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Want to Fly Business Class? Forget About Delta SkyMiles

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If you're sitting on a stash of Delta SkyMiles and have dreams of a lie-flat flight, I have news you don't want to hear: Delta SkyMiles are not the best miles to earn if you want to fly business class.

Delta SkyMiles are the least valuable points for redeeming business class flights to and from the United States, and it's not even close. Maybe once a year our team of flight deal analysts at Thrifty Traveler Premium finds a Delta SkyMiles flash sale that includes Delta One Business Class at rates that are still higher than the everyday rates we see on other airlines that have just-as-good business class (if not better) business class seats flying to the same places Delta flies.

Don't get us wrong: While your Delta SkyMiles may not have great value for flying up front, they're still extremely valuable if you want to fly economy within the U.S. or around the world.

But if you really want to fly up front, whether on Delta or in another airline's business class, you'll need to be earning flexible points and miles that aren't Delta SkyMiles. And you won't get those swiping your Delta Amex card everywhere you go. While you often need to hoard 300,000-plus SkyMiles just to fly Delta One, it will take much, much less to book business class through almost any other airline so long as you know where to look – and how to book. 

That’s where Thrifty Traveler Premium shines. We send our members all the Delta One deals we find, but we also send them business class deals flying to the same destinations on other carriers – and tell you which points you can use to book them. Let me show you. 


Flying Delta One: Points vs. SkyMiles

For 99.99% of travelers, flying Delta One is only really an option when using points and miles. See what I mean?


Delta One fare


Yeah…ouch. If you're a sane person, you're not forking over $5,500 in cash to fly Delta One, and I don't blame you if your next move is to look at the Delta SkyMiles rates.


Minneapolis to Dublin SkyMiles rate


Even with the TakeOff 15 benefit you get for holding a Delta card, this flight would still cost you 242,000 SkyMiles one-way. The lowest roundtrip I could find in a similar timeframe was 374,000. Please don't spend that many SkyMiles on a flight. If you do, you're the reason Delta charges this much! The airline knows there are people out there willing to pay it.

It's completely preposterous. Why? Because here's what Delta's partner airline Virgin Atlantic charges for the exact same nonstop Delta flight from Minneapolis (MSP) to Dublin (DUB).


MSP DUB Virgin Atlantic


It's still Delta, it's still Delta One, but for fewer than half the miles Delta is selling this flight for. That's what you get by booking through Virgin Atlantic. That's where the value is.

The key to booking these Delta One seats at these low rates (or any business class seats, really) is transferrable credit card points. 

Critically, you can't transfer SkyMiles to Virgin Atlantic. But if you're earning points and miles from credit cards like American Express, Chase, Capital One, Citi, or Bilt, you already have Virgin Atlantic points and may not even know it!

Now here's the big caveat: These Virgin Atlantic bookings aren't always available – the award space has to be there. The benefit of using Delta SkyMiles is that you can always use your miles on the flight you want so long as it's not sold out – even though you'll need many, many more miles to do so.

But if you monitor the flights you want carefully (or join Thrifty Traveler Premium and have us do so for you), when Delta One bookings through Virgin are made available, you stand to save huge.

Just a few months ago, we dug up a ton of Delta One award space flying to Europe and Asia bookable with either Virgin Atlantic points or Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles and alerted our subscribers immediately.


Virgin and Delta One


We found a handful of Delta routes to Europe available to book for just 50,000 points each way in business class. It was one of the best deals we sent our Thrifty Traveler Premium members last year.

Detroit (DTW)-based travelers looking to head to Amsterdam (AMS) to see the tulips this spring were probably pretty excited to get that alert in their inbox – and avoid burning 375,000 SkyMiles on those flights.


Detroit to Amsterdam


Non-Delta Business Class From 50K Points

Delta people love Delta. We get it. I love Delta, too! For my money, it's the most reliable, comfortable, U.S. airline. But to tie yourself to Delta is to ignore other airlines flying to the same places with equal (if not better) business class seats for more competitive rates.

Here's some perspective for you. In the world airline rankings put together by SkyTrax every year, Delta has consistently finished first among U.S. airlines in the overall category. What is Delta in the world ranking, though? Only 20th – not even close to the top 10, or top five for that matter.

