Our guide to booking flights with SkyMiles shows you the ins and outs of searching for flights, rules, restrictions and tips for getting the best deal.
As one of the largest airlines in the world, Delta flies over 180 million passengers a year to more than 300 destinations in 52 countries. When customers fly Delta, or do business with one of its many partners, they can earn rewards in its SkyMiles program. For example, Delta offers a wide range of SkyMiles personal and business credit cards that are issued by American Express. But when it comes time to redeem these rewards, it’s not always as easy as you’d like it to be.
Delta SkyMiles rules and restrictions
- Hold and waitlist options – No options to hold or waitlist.
- Booking restrictions – No blackout dates or capacity controls, but Delta dramatically varies the number of miles required for a ticket based on supply and demand. Tickets must be purchased 72 hours in advance for travel originating from some destinations.
- Fuel surcharges – No fuel surcharges on most Delta awards flights. Delta does impose fuel surcharges on some of its partners. Also, Delta awards flights originating from Europe are subject to a “carrier-imposed international surcharge.”
- Booking fees – No fees for booking online. $25 fee for some international phone bookings. $35 fee for some international tickets purchased at the counter. $75 fee for same-day standby and same-day confirmed award tickets (waived for Diamond and Platinum members).
- Ticket changes – Free changes up to 72 hours in advance to origin, destination, routing, date and time, provided there are no changes to mileage.
- Cancellation policy – You can cancel an award ticket up to 72 hours in advance and have your miles redeposited for a $150 fee (waived for Diamond and Platinum members).
- Routing rules – One-way and round-trip tickets allowed. Open-jaw itineraries allowed (must be booked as separate one-way tickets). No published limit on number of connections. Stopovers not allowed.
Your gateway to Delta perks
Why should you get it?
Since its annual fee is waived in the first year (then $95 annually), the Gold Delta SkyMiles card is the most affordable option for scoring a large introductory bonus and perks with Delta Air Lines.
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Searching for Delta SkyMiles award flights
Delta makes it fairly easy to search for most award flights on its website. From its home page, you can choose to search for flights in either money or miles. You can then use Delta.com to book flights on Delta, as well as flights that are operated by the following partners:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air France
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Garuda Indonesia
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Jet Airways
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
- Korean Air
- Mandarin Airlines
- Middle East Airlines
- Saudia Airlines
- Shanghai Airlines
- Tarom Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Virgin Australia
- Xiamen Airlines
However, you’ll need to contact Delta Reservations to book award flights that include the following carriers:
- Air Europa
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Czech Airlines
- Kenya Airways
There are two ways to search for award flights – by specific days and by flexible days. If you search by flexible days, then you’ll first see an award calendar listing the lowest fares available on each day, or combination of days. There, you’ll have several options for how to display the available fares. For example, you can view by flexible days or see a five week view. You can also choose to view by the class of service including Main Cabin, Comfort+ (increased legroom) and First Class for domestic flights. If you are looking for long-haul international flights, you may also see options for Delta’s Premium or Delta One (business class) seats. Finally, you can choose between viewing flights operated by Delta and its partners, or just Delta-operated flights.
After choosing a date, you’ll then have the chance to pick from a range of flight options and class of service, with number of miles and amount of taxes and fees listed. If you decided to just search by a specific date, this screen will be the first result you see.
By default, these options are sorted by “Best Match” but other options include price, number of stops, departure time, arrival time, travel time or by class of service. Note that the miles listed will be the round-trip price, assuming you choose the lowest priced option for your return. For each option, you can see the flight details along with the icons that represent the flight’s amenities such as Wi-Fi, inflight entertainment and lie-flat seats.
Once you select your flights, you’ll enter the passenger information for each traveler, as well as their emergency contact information. Next, you’ll enter your payment information, which you can store on Delta’s site. Finally, you can choose to purchase trip insurance through Delta for an additional fee. Delta offers trip insurance from third party providers.
How awards are priced
Unlike most airline frequent flyer programs, the Delta SkyMiles program doesn’t have an award chart. The prices you see online are the prices you pay, and the only way to know what a particular award flight will cost is to search the website. Furthermore, prices can change at any time at Delta’s discretion and for any reason.
The Miles + Cash option
When booking an award ticket, you may have the option of making a cash payment to reduce the number of miles required. This option can be attractive when you don’t have enough miles for an award. Even when you use cash to pay for part of the award, tickets booked with the MIles + Cash option are still treated like other award flights.
The Pay with Miles option
If you have an account with one of the SkyMiles credit cards from American Express, then you’ll see the Pay with Miles option when you book your paid flight. This option allows you to use your SkyMiles to partially or completely offset the price of the ticket for flights operated by Delta or Delta Connection carriers. This option starts at 5,000 miles for a $50 discount on your flight, and your miles are worth 1 cent each no matter the number of miles you use. Even though you are using your miles, these tickets are treated like cash tickets for the purpose of earning miles and being eligible for SkyMIles Medallion upgrades.
