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Delta Kills Off (Almost) All Partner Awards with Exorbitant Prices

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It was always bound to end this way with Delta SkyMiles.

For years, one of the best ways to use Delta SkyMiles was booking flights on partner airlines (through Delta's own website) like Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, or Korean Air. While award rates to fly Delta were unpredictable (and often through the roof), these partner award redemptions were almost always a better deal – and more stable, too.

But then they devalued these partner redemptions in fall 2020 with some massive increases for both economy and business class flights. Then, there was another increase in 2021. Earlier this year, Delta gutted the last decent SkyMiles business class redemption on routes to the Middle East. And now it seems like Delta is putting the final nail in the coffin.

We're seeing sky-high award rates using SkyMiles on many SkyTeam partner airlines – and in what's certainly not a coincidence, they're almost always matching exactly what Delta is charging for its own flights. For the last year and change, a one-way economy flight from the U.S. to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) with KLM cost you 35,000 SkyMiles – or 120,000 SkyMiles in KLM business class.

Here's what you may see now:


msp ams partner redemption


Ouch. That's an 83% increase for an economy award and a 175% jump for business class – overnight, with no warning. It's not like using 120,000 SkyMiles to fly business class to Europe before was a bargain but at this point, it's almost laughable. Delta gonna Delta.

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Whether you're flying across the Atlantic or Pacific, there are some eye-popping increases. It's not always 83% more miles for economy and 175% in business class – instead, it's often now tied to whatever Delta is deciding to charge for its own flights. 

That alone is a big change. While Delta years ago did away with award charts that determined how many miles you'd need to book a Delta flight, there had long been an invisible award chart governing these partner tickets. No more: It's all the same.


jfk lhr delta skymiles


There are some outliers and exceptions here and there. For example, you can currently still book flights from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) or Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) at the old rates, among a few others. Whether those will stick around or also skyrocket soon is anyone's guess, as Delta never announces these changes.


iad to cdg skymiles


But big picture, a clear pattern is starting to emerge: If Delta doesn't fly there, you can still get a better deal using your SkyMiles on a partner airline. But if Delta can get you there, you can generally expect to pay a small (or quite large) fortune based on what Delta itself wants.

For example, Delta doesn't have any service to Taipei (TPE). That means you can still fly there from San Francisco (SFO) on China Airlines in economy for 50,000 miles or book business class for 120,000 miles each way.


sfo tpe skymiles


But Delta does fly to Seoul (ICN). So that means flying Korean Air from San Francisco will cost you many, many more SkyMiles – exactly what Delta charges for its own flights, in fact.


delta skymiles korea


Why is Delta Doing This?

In short? Because they can.

It's still not entirely clear exactly what is happening. But if it is what it looks like, moves like this from Delta's loyalty program are hardly a surprise anymore.

Loyal Delta flyers and SkyMiles haters alike have come to expect overnight changes and exorbitantly priced awards thanks to its dynamic award pricing. Using 330,000 SkyMiles for a one-way business class ticket, be it in Air France business class or a Delta One suite, is laughably bad.


delta one suite


Some of it may come down to the intricacies of partner award bookings like these.

While you can often get more bang for your buck by booking one flight using another airline's miles, that comes at a cost to the airline: The airline whose miles you're redeeming has to compensate the airline you wind up flying. Plus, why would Delta want to show SkyMiles a much-cheaper option to fly another airline that isn't Delta?

For Delta, there was only one way to go to even things out between its own redemption rates and partners: up – and way up. And at the end of the day, Delta has deeply intertwined its business with many of these airlines through joint ventures and sizable investments, making it even easier to make changes like this.

So where does this leave travelers with a stash of SkyMiles as the list of solid ways to redeem SkyMiles has shrunk and shrunk over the years?

Four words: Delta SkyMiles flash sales.

Untethered from an award chart, Delta frequently slashes award rates across the map, leading to cheaper award rates than you'll find on almost any airline. Sometimes Delta advertises these sales, often they don't … but we always find them and send them to our Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members.

Over the years, we've found some truly incredible SkyMiles flash sales like:


europe skymiles deal


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Getting in on these deals requires some flexibility and patience. Business class deals do happen, but they're fairly rare. But no matter what, these are rates that you simply won't find on other carriers, which often charge twice as much or more.

With this latest move, it's clear this is where the value will be with Delta SkyMiles going forward.


Bottom Line

In one stroke, Delta has made many of its partner award rates just as atrocious as its own flights.