It's proof that there are foreign carriers throughout Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East that deserve your attention. And it costs way less to fly them, too.

Here's an example that's very close to home for Delta: Air France and KLM, Delta's SkyTeam airline alliance partners in Europe.


Air France/KLM business class


To fly Air France or KLM business class to Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS) respectively, all you need is 50,000 Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles. Earning those 50,000 Flying Blue miles is even easier than racking the 300,000-plus SkyMiles you'd need to fly Delta One. Amex, Bilt, Capital One, Chase, and Citi points can all be transferred directly to Flying Blue to book these lie-flat seats.

Remember those 300,000-plus SkyMiles business class fares above? Try these on for size instead.


Flying Blue business class


We see this deal pop up every few months: Widespread availability to fly Air France or KLM business class to Europe for just 50,000 each way from cities all over the U.S. You'd have to burn more than three times as many SkyMiles for the same routings.

It's not just Delta partners, though. Look around Europe and you'll find plenty of stellar airlines with excellent business class seats.

SWISS, the 12th best airline in the world, also flies a swanky business class product you can book for cheap. My wife and I flew SWISS business class last year for just 63,000 Avianca LifeMiles (transferable from Bilt, Amex, and Capital One) each and can confirm it was worth every mile.


Swiss business class


But booking through Colombian airline Avianca's quirky LifeMiles program is only one option. If you want something more mainstream, you can also book these SWISS business class seats using United MileagePlus miles (transferable from Chase) or even Air Canada Aeroplan miles (transferable from Chase, Amex, Capital One, and Bilt).


Swiss business class


When booking with Air Canada, Chicago (ORD) to Zurich (ZRH) nonstop on SWISS Business Class is just 70,000 Air Canada points. 


ORD ZRH Air Canada


That's 140,000 points roundtrip if you want to ride in style both ways.

And if you compare that to flying that same day in Delta One business class using Delta SkyMiles? Well…look away if you're squeamish!


ORD to ZRh Delta One


If you have 442,000 Delta SkyMiles that you're willing to set on fire to book this flight, good for you. But even if money and points are no object for you, by booking this fare, you're just telling Delta that they can continue to charge this much and take flying business class out of the equation for 99.99% of travelers.

It's not just Europe that has great Delta One alternatives, either. When crossing the Pacific Ocean, Delta One fares can reach dizzying heights.


Delta One to SYD


If you want to fly lie-flat to Sydney, Australia (SYD), you can do much better than 624,700 SkyMiles! Here are all the other Australia lie-flat deals we've sent over the last few months instead:

  • Cathay Pacific Business Class from 110,000 points each way (bookable with Cathay Pacific miles – transferable from Amex, Bilt, Capital One, or Citi)
  • United Polaris Business Class from 70,000 points each way (bookable with Air Canada, United, Turkish, Avianca, or ANA – or their transfer partners)
  • Qantas Business Class from 109,000 points each way (bookable with Qantas miles – transferable from Amex, Capital One or Citi)
  • American Airlines Business Class from 60,000 miles each way (bookable with American AAdvantage miles)


United Polaris


Even when you add up how much it would cost to fly these seats roundtrip, each option is about one-seventh the cost of flying Delta One roundtrip using your SkyMiles to Australia in 2024.

There are so many incredible airlines in the world. By the rankings, there are at least 19 better than Delta. And while Delta's business class is a top five business class in the world, it's hard to justify spending 500,000 SkyMiles when the business class seats on airlines ranked one through four can all be booked for less than 80,000 points each way.


How to Still Get Maximum Value for Your SkyMiles

If you have a big stash of SkyMiles and your blood is boiling reading this post, this is where we get positive about your SkyMiles.

Despite what the above business class searches have shown, Delta SkyMiles are not worthless! We say it all the time, even as others in the industry refer to them as “SkyPennies” or “SkyPesos.”

Delta SkyMiles have one outsized, tremendous value: Flying economy.

That's especially the case for flying within the U.S. Over the last few months, we've sent flight deals with fares to Las Vegas (LAS), Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles (LAX), Asheville (AVL), New York City (JFK, LGA, EWR), Boston (BOS), Minneapolis (MSP) for less than 19,000 SkyMiles roundtrip. This latest deal we sent was flying to Miami (MIA) over spring break.


