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Ugh: Delta Basic Economy Award Fares Are Spreading Across the Globe

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Delta has gone where no other airline dares go by selling basic economy award tickets, pushing travelers to book these no-frills fares when using their SkyMiles on domestic flights as well as down to the Caribbean and throughout the Americas. Now, those fares are spreading across the globe.

We're now seeing Delta offering basic economy award tickets when using SkyMiles to many destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and even Australia and New Zealand. They're not showing up on every long-haul international route just yet – especially over to Europe, where just a handful of routes have been hit with this change as of publication. But it's likely only a matter of time before basic economy awards spread to every city across the continent and the rest of the world.

From London-Heathrow (LHR) to Cape Town (CPT) to Sydney (SYD) and even the airline's brand-new route from Los Angeles (LAX) all the way Auckland (AKL), the lowest rate using SkyMiles will now often get you a skimpy basic economy fare. And the upcharge to avoid those fares and get a standard cabin fare can be hefty: It'll cost you another 18,000 SkyMiles or more, in most cases.


delta basic economy msp to london

lax to auckland flight


It's unclear when this shift happened, but it's a fairly recent change – and not a good one.  After repeatedly hiking award rates for almost all business class redemptions and raising rates on all its partner airlines, this is yet another devaluation of SkyMiles. 

While basic economy may look like it costs you fewer SkyMiles on paper, it's a mirage: Delta is charging you the same amount of miles it previously did on these routes … but now you're getting far less for them. Even the cheapest Delta SkyMiles flash sales won't be as great a deal as they once were.

Whether you book with cash or miles, flying Delta basic economy means you can't pick a seat for free. You can't change these tickets, and canceling them means you'll forfeit nearly 20,000 SkyMiles. You won't earn credits toward Delta Medallion status, either.

With this simple change, your SkyMiles are suddenly worth less. Delta recently did its Amex cardholders a solid by launching a 15% discount on all Delta flights when redeeming SkyMiles. But, this could easily outweigh that benefit, too.

You'll find basic economy flying almost every airline worldwide these days, but no other major airline sells these fares when travelers redeem miles – only Delta. And now, these pesky fares are now spreading to even Delta's long-haul international routes when using SkyMiles.

It's a tough blow, considering an award ticket on most other airlines is a standard economy fare. Take a look at this example: You can book a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) on American Airlines for 94,000 AAdvantage miles. You'll be able to pick your seat, get two free bags, and can cancel and get your miles back for free online with a main cabin ticket.


Los Angeles,CA to Sydney, Australia flight


Booking that same route with Delta, you'd need 94,000 SkyMiles … for a basic economy fare. That means you'd have to pay an additional fee to select where you want to sit – or roll the dice on an automatic assignment, hoping you don't get stuck between strangers on a 15-hour flight. Want to cancel? You'd lose 19,900 of the SkyMiles you used to book thanks to Delta's cancellation fee on basic economy.


lax to sydney basic economy


The spread of Delta's basic economy award tickets has been slow yet steady. It started in late 2018 when these fares cropped up on select domestic flights before spreading to most flights nationwide. By late 2019, basic economy SkyMiles fares spread to the Caribbean and Central and South America, too. Long-haul international routes were obviously the next step.

We're not seeing basic economy award fares on each and every big international Delta route just yet – and not on every date where they have launched, either. So far, you won't see basic economy awards when redeeming SkyMiles on partner carriers like Air France, KLM, or Virgin Atlantic either.

As of publication, we're still seeing main cabin fares at the lowest rates on many flights – especially to Europe, like these roundtrip flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Amsterdam (AMS).


msp to amsterdam skymiles


But that will likely change soon, as it has with this route from Atlanta (ATL) to Amsterdam. Delta may just be rolling out these new basic economy award fares over time.


atl ams basic economy


Even select flights to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) are suddenly booking into basic economy. Same goes for the ultra-long-haul flights to destinations throughout Africa like Cape Town (CPT), Johannesburg (JNB), Accra (ACC), and others. Forking over nearly 150,000 SkyMiles for an economy ticket but you still can't pick a seat? Ouch.


atlanta to johannesburg basic


It's not just nonstop routes, though. We've also noticed connecting itineraries abroad are also getting the basic economy treatment when using SkyMiles to book.

Bottom Line

Using airline miles has long been a great way to avoid the pain of basic economy. Even as basic economy fares spread nearly worldwide, most airlines' award tickets are your old, standard economy fare.

But not with Delta. With this latest expansion, basic economy fares are becoming unavoidable whether you pay with cash or use SkyMiles. While these stingy fares aren't bookable when using miles on every international route and every date, it's likely only a matter of time before that changes, too.

And that's a bad thing for SkyMiles.

Lead photo courtesy of Chris Lundberg via Flickr

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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.

7 Responses

  • Those are insane prices to Europe across each fare class, especially given they are tens of thousands cheaper on Air France. Turkish, KLM, Iberia etc. You can get a one-way in Iberia in business for 34,000… but a basic economy on Delta is more than double that. Absolutely nuts.

  • It’s mostly useless to participate in the Skymiles program at this point. Delta’s only interested in playing these very obvious, dishonest shell games with their customers. I’m looking forward to using up whatever remaining Skymiles I have left (if that ever becomes possible). I’m already crediting miles to other loyalty programs instead.

  • This is definitely another reason to use flexible points currencies like Amex and Chase as opposed to earning Skymiles through spending or even transferring Amex rewards points to Skymiles.
    I still love flying Delta, just not paying such disappointing Skymiles fares. So, most of the time it’s a better deal to use my Amex Business platinum feature of getting back 35 percent of the Amex points (since I chose Delta for my incidentals and special points for economy rate on that card). And in the very rare instance I might splurge for international business class (which I think is highly overrated on all the domestic airlines), I find a better deal on a different partner airline. I can also get a better deal using my CSR ultimate rewards at 1.5 cpp most of the time. Delta feels like a true Jekyll-Hyde company. Service feels mostly sincere and hospitable on the planes but using Skymiles feels like the Inn Keepers from Les Mis wanting to charge even for the right to breathe on a plane.

  • The flight LAX-SYD, they have PS for 400k miles. This fare is $2325 one way..so 0.58 cents per mile…what a joke as a redeemable rate. As a DM, I’d have to spend over $36k to get 400k miles. I love flying Delta, and think they are the best among the US3, but they really think their service is what International airlines provide, and that’s far from the truth.

  • I’ve decided SkyMiles only hood for domestic flights now. Still some decent redemptions for domestic. Hate to say it but American Airlines is leading in international redemptions

  • I have flown to SE Asia since 2012 using Star Alliance awards in business class and up until 2015 give or take, I could fly round-trip in business class for 120,000 miles. For the same itinerary this fall, I am quoted an award at 550,000 miles, that equates to an increase in the cost of miles of approximately 458%. Dynamic pricing is the new coin of realm if you will and, as such, accumulating frequent flyer miles no longer makes much sense, in my humble opinion.

  • As a Skymiles member for 8 years, I find the recent devaluations to be both aggressive and nonsensical. Despite my loyalty to the program, I have never been able to redeem a single international flight using Skymiles due to their exorbitant pricing. While Delta may attempt to coerce us into booking basic economy, they cannot compel me to transfer my miles to other airlines. I keep my points with Amex and other credit cards instead of Delta and I am very happy to avoid Delta for international travels

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