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Delta awards that originate in Europe have big fuel surcharges, but they can be dumped fairly easily.

The fuel surcharges weren’t much of an issue for most Americans in the past when Delta required roundtrip awards because not many of us book roundtrips originating in Europe. But now that Delta allows one way awards, the fuel surcharges for awards originating in Europe are very annoying. They effectively make it cost-prohibitive to book a one way award from Europe to the United States.

The Problem

For instance this Madrid to New York one way has 199 euros ($230) worth of taxes, fees, and charges.

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That roughly lines up with the taxes and fuel surcharges (194 euros) of a cash ticket.

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But if you book this one way as part of a roundtrip to Madrid, you pay only $91 total in taxes for the entire roundtrip.

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The Solution

The way to fuel dump the one way ticket out of Europe is to add a preceding one way ticket that originates somewhere other than Europe, like the United States.

Go to the Delta Multi-city search page and search for a flight that doesn’t originate in Europe followed by your one way ticket from Europe to the United Staes.

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In the above example, I’ve chose Atlanta to New York preceding Madrid to New York. Yes, back-to-back flights on the award go to New York. I chose this example to show that the preceding flight can really be any flight that doesn’t originate in Europe.

This award booked at 87,500 miles + $68–no fuel surcharges–in First Class and Business Class. That’s 25,000 miles for Domestic First Class and 62,500 miles for Business Class from Europe to the United States.

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It priced as 42,500 miles in economy–12,500 miles for domestic economy and 30,000 miles for Europe to the United States. Again without fuel surcharges.

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Unfortunately online I couldn’t get the computer to price domestic economy plus Business Class returning from Europe. When I selected flights like that, it overrode my selection and put the first flight in First Class.

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The first flight doesn’t need to be a domestic flight in the United States. Here is an example where the first flight is Seoul to Tokyo, which by the way, is dirt cheap at 7,500 miles one way.

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The award prices at 37,500 miles + $88 in taxes–again, no fuel surcharges.

The Problems with the Solution

The big one: If you don’t fly the first flight, your entire award will be cancelled. Pick a first flight you actually need.

Smaller one: Domestic First Class on most routes is not worth double the price of economy, but I couldn’t price out domestic economy for the first flight plus international Business Class home from Europe. I suspect you could price this out correctly by phone. I further suspect the agent’s computer would spit out the taxes without fuel surcharges for the entire award, and the agent wouldn’t even notice that you just dumped over $200 in bogus fuel surcharges.

Hat Tip for this trick to reader John who came up with it while playing around with a Delta award he was booking.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Booking First Class or Business to Australia can be extremely challenging.

  • United doesn’t release Business Class Saver space on its 787-9 from Los Angeles to Melbourne and doesn’t have First Class on the flight.
  • United does release some First and Business Class on its 777s from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Sydney. It has released none for November or December 2015.
  • Air Canada (bookable with United miles) releases some Business Class on its 777 from Vancouver to Sydney. It has released one day in December 2015. There is no First Class on the flight.
  • Delta releases almost no Level 1 award space on its flight from Los Angeles to Sydney in Business Class. Delta doesn’t operate international First Class.
  • Qantas releases some space 355 days out to its own mileage program and British Airways, which charges way too many miles plus fuel surcharges for the space. By the time the award space becomes available to American Airlines miles–330 days out–a lot of it is gone. What’s left is cheap though. See today’s full post on Qantas award space.

That leaves Virgin Australia.

There is award space nearly every day between the United States and Australia in Virgin Australia Business Class.

Delta charges 80,000 miles one way to book Virgin Australia Business Class between the United States and Australia, and the award space is searchable and bookable on delta.com.

You can book Delta awards up to 330 days in advance, so you can currently book through December 8, 2015. For the last month until December 8, beautiful late-spring-turning-into-summer days in Australia, there is award space almost every day in Business Class on Virgin Australia flights.

The Space

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Virgin Australia flies to Sydney and Brisbane from Los Angeles, with connections throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Some of the award space pictured is on the direct Los Angeles to Sydney flight, some connects in Brisbane, and some is Korean Airlines award space that connects in Seoul.

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On the return, the taxes vary based on the routing, so just by looking at the taxes displayed on the five-week calendar on delta.com, you can know whether direct award space is available or not.

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The four days highlighted above are the only four days without direct Virgin Australia award space. Those days only have Korean award space.

Australia in a premium cabin is a weird award. It is nearly impossible with every airline and type of miles, but it’s the opposite with Delta miles on Virgin Australia: there’s award space nearly every day, even at peak times. I’ll keep an eye on space for the next few months as the heart of summer 2016 becomes bookable to see if award space is just as plentiful for January and February 2016. I bet it will be.