Delta SkyMiles Miami


This deal to Miami (MIA) connected dozens of U.S. cities to South Beach for Spring Break this year. But your SkyMiles can take you even further – all the way down to Cancún (CUN) in this case!


SkyMiles Cancun


You can burn a few SkyMiles on a nonstop trip to the beaches of Mexico, too. And you can get even more outsized value from your SkyMiles if you use them flying far, far away. Take this Sydney, Australia (SYD) deal, for instance.


Delta SkyMiles Sydney


Going down under with less than 80,000 SkyMiles roundtrip is about as good a SkyMile-per-actual-mile rate as you're going to get. Let your SkyMiles fuel your next economy trip for the best value.


Booking Delta One with SkyMiles

Booking Delta One with Delta SkyMiles can be expensive and exceedingly hard to find, but it's not totally impossible…just improbable.

Here at Thrifty Traveler, we have a team of eight, full-time flight deal analysts constantly searching for Delta SkyMiles flash sales in Delta One. Pickings are slim, but if they're out there, we always find them.


Delta One to South Korea


This roundtrip deal flying Delta One to Seoul, South Korea (ICN) was a good example. It was limited to just January and February dates, but just about 85,000 SkyMiles each way across the Pacific is pretty competitive.

The same goes for this Delta One flight deal to Santiago, Chile (SCL), which came in at about 70,000 SkyMiles each way. This was a stellar deal, even though it wasn't widespread either.


Delta One to Chile


Finally, now over two years ago, we found this dandy. We may never see it again, but it was incredible while it lasted (for two days).


Delta One to Europe


It was a nationwide sale meaning it could be booked from almost every airport Delta flies to in the U.S. with roundtrip Delta One to Europe for 148,000 SkyMiles roundtrip. Delta actually advertised this deal as the airline desperately tried to fill seats coming out of the pandemic.

Short answer: No, it's not impossible to get outsized value from your SkyMiles to fly Delta One. But it's a losing proposition for most travelers.


Bottom Line

If you want to fly business class almost anywhere in the world, earning Delta SkyMiles is not the best strategy.

There are many, better ways to book Delta One, fly other business classes, and get better value from your Delta SkyMiles.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

8 Responses

  • The problem with this article is the assumption that Delta One is a premium product. It’s not. The service, food and drink offerings are sub par to many European carriers economy class. I flew it two years ago (yes, using 50K VA miles… I’ll never bother with them again.

  • We scored a flight for 212,000 Skymiles on FC and D1 round-trip from RSW to FRA in September/October. Booked it right away when the travel window opened. Glad we did, since the flight is now 400,000, even 585,000 Skymiles per person.

  • I have flown Delta almost exclusively, far and wide, for many years in business class. They have lost my loyalty with their recent Sky Miles changes and exorbitant mileage requirements. On two upcoming trips, to the Arctic and Kenya, I will be flying BC on competing airlines. I am no longer a loyal Delta flier.

  • Don’t forget the MSP to Tokyo Haneda deal for 85,000 Delta SkyMiles each way in Delta One! My P2 and I both traveled to Tokyo due to this deal that I only knew about because of the alert send from the Thrifty Traveler Premium notification! This was our first trip to Japan. We traveled to Japan in February of 2024. 170,000 points in Delta One round trip per person! A great use of my SkyMiles!

  • Thanks a lot Oslo, this is a very nice content, I can see that you really spent a lot of time to make it super informative.
    What about getting better prices and options to South America? I always fly to Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, Brazil and it is not easy to find deals, special with Delta. Last time I found CLT-Toronto-Sao Paulo with Air Canada for 60K for business class and it was great. Any help ? Summer is coming and I am looking for great deals.
    Thanks a lot

  • How about premium select milage award seats? I still usually pay for premium economy or at least mix one way premium and one way business with miles. But what do you find generally booking Delta premium select?

  • A great use of Delta miles is from Europe to Africa or East Asia. Fly from the US to AMS, LHR or CDG spend a few days. Then use your Delta miles to book to South Africa for 65K miles in business class or 80k miles to Seoul or Tokyo in business.

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