Hold and waitlist options for Delta SkyMiles award flights
The Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program doesn’t offer any options for holding a flight or putting a flight on a waitlist.
Delta’s SkyMiles program doesn’t technically have any blackout dates or capacity controls; however, it dramatically varies the number of miles required for an award ticket based on supply and demand. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find awards for hundreds of thousands of miles in international business class, called Delta One.
The Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on most awards, but there are some exceptions. Awards that originate in Europe are subject to a foreign origination charge that’s labeled as a “carrier-imposed international surcharge.” This charge will be imposed on one-way and round-trip flights originating in Europe. If you are traveling from the United States, you can avoid this charge by booking your flights as a single round-trip ticket rather than two one-way flights.
Delta may also collect carrier imposed surcharges for flights on the following partners:
- Air Europa
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Czech Airlines
- Middle East Airlines
- Air Tahiti Nui
Fees for booking, canceling and changing awards reservations
Delta charges no fees to book award tickets online, apart from the government taxes and the previously mentioned international surcharges that Delta imposes. Therefore, a domestic award will simply require the payment of the “September 11 Security Fee,” which is $5.60 for each one-way trip. However, there is a $25 direct ticketing charge for tickets purchased in select European countries over the phone, as well as a $35 per ticket fee for tickets purchased at a ticket office in select European countries. These charges are waived upon request for Silver and Gold Medallion members and are automatically waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members.
Awards can be changed or canceled up to 72 hours before departure of the originating flight for an award ticket redeposit fee of $150 per person. However, this fee is automatically waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members of Delta’s SkyMiles program.
Delta also charges a $75 per-ticket fee for same-day standby and same-day confirmed travel on award tickets. These fees are waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members.
Delta SkyMiles award routing rules
Delta SkyMiles awards can be booked as one-way or round-trip tickets. If booked as one-way flights, travelers can create single or double open-jaw itineraries. An example of a double open-jaw itinerary would be a one-way flight from Atlanta to Paris, and a second one-way flight from Amsterdam to New York.
Delta doesn’t have a published limited number of connections on its award flights, but its website might not be able to price lengthy itineraries that require more than three or four connections. When this happens, it may be necessary to contact a Delta SkyMiles representative for assistance.
Delta doesn’t allow stopovers on award flights. The time limit on connections is four hours for a domestic connection and 24 hours for a connection on an international itinerary.
Tips for finding the best award seats for the lowest miles
As with most frequent flyer programs, you’ll have the best chance of finding award tickets for the lowest number of miles when you book as early as possible. Like most other airlines, Delta will allow you to ticket flights up to approximately 11 months before departure. While booking this far in advance won’t guarantee that you’ll score a low-priced award ticket, the earlier you book, the better your chances of receiving the best deal.
Be flexible on your travel times
Unlike other frequent flyer programs, the number of Delta SkyMiles charged will correlate somewhat closely with the price of the flight. This means that you will pay more miles for flights during the holidays or peak time periods and fewer miles for offseason flights and those at less convenient times.
Book the overseas leg of your trip separately
You can often save miles by booking the international portion of your trip as a separate ticket on a Delta partner. The price of flights operated by Delta’s partners is relatively fixed, and is often lower than flights operated by Delta. Meanwhile, adding a domestic Delta flight can dramatically increase the price of an award that includes a partner flight, so it can help to purchase the partner portion separately and then book the domestic leg of your trip either with Delta or with another carrier, using either cash or miles – whichever is cheaper.
Furthermore, the fixed price will usually apply to flights within an entire region. This can allow you to add on additional partner flights at no additional cost. For example, if you fly KLM from New York to Amsterdam, then you will be able to add connecting flights to other European destinations for the same number of miles.
Search for single-passenger fares before you make a purchase
Delta may also offer a limited number of award seats at a low mileage level. When you’re searching for award tickets for multiple passengers, you may be quoted the higher level for all tickets if there aren’t enough seats at the lower level. To save miles, you should search for the price for a single passenger to see if it’s lower than the price per passenger for your whole party. If it is, you should try to ticket as many awards as possible at the lower level. You can then book the remaining passengers at the higher mileage level, or just pay for their tickets with cash.
Check out SkyMiles Deals
In contrast to most airlines that have fixed award charts, Delta regularly holds award travel sales that offer you a chance to redeem your miles at price levels that can be lower than usual. To take advantage of these opportunities, you can regularly check the SkyMiles Deals page at Delta’s website.
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