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Updated 5/14/15 with current prices and routing rules. Screen shots show old prices.

Delta SkyMiles get a bad rap–very deservedly so–for the lack of Level 1 award availability that Delta releases, the fuel surcharges Delta charges on awards, the inability to add stopovers on awards, and the fact that Delta deleted its chart from the internet.

But it does not follow that Delta miles are worthless. In fact, you can get great value and do some pretty cool things with Delta miles.

  • What are my top choices to burn 92.5k, 80k, 70k, 62.5k, 30k, and 12.5k SkyMiles?

92.5k: Half/Half Roundtrip to Europe

When you book a roundtrip Delta award, which is no longer required, you can fly different cabins in each direction. Flying to Europe in Business Class to get some shuteye and hit the ground running, then returning on a daytime flight in economy is a great use of 92.5k SkyMiles.

Delta flies flat beds across the Atlantic denoted by a bed icon on delta.com, and Delta partner Alitalia’s 777-200 business class cabin looks very nice.

On the way back, you can usually find economy award space on Delta’s European partners like Air France or KLM. Delta doesn’t collect surcharges on those two or Alitalia.

An open jaw trip with business class in a flat bed on Alitalia to Rome and a return in economy on KLM from Amsterdam is only 92.5k SkyMiles + $59.

80k: Virgin Australia Business Class to Australia or New Zealand (One Way)

With 80,000 SkyMiles, you have access to the best business class availability to Australia.

Delta partners with non-SkyTeam partner Virgin Australia, which flies from Los Angeles to Sydney and Brisbane daily with fantastic availability.

Virgin Australia business class features fully flat beds that look pretty awesome to me!

If you don’t want to go to Sydney or Brisbane, Virgin Australia offers convenient connections throughout Australia and New Zealand. I recently booked a client to Port Macquarie, Australia (PQQ) with her Delta miles on Virgin Australia.

I can’t stress enough how excellent Virgin Australia award space–which is searchable and bookable on delta.com–is, even at peak times.

Delta does not collect fuel surcharges on Virgin Australia segments, so the taxes on a roundtrip to Australia are about $130.

Business class to Australia with Delta miles is overpriced in miles. American only charges 62.5k miles on partner Qantas, and United charges 70k on its own flights. But since SkyMiles are less valuable than those three types of miles, Virgin Australia business class remains the coolest thing to do with 80k Delta miles.

70k: China Southern Business Class to Asia (One Way)

140k SkyMiles books a roundtrip business class award anywhere in Asia, and the most award space on the newest plane is available with China Southern. For 70,000 miles, book a one way trip.

China Southern has a daily flight between Los Angeles and Guangzhou that has tons of award space–often 9 seats in business class–and conveniently connects to cities throughout Asia. Do any of these places look good?

China Southern Destinations from Guangzhou. Source: Wikipedia

The bad news is that Delta does collect fuel surcharges on China Southern segments. Taxes plus surcharges push an award from LAX to Guangzahou to 140k miles + $387 roundtrip, and it’s a little more if you continue past China Southern’s hub.

I hate surcharges on award tickets as much as anyone, but I still think this is a good use of Delta miles considering the length of the trip to Asia, the widely available award space, and the product.

China Southern flies to the US with an A380 with fully flat beds in business class. Check out this page for more info and interesting translations. Note that they call business class “First Class” and first class “Platinum Private Suite” on that page.

62.5k: Korean Business Class to Brazil (One Way)

With 62.5k SkyMiles, you can fly Korean Airlines’ intriguing route in Business Class between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo with connections on Delta-partner GOL throughout Brazil.

There’s great award space on the route, no fuel surcharges, and a great product. What’s not to love?

For more info on the route, see my recent post on the subject.

30k: Aerolineas Argentinas Economy to Patagonia (One Way)

Aerolineas Argentinas flies daily from Miami and New York to Buenos Aires with connections throughout the country.

I had heard from a few people that Aerolineas Argentinas was the worst airline in the world, but I very much enjoyed my 2013 domestic roundtrip on the carrier, which had TVs at every seat and a free snack box.

I don’t know how pleasant the flight from Miami would be–how pleasant is economy ever?–but the award space is wide open. And this trip isn’t about the flights, it’s about the destination.

