Avoid Delta's High Partner Award Rates Using SkyTeam Partner Programs

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If we asked US frequent flyers to note things that leave a sour taste in their mouth, we'd bet good money Delta's high award rates would feature close to the top of that list.

After yet another Delta devaluation, this time taking the ax to partner awards originating in the US, SkyMiles has cemented its reputation as the lemon of US frequent flyer programs. A loyalty program determined to strip the value from its rewards currency and ensure the majority of miles left on its books are worth less and less each year.

SkyTeam Partners

So, with Delta resolute in its mission to stick it to SkyMiles members, what are the options for flying SkyTeam?

If you hold a substantial balance of SkyMiles, you now have three options:

  • Pay an exorbitant premium to fly SkyTeam partners from the US
  • Save your SkyMiles for partner awards outside the US (awards originating in the US went up by 10/20%, but some partner awards outside the US, dropped as much as 20%)
  • Or fly Delta…

If you have Delta Medallion status (which grants you SkyTeam elite benefits), but you focus on earning transferable rewards currencies such as Marriott Bonvoy, Amex Membership Rewards, or Ultimate Rewards, or, you credit your miles to another FF program, there are more options.

Avoid Delta SkyMiles Partner Awards by Using SkyTeam Partner Programs

If you want to fly SkyTeam partners from the US, without paying the premium Delta is now enforcing with SkyMiles, you need to use points or miles from another rewards program. Here’s a quick recap of the 20 SkyTeam partners:

Aeroflot
Aerolíneas Argentinas
Aeromexico
Air Europa
Air France
Alitalia
China Airlines
China Eastern
China Southern
Czech Airlines
Delta Air Lines
Garuda Indonesia
Kenya Airways
KLM
Korean Air
Middle East Airlines
Saudia
TAROM
Vietnam Airlines
Xiamen Air

The first step is deciphering which SkyTeam member offers the best value for the routes affected by the latest changes. Then deciding which flexible currency you can transfer points from.

For example, if the best value redemption is Korean Air SKYPASS, you want Marriott Bonvoy points which transfer to SKYPASS at a 3:1 ratio (plus an additional 5,000 bonus miles when transferring in blocks of 60K points).

If it’s Aeromexico, you want American Express Membership Rewards which transfer at a ratio of 1,000 MR points to 1,600 Club Premier points.

We've focused primarily on the two programs above as they offer fantastic value in their award charts. Flying Blue is another alternative to Delta SkyMiles, but on the majority of the routes we tested, the value was lacking behind Korean and Aeromexico.

Europe Round-Trip in Business Class with Korean SKYPASS for 80K Miles

Delta partner awards to Europe copped a beating with the latest increase, rising from 70,000 miles in business class to 85,000 one-way. It’s a huge increase and now makes Delta’s one-way partner awards more expensive than flying round-trip in business using Korean SKYPASS miles. We detailed this award in our post on Korean sweet spots, but the short of it is you can fly round-trip in business class from the US to Europe for 80,000 miles + taxes and fees!

JFK-LHR-Korean-SKYPASS-Partner-Award

The irony of flying on Delta with SKYPASS miles cheaper than we can with SkyMiles is almost sad. If you need to top up your SKYPASS account, you can transfer points earned on some of our favorite rewards-earning credit cards like those listed below:

Alternatively, you could transfer Membership Rewards points to Aeromexico’s Club Premier, which allows one-way awards to/from Europe for just 80,000 Premier Points + taxes (50,000 Membership Rewards points). Just bear in mind, the Aeromexico website might test your sanity, and you'll find the reservation process on this route much easier with Korean.

North Asia One-Way in Business Class with Korean SKYPASS for 62,500 Miles

If you want to fly Delta’s SkyTeam partners to Northern Asia in business class, it’s now going to set you back a hefty 95,000 SkyMiles each way. Again the best options are Korean Air SKYPASS and Aeromexico Club Premier.

