Delta: two one-way awards for 12,500 miles

Just when I thought I had mastered Delta award bookings, I stumbled upon something new.  Please accept my apologies in advance for the massive headache you are about to get for trying to understand this…

Background

I recently booked travel that lands me in San Francisco in early February, so I needed to book a one-way home from there (to the Detroit airport).

United and AA allow one-way awards for half the price of round trip, so I could have looked to either one to book my way home.  Unfortunately, though, only Delta has non-stop flights from San Francisco to Detroit and I really wanted a non-stop flight for this leg.

Luckily, Delta had saver-level award availability for the flight I wanted.  Unluckily, while Delta allows one-way award redemptions, they charge as much as a round trip.  So, while United and American Airlines would charge 12,500 miles for this trip, Delta would charge 25,000 miles.  No thank you.

I could have transferred American Express Membership Rewards points to Air France’s Flying Blue program and then booked the flight from there since Air France does allow one-way awards at half price.  But I wanted to see, first, if I could use my Delta miles…

Free One-ways

Much has been written about booking free one-way awards on various airlines.  Usually, it works like this: you book a round trip award and then you tack on another one-way leg to your award either before your trip (toward your home airport) or after your trip (leaving from your home airport).  This is possible thanks to airlines that allow stopovers and open-jaws on award bookings.

For booking free one-ways, Delta is at once more lenient and more restrictive than other airlines.  They are more lenient in that they are the only airline (that I know of) in which you can book free one-ways on a domestic award.  They are more restrictive because your free one-way has to be a valid routing as part of the entire award.  For example, I could book an award in which I fly DC to Detroit as my free one-way, then months later fly Detroit to San Francisco round trip all for the price of a single round trip award.  This works because Delta sees this flight as originating in DC with a long stop-over in Detroit and then returning via Detroit with an open-jaw between Detroit and DC.  In other words, it works because it is perfectly valid to book a flight from DC to LA with a stopover in Detroit.  Detroit is a Delta hub that is roughly between those locations. 

There are (at least) two cases where you cannot book a free one-way on Delta.  One is where the total flight is not a valid routing.  For example, if you live near a non-hub airport such as Indianapolis, it can’t be done.  Take the example above, for instance.  There are no valid Delta routings from DC to LA via Indianapolis so Delta would price such an award the same as two separate awards, which is no good.

The second case that doesn’t work is where your desired free one-way creates an open-jaw that is longer than the round trip legs.  Take my example above, for instance. A free one-way from DC to Detroit as part of a Detroit to San Francisco award works because the distance between DC and Detroit is less than the distance between Detroit and San Francisco.  It wouldn’t work to go the other way.  That is, I couldn’t book a free one-way from San Francisco to Detroit as part of a later Detroit to DC round trip award.  That too would price as two separate awards.

Huh?

I know that if you’re new to this, none of what I just wrote makes any sense. It took me a long time to “get it” too.  If you want to try to grok it, you can read more details about Delta free one-ways from MileValue, here:  Free Oneways on Delta Awards.

A one-way for 12,500 miles

Let’s go back to my situation.  I needed a one-way flight from San Francisco to Detroit.  I had already booked a round trip award Detroit to DC (specifically, IAD) for Frequent Traveler University where I’ll be speaking.  So, I thought it would make sense to tack on a free one-way to that award.  The problem was that if I booked San Francisco to Detroit and then later Detroit to DC (round trip), the open-jaw between Detroit and San Francisco would exceed the distance between Detroit and DC and so the routing wouldn’t be valid.  Just to be sure, I tried booking the award that way.  As expected, the award priced at 50K miles instead of 25K.  In other words, Delta’s booking engine saw this as two trips. 

I wasn’t done, though…

Not long ago, MileValue wrote up a trick for booking free one-ways on US Airways.  The trick is to add a final leg to the trip (that you’ll never fly on) in order to trick the system into thinking that you have a single round trip award.  It occurred to me that this same trick would work with Delta.  All I had to do was book as follows:

  • Feb: San Francisco to Detroit
  • Stopover
  • April: Detroit to DC
  • April: DC to San Francisco via Detroit

If I could find saver level awards for each segment shown above, then I could book the entire thing as a single round trip award for 25K.  On the return, I would simply abandon my final Detroit to San Francisco leg.  There are a couple of downsides to this: 1) I would not be able to check bags because they would go on to San Francisco (this isn’t really a problem since I rarely check bags anyway); and 2) If something came up like bad weather in Detroit, Delta might try to reroute me a different way to San Francisco.  As much as I love that city, that might be inconvenient.  Anyway, I figured it was worth the risk.