Using Delta SkyMiles to fly partner airlines like Air France, KLM, or Virgin Atlantic will now typically cost you exactly what Delta is charging for its own flights – and that's not a good thing. There are exceptions, but a pattern is emerging.

Frankly, we're surprised it took them this long.

Editor's note: We've edited our story and the headline to note that there are some exceptions to this trend with Delta SkyMiles partner awards.

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.

21 Responses

  • Round-trip award-redemption flights between the US and Europe on Delta metal have priced at 650,000 or more miles for most of the last year. It’s only dropped when Delta has run a sale, like recently when winter paid loads must have been looking bad and they announced a flash Sky Miles sale for business-class.

    And if you think this is bad, wait until we see what Marriott does beginning January 2023. I bet we’ll see 300,000 points per night hotels.

  • I killed my SkyMiles account years ago and converted it to Air France Flying Blue. The program is much better and easy to navigate. I became fed up with the shenanigans and realized I was flying Air France all the time anyway!

  • Privileged ass cry baby. Delta is a business. Not to cater to privileged ass trash like you. Prices everywhere went up. So it make sense award tickets prices are raised. If you don’t like like the delta prices, go fly on spirit airlines or one of the two 9/11 airlines. Delta created too many privileged pansy ass trash like you Kyle. Not happy with the prices, then go elsewhere. Delta don’t need bitch asses like you. Matter a fact, Delta would be better off if pansy asses like you would go else where. You’re no different then the unruly passengers in basic economy. At the end of the day, a business still needs to profit. While bitch asses like you and Gary Left hops on and bitch about not having it like the old ways. I fucking hate white pansy ass people like you. You’re worse than “Karens” of the world.

    • They make billions in revenue per year, and that’s before any profits made from company valuation and the like. If other airlines can survive without insane hikes, so can Delta. That aside, all the other drivel you spouted was uncalled for, but at least you can rest assured it devalued your entire thought process.

    • Sounds like you’re a crazy Karen!? In addition if Delta thoughts, the frequent flyer program to entice and keep more travelers flying with Delta, they should keep their reward program in tact
      Otherwise, it’s just another clicking bait. And your comment on price rears increase does not correlate with the current inflation.

    • Wow, your tone and words didn’t have to be that offensive to state your point. Sounds like you may work for the airline as there was a lot of anger in your message. My thoughts are that Delta has taken their best customers for granted. The hikes on using sky miles for a “free” flight have been outrageous over the past few years. I understand costs have gone up and yes I’ve paid the extra cost of Delta flights over and over again. The problem is I’m still earning the same measly miles I did in the year 2000 for my more expensive flight and now to use those sky miles is even harder. After 20 years of Platinum I may have enough miles to flight 2 round trip tickets to Europe. What a bargain! Lol!!

    • Ridiculous and unnecessary negative rant. There are some things in this world to get crazy about, but not a simple article like this. Get a life!

  • Imagine paying 650,000 miles for business on Delta or a partner and then not being able to access the Sky Club because there’s a line with 75 people waiting to get inside. That was my experience Wednesday evening in Atlanta trying to get inside the B Sky Club. 75 people at 4 pm on a Wednesday in October!

    • The B terminal Sky Club is always the busiest in ATL. The other terminals Sky Clubs are smaller (E is the next biggest) but are usually less crowded. Go to those next time.

  • From my home in Hibbing Mn to Orlando a few weeks ago Delta price was over $1,500 round trip. I chose to drive 70=miles ty Duluth and fly United for little over $600. Delta sky miles were so high they were not an option either. They are pricing themselves out for me. Guess they cater to business people flying on a business account. I also got a new credit card for Inited miles which seems to be a better deal too.

  • I think you’ve made a mistake in the article. You keep saying 120k for “one way” when it’s pretty clearly round trip. If it was one way it would be 240k for biz and your % don’t make sense

  • You didn’t notice DL has also used it’s part ownership to force Virgin awards higher. Until this weekend some Delta metal flights priced on VS for 50K + $12 Biz JFK/LHR. Now they price at VS rates + $900 fees 1 way.

    The real devaluation scheme coming is how Radisson just did: Only a “Pay With Points” option now, where the value per point is cut in half. Aer Lingus did this with it’s AerClub cutting cpp to .6 from 1.2 and is actually fighting avios.com. How ff accounts will be gutted (in the name of making it easy for anyone to partially pay with points, of course).

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