Flying Korean metal, you’ll pay 62,500 SKYPASS miles + $77.21 taxes and fees. Flying SkyTeam partners, Korean’s partner rates are still very reasonable at 140,000 miles round-trip in business plus applicable taxes (vary by carrier), so you can fly Delta using Korean miles for the same price as flying Delta using SkyMiles.

LAX-NRT-Korean-SKYPASS-Award

Club Premier prices in at 180,000 Premier Points round-trip in business + taxes but Club Premier awards are a bit deceiving when taken at face value. When you factor in the 1:1.6 transfer rate, the round-trip fare drops to the equivalent of 112,500 miles + $276 in fees + taxes, a better rate even than Korean.

We peg Korean as the better option here because the award is a lot easier to book. Our experience booking Aeromexico awards for a recent post was a long, confusing, and ultimately frustrating experience. However, it does offer rewards fans collecting Amex Membership Rewards from cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express a workaround for booking award travel outside of Delta (if you’re brave and patient).

The other highlight on this Northern Asia route is the chance to experience the Korean first class product. At just 80,000 SKYPASS miles one-way in first, this award is cheaper than flying business class on SkyTeam partners with your SkyMiles.

Australia Round-Trip in Business with Korean SKYPASS for 185K Miles

It’s at this point you begin to understand why Korean is one of our favorite frequent flyer programs. Up until the recent devaluation, Delta SkyMiles members could redeem business class awards one-way on partner Virgin Australia for as little as 95,000 miles + fees. That has now increased by 20K to a minimum 115,000 miles, a nasty jump.

LAX-SYD-Korean-SKYPASS-Award

To the rescue again is Korean SKYPASS, and this time with a high-value quirk in its award charts. Korean runs separate charts for Korean awards and SkyTeam partner awards, with the SkyTeam awards typically higher.

Flying US/AU is one of the exceptions, with one-way business awards on Korean metal pricing in at 97,500 miles + $307 in fees (195K round-trip), but round-trip business awards on SkyTeam partners pricing up at 185,000 miles + $386 in fees making the awards just 92,500 each way!

LAX-SYD-Korean-SKYPASS-Partner-Award

You’ll need to route through Asia to take advantage of these redemptions, but saving big on partner awards is worth the additional travel time.

South America Round-Trip in Business with SKYPASS & Club Premier

Yep, again the best value in SkyTeam is Korean and Aeromexico. By all reports we've received and the redemptions we researched online, Delta has knocked this award up from 75K SkyMiles to 100K+ one-way or 200K miles round-trip.

The Aeromexico award chart shows 180,000 Premier Points, but that is only 112,500 Membership Rewards points due to a generous transfer ratio of 1:1.6
The Aeromexico award chart shows 180,000 Premier Points, but that only works out to 112,500 Membership Rewards points due to a generous transfer ratio of 1:1.6

Korean SKYPASS rings in at 110,000 miles round-trip in business class flying SkyTeam partner Aeromexico, giving it a slight edge over Aeromexico which comes in at 180,000 Premier Points (112,500 Membership Rewards points @ 1:1.6).

Final Thoughts

The message to take away from this post is that, almost across the board, you can find better value redemptions for SkyTeam awards without dealing with Delta’s constant devaluations.

No, Aeromexico awards are not as simple to book, however, following improvements to its website, Korean SKYPASS is pretty good once you understand the program rules.

If you're willing to undergo an hour or two of paperwork, emails, or phone calls, you can potentially save tens of thousands of miles booking through programs like Korean Air SKYPASS and Aeromexico Club Premier.

Both these programs count at least one of the big flexible rewards currencies as transfer partners, with Marriott points transferring to Korean and Membership Rewards & Marriott transferring to Aeromexico. Although Marriott transfers, in this case, are not recommended as they transfer at 3:1 as opposed to Amex points at 1:1.6. This allows you to transfer points from some of our favorite rewards earning cards like the American Express® Gold Card, and the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card for high-value SkyTeam redemptions.

