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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.
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:
|Delta Air Lines|
|Middle East Airlines|
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!
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:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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