A few years ago, I spent a few days in the Lake District of Patagonia, and I am itching to get back.

With 60k SkyMiles and no fuel surcharges, you can get anywhere in Argentina roundtrip, since Aerolineas Argentinas flies all over the country. This, and the award space on partner AeroMexico, makes Delta miles the best to visit Argentina.

American miles can get you to a lot of Argentina via LAN, but not as much as Delta miles. Star Alliance miles can’t get you anywhere but Buenos Aires.

12.5k: Canada or Alaska (One Way)

Delta considers the United States mainland, Alaska, and Canada to be one region. Economy awards on Delta or Alaska Airlines start at 12,500 Delta miles.

So head to Toronto…

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.27.41 PM

…or Anchorage.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.28.57 PM

Getting the Miles

Delta miles are easy to get from any of these 10 cards. There are multiple personal and business Delta credit cards issued by American Express. Plus you can transfer Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to Delta.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM


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Flying Blue–the loyalty program of Air France/KLM, Air Europa, Kenya Airways, and TAROM–has released its newest Promo Awards that let you fly in Business Class this summer from Washington DC to anywhere in Europe for as little as 31,250 miles each way plus fuel surcharges.

There are also discounted Promo awards from other North American cities to Europe in other cabins.

Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards and Starpoints.

  • What cities are these Promo Awards good for?
  • How do you book a Promo Award?
  • How do these awards compare to awards with lower fuel surcharges?
  • How can you eliminate the out of pocket cost of the award?

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Update 11/6/14: Here is an Anatomy of an Award post in which we book the theoretical award below for an actual client!

Two of the most frequent destination requests we receive at our Award Booking Service are Bora Bora and Australia/New Zealand. These are the aspirational trips that families want to take after diligently saving their frequent flyer miles. Luckily, both trips can be accomplished in a single award. Even better–Delta SkyMiles are the mileage currency to use. We recently had a couple with a sizable SkyMiles balance who wanted to visit both places. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to put the award together for them.

SkyMiles have received a terrible reputation for their redemption potential, and rightly so. The award search tool is a broken mess that doesn’t even display proper availability. Scott wrote about this in his post, A Major Problem with Delta.com and The Only Solution. The itineraries you are presented often have ludicrous domestic layovers. The mileage costs are astronomical.

Even with all of this deserved bad press, you can still book that dream Tahiti/New Zealand vacation using SkyMiles.

Delta charges 100k/150k miles per person for an economy/business roundtrip award ticket from North America to the South Pacific. You aren’t able to redeem SkyMiles for international first class awards.

Delta charges the same 100k/150k in economy/business roundtrip for travel from North America to Australia and New Zealand. All of these locations are lumped into the same Southwest Pacific region and priced the same by Delta. That’s not a sweet spot, but it does potentially allow us to include both on a single award and not be punished for it with higher mileage costs.

As Scott detailed in his post, Master Thread: Free Oneways on Delta Awards, Delta allows both a stopover and an open jaw on their award tickets. This dream trip won’t have a free oneway because we will need both the stopover and open jaw to construct the itinerary.

Luckily, the couple in question’s home airport was LAX. Both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui partner with Delta and fly nonstops from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti (airport code: PPT), the primary jumping off point to Bora Bora. To find business class availability, we searched Expert Flyer. For more information, check out Scott’s post, Free First Class Next Month: Using Expert Flyer to Redeem Delta Miles.

This couple wanted business class availability, so we avoided searching Air France’s flights. Why? Air France has excellent economy space on this route, but I’ve never seen more than one business award seat to PPT. As suspected, our search didn’t find two business class seats on the same flight.

With Air France out of the equation, it was time to search Air Tahiti Nui. Luckily, we found two business class seats on the same flight. I highlighted the space in red, so you can see what to look for in your searches.

The drawback to using SkyNiles on Air Tahiti Nui awards is the fuel charges Delta imposes. They aren’t as bad as flying to London on British Airways, but it’s still not pleasant! Expect to pay around $250/person for flying to Papeete oneway. Scott wrote about this extensively in his comprehensive post, Getting to Tahiti with Delta Miles.

