How to Book Free Flights using Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles have gotten a bad rap for having very little availability on the lowest tier of award space.  Some have rightfully dubbed them SkyPesos because they have very little value.  This is why I rarely recommend using Delta miles to actually fly on Delta flights, unless you have an emergency.  Instead, you can get great value by using Delta’s partner airlines to see numerous cities, using the same award ticket, for the same amount of miles.  On international tickets, Delta allows both a stopover and a double open jaw.  If you’re not sure what that means, keep reading!

Know the Tricks

Stopovers:  Delta is the only major US airline that allows domestic stopovers.  For example, if you were flying from Miami to San Francisco, you could stopover in Salt Lake City for a few days on the same ticket.  This perk is even better when you’re flying internationally, because you can have one stopover in any city on the way to, or from, your final destination.  For example, if you wanted to fly from New York to South Africa, you could stopover in Paris for a few days, either on the way to South Africa or on the way back home.  However, the the routing has to make sense, and be somewhat “on the way” to your final destination.  You can’t fly from New York to Moscow with a stopover in India for example.

Transfers:  For domestic travel, a transfer can only be up to 4 hours.  However, on international tickets you can have a transfer time of up to 24 hours without it counting as your stopover.  For example, you may fly into Paris in the morning, spend the entire day sightseeing and then board an evening flight to Asia without it counting as a stopover.

Open Jaws:  An Open Jaw is industry jargon for flying in and out of different cities on the same ticket.  For example, you could fly from Los Angeles to Germany, travel around Europe for awhile, and then fly back from Rome and land in New York all for the same amount of miles as just going direct from Los Angeles to Germany.  Delta allows open jaws on all its award flights.

These tricks allow for some pretty exciting options.  Rather than spending 100,000 miles for a business class ticket to and from Italy, you could instead go from New York to Paris, (stopover in Paris for a while), then continue on a flight to Rome, (drive around Italy for awhile), and then catch your return flight from Venice to Washington D.C.  All that for the same 100,000 miles.  That’s up to 4 cities visited instead of one, and the only additional travel you would have to book is your car in Italy and your trip back to New York from D.C.  This is the hidden value of award tickets!

Using this trick you can also get three award tickets for the price of two.  Let’s say you live in Salt Lake City and would like to see Paris, Los Angeles, and Detroit in the next year.  The first leg of your first ticket is Salt Lake City to Paris.  The return portion is an open jaw ticket from Paris to Los Angeles, with a “stopover” back home in Salt Lake City on your way to Los Angeles.  This gives you up to a year back home before you finish out the first leg of the ticket to Los Angeles.  On your second ticket, the first leg will be from Los Angeles to Detroit with a “stopover” again back home in Salt Lake City.  This gives you another year to take your Salt Lake City to Detroit trip.  The return portion of the second ticket will be your flight back from Detroit to Salt Lake City.  There you have it, 3 round-trip tickets booked for the price of 2 using Delta SkyMiles!

Finding Availability

Now that you know how many places you can visit on one ticket, you need to learn how to actually get there.  Booking award travel on Delta isn’t always easy, but following these steps will make sure you’re rewarded in the end.

Booking Domestic Flights

Since Delta Airlines has no domestic airline partners, the best way to book free domestic flights is online thorough delta.com.  Delta lists all of its domestic inventory online, and if you book through the website you won’t have to pay any additional fees.  The best value is usually found on last minute bookings when they’ve released inventory.

Booking International Flights

When looking for international free tickets, you can start with Delta’s online booking tool, but realize that they show very limited partner airline availability.  For example, when I looked up a business class flight from Los Angeles to Rome, the Delta website showed a cost of 212,500 SkyMiles.  However, when I called Delta I was able to secure a flight in business class on SkyTeam partner Alitalia for only 100,000 SkyMiles.  You just have to call the SkyMiles desk at (800) 323-2323 in order to check availability and book the flights.

Tips for Getting the Flights you Want

1.  Look at the partner airline route maps.  At MARS Frequent Flyer we have direct links to the route maps of all Delta’s Airline partners.  Simply click on the route maps and see which airlines fly to your desired destination.  Often times, there will be several airlines that fly into the same city, which will give lots of flexibility in your booking options.

2.  Piece together some different routing options.  Let’s say that you want to get from New York to South Africa.  There is no direct flight available, but there are many other options.  You could fly on Air France through a European gateway like Paris or Amsterdam.  Or you could fly Kenya Airways through Nairobi.   You don’t have to stay on one airline, so feel free to mix and match partners in order to piece your trip together.

3.  Work with the agent on the phone.  Once you have your different routing options available, start walking the phone agent through all of your top choices.  Do not assume that the agent knows all of the different routes, because they don’t.  I usually call with my computer screen open to MARS and keep throwing different routings and partners at them until I get the best flight.

4.  Save time using MARS Frequent Flyer.  On the Delta Airlines page at MARS, we have all of the information needed to help make your bookings.  The direct links to award charts, online booking tools, phone numbers, and partner airlines will save you hours of time in putting together your trip.  MARS also shows you ways to earn hundreds of thousands of free frequent flyer miles so that you can travel the world for free!

5.  Make Sure You Are Getting Good Value!

Using SkyMiles to book free flights can be extremely rewarding.  Just remember, if you can’t get at least 2 pennies per point, you should purchase the ticket and wait for a better opportunity to use your points.  Frequent flyer miles are extremely valuable!  It’s not very difficult to find opportunities to get 2 pennies per point, especially if you have an emergency.  Often times you can get over 3 cents, and even up to 15 cents per point if you use them to book international business or first class.  Now that is great value!

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