Delta made big waves last fall when it acquired a 20% stake in LATAM, a major step toward a partnership with Latin America's largest airline that had long been aligned with rival American Airlines.
Latin America has been one of Delta's weakest regions so it was big news, opening doors for Delta travelers to fly to and around Central and South America on LATAM. While LATAM is headquartered in Chile, it has several subsidiary airlines in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and beyond.
But there was also the prospect of using SkyMiles to fly with LATAM to Santiago de Chile (SCL), Buenos Aires (EZE), Sao Paulo (GRU), and beyond.
Delta just announced that SkyMiles members will be able to start redeeming miles for LATAM flights starting April 1, 2020. And you'll be able to earn SkyMiles while flying LATAM (and build towards Delta Medallion Status) starting in April, too. Later this year, Delta and LATAM will start honoring each other's elite status with perks like lounge access and priority boarding.
Just what that will look like remains unclear. But we have some thoughts.
Earning and Burning SkyMiles with LATAM
Delta and LATAM aren't sharing many specifics – or any, really. And as with all things in the world of points and miles, the devil is in the details.
But generally speaking, flying with partner airlines is one of the best ways to use your Delta SkyMiles. It's also a great way to earn the Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) that you need for Delta status. If that holds true with LATAM, this could be a win for loyal Delta flyers.
Let's look at redeeming Delta SkyMiles first. SkyMiles get a bad rap for their unpredictability – Delta's dynamic award pricing system means the number of miles you need to book a flight can change drastically based on cash price, time of year, demand, and other factors.
But with partner airlines, it's different. You're still using SkyMiles, but the prices are far more stable. There's a (hidden) award chart that governs exactly what an award ticket on a partner airline will cost.
Let's look at Air France and KLM as an example. Using SkyMiles to fly with Delta, it could cost you an arm and a leg to get to Europe – or just a few thousand, if you catch a SkyMiles flash sale.
But if you redeem your SkyMiles for KLM, it's always 25,000 miles each way to fly economy between the U.S. and Europe – so long as you're not booking close to departure, anyway. Business class with KLM or Air France? It's always 75,000 SkyMiles. And it doesn't matter whether you're doing a nonstop flight to Amsterdam (AMS) or flying all the way out to Athens (ATH).
But that predictability is the beauty of Delta's partner airlines. If the award rates that Delta and LATAM set for flights to Central and South America are kind, it could quickly become a great sweet spot. Only time will tell.
The same sweet spot works in reverse to earn SkyMiles or build toward elite status when flying partner airlines like LATAM.
When you pay for a Delta flight, your earning is based on the price you paid. But when you pay for a partner airline flight like AeroMexico or China Eastern, it's based on the distance you fly. And while that may seem like a small matter, it means you can often earn far more MQMs and MQDs for Medallion Status than you would on a similarly priced Delta flight.
Read our guide on how to juice your MQD earnings with Delta.
Again, only time will tell if this pattern holds with LATAM. But flying partner airlines is a tried-and-true way to earn status faster with Delta.
Delta's partnership with LATAM was exciting enough to begin with. But now we know when you can start earning and redeeming SkyMiles on its newest partner airline, and that raises some potentially interesting opportunities to earn and use SkyMiles!
Lead photo courtesy of Victor via Flickr