Below is a map of our trip as presently constructed:

As mentioned above, Delta allows a stopover on their award tickets. In this Anatomy of an Award, PPT is your stopover city. Spend a week (or more) lounging in an overwater bungalow–it’s up to you. You will just need to connect to Air Tahiti Nui’s thrice-weekly service to Auckland, New Zealand. They fly this route every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.

Business class space isn’t available every PPT-AKL flight, but you can usually find two seats if you plan far enough in advance. As luck would have it, we found two seats on the day our client wanted.

The trip now extends to New Zealand as you can see below. The green leg is the one we just included.

That’s a great outbound itinerary, but what about the inbound? We already used our stopover in PPT, but we can still utilize our open jaw. The inbound itinerary doesn’t have to originate in Auckland, it can start anywhere in New Zealand or Australia provided there is award space to connect you back to the United States.

Delta doesn’t fly anywhere intra-Oceania, and their premium availability on their Sydney -> Los Angeles nonstop is ridiculously scarce. We will need to use Delta’s partner, Virgin Australia to get our clients home.

Scott’s already written up how great Virgin Australia’s award space is relative to its peers in his post Sydney Harbor for New Year Fireworks.

Virgin Australia flies nonstop to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Their premium cabin availability is fantastic, even during peak travel times like Christmas and New Years. You just have to search day by day for award seats because the Delta award calendar doesn’t display dates with Virgin Australia space.

Virgin Australia flies from these airports to LAX.

I plugged in Brisbane -> Los Angeles in late February and found the exact flight I wanted: Virgin Australia’s nonstop priced at the low mileage level.

The full trip is mapped below with the final leg in green.

Los Angeles to Tahiti //Stopover// Tahiti to Auckland (destination) //Open Jaw// Brisbane to Los Angeles

How do I connect from Auckland to Brisbane?

Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Qantas, Air China, and Emirates all fly the route. You can get on any of these airlines with miles or cash. Scott flew from New Zealand to Australia in Emirates first class. That looks like the most fun way to go.

I just checked Kayak and see multiple AKL-BNE flights on Virgin Australia. Why can’t I book any of those?

Three of the four nonstops you see are codeshares with Air New Zealand, which isn’t a SkyTeam partner. You can’t use SkyMiles to book those flights because they are actually operated by Air New Zealand.

What if that single Virgin Australia flight is sold out of award space?

I would use United miles to book a cheap oneway on Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand (for 17,500 miles in economy) or American Airlines miles to book with oneworld partner Qantas for a mere 10,000 miles in economy.

Don’t forget about British Airways Avios, either. You can use them to book Qantas flights as well, though they sometimes don’t display Qantas space properly.

If all else fails, you can purchase a cash ticket, as this route is relatively inexpensive when booked far enough in advance.

I want to use my open jaw and fly out of Sydney or Melbourne instead of Brisbane. Is that possible?

Yes! Finding award availability between AKL-SYD should be even easier using American or United miles. Virgin Australia only operates codeshares with Air New Zealand on this route, unfortunately.

Note that I’ve found it much easier to find award space on the Virgin Australia nonstops between Sydney/Brisbane -> Los Angeles than from Melbourne -> Los Angeles.

How much are the total taxes and fees on an award like this?

The award we priced for our client had total fees of approximately $364 per person, the majority of which came from the fuel surcharges on the LAX-PPT and PPT-AKL legs.

How do I book this award?

Though you can search for Virgin Australia space online, you need to call Delta directly to book this award. Calling is the only way to book Air Tahiti Nui space.

I’ve heard horror stories about Delta agents. How do I ensure my call to book goes smoothly?

You need to write down the flight numbers, dates, and times of all the flights you want and feed them to the agent. If they are still confused (some don’t even know that Air Tahiti Nui is a Delta partner), tell them to look for business class award space in the “I” fare bucket. That usually does the trick.

If you are still experiencing trouble, politely hang up and call back to get a more competent agent.

This is a great itinerary! Can my family of four travel in business class on a similar itinerary?

Highly unlikely. I’ve never seen more than two business class award seats on the LAX-PPT or PPT-AKL legs on Air Tahiti Nui. Air France is even stingier with business class seats on their own LAX-PPT flights. This award is best flown by couples.

What if I don’t live in Los Angeles? Can I still book this award?