I have no doubt that the above listed trick would have worked if I had found saver level awards on my return from DC to Detroit and then Detroit to San Francisco on the same day.  Unfortunately, the only available saver level return from DC to Detroit was in the evening and there were no further flights to San Francisco that same night.

There was, however, a flight from Detroit to San Francisco the next morning.  I figured I would give it a try to see what the booking engine would do.  I plugged in the following:

  • Feb: San Francisco to Detroit
  • Stopover
  • April 25: Detroit to DC
  • April 29: DC to Detroit
  • April 30: Detroit to San Francisco

To my surprise, the booking engine decided that this trip would cost me 37,500 miles.  In other words, it wanted to charge me 12,500 miles more than a single round trip award.

That’s pretty good.  I could definitely live with a 12,500 mile one-way Delta award for the dates, times, and flights I prefer!  Plus, since the final throw-away leg would leave Detroit the next day, there was much less risk of getting rerouted to San Francisco against my will.  So, I was ready to book the trip until I had another idea…

And a free one-way too

What if I want to go to San Francisco at some later date?  I do love the city, so it seemed like a waste to throw away the final one-way leg.  I wondered what would happen if I booked the final one-way from Detroit to San Francisco for a date far in the future?

I searched the award calendar and found a saver level one-way flight from Detroit to San Francisco for late November.  I then plugged in the following:

  • February: San Francisco to Detroit
  • Stopover
  • April 25: Detroit to DC
  • April 29: DC to Detroit
  • Stopover
  • November: Detroit to San Francisco

Again, the entire award priced out at 37,500 miles!  I now have booked two one-ways: San Francisco to Detroit and, much later, Detroit to San Francisco for an incremental cost of just 12,500 miles!  Since I have Platinum status with Delta, I can later change the date of the final leg for free as long as a saver level award is available.  This is critical since I don’t really know right now when I want to return to San Francisco.

Out of curiosity, I tried changing the final leg to go to LA instead of San Francisco, but that award priced out at 50,000 miles. 

Taking it further

I plan to test whether the trick I stumbled onto will work on international trips.  While this trick saved a total of 12,500 miles, I can imagine saving far more for international business class travel if the stars align properly.

It’s worth noting that I have no idea why this trick works.  I understand “traditional” free one-ways, but there’s nothing in my little brain to explain why Delta’s booking engine thought to charge 37,500 miles.  Maybe this is already a well known phenomenon and I’m just late to the game?  I’m hoping that someone more experienced than me with award bookings can explain it!  Anyone?  Gary?  MileValue?  Amol?  Lucky?  The Weekly Flyer?  René?  John?  Brian?  Bueller?

Once we understand why it works, it will be easier to figure out how best to take it further.

Frequent Miler is on vacation

Posts have been scheduled in advance. See you in September!

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Comments

  1. Delta is the only airline that allows stopovers on one-way awards.

    You should in theory be able to book San Francisco – Detroit (stopover) – DC (destination) – San Francisco (via Detroit or Atlanta, say) for 25,000 miles if you can find ‘low’ availability for all flights.

    Although of course Delta may not price it correctly even then…

    • Gary: I know that. The interesting thing here is that I have two stopovers in Detroit and it only cost me 12500 miles for the extra stopover. As I said in the post, I have no doubt this would have ticketed at 25k if I could have found a valid saver level return from IAD to SFO via DTW, without a stopover.

  2. What Gary said. Also, keep in mind, there are times you can string many strange “one way” holds that “should” work out to all low level when you “marry” them into one but the Delta computers will kick them out. Then, from the help desk, the key thing for them to ask for is to “price as booked”. As much as we complain about Delta IT, it is amazing what you can get done if you work at it.

  3. Hmm. Are the flights you’re using on the way back last in / first out? Changing the return to LA instead of SFO would give you stopover + open jaw which they won’t permit domestically and would explain higher pricing.