 

Product

Virgin Australia Business Class is not the nicest in the world, but you’ll hardly be slumming it.

You get a fully flat bed that is 6’2″ long with a duvet and pillow. You’ll have a personal entertainment screen and access to an onboard bar.

Not all seats have direct aisle access, and reports of the food and service are less glowing than Asian airlines, but this a solid Business Class product where you will be able to sleep and entertain yourself on the 14+ hour flights.

Getting the Miles

There are several co-branded Delta credit cards, plus Membership Rewards and Starpoints transfer to Delta miles.

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January 1, as promised, Delta began to allow one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips. Delta also went from three tiers of award prices–Saver, Standard, Peak–to five–Levels 1 through 5. Delta had promised greater availability at Levels 1 and 2.

This has been Delta’s plan for many months now, but I was away from the internet from December 30 to January 2 hiking in Patagonia, and I didn’t want to queue up a post saying one way bookings were live because I don’t fully trust Delta. This time it looks like Delta followed through.

  • One way bookings are live.
  • I do see Level 2 award availability where I once saw Standard. (Level 2 is cheaper than Standard, which is equal to Level 3.)

I have argued that even though we were losing the opportunity to book stopovers on Delta awards at the same time, the trade–one way bookings for stopovers–is a net positive for two reasons:

  1. Delta award availability isn’t as good as its rivals’, so being able to snag a one way award at Level 1 (previously “Saver”) prices is much easier than finding an entire roundtrip at those prices.
  2. We now get two open jaws on a roundtrip award–this is always true when you can book one way awards–and we previously only got one.

The Proof

Yesterday I headed to delta.com and ran a search that I have been monitoring for weeks, from Buenos Aires to Greensboro in March. (While American Airlines offers the route for only 20,000 miles one way in economy to Delta’s 30,000, Delta has far more convenient one-stop itineraries available.)

The search can be done right from the delta.com homepage without signing in. Make sure to select “Miles.” Select “Flexible Days” if you are flexible, which I hope you are if you are using miles.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.18.37 PM

 

A seven day calendar comes up, which you can toggle to 5 Weeks by clicking the button above the calendar.

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Taking a look at Delta’s current award chart, you can see that Level 2 and Level 4, the new levels, are 37,500 and 55,000 miles one way from the United States to Southern South America or vice versa.Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.20.13 PM

When I toggled my search to five weeks, I saw that a ton of Level 2 award space is available, some of which I’ve highlighted. I don’t see any Level 4 award space.Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.20.44 PM

In the 35 day window searched between Buenos Aires and Greensboro in economy, I see:

  • 12 days of Level 1
  • 14 days of Level 2
  • 6 days of Level 3
  • 3 days of Level 5

The last time I checked this award space on December 29, there was less Saver space than the current number of Level 1 days. Add that to the fact that about 40% of the dates are now Level 2, which is cheaper than Standard award space, which used to dominate this picture, and Delta has complied with its promise–at least on this route–to release more Level 1 and 2 award space.

Kudos Delta!

This is true for economy and business class award space on all the routes I’ve checked. Over time we’ll see if this holds, and Level 1 award space is more common than we were used to with Level 2 award space filling in where Standard award space used to reign. If that is the case, Delta miles could become as valuable as United miles.

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This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free one ways on United and US Airways awards.

A free one way is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free one ways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free one ways on its awards in April 2014 by nixing all free stopovers because free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport. Delta killed its free one ways on January 1, 2015 with the elimination of free stopovers on its awards (though in return, we do now get to book one way Delta awards.)

What’s the current state of free one ways with major frequent flyer programs?

If you get confused during this post, please read my Introduction to Free One Ways.

Alaska Airlines

Free one ways are possible on one way Alaska Airlines awards. That means you can book two free one ways per roundtrip awards.

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (fuel surcharges)
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska (flights within Alaska)
  • PenAir (flights within Alaska)

Unfortunately you must book only one partner each one way award (you may add Alaska Airlines flights as well.) And unfortunately most Alaska Airlines awards need to either start or end in the United States.

Abide by those rules, though, and enjoy some amazing free one way opportunities.

For full details, see Free One Ways on Alaska Airlines Awards.

American Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with American Airlines miles. Free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport, and American has eliminated the chance to take any free stopovers on awards.

British Airways

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with Avios. Every flight on an Avios award has a mileage cost (determined exclusively by its distance and the cabin you book.) If every flight has a cost, there’s no way to get one for free as a free one way.