Delta is the worst of the legacy carriers in releasing low level domestic award space: economy or business. If you live elsewhere in the country (e.g. St. Louis), you may not be able to find low-miles-price award space to get to Los Angeles. In that case, you would have to purchase a separate ticket on another carrier to connect to Los Angeles.

Just make sure to leave yourself PLENTY of time before the LAX-PPT flight (at least four hours, more if you can swing it), as Delta is under no obligation to accommodate you if you miss the beginning of your award itinerary because your connecting flight was delayed or cancelled.


Delta SkyMiles are tough to redeem, but you can spend 150k per person and book an award ticket that includes stops in Papeete, Tahiti; Auckland, New Zealand; and Australia. These two locations are two of the toughest spots to find premium award space, and you can include both on the same itinerary with SkyMiles, an incredible deal.

This award is primarily for couples. I’ve never seen more than two business class seats on the two Air Tahiti Nui legs above.

If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you may need to buy a ticket to connect there. Delta is tightfisted with their low-level domestic award space, and you don’t want to miss out booking a dream vacation because you couldn’t link your home city to Los Angeles to start.


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I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!


American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space
Return: Some Saver Space


LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space
…but it did find the same space on American Airlines


Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options


We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.


I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.


Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.

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I use three steps to get to my European destination with Delta SkyMiles. For each direction:

  1. Find transatlantic space.
  2. Find domestic space within the US on Delta or Alaska from my home airport to the international gateway.
  3. Find intra-European space to my destination.

Those steps are roughly in order of difficulty–though many times finding domestic space on Delta is impossible at the low-miles price. In those cases, I have to buy a positioning flight or look on different dates.

A few months ago I decided to make a list of SkyTeam flights to Europe, so that I could more systematically search for awards to Europe for my clients with SkyMiles (or AMEX Membership Rewards or Flying Blue points.) Having a list to refer to made my Award Booking Service run much more smoothly.

This is not every SkyTeam flight to Europe, but it is every Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Aeroflot, and Air Europa flight between the US/Canada and Europe. Plus every Delta flight to London and Paris and from JFK to Europe. (Correct me where I’m wrong please.)

Air France




MXP (Milan) to JFK, MIA




SVO (Moscow) to LAX, MIA, JFK, IAD

Air Europa

MAD (Madrid) to JFK


LHR (London) to ATL, BOS, DTW, MSP, JFK

CDG (Paris) to ATL, CVG, DTW, MSP, JFK, SLC, SEA and seasonally to BOS, ORD, PHL, PIT

JFK (New York) to AMS, BCN, BRU, DUB, FRA, LHR, MAD, MXP, SVO, CDG, VCE and seasonally to ATH, CPH, IST, AGP, PSA, KEF, PRG, SNN, VLC, NCE, ARN

Finding Transatlantic Space

I search Alitalia, KLM, Air France, Air Europa, and Aeroflot space on Expert Flyer. See Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

I search Delta space as a oneway award, just the segment I want. For instance, if I want to fly from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Paris, I just search SLC-CDG oneway on delta.com.

Why they’re called SkyPesos. Only medium availability in April in economy class.

Unfortunately the calendar doesn’t match up with direct availability. For instance, April 5 has low-level business availability according to the calendar. That must be for an itinerary with a stop because SLC-CDG direct is at the high price of 325k miles.

Not a good deal

Low-level Delta space will display as 60k/100k oneway in economy/business because Delta charges the roundtrip price for oneways. If you see that price, note the flight number and time, so you can build your award around it.

All partner space will cost the low-level price.

Finding Domestic Space

I also search delta.com oneway at a time for this. There aren’t really any tricks, and Delta’s award space is pitiful.

The only thing to keep in mind is to check for both economy and first class domestic space on your business class awards. You can add domestic economy class to international business class without increasing the award’s price.

Finding intra-Europe Space

I use expertflyer.com to search for award space intra-Europe. It’s usually readily available.

I have two tips. The first is not to hold out for business class. Intra-Europe business class is economy class with a meal and no one in the middle seat. It’s worth about $15 more than economy class to me, so I’m happy to book an economy class seat to get a better flight time.

The second is not to check the box for a classic Europe award on Expert Flyer for KLM and Air France searches. Delta has access to Classic Award (X), not Classic Europe Award (T) for these airlines.