Even after Delta’s latest devaluation, there is still plenty of high-value SkyTeam redemptions available, they do, however, require some extra legwork to bag the perfect award.

Avoid Delta’s High Partner Award Rates Using SkyTeam Partner Programs
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Comments

  • Not all bad. New award availability on WestJet partner means I can fly cross-country Orlando to Vancouver for 25k miles + $11.20

    • Absolutely! This is a great new add, but for long-haul redemptions, Delta just stinks right now.

      • Yeah, hoping they run a sale on Delta One RT awards to Europe for 105k like they did last year so I can unload some of my remaining miles. Definitely will be less focused on SkyMiles earning and more focused on transferable points like Chase, Amex, and SPG going forward.

      • I have over a million delta miles and want to fly my wife business to China and I have over 300k Marriott points. Right now I book on delta thru YYZ to SZX on China eastern business 217k miles could I do better switching points to spg than to Korean???

  • Also using SkyPass you can fly roundtrip from mainland US to Hawaii on Delta for 25k miles.

  • I haven’t gotten any Delta miles, and at this point I’m not even sure if it’s worth it. Keep getting 50k offers from Amex, but that gets me nothing really.

    • We use them exclusively for domestic flights. There are sometimes great value to be had on 5,000 or 7,500 mile routes.

    • The problem with the Delta Amex is that unless you do a ton of travel with Delta (25% of purchases on the card) you aren’t earning any more miles than you would with the SPG card and their 25% miles bonus for airline transfer partners. The SPG card is at the very least an equal card for earning Delta miles from everyday spend as Delta’s own co-branded cards which is sad. I did open the Delta Amex when they had a 70k bonus and $100 statement credit. Since I already had a bunch of SkyMiles it seemed worth it at the time. There is some value there, but the award prices are very inflated if you aren’t extremely flexible.

      • Exactly. Unless one is a heavy DL flyer, none of the co-branded cards are better for earning miles than the SPG card(s). DL cards are really only good for grabbing the sign-up bonus; then it’s into the sock drawer until it’s time to cancel.

  • Doesn’t KE usually impose hefty fuel surcharges on SkyTeam partner award tickets that make their redemption rate not as attractive?

    • It depends on the city pairs. For example, business class round-trip from the US to London is just over $500 in taxes/fees + 80,000 Korean miles — with SkyMiles for the same flights on Delta you’d pay about half that in taxes/fees but you’d also pony up 140,000 SkyMiles. No thanks! Those same flights with Air France/KLM on Delta would cost you 170,000 miles! GROSS

  • All of the above comments advise as to why I am no longer collecting Delta Skypesos nor flying Delta if there is any other choice. I hope Delta understand what there frequent flyer plan decimation is is doing to them long-term and changes its ways.

  • Im sitting on 20K miles with Delta and waiting for something worth it to transfer more points to Delta. Looks like I am gonna need way more.

    • Scott Halver says:

      Marsh,

      I’m in the same boat, I’ve had 25k Delta miles for years (never expire), but whenever I think I have a chance to redeem them, there is no “saver” availability.

      Someday I’ll figure out how to use my orphaned DL miles!

    • Ricardo Machado says:

      Post a trade on point.com
      I think you can trade it for 30k AA miles, which you can use 7500 x 4 short haul tickets!

  • I want nothing to do with Delta or it’s partners. Once upon a time you could fly first class with Delta miles on any of their partners, now you can barely fly at all. The partners should kick Delta out of the system completely.

  • The award partners used to be great deal. Now it may be available. But incredibly difficult to obtain. I have a feeling they are constantly adjusting, demand inflation

  • Don’t travel Delta for all of the above reasons!

  • Exactly as per what phillip said!!!!

  • Sigh. Delta has so much potential…

  • That picture though looks like it’s a Miss Universe contest.