    • Gary: yes, my first try at this was last in / first out (I think). That’s incorrect about the open jaw. Delta does permit an open jaw plus a stopover on domestic flights (despite their written rules). I do this all the time to get free one-ways on domestic travel.

  4. You can check bags. When you check in, just tell the gate agent that you want to “short check” your bags to whatever destination you want to collect your bags. I’ve done this a handful of time, and have never even been questioned as to why. From memory, I did it once on an Air Canada/Brussels flight from BRU-YUL(short check)-LAX, and a United LGA-ORD-LAX(short check)-SJC.

  5. It doesn’t, but I am thinking Delta did this to give its agents/systems a little more flexibility for open jaws/stopovers. Could be they couldn’t get it to code properly without this exception/loophole

  6. this is a truly great and innovative idea though I don’t quite understand it now at first sight. i will read more carefully and figure it out. i believe it will be very helpful to my future trips. thanks a lot.

  7. Doesn’t it violate Delta’s contract of carriage to abandon the leg of a trip? I remember reading something about that being considered a fare violation.

    • Lively: Just keep in mind that this really only works if you live near a Delta hub
      HansGolden: That makes sense!
      choi: I don’t think that enough people do this (or understand it even) to bother Delta much. Yes, Delta saver level awards are hard to find, but they do exist.
      Scott: Correct. I tried one form of an open jaw when I tried to make the final leg go to LA instead of SFO. That didn’t work. However, it might be possible to add a leg after SFO, but I doubt it. I think that adding an open jaw would work if I used another hub rather than SFO. For example, if your replace SLC in my itinerary for SFO, I bet we could add another leg: SLC to LA, for example, without the price going up. That’s just my guess

  8. this free oneway is contagious, everyone is in on the take, i hope the airlines are not on to this and change the rules like everything else. i though delta is notorious for not having saver awards hence skypeso.

    • Tri: Yes, you international awards can also have a stopover and an open jaw whether or not you include skyteam partners
      THEsocalledfan: I think that HansGolden has solved the riddle

  9. Miler,

    I have used the open jaw/stopover trick on a domestic award (thanks to Rene’s tutoring), and had realized the valid routing issue in the past. I can’t figure out why this priced at 37.5 K….in theory, that should have been 2K as it one stopover, and not even an open jaw since heading back to SFO in theory….but I am still green at this.

    Then, to tack on another stopover and have it work? I am taking it up to Delta Dumb and thus why they may move to revenue redemption.

  10. Maybe this? “Except as provided below, when a ticket therefore is purchased before the transportation commences or is reissued pursuant to Rule 255 (Rerouting), the fare applicable to a circle trip via participating carriers or partly via participating carriers and partly via other scheduled air carriers and National Air Taxi Conference members shall be for the portion of carriage via one or more participating carriers, the sum of 50% of the applicable round-trip fares for the respective sections, constructed from the point of origin via the route of travel that produces the lowest fare for the circle trip for class of service used.”

    • Allen, good point. I wonder if you could do SFO-ATL-IAD//IAD-DTW-CLE//CLE-MSP-SFO with stopovers in ATL and MSP for 37.5k total.

  11. In my most recent scenario, you should be able to add a stopover at ATL, DTW, or MSP. I’m wondering if you can add two.

  12. I just don’t get it.. I live in LFT Lafayette, my main Airport is either Houston IAH or MSY New Orleans. Can I do that for there.. and just pay the trip from Houston or something..

    Can I do this on United? US Airways flys out of Baton Rouge and MSY can I do it on them. What about Frontier.. ? This is so confusing..

  13. So in a circle trip, there can be nonhub stopvers (like IAD), right? so how many nonhub stopovers and hub stoovers can be added? Maybe just one nonhub stopver (“destination”) and 2 hub stopovers?

    • Allen, in my understanding (which is theoretical, not tested) you should be able to have two non-hub destinations (and one non-hub origin) and at least one hub stopover. If N is non-hub and H is hub: N1-H-N2//N2-H-N3//N3-H-N1 with at least one free stopover at any H; H can be unique or same. Hopefully FM will do some testing of my theories and write a post about it. (I just don’t have time to do the research, plus I don’t make the big bucks from the credit card ads anyway.)