Air France’s fare classes. Delta miles can be used only for O and X.

Putting It Together

Once you’ve found your transatlantic, intra-Europe, and domestic award space, you can put it all together. If you’re lucky and delta.com can find it and price it correctly, you are set.

If delta.com can’t find it or price it correctly, call 800-323-2323 to book. But don’t pay the phone fee. See How to Avoid the Phone Fee on Award Bookings to save $25 per ticket.


Booking awards to Europe with Delta miles can be time consuming, but there is a systematic approach that yields results. First, find the transatlantic space. I’ve included a list of great flights to search on all SkyTeam partners.

Second, find domestic space. Third, find intra-European space. Piece it all together on delta.com or by phone.

Or save yourself the trouble, and contact my Award Booking Service.

For more great posts like this, sign up for the MileValue RSS feed, like the MileValue facebook page, or follow me on Twitter @milevalue. Get your friends involved too, so you can have more companions for your Free First Class Next Month.

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See last week’s post on getting to French Polynesia with American miles.

This post will be about getting to French Polynesia–Tahiti, Bora Bora, and more–with Delta SkyMiles. This is an award I get asked to book frequently through my Award Booking Service, and I wanted to share some free tips.

French Polynesia is a French-speaking “overseas country” controlled by France. It is south of Hawaii and east of Australia. The main tourist spots are Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Mo’orea. People go to French Polynesia for the absolutely stunning beach-and-island landscape. File:Bora-Bora.png

French Polynesia has only one international airport, F’a’a’a Airport serving Pape’ete, Tahiti, airport code PPT. Other islands have airports with flights within the islands, but to get to French Polynesia, you must fly to Tahiti. Here’s a complete list of flights to and from PPT, according to wikipedia:

I’ve highlighted the best options for most of my readers, and I’ll go through the easiest ways to get to Tahiti with the types of miles you are likely to have.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles are the second best way to get to Tahiti behind American Arilines miles. Delta considers Tahiti to be a part of the Southwest Pacific, so it charges 100k/150k miles roundtrip for economy/business. SkyMiles can never be redeemed for three-cabin first class.

I’ve boxed the each way cost of a SkyMiles ticket in economy and business, assuming you book a roundtrip. Partner awards always price at the low-level (boxed) prices, so you can ignore the other prices.

Air Tahiti Nui

One way to get to Tahiti with SkyMiles is on non-SkyTeam partner Air Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia’s international carrier.

The humungous drawback with Delta SkyMiles redemptions for Air Tahiti Nui flights is the nasty fuel surcharge! Los Angeles to Pape’ete roundtrip costs in business class costs 150k SkyMiles and $522. On American, for the exact same flights, it costs almost $400 less out of pocket, meaning Delta is collecting a $400 roundtrip fuel surcharge.

But if you are willing to pay the surcharge, you can search for Air Tahiti Nui space for free by calling Delta at 800-323-2323. I do my research before calling on Expert Flyer. See Free First Class Next Month: Using expertflyer.com.

On Expert Flyer, search for LAX-PPT and PPT-LAX, using delta.com to search for your domestic segments. The fare classes to check are I and W for business and economy. If you check A, you can see first class space. But you can’t book first class space with Delta miles, so why torture yourself?

Your results will be returned in the normal way that Expert Flyer returns them.

This result means that TN 1 has one award seat in coach and none in business. TN 7, departing half an hour later, has one business class seat.

The pattern I see is that when the award calendar opens up 330 days out, most flights have 1/2/4 seats or 1/1/6 seats in first/business/economy on Expert Flyer. Those are picked over, and not replaced. I have never seen more two business class seats, or seven economy class seats on a flight.

When booking 11 months in advance, you can pretty much have any flight you want. The more time you wait, the more space deteriorates. By a few months out, there will be some seats left on some flights, but most business class will have been taken, never to reappear again.

So far I’ve been talking about LAX-PPT, but I see the exact same patterns of availability PPT-LAX.

Air Tahiti Nui operates afternoon flights and redeyes from LAX to Tahiti. Returns to the US are all redeyes. All flights are operated by Airbus A340s configured with standard economy seats, recliner business seats, and angled lie flat seats in first class.

