Delta SkyMiles giveth, and Delta SkyMiles taketh away. And unfortunately, this goes firmly in the “taketh away” column.
One of the best ways to use your SkyMiles is for flights on partner airlines. But Delta charges more SkyMiles for many partner award bookings made within 60 days of departure. And within 21 days of departure, these SkyMiles penalties can be sinister.
Read on to see how it works – and how you can avoid paying more.
All About SkyMiles and Partners
Between frequent flash sales and constantly changing prices, SkyMiles award pricing for Delta flights can be unpredictable.
But it's far more stable (and often cheaper) to use SkyMiles on a partner airline. A one-way flight to Europe on Air France, KLM or Virgin Atlantic in economy will be 25,000 SkyMiles, while a business class flight to Taipei on China Airlines is 85,000 SkyMiles – even when Delta flights on the same routes are much higher.
Those cheaper, more predictable rates make partner bookings one of the best ways to use Delta SkyMiles. But there's just one problem: As you get closer to departure, those rates even on partner airlines can increase drastically.
These are called close-in booking penalties, and they're not unique to Delta partner bookings. Many airlines tack on a close-in booking fee in cash – United is doing away with this fee as it transitions to a more Delta-like, dynamic award pricing system.
Delta itself often charges exorbitantly more SkyMiles for its own flights as you get closer to the departure date. But with ever-changing award rates, it's tough to work out any trends in how pricing changes.
There's a clear pattern when booking Delta's partner airlines.
Delta's Late Booking Penalty for Partners
So how bad does it get when you're booking a partner airline with SkyMiles close to departure? It depends.
Delta currently has three pricing tiers for partner awards: standard pricing 60-plus days before departure; higher pricing between 59 and 22 days until departure; and the highest rates 21 days or less to departure. The extra amounts you'll pay vary by airline, and whether you're flying economy or business class.
We'll show you what that looks like.
An economy award from the U.S. to London-Heathrow (LHR) on Virgin Atlantic typically costs just 25,000 SkyMiles.
But that increases to 40,000 SkyMiles if you're booking less than two months before departure…
And it gets even worse if you book within 21 days before the flight takes off. Expect to pay 47,500 SkyMiles for these late Virgin Atlantic flights – almost double the standard price.
The same is true for booking Virgin Atlantic business class with SkyMiles. Prices start at 86,000 SkyMiles each way, but that increases to 135,000 SkyMilesbetween 59 and 22 days before departure. And if you wait too long to book, you need a whopping 160,000 SkyMiles within 21 days of your flight.
Those increases are somewhat milder for Air France and KLM, fellow SkyTeam partner airlines in Europe. An economy seat will cost you 32,500 SkyMiles on either airline if you're flying between 59 days and 22 days from the time you book. That's up from the norm of 25,000 SkyMiles when you book more than 60 days in advance.
Though finding award space is always a puzzle, it appears as though you cannot book flights using SkyMiles on Air France or KLM within 21 days of departure. And finding any business class seats on these airlines using SkyMiles is always a chore, so it's best to focus at least two months in advance.
It's not so bad flying to Asia – especially back in economy. Regardless of whether you're booking 10 months in advance or 10 days, a seat on partners like Taiwan's China Airlines or mainland carrier China Eastern will run you 37,500 SkyMiles each way.
Flying business class, the increases for waiting to book these airlines are fairly mild.
- 60+ days before departure: 85,000 SkyMiles each way
- 22-59 days before departure: 90,000 SkyMiles each way
- Up to 21 days before departure: 95,000 SkyMiles each way
If you want to fly to Seoul-Incheon (ICN) on SkyTeam partner Korean Airlines, it's tougher. Not because of the rate increases, but because we were unable to find a single seat within 60 days of departure – business class or economy.
Here's a full chart spelling out what you should expect on some of Delta's major partner airlines that fly to the U.S.:
|Airline||Economy 60+ Days||Economy 59-22 Days||Economy 21 Days or Less||Business 60+ Days||Business 59-22 Days||Business 21 Days or Less|
|China Eastern Airlines||37,500||37,500||37,500||85,000||90,000||95,000|
|Korean Airlines||37,500||Not Available||Not Available||85,000||Not Available||Not Available|
Just be warned that these rates can still change at a moment's notice. And finding award availability is another game entirely – especially with business class awards on airlines like Air France, KLM, or Korean Air.
Using your SkyMiles to book flights on partner airlines is still a great deal – often much better than a Delta flight. Just make sure you book at least 60 days before departure to get the most bang for your buck.
Lead photo courtesy of Eddie Maloney via Flickr.