  • Fingers are still crossed someone is going to write up a guide on how to use China Eastern/Southern. Those programs are a nightmare to decode.

  • as long as the miles not expire, i’ll save only flight miles on delta program I can’t avoid – once in a lifetime I’ll use it 🙂

  • Adam Parsons says:

    Agree, Delta does have some amazing sweet spots. You just need to find them and utilise so jump on any availability as soon as you see them.

  • Nice post. As many have said, those of us with a choice have long since abandoned Delta and Skyteam.

    Unfortunately many people are hub-captive and are stuck with whatever bones Skypesos is willing to throw at them…

  • Thanks for letting us know these possibilities.
    I usually have miles in three SkyTeam programmes.
    Having miles in more than 3-4 programmes can become very complicated.

  • I have to think part of the devaluation of Delta is their no expiration policy on miles. Basically every mile ever accrued is still out there or has been redeemed as long as the person is still alive. Other airline programs expire miles. Even if it is at a 10-20% rate among more casual travelers this adds up and allows other airlines to give more value for their mileage redemption. I would rather see delta expire miles after 18 months or a year of inactivity then keep devaluing their award redemptions.

  • Overall, I like DL and usually enjoy the flight experience when I’m traveling with them. That being said, and having been a member of their SM program since the early 80’s, I have lost faith in their SM program and redemption rates.

  • I do not have enough Delta miles left for 2 international award tickets to Asia or Europe. I will use the last of my Delta miles for a domestic ticket. I did check for a 25,000 mile awards to Calgary or Edmonton for this July without success.

  • I was platinum medallion for many years but gave all medallion status up last year. Delta just wants too many miles for flights and half the time you can’t get what you want. Unfortunately I still have 305,000 sky miles I’ll try to use on a partner carrier but Delta even makes that difficult.

  • really need to learn my way around booking using alliance miles instead of direct miles! such a great trick

  • Thanks for putting this together. It is a useful reference.

  • Thanks for all this great info.

  • Regardless of how one feels about DL, this is a great post and provides great suggestions. Thanks!

  • I like Delta, but their Skymiles program is the worst…great post and recommendations!

  • What is the cheapest way to fly from Den /Chi or NY to Ukraine or Poland? I do have some delta miles.
    Any suggestions?

  • Thanks for this post, this is really useful. Do you have anything similar for Oneworld and star – comparing redemption costs among the members?

  • Great post, thank you. Going to Costa Rica /LIR . I have a ton of chase points but wanted to fly delta. Tried thru Korean air but there is no award availability for my travel dates. What do you recommend?

  • Ricardo Machado says:

    I exchanged all my Delta miles on the website points.com to AA and since then I never flied Delta or transferred any points to Delta again! It is simply the most expensive mile award for me.

  • Ricardo Machado says:

    I exchanged all my Delta miles on the website points.com to AA and since then I never flied Delta or transferred any points to Delta again! It is simply the most expensive mile award for me

  • Howie,

    I’d probably throw out a disclaimer around Alitalia miles seeing as they may not even exist after this summer.

  • I love these sweetspots posts, keep them coming. I almost got a delta Amex card with 60,000 miles sign up bonus but instead opted for British Airways Visa with up to 100,000k Avios and I’m glad I did.

    I’m flying back from Japan to SFO on KE 787 8i upper deck prestige class this year. I was tying to do JL or ANA but they don’t allow one way flights on award redemption unfortunately.

  • Any comments about the quality of the first/business class experience of Korean/Alitalia/Aero compared to Delta’s?

    I agree, Delta frustrates me with their constant devaluations but their business class experience to Europe, for example, is pretty darn good. Do these other partner airlines have as good of a passenger experience?

    • Jinyoung Park says:

      Flying first/business on Korean is amazing. Never done it with Delta so I can’t compare but KE is top notch.

  • Found the biggest advantage of the Delta AmEx card appears to be the “free check bag”. It does same a little amount of bucks.