I haven’t flown the product, but frankly it doesn’t impress me. I’m not sure whether I would pay the 50k mile premium for business class over economy roundtrip. Air Tahiti Nui’s business class is an underwhelming recliner, but it does have 15″ more legroom than domestic first class and 22″ more than Air Tahiti Nui economy class. And 50k Delta miles isn’t 50k American miles, it is much less valuable!

Air France

Delta’s partner Air France also flies from Los Angeles to Pape’ete, Tahiti. Air France award space does display on delta.com, but searching on delta.com is a pain because you can’t pull up the calendar view.

Because of that, I search on Expert Flyer. Fill out the form like I have, changing the dates to your preferred dates. O and X are the correct fare codes for business and economy class.

I tend to see good economy availability and bad business availability. When I do find flights with availability, the flight tends to have nine economy seats or one business seat. And I don’t know many people headed to Tahiti alone.





The 777-200 and A340-300 that Air France uses to operate the flights to Tahiti both feature standard economy seats and angled lie flat business class seats.


Once you find the award space on Expert Flyer, head to delta.com to input your flights. The award space you found should be the only search result. A roundtrip economy ticket from Los Angeles to Tahiti costs 100k SkyMiles and $52.90 in government taxes.

For economy class tickets with SkyMiles, Air France makes way more sense than Air Tahiti Nui since the lack of surcharges saves more than $400 per person.

Getting to Los Angeles

To get to Tahiti with Delta miles you have to route through Los Angeles. To keep your award at 100k/150k in economy/business, you need to find low level award space domestically. This can be a major challenge with Delta miles even though you can use Delta metal and Alaska domestic award space–both searchable on delta.com. Here are a list of direct AA and Alaska flights to/from LAX, though you don’t need to route to LAX on a direct flight:

One tip is that you can use domestic economy space on business class awards. There may be economy space available on your domestic flight, but not business space. In that case, if you can handle a slightly smaller seat for a few hours, you can save a boat load of miles or dollars.

If you can’t find any domestic award space, you may have to book a separate award or cash ticket to Los Angeles. This is not only costly, but annoying because you have to worry about a misconnect spanning two separate tickets.

It is this major drawback–the difficulty in getting to Los Angeles–combined with Delta’s surcharges on Air Tahiti Nui awards that leads me to say that American Airlines miles are the best way to get to French Polynesia.

Free Stopovers and Free Oneways

Standard Delta award rules apply to awards to Tahiti. On Delta awards, you can get one stopover and one open jaw. If you save both of those, and routing permits, you can use the two in combination to get a free oneway. See Free Oneways on Delta Awards.

Or you can use the stopover to stop for free en route, possibly making it easier to find domestic award space.

Getting to Bora Bora, Moorea, and other islands

Air Tahiti–not Air Tahiti Nui, the AA partner–runs regular flights to other islands that you can purchase with cash. Or you can take a ferry to some islands.


Delta SkyMiles can be used to get to Tahiti, and from there, you can connect throughout French Polynesia. Roundtrip awards costs 100k miles in economy class and 150k miles in business class on either Air France or Air Tahiti Nui.

Air France has good availability in economy class, and there will be no surcharges, meaning a low out-of-pocket cost. Air Tahiti Nui has good business class space, but bad business class seats, and a $400 surcharge per person.

Both fly from Los Angeles to Pape’ete, Tahiti. Getting to Los Angeles on the same award with Delta miles can be quite difficult.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from March 2013 can be found here.

This is the twenty-seventh post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Expertflyer.com is a paid service–$100 per year, $10 per month, free for a five day trial–that I use for four distinct purposes.

Checking for Published Fares

The first is to check whether an airline has a published fare between an origin and destination city pair. I do this when researching the validity of an American Airlines award because AA requires the region-connecting carrier to have a published fare from origin to destination.

To see whether an airline has a published fare for an origin/destination city pair, once signed into expertflyer, click Fare Information.

Fill out the form with your origin and destination city pair, pick a random date next month, and type in the airline you are checking.

Remember that the origin and destination include any free oneways, so if you want to add a free oneway LAX-JFK onto a JFK-AUH award, your origin is LAX and destination is AUH.