Delta Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on Delta awards since stopovers were eliminated on January 1, 2015.

United Airlines

Free one ways are possible on both international United awards and awards between the mainland and Hawaii. Free one ways are not possible on awards wholly within the mainland United States and Canada.

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Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

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You can either have a free one way BEFORE your main roundtrip award TO your home airport or AFTER your main roundtrip award FROM your home airport.

United’s routing rules are pretty lenient for free one ways. You can do some amazing backtracking. You can also do “cheap one ways” where you fly the extra leg to a distant land and pay far fewer miles than you “should.”

For full details, see Master Thread: Free One Ways on United Awards.

US Airways

Free one ways are possible only on international US Airways awards.

US Airways only allows one stopover OR one open jaw on awards, and you ordinarily need both on a free oneway. Because of this limitation, free one ways are only possible on US Airways awards:

  • before your main roundtrip award
  • to your home airport
  • with a corresponding dummy leg(s) to where the free oneway began
  • after the main award
  • within 24 hours of landing at your home airport

That might sound a little more complicated than it is. Check out Master Thread: Free Oneways on US Airways Awards for an easy explanation.

While American and Delta killed its free one ways recently, and free one ways have never been possible with Avios, free one ways are still possible on awards booked with United, Alaska and US Airways miles.

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December 31, 2014 is the last day to book a free stopover on a roundtrip Delta award. That means it is the last day to book a free one way on a Delta award.

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January 1, 2015, stopovers will be eliminated on Delta awards. Free one ways require a stopover at your home airport, which means that free one ways will be eliminated. Here are the awards I am most looking forward to booking one way.

Overall I think this trade off is good because Delta miles have access to the worst award availability, making one way bookings even more valuable than they would be if space were more plentiful.

Today and tomorrow, book your roundtrip Delta awards with a stopover for travel through November 2015. Here are the rules for free one ways on Delta awards.

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The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card is offering 50,000 SkyMiles and a $50 statement credit after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 11.55.21 AMBusiness owners can get the same offer on the business version of the card.

Delta Miles

I value Delta miles at around 1.2 cents each. Delta partners release just as much award space as any airlines though Delta itself lags behind.

Delta miles are better than any other miles for Australia in business class and the west coast to Europe in economy or business. Delta miles are also good to Central America, South America, Africa, and Europe from anywhere else in the United States.

At the moment, you have to book roundtrip awards with Delta miles, but starting January 1, 2015, you can book one way awards with Delta miles.

Here are my top choices to burn 160k, 140k, 125k, 92.5k, 60k, and 25k SkyMiles and the products I most want to book when one way awards are possible in less than two weeks.

The Other Big Reason to Get This Card

To earn Delta status, you need to fly a certain number of miles or segments on Delta flights AND pay a certain amount for those tickets. Next year, those dollar requirements are rising.

 

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But as the bottom of the chart notes, spending $25,000 on a Delta co-branded card in a calendar year waives the Medallion Qualifying Dollars requirement, leaving just the miles or segments flown requirement.

(As you can see on my chart comparing airline credit cards, the United card has a similar feature but it only waives the requirement up to the second-best status, while the Delta card spending waives the requirement all the way to Diamond.)

For people who fly a lot of cheap flights, the ability to spend a little over $2,000 per month on their Delta card to waive Delta’s expensive MQD requirement is welcome.

Remember

American Express recently changed its rules, so that you can only get the bonus on personal cards once in your lifetime, so if you’ve ever gotten the sign up bonus on the Gold SkyMiles card like I have, this offer is of no use.

Bottom Line

This is a solid offer, but not as valuable as 50,000 American Airlines miles or US Airways miles because of the difficulty of finding Delta award space and its inflated award chart. The listed expiration date of this offer is December 21, 2014.

Hat Tip Doctor of Credit

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I’ve covered what I think are the underpriced awards on the United (6) and American Airlines (5) award charts. But I also keep a keen eye on foreign, obscure programs for gems on their award charts.

With the proliferation of transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints, Americans have access to cheap awards through tons of foreign programs.

Here are five underpriced awards on other award charts and how to get the miles needed to book the awards.

1. Singapore Awards Between Hawaii and the Americas

Singapore Airlines puts Hawaii and Central America–you know, those two places that are thousands of miles apart–into one region. This leads to awards “within” the region to price out at a ridiculously cheap 17,500 miles each way and 30,000 miles in Business Class.

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Roundtrip Award Prices

Similarly, Hawaii to South America is only 25,000 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in Business Class.

