Delta Skymiles Strategy 2015: One Way Award Tickets!

There have been lots of blog posts, news stories, and general consensus in social media that the 2015 Delta Skymiles Program is going to be bad for travelers. With a 5-tier award chart (up from 3), earning miles based on your airfare price, and a very broken website I can understand people’s frustration with Delta. They are continually getting worse on the miles and points front. That does not mean they are worthless though. They are just worth…less.

The big win in all of this is that they are finally allowing us to do one way award redemption for half the price of a round trip. For those of us who collect many different types of miles and points (as we all should!) we can now do half our trip using Delta miles and half with another program if needed. All 3 legacy US carriers: American, Delta, and United will allow one way award tickets at half the round trip price as of Jan 1, 2015. This is big news for us. We can now search for award seats on all 3 alliances if you have the points available to book.

With Delta Skymiles the focus will be on partner availability for long haul and international flights in 2015. They will be priced at the lowest mileage tier. Since we no longer have to find award space in both directions that is actually an increase in flexibility for us. For those based in the USA we will likely use them for our outbound flights to avoid the international surcharge that is collected by Delta on award tickets originating outside the USA. For example you could book New York to London one way on Delta’s partner Virgin Atlantic at the low mileage tier. To avoid Delta’s international surcharge you could book your one way return from Europe using American or United (or any other) miles or points.

When booking an award one way with Delta Skymiles we do give up our stopover that only comes with round trip awards. I personally feel this is a fair trade off for most people. If you really need the stopover then you still need to book a round trip Delta Skymiles award. Example of a stopover: New York to London (stopover 4 days) Rome (destination stay 2 weeks) and fly back to New York. It truly depends on your travel needs/plans. Without the stopover in the above example you could buy a cheap flight between London and Rome or redeem British Airways Avios for the short haul flight instead. We always have other options!

Another advantage of being able to book one way award tickets at half price is you are now not limited to a single open jaw. Delta Skymiles’ award ticket rules say you are allowed 1 open jaw and 1 stopover. Since you would be booking 2 one way tickets you can book between any 2 cities you wish. If you want to fly from Atlanta to Paris outbound and Amsterdam to Los Angeles on the return you can do that for the same number of miles as a round trip. This is currently not possible with 1 award ticket using Delta Skymiles.

As is always the problem with lots of international award tickets is finding the domestic flights to connect to the long haul flights on partners. All 3 legacy carriers in the USA have really pulled back on award seats for domestic flights in my experience. I attribute this to: fuller flights with fewer empty seats released for award redemption, more miles floating around out there where more people redeem for domestic travel (reducing availability more), and revenue management simply not releasing them in the first place. Delta has been the worst with this consistently and I personally end up booking separate domestic tickets most of the time. I either use Southwest points or outright buy the fare if I catch a good sale. I always advise our award booking clients to do the same in these cases.

Delta Skymiles have lost quite a bit of value in the past few years but they are still far from useless. One way awards will be a big improvement and I suspect we will see a big wave of redemption at the top of 2015. People with less than 25,000 miles will suddenly be able to use them for one way flights (starting at 12,500). I suspect Delta is banking on this so they can get some miles off their balance sheets. I still earn lots of Delta miles with my debit card and will continue to do so. They are some of the cheapest miles to earn and are great to have for a rainy day.

The rules, redemption levels, and earning levels of all frequent flyer programs are constantly changing. We are constantly adjusting our strategy accordingly. The key is to earn and burn your miles at roughly the same rate and not rack up huge points and miles balances. They only have value when you actually redeem them. Until then they are just thin air and numbers on a computer screen. BURN YOUR MILES!