After clicking search, hone in on the Airline column on the results page. You need to find at least one fare listed as being published by the two letter code of the airline you searched. (List of two letter codes.)

I only specified one airline to search for published fares–Etihad (EY)–so it will only bring up EY and YY results. YY is a generic result. If YY is the only airline listed, the airline you searched does not have a published fare.

This search shows that Etihad does have a published fare from LAX to Abu Dhabi. This is despite the fact that Etihad does not fly to LAX. Airlines publish many fares to cities that they do not serve.

Finding the MPM

My second use for expertflyer is finding the Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) on a route. Each airlines has different award routing rules, but most use some multiple of the MPM as one constraint on routing. (For instance, on an AA award, your award’s routing must be no more than 1.25 * MPM.)

MPM is found on expertflyer the same way as published fare, except on the screen that lists published fares you have to make one more click.

Find the most expensive fare published by the airline whose MPM you want, and click the middle icon on the right side.

That will bring up a jumble of rules. Inside that jumble, look for MPM.

AA’s MPM for LAX-AUH is 10,834

Award Searches

Expertflyer provides at least some award search capability on all these airlines. (They just removed United from what they can search, which is quite annoying. Hopefully United is added again soon.)

I find expertflyer incredibly useful for Delta award searches because it shows Delta partners China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, Virgin Australia, KLM, Alitalia, Air France, and Air Europa.

It’s also useful for American awards on non-oneworld partners El Al and Air Tahiti Nui.

To perform an award search, click Awards & Upgrades on the left side after signing in.

Type in the departure and arrival city. You can also type in the connecting airport city if you want to limit the possible routings the search will produce. I am generally searching segment-by-segment for direct flights and leave that blank.

Select an airline and the classes for which you want to see award space. Pay close attention to the names. The correct fare class will usually be named something simple like Award or Classic Award. A special note on Air France is that Delta does not have access to Classic Europe Award, only Classic Award.

You can select just one date if you are searching oneway or input two dates for a roundtrip. Next to each date you can specify a search of up to +/- 3 days, which is a full week search.

I usually select Direct/Non-Stop only, although sometimes they still show me connecting flights. The next screen will show results for your search, broken down by cabin. For some airlines, expertflyer will display 0 if there is no space. For others, it won’t show the flight at all if there is no space.

This search shows great ATL-CDG economy space on Air France in early March, but not any business class space.

Flight Alerts

If an airline has no space released on your dream flight, you may want to track that flight to see if any space is opened up. Rather than daily searches, you can set one Flight Alert to email you when your desired award space opens.

On the left side after signing in, click Create Flight Alert.

Fill in the form with the information you learned from your unsuccessful flight search. If I wanted to see whether business class space opened on the flight from last section’s screen shot of Air France availability, I would fill out the form like this:

There is a link to the fare codes, if you don’t know how to fill in the box labeled Class Code.

The annoying thing with the Flight Alerts tool is that you have to create a new one for each flight number, day, and class.

That means if you wanted to be alerted if any space on either of two daily United flights from San Francisco to Frankfurt in either business or first class opened up for a four day period, you would have to fill out the form 16 times (2 * 2 * 4). I know because I’ve done it.

A premium member can have 30 active alerts at any time. If one of the alerts’ targets opens up, you’ll get an email and hopefully you can claim the seats before anyone else.

Should You Pay for Expertflyer

Expertflyer charges $10 per month for its premium package, $5 per month for its basic package, or $100 per year for its premium package. I have the annual premium package. The basic package only allows 250 award searches per month, which is far fewer than I do for my Award Booking Service.

This page compares Basic and Premium. If you click on Premium, you will have the opportunity to start membership with a five-day free trial.That means you can try out the service for free and see if it’s worth the money to you. Or you can use the service strategically for one award-planning session then cancel. Just remember to cancel within five days to avoid your credit card being charged.

Much of the information on expertflyer is available from other free sources. But many of those free sources are harder and more time-consuming to use. Like many things, expertflyer is a trade-off: spending money to save time.

For me the trade-off is well worth it. For you, it may or may not be. Reread this article, sign up for a free trial, and decide for yourself whether $10 per month is a good deal for all these features.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

This is the twenty-sixth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Yesterday, I talked about using delta.com for award searches. Delta is the US representative of SkyTeam–alliance affiliation list–but Delta’s website only shows availability for a few SkyTeam members. If you’re looking to unload your SkyMiles, you’ll often need a better tool than delta.com.