This is huge even if you don’t live in Hawaii because roundtrip Singapore Airlines awards allow for one free stopover and up to three more stopovers for $100 each.

That means you can book a roundtrip from Hawaii to South America with a stopover at your home airport in both directions for 50,000 miles + $100 + taxes. That would give you a roundtrip to South America plus two one ways to and from Hawaii on three separate trips.

Full details:

Singapore miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

2. Virgin Atlantic Awards to Southern South America

Virgin Atlantic has a number of partners including Delta. On Delta, to anywhere in South America costs only 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles roundtrip or 90,000 roundtrip in Business Class.

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Compare that to the 60k or 125k Delta miles the same flights to Southern South America would cost.

Everyone disparages Delta award availability, but I find decent economy award space to South America on the carrier.

Virgin Atlantic miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

3. Promo Awards to Europe with Flying Blue Miles

Every month, Air France Flying Blue offers awards to Europe for 25% and 50% off from select cities. Here are the current offers.
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There are fuel surcharges, but I think the deal is still too good to pass up in economy.

I also really like Promo Awards from Brazil to Europe because flights leaving Brazil have no fuel surcharges by law. These enable a THINK BIG trip like your home airport to Brazil to France to your home airport.

Full details on Promo Awards: Fly to Europe or Israel for 12,500 Miles

Flying Blue miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

4. Alaska Awards to South Africa on Cathay Pacific

Alaska Airlines charges a very reasonable 70,000 miles one way between the United States and Asia on Cathay Pacific First Class.

 

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It charges the same amount to Africa from the United States in Cathay Pacific First Class.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 1.01.45 PM

Hong Kong to Johannesburg is now served by a plane without First Class, but you can still get 16 hours in First Class from the USA to Hong Kong plus 13 hours in Business Class more to Johannesburg for only 70,000 Alaska miles. If you love flying, this is the deal for you.

Alaska miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. You can also get Alaska Airlines miles from their churnable personal and business credit cards.

5. Virgin Atlantic Awards to Europe in Economy and Premium Economy

Virgin Atlantic economy class awards to Europe require far fewer miles than competitors’ charge. From Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago, you only need 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one way flight to the United Kingdom.

And taxes and fees on the one way from the United States to Europe are only $131!

Combine a one way from the eastern United States to Europe for 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles plus $131 and return from a low tax country to the United States on a one way award with United or American miles for a very cheap European vacation.

I wrote more about searching Virgin Atlantic award space, the fuel surcharges you’ll see, and booking the space in Huge Deal: 13k Miles to Europe This Summer.

You can also fly one way from parts of the United States to the United Kingdom in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for only 27,500 miles and $231.

Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic is more akin to United First Class on domestic flights than United Economy Plus. It’s not just a big seat; Premium Economy comes with all the amenities in this promotional video.

Virgin Atlantic miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. Plus there is the “90k offer” on the Virgin Atlantic credit card.

Your Turn

Did I miss any of your favorite awards on the obscure foreign award charts? Tell me about it in the comments.
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Right now, you pay the same price for a roundtrip award and a one way award booked with Delta miles. Obviously, under current rules, booking a one way award is foolish.

Starting January 1, 2015, we will be able to book one way Delta awards for half the price of roundtrips. (We lose the ability to book stopovers on Delta awards the same day.)

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To me the ability to book one way awards is especially valuable with Delta miles.

  • Why?

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Delta had already released its 2015 award chart for travel beginning in the United States (exlcuding Hawaii) and Canada, and now Delta has released SkyMiles Award Charts for 2015 from all other parts of the world.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.08.23 PM

The current award chart controls for awards BOOKED in 2014, and the 2015 chart for awards BOOKED in 2015, regardless of when the flights are flown.

In addition to new award charts, we will see two major rule changes on Delta awards for awards booked January 1, 2015 or later:

The award charts reflect only minor changes from the 2014 chart, so don’t expect to find a big devaluation.

I scoured the new charts looking for creative, cheap awards, and I found a few.

  • What are the best deals on the new 2015 SkyMiles charts?

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As widely predicted, Delta is eliminating stopovers on its awards starting January 1, 2015. Its SkyMiles program rules page says as much.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 8.15.02 AM

This is a bummer, but the good news is that one way awards will be bookable with Delta miles starting January 1, 2015, and Delta has already improved its online search.

American eliminated stopovers on awards this year, and the US Airways program will cease to exist in quarter 2 of 2015, which means United will be the only American program that allows stopovers very soon. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Your last chance to book a Delta award with a stopover will be December 31, 2014. At that point, you can book an award through about November 2015.

