Delta giveth and Delta taketh away. And that's never truer than with their controversial SkyMiles program.
Unlike most airlines out there, Delta no longer uses an award chart – the cheat sheet that helps determine how many miles it should cost you to fly on any route. And while that freedom from an award chart results in some fantastic SkyMiles flash sales, there's a downside. And here it is again.
Over the last several days, Delta appears to have hiked the pricing when using SkyMiles to get to and from Europe. Now, the lowest pricing you can find is 44,000 SkyMiles for a one-way in economy to Europe – up from a previous norm of 35,000 or so SkyMiles. Keep reading for an important tip to make sure you're not actually paying those prices for a trip to Europe.
Want to fly business class? Expect to fork over at least 105,000 SkyMiles for a one-way business class ticket. Delta was previously charging as low as 86,000 SkyMiles.
Needless to say, these are drastic increases. It puts Delta even further out of step with competitors like United and American, who charge just 30,000 miles for a one-way seat in economy to Europe and 70,000 in business class – and sometimes less. But most importantly, it makes your stash of SkyMiles far less valuable.
It's just the latest such increase from Delta, which hiked prices to Europe last year, too. These increases are simply part of the points and miles world – it's why we tell readers to make sure they're using their miles, because they're not going to get more valuable. Yet if these hikes from Delta hold, they're particularly nasty.
But there are a few things to keep in mind that can help limit the pain.
Book Roundtrip Flights in Economy
Odd though it may seem, you're going to save some serious SkyMiles on your trip to Europe by booking a round-trip fare rather than a one-way flight.
No matter where you leave from or where you're heading, expect to pay at least 44,000 SkyMiles for a one-way trip to Europe. Look at flights from New York City-JFK (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS), for example.
Yet if you add a return flight a week or so, you're not going to pay 88,000 SkyMiles. Just the opposite.
That's right: You can book two flights for the same amount of miles that it would take to book half of that same journey. It won't always work out that way, but often it can save you some serious SkyMiles by booking round-trip instead of two separate one-ways.
Unfortunately, that's not the case with business class. With prices seemingly now locked in at 105,000 SkyMiles each way to Europe, you won't be able to drop your price below 210,000 SkyMiles roundtrip.
Book Partner Airlines with Your SkyMiles
Delta is partners with Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic – three great airlines that also fly between the U.S. and Europe. And that means you can use your SkyMiles to book flights on the French, Dutch, and British airlines.
Better yet, while Delta's rates for using SkyMiles seemingly go crazy, the prices to fly on these three partners when using SkyMiles has stayed more stable. That means you can fly on one of these airlines for fewer SkyMiles than it takes to fly Delta.
It's not always a slam dunk to find the award space through Delta.com for these flights – especially for business class, like the outstanding seats on board KLM. But when you can, there are serious savings: A one-way economy ticket on one of these partner airlines will run you just 25,000 SkyMiles. And it's only 75,000 SkyMiles in business class.
Use Virgin Atlantic Miles Instead
We have a mantra here at Thrifty Traveler: If Delta wants a boatload of SkyMiles, check Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic’s frequent flyer program, Flying Club, is one of our favorite ways to book Delta flights. Thanks to a close partnership between the two airlines, it’s easy to use those Flying Club miles to fly on a Delta plane. Time it right, and you can save tons of SkyMiles on almost any flight with this workaround.
And with a flight to Europe in business class spiking to 105,000 SkyMiles each way at a minimum, the time is absolutely ripe.
But you can book that exact same flight – flying Delta One business class direct from Detroit (DTW) to Amsterdam (AMS) for just 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles – less than half as many SkyMiles.
Of course, you’ll need some Virgin Atlantic miles to make this happen. Luckily, that’s easy as can be, as you can transfer points from a stash of Chase, American Express, or Citi directly to your Virgin account.
The trick is finding the award availability at that price. It’s either there, or it’s not available at all. And there’s little rhyme or reason behind when a Delta award seat is available through Virgin Atlantic. It can be spotty, but still easy to find a flight that works if your date of departure isn’t set in stone.
One tip: Start by looking for the flights you want at Delta.com. If you find the nonstop flight you want at 105,000 SkyMiles, head over to VirginAtlantic.com and type in the route and date and see what you can pull up.
Delta SkyMiles are always unpredictable, and there's no telling whether these apparent price hikes to Europe will be permanent. But if this holds up, it's one of the ugliest increases we've seen yet.
Use some of these workarounds to make sure you're getting the most out of your miles. And keep your fingers crossed that these price increases aren't permanent.
Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0): Delta News Hub via Flickr