There are two reasons why an award booker needs to know about AirFrance.us. The first is that AirFrance.us shows more SkyTeam partners’ availability than delta.com.

AirFrance.us has an award search engine which displays at least Delta, Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Aeroflot, China Southern, and China Airlines. I say at least because I can’t find a complete list of the airlines it shows, but I have seen these in search results.

(Let us know if there is a complete list or other airlines you’ve seen on AirFrance.us in the comments. I haven’t seen China Eastern or Korean.)

Delta.com only shows Delta, Alaska, Air France, and KLM, so AirFrance.us shows far more SkyTeam airlines than delta.com.

The second reason is that booking with Flying Blue points–Air France’s currency–may be your best option on many awards. The reason is that Air France allows oneway redemptions for half the roundtrip price, something Delta doesn’t allow.

Plus Flying Blue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards that often runs transfer bonuses, like the current (as of 9/11/12) 35% bonus.

1,000 MR to 1,350 Flying Blue miles. Plus no excise tax of $6 per 10,000 on transfers like AMEX collects on transfers to Delta.

That means a oneway flight on Delta from LAX to JFK would cost 25,000 SkyMiles (or MR) and $2.50. The same flight would cost 10k MR transferred to Flying Blue for the 12,500 mile redemption with 1,000 miles left over.

Flying Blue does charge big surcharges on Air France and KLM flights, something Delta doesn’t do when the award originates in the US, so Flying Blue isn’t always the best redemption option. But when it is, and even when it’s not, its award-search engine may be your best option.

To search on AirFrance.us, you need a Flying Blue account. Sign up for one for free, or sign into yours on the top right of the home page.

Once signed in, click Award Ticket Reservation.

The search screen is not as well designed as most. For instance, you have to select an age from the dropdown menu for each passenger instead of just typing in how many passengers are flying.

To see a calendar view of availability, check the box that says “My dates are flexible.” The first search example I’ll show is oneway LAX-JFK. Remember that this would cost 25k SkyMiles because Delta always charges the roundtrip price.

That famous Delta (un-)availability

If you wanted to book a oneway Delta flight with Air France miles to take advantage of its oneway pricing, you would click “next, select flight.”

There is only one choice this day, so you would continue to the payment screen.

It is only 25k Flying Blue miles and $5 for two passengers to take a oneway from LAX to New York City. That’s only 19k Membership Rewards at current (9/11/12) transfer rates.

AirFrance.us isn’t just a place to search when using Flying Blue miles though. It’s a good, free place to search for partners Delta doesn’t show like Alitalia and China Southern.

It’s also a good place to search for Air France and KLM flights just because anything beats using the broken delta.com.

For instance I just searched for a oneway economy class ticket on delta.com and AirFrance.us from Montreal to Budapest on February 18. They both returned the same result:

Delta result
AirFrance.us results

But Air France’s site shows other itineraries–only one came up on Delta.com–and all cabins on one screen. Plus AirFrance.us showed me the calendar of February, so I could see what days the trip was available.

AirFrance.us says YUL-BUD has great availability in February

When I tried to check the my-dates-are-flexible box and view-award-calendar link on delta.com, the equivalent calendar did not appear, so I would have had to search each day individually on delta.com to see my options.

The one drawback of using AirFrance.us for this search if I planned on using Delta miles is that AirFrance.us is showing surcharges I would not have to pay with Delta SkyMiles. At least Delta gets one thing right, correctly listing the taxes on this leg as $75.

Tips and Caveats

There are a few things to know before charging off to AirFrance.us to practice.

First, ignore Premium Economy and three-cabin, international First Class if you’re using Delta SkyMiles because SkyMiles can’t be redeemed for those cabins.

Second, if an award is listed as a classic award, Delta will have access to the space also. If it’s listed as a flex award, you can’t get it with SkyMiles.

Third, AirFrance.us doesn’t have the most complete list of SkyTeam availability. That title would belong to expertflyer.com, a paid service. You can get free expertflyer membership for five days, so you can use it to research one award no problem. I’ll have a post on using expertflyer tomorrow.

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