  14. I read the link, Hans. So I saw Delta’s definition of a circle trip, but I didn’t see how it explains this pricing at 37.5k. I would expect this to price at 50k like FM expected. I don’t have an explanation for why it didn’t. I think I remember pricing out some awards like this at 37.5k also. It didn’t seem remarkable at the time, but upon reading this post I realize that it was remarkable. I wish I could remember the routings.

  15. Delta’s website definition of a circle trip is a poor one relative to the actual definition of a circle trip. The main purpose of the link was to show that Delta does do circle trips.

    The most basic definition of a circle trip is A-B//B-C//C-A and that you can use RT fares (which price at half-RTs for each of the three legs).

    It depends upon the fare rules (whether paid or award) whether stopovers are allowed, which is a different issue.

    The simple fact is that this *is* pricing as a circle trip.

    The really terrific thing about circle trip pricing for DL is that it gets around the no-OW/RT-only issue. Circle trips and OJs used to be MUCH more useful back in the day when 97.5% of all cheap domestic fares were RT-only. All of a sudden, circle trips are useful again because DL is so wonderfully regressive.

  16. MileValue wrote: “I read the link, Hans. So I saw Delta’s definition of a circle trip, but I didn’t see how it explains this pricing at 37.5k. I would expect this to price at 50k like FM expected. I don’t have an explanation for why it didn’t.”

    I think the explanation is relatively simple. Originally FM had 1 stopover (which is allowed), so it priced out as a valid R/T award at 25K. Then he added a second stopover (which isn’t allowed) so it priced out as a “multi-leg Award Ticket” which, per the award chart, should be 12.5K x 3 legs = 37.5K:

    https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles/use-miles/award-travel/airlines-and-mileage-charts/travel-from-the-u-s-canada.html

    “Award mileage shown is each-way based on a required round-trip or multi-leg Award Ticket”

    I think this is what HansGolden meant by “pricing it as a circle trip”. The award chart doesn’t refer to “circle trip”, but rather “multi-leg Award Ticket”. Once I saw this language in the award chart it made perfect sense.

  17. BTW, thanks for the mental exercise FM. It helped solve a mystery that’s been driving me nuts for a while. I was trying to price a DL award from SEA-HUX. It was pricing out higher than DL’s US-Mexico award chart and I thought it was a delta.dumb glitch with mixing skyteam and non-skyteam partners. I now realize it’s probably just pricing out as a multi-leg award, because SEA-LAX-MEX / MEX-LAX-SEA is a valid routing, but (apparently) not SEA-LAX-MEX-HUX / HUX-MEX-LAX-SEA. It also struck me that I might be able to get one-way pricing on the MEX-HUX leg, which should help since the return HUX-MEX leg is far more convenient on another airline.

  18. Well, no dice here. According to the DL help desk, because there is no DL (or partner) published fare between SEA-HUX, DL won’t price it without breaking into 2 separate R/T awards with published fares. Viva la skypesos! No possibility to make it a “multi-leg” award.

    I’m really confused now as to what exactly a “multi-leg” award is. I’m guessing “multi-leg” means an award that would otherwise be valid as a R/T, if not for exceeding the allowed number of stopovers, so they break it into legs (delineated by stopovers) and price each leg as one way. I did some tests to replicate FM’s 37.5K result and verified that “legs” with or without connections price at 37.5K, so you don’t necessarily need to look for non-stop legs.

  19. Will this work for the following example:

    Orlando to NYC via Detroit
    stopover for a few days
    NYC to Detroit
    stopover for a few days
    Detroit to Orlando?

    All for 25k miles?

    • Henry: Yes, as long as Delta sees Detroit as a valid path between Orlando and NYC, it should work. Plus, you would have to find low level (25K) award availability for all legs in order for the whole thing to rice out at 25K. Note that on the outbound, you do not need to route through Detroit since you’re not planning on stopping in Detroit until the return. That is, you should be able to do something like this: Outbound: Orlando to NYC (destination); Return: NYC to Detroit (stopover); Detroit to Orlando.

  20. Has there been a change in policy at Air France? I just tried to book a one-way award on Delta with Air France miles (I’ve done it before) and, while it is correctly pricing at 12,500 miles for the flight, it is telling me I need 25k miles in the account to book it. Have you seen this? Is this a new policy?

  21. Excellent tip on Delta! I’m on my last year of Medallion status and I plan on squeezing as much juice from my miles as possible.

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