10 and 15 minutes. Reaching out by phone or Twitter can be faster if you need help with something urgent. 

Contacting Delta via Twitter

If you’re a Twitter user, reaching Delta online is easy. This is the least effective communication tool though when it comes to award bookings. Delta Twitter reps can’t do too much beyond simple things like helping find partner booking codes or reconfirming an itinerary. 

All you have to do is send them a direct message via their profile, @Delta. They respond very quickly, but depending on what you’re asking them to do they may redirect you to call the reservations line. 

Changing or cancelling SkyMiles awards

Delta is one of several airlines that now waives change fees on both revenue tickets and award tickets. It’s important to keep in mind that doesn’t mean tickets are refundable, but rather you can make changes. 

Delta used to have a rule that SkyMiles award tickets must be cancelled or changed 72+ hours before departure. It was an asinine policy that was fortunately axed due to the pandemic. You still need to cancel awards if you’re not planning to use them, as no-shows are not refundable and lead to a forfeiture of SkyMiles. 

No change fees (for now)

What makes award reservations so valuable is that they’re generally much more flexible than revenue (paid) tickets. If you book a SkyMiles reservation, you can cancel it or change it down the road with no penalties. You’ll only be responsible for any difference in miles as well as any difference in taxes and fees.

Making changes to a SkyMiles award

If you need to change or cancel an award, it’s almost always best to do so by phone. This is due to the website’s limited functionality and tendency to break if you’re doing anything other than booking a simple one-way or round trip award. 

You’ll want to find the new flights you want to book online, you’ll want to give Delta reservations a call to book the new flights. They’ll reprice everything, and let you know if there’s any difference in miles or taxes that you’ll have to pay.

Cancelling a SkyMiles award

Sometimes the Delta website works for cancellations. The website may or may not error out. If you do make it to the final page, your miles may be redeposited right away, or they may not be. 

What I’m trying to say is it’s best to cancel Delta SkyMiles awards by phone. Because of the unreliable website, having a human do this ensures you get the miles as quickly as possible, and that there’s no hold up for the tax refund. 

Usually website cancellations, when they do go through, require a phone call anyways for the miles to be redeposited in my experience.

Bottom Line

Despite its (many) flaws, Delta SkyMiles is still a valuable program. After booking a few SkyMiles awards you’ll quickly become a pro. The toughest part is usually finding decently priced Delta awards, or partner availability. Once you do there’s a few tricks to keep in mind when booking flights. Once you’ve got a ticket number in hand you’ll be set to travel! 

Have you redeemed SkyMiles before? What has your experience been like?

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