  • This is a good article for listing SkyTeam travel options, but if you use Chase UR points (or points from another program), you shouldn’t feel limited to using SkyTeam partners. What I’d be more interested in seeing is a list of the best way to use Delta SkyMiles for those of us currently stuck with a good number of SkyMiles.

  • Shame on Delta. Alitalia’s sweet spots sound interesting, but I’d be nervous investing in that program with the airline on the brink of insolvency…

  • Yet another reason why they are referred to as Sky Pesos

  • very detailed info… i am always confused by all this tho

  • This does affect my view on Delta every time a devaluation occurs. Thanks for those great alternatives!

  • Very nice tips! I plan to use Skymiles on China Eastern/Southern

  • Is there something comparable for oneworld and their partner airlines?

  • Don Camillo says:

    This is not jut for flights originating in the US. Also for intra-region flights with Skyteam partners the redemption rates are multiples of what for example BA would charge in Europe or TG/SQ in Asia. On top of that the “carrier imposed” fees were in the same ballpark as economy tickets when purchased. Almost completely worthless.

  • Thanks guys, this is awesome

  • Good post and update and oh, shame on Delta.

  • The one issue with Skypass (not sure about AeroMexico) is you can only book for immediate family members. As someone who is unmarried, but travels with my girlfriend, Skypass won’t work for me since I can’t use my point on her. That being said F*** Delta

  • I wasn’t even aware of this! Thanks for sharing.

  • We never consider Delta as part of our travel plans. However, my partner is going on Safari, and traveling with guns, DL direct to Jo’Burg makes the most sense, so he has a front-cabin, revenue flight booked. Planning a trip to Spain next year, and Delta is one of the best ways to fly direct to BCN without flying through the hell that is Newark. Considering booking on Delta if we can get one of the good Business class deals to Europe that have been pretty common on several carriers the past few years.

    Just wondering how easy it would be to redeem the SkyPesos for domestic flights. Don’t even want to try to use for International.

  • Thank you for putting this together Howie. My brother is based out of FRA and is such a DL loyalist. I am using this as a tool so he can open up the multiple avenues for award redemptions as he is hard headed and will not entirely take my word for it.

  • Mohammed Siddiqui says:

    Great blog post . Thanks for sharing.

  • I guess we all need to fly international more 😉

  • Prashant Gangwal says:

    Nice way to get some more value from SkyPesos!

  • Jinyoung Park says:

    I just booked a one-way Seoul to Osaka for 7,500 SkyMiles (will be flying Korean). It was the best deal I found for this leg with the next lowest being 15,000 miles for one way on Asiana, Korean, and American. There definitely are still areas where Delta is OK.

  • Thanks for the great tips, have some international trips in the future will take advantage for sure.

  • Ravi Grover says:

    This is great, definitely going to transfer to SkyPass instead of Delta from now on!

  • Jonathan White says:

    “some partner awards outside the US, dropped as much as 20%”

    Which ones?… I can’t find any cheaper routes than before, all are more expensive now…

    • Flying Tokyo–Bali on Garuda Indonesia, for example, has dropped from 50K to 40K one-way in business class. This is one of the routes where Delta raised the partner award in October 2016, which has now dropped back to the original rate. However, reduced awards are definitely the exception in this case.

  • Looks like some great options for Skyteam redemptions.

  • ANGELO FONSECA says:

    It seems that korean and aeromexico are the best options. And what about flying blue?

  • I also find it annoying that Delta doesn’t publish a chart for using SkyMiles for upgrades.

  • Like the article states, Delta is the lemon in US award travel. Its so true and its getting much worse, Not having a published award chart simply lets Delta charge what ever they want, especially to the most popular destinations, Delta is a joke.

  • I am interested in going from NY to kiev and see 30,000 delta miles one way. Do you recommend doing that or is there a better way to use delta miles?

  • Thanks, Howie!

  • Very useful information! Thanks much, this will save me some miles!

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