Hat Tip: Lisa in the comments

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An actual improvement to delta.com!

Previously, you could search award space one month at a time with a calendar on delta.com, but that calendar only took into account award space on Delta flights. Because much of the Saver award space available to people with Delta miles is available on partner airlines, that meant that in practice, you really had to search delta.com one day at a time to get the full picture. See “A Major Problem with Delta.com and the Only Solution.”

The nearly useless delta.com used to display

Now, multi-day award searches can display a grid of +/- 3 days, and do take into account partners. This is a big improvement in my mind. It will certainly save me a lot of time when I am booking awards for clients of my Award Booking Service.

  • How does the new delta.com search work?
  • What airlines are searchable on delta.com?
  • Why should you still call in to book most Delta awards?

Off peak awards allow us to stretch our miles further by booking discounted awards to select regions during certain pre-determined dates. Off peak awards are offered by several airlines, and this post will put all the off peak awards I know of in one place.

While off peak awards are often less desirable dates, there are some off peak dates that are actually my favorite times to visit a country. For instance, March is a fantastic month in Argentina, and you can book an award to Buenos Aires or Bariloche every March for 10,000 fewer American Airlines miles than if you travel in July, a worse time to visit in my opinion.

Bariloche, Lake District of Patagonia, in March

American and US Airways have set off peak awards every year to select regions. Air France Flying Blue and Lufthansa Miles & More have discounted awards that are kind of like off peak awards. United and Delta occasionally have award sales that are like off peak awards, but are not as regular as American and US Airways’ off peak awards.

  • What are the off peak awards offered by American, US Airways, Delta, United, Lufthansa, and Air France?
  • What dates are they offered?
  • Do you have to fly the airline offering the deal or can you fly a partner?

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Delta has an award sale for economy awards booked by November 3, 2014 and flown between December 3, 2014 and February 18, 2015 within the United States, Caribbean, and Americas.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 7.58.59 PM

The discounts are nice, especially to Southern South America (Chile, Argentina, Brazil):

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 8.02.21 PM

There are a ton of restrictions:

  • Blackout dates: December 19 through December 24, 2014, December 26, 2014 through January 5, 2015, January 16, 2015, January 19, 2015, February 13, 2015 and February 16, 2015
  • Blackout cities: Caracas, Venezuela; Cancun, Mexico; and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
  • Minimum Stay: Tickets to/from Brazil, Argentina, and Chile require a 7-day minimum stay.

Notably I don’t see a restriction that you must fly Delta metal, so the same deal may be available on awards on Alaska Airlines, AeroMexico, and Aerolineas Argentinas, the three key Delta partners in these regions.

  • What are the best deals?
  • What about stopovers and free one ways?
  • Where can you search the relevant Delta partners?
  • What is the award space picture on Delta flights?
  • Why would I consider flying a Standard (ie not a Saver) award during this sale?

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Update 11/17/14: To book a stopover on an international award, you need to call Delta because the functionality has been removed from the website. I speculate that starting 1/1/15, Delta awards will not allow stopovers.

One Mile at a Time reports that Delta has stealthily eliminated stopovers on awards.

That’s not quite correct, but something very fishy is going on. Here’s how I know it is not true.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 11.04.43 AM

Above is a roundtrip award from Washington DC to Los Angeles. On the outbound, there is a one week stopover in Minneapolis. The award prices at 25,000 miles + $16.80, which is the same miles as it would cost without the stopover in Minneapolis–hence a free stopover. (This is $5.60 extra in taxes than if you didn’t stop in MSP.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 11.04.53 AM

But he does a larger point that many awards are not pricing with a free stopover when they should.

  • A look at the evidence
  • Delta’s explanation
  • What’s the deal?

I get a ton of requests at my Award Booking Service for people who want to fly from the United States to Australia or New Zealand over Christmas and New Year’s with their frequent flyer miles. Usually the request is to fly in Business or First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 2.46.29 AM

I want to dissuade you from this goal because it is one of the toughest awards to book.

Last month I wrote “The Easiest Places to Get with Miles.” Miles are awesome and can get you almost anywhere in the world cheaper and more luxuriously than most people realize. But some awards are easier to book than others. Focusing on easier awards, especially at first, can get you some award-ticket “wins” that will hook you and lead to more successful bookings in the future.

Trying to book two people from the United States to Australia in Business Class from December 21 to January 3 is very hard to turn into one of those wins. It will mainly lead to frustration.

  • What is the award space picture to Australia this holiday season with American, US Airways, United, and Delta miles?
  • What is the most likely strategy to find award space?
  • What other times of year does Australia have better award space?

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