Delta has started to flip the script on that favorite saying of skeptics and bloggers: SkyMiles are worthless.
We’ve been singing SkyMiles praises – as well as its pitfalls – forever. And the steep discounts on using miles to fly, called SkyMiles Flash sales, are a big reason why.
Whether Delta publicizes them on their homepage or we find them and publish them here, these award sales are one of the best ways to use your SkyMiles. But what’s really going on here?
All About Delta SkyMiles Flash Sales
Before we dive into these sales, there’s some important background to go over.
Most airlines publish a so-called “award chart,” a breakdown of how many miles it will take to get you from point A to point B. Think of it as a cheat sheet for how far your miles will get you. But Delta doesn’t use an award chart anymore. It chucked its award chart years ago, replacing it with a highly variable pricing system for award flights. The price is the price, Delta says.
And while that comes with a big downside – unpredictable rates that can swing drastically day by day, and often 250,000 SkyMiles or more to fly business class – there’s a major upside for travelers. Delta is now untethered.
Enter these Flash Sales. The airline started occasionally putting up award fares at huge discounts over the last year or so, often without any announcement or fanfare. Short domestic flights at 10,000-11,000 SkyMiles round trip, trips to the Caribbean, round-trip fares to Europe. It’s all fair game.
Sometimes it’s an easy way to save a few thousand SkyMiles on a trip. Other times, you’ll save 50% of your miles or more, making it easily the cheapest way to travel with miles. Like SkyMiles themselves, the deals vary greatly.
These days, Delta advertises an ever-changing list of destinations on sale, which it calls SkyMiles Deals. It’s always worth checking back on that page to see what Delta is advertising.
Delta also occasionally pushes out one-off sales on award tickets, alerting SkyMiles members via email. So make sure you’re subscribed to those alerts.
On all these sales, we generally find that the departure airports and routes available are far wider than what Delta lists. So don’t be dismayed if your home airport doesn’t make the cut. Use the parameters of the deal – the timing and the final destination – and see what else you can find.
But in addition to its publicized lists, the airline also frequently sells award tickets at steep discounts without letting flyers know what routes are going on sale. We’re constantly searching for these unpublished SkyMiles flash sales, letting our readers and Thrifty Traveler Premium subscribers know first.
The Best of the Best
You don’t need to look hard to find some great savings for your SkyMiles.
Last spring there were round-trip flights to hotspots in Mexico and Caribbean islands starting at just 12,000 SkyMiles. Those flights generally start at 30,000 miles round trip on both Delta and competing airlines. Neither of those sales were advertised.
Over the summer, Delta put round-trip flights to Asia on sale starting at 30,000 SkyMiles. Considering those flights are typically 70,000 miles to 100,000 miles or more, that’s an absolute steal. And the SkyMiles Flash Sales extend to premium cabins, too. Just last month, we broke the news of the unpublished flash sale to fly in Delta’s great new Premium Select cabin to Seoul-Incheon (ICN) for just 70,000 SkyMiles round-trip. Snagging a flight to ICN in economy for that price isn’t easy. And better yet, it was a nationwide sale.
Just last week, Delta put its notoriously pricy Delta One – including the incredible suites on the Airbus A350 – on sale. Most airlines charge 60,000-70,000 miles to fly business class one way to Europe, so Delta’s sale price of 98,000 SkyMiles round trip was great. And considering Delta frequently charges 250,000 SkyMiles or more one-way, it was outstanding.
These are the kinds of deals that other airlines simply cannot offer. Their award pricing is governed by an award chart. So while their prices are more stable than Delta, it’s also rigid to a fault.
Delta exploits that, giving its flyers chances at redeeming their miles that they won’t get on other airlines.
Limitations of SkyMiles Flash Sales
Some of the same basic rules that govern how Delta sets SkyMiles award pricing apply to these great flash sales.
First, you’ll rarely find steep discounts on award tickets days or even weeks ahead of departure. That’s great, as it gives flyers more time to plan their travel. Just don’t bank on a last-minute deal to use your SkyMiles.
And unfortunately for flyers in Delta’s hubs, the biggest savings rarely extend there. We call it the SkyMiles Hub Penalty.
To be clear, Delta hubs like Atlanta (ATL), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Salt Lake City (SLC) and more will still find some discounts when these flash sales pop up. But you’ll rarely find the lowest prices from those airports.
Delta Holds All the Cards
Despite some of the amazing deals you can get through these flash sales, it’s important to point out: Delta is in control.
Delta decides what routes it will slash rates on, and when. In that way, it’s not much different than how airlines handle cash prices. It’s another reminder that Delta is increasingly treating SkyMiles flights like cash fares.
SkyMiles are just getting more unpredictable. The upside, of course, are some incredible award flights at prices you’ll never find on competitors.
But Delta holds all the cards here. The airline is using these fares to boost SkyMiles’ reputation, all while steering you and I toward the flights it wants us to take.
It requires some flexibility, but these award flash sales are one of the best ways to use your SkyMiles. Delta is offering pricing on hundreds of routes that other airlines simply cannot compete with, so keep your eyes peeled for the next deal.
Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0): Delta News Hub via Flickr
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.