Fighting Delta’s devaluation

Oh boy.  Yesterday, Delta added another straw to break the backs of their loyal elites.  DeltaPoints has the story here.  The basics are this: Many/most low-level international business class awards will be priced 7% to 25% higher for trips beginning on or after June 1 2014.  For example, low-level business class awards from the continental United States to Europe will increase from 100,000 miles round-trip to 125,000 miles.  Yikes.

Tricking it

What if you were hoping to use your miles next summer, but you don’t want to pay those inflated prices?  There may be an option to lessen the sting.  Thankfully, trips that begin before June 1 are booked under the previous prices.  So, the trick is to make Delta think you are beginning your trip early.  Here’s an example of how to do it…

Find the desired trip

Finding low level business class awards on Delta, for summer travel, is not the easiest game in the world, but it is possible.

I started by searching for low-level one-ways to Europe, and found a nice flight to Amsterdam departing Detroit June 29th.  You can see that the new 125K prices are in effect:

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I then found a return flight:

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I then plugged in these same dates and times as a round-trip search, and the entire itinerary priced out at 125K miles:

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Add a pre-trip

The trick to reducing the 125K price is to add a travel segment to the award.  As long as the segment you add takes place before June 1, 2014, Delta will price the outbound part of the award according to the pre-devaluation award chart.  So, instead of paying 125,000 miles round-trip, you would pay 112,500 miles (50,000 miles for the outbound leg, and 62,500 miles for the return leg).

Free one-way

If you live near a Delta hub, then you may be able to add a free one-way domestic award to your itinerary.

In my case, I searched for low level first-class award flights from San Francisco to Detroit.  I needed to find a date prior to June 1, 2014 with a low level award.  I found this one:

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I then ran a multi-city search and plugged in all of the above flights.  That is, I plugged in San Francisco to Detroit, Jan 5 2014; then Detroit to Amsterdam, June 29th, 2014; then Amsterdam to Detroit, July 5th, 2014.  I was careful to pick the exact flights that I found before.

As I expected, the itinerary priced at 112,500 miles:

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Delta.com sees this trip as a single round trip flight to Europe originating in San Francisco, with a stop-over in Detroit, and then an open jaw at the end of the trip between Detroit and San Francisco.  It prices at 112,500 because the outbound leg starts prior to June 1, 2014 and the return leg starts after that date.

To take advantage of the routing shown above, I would need to make my way to San Francisco separately before flying back to Detroit.  It’s a great way to get half of a free trip to California!

Note that this trick only works from Delta hubs that are valid stopovers between your starting point and your destination.  My example, shown above, worked because Detroit is a valid stopover between San Francisco and Amsterdam.

Conclusion

If you were hoping to use your Delta SkyMiles for an international business class trip next summer, you may be able to lessen the sting of the new award chart by adding in an extra trip mid-year.  This trick definitely won’t work for everyone, though.  And, it may not even be worth the hassle to save only 12,500 miles.  Still, if the circumstances are just right for you, you might as well get the most you can from your miles.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. Gene: me too. The funny thing is if you try to book a simple round trip that spans June 1 (I.e. outbound to Europe before June 1 and return after), the search results show 100k total until you try to book the flight and get an error. That happened to me several times before I gave up on that test.

    • Greg: It depends where you’re flying from. For example, if your free one-way starts on the west coast, then a hub like Salt Lake City should work, but if you’re starting from somewhere east, like Miami, you’ll have to look to east coast hubs like Atlanta and JFK. An easy way to find options is to do a regular paid flight search on Delta.com and view all the options. For my example, I would search for SFO to AMS and look at all of the airports listed as potential stops along the way. I think that Delta even lists them along the left side of the screen with check boxes.

  2. @Greg — I also tested the simple roundtrip this morning, and it was pricing at 112,500, so I guess it prices each one-way separately. If only we could actually book a “real” one-way DL award…

    • Gene: I guess they fixed that bug between yesterday and today. That’s good because it was frustrating to see 100K show up but be unable to book it (which is not all that unusual via delta.com!)

    • john: That’s true. I couldn’t think of a better word than hub even though it is not quite accurate.

      THEsocalledfan: I’m impressed by the route you have booked. I don’t think your second proposal will work though. The open jaw between SAV and FSD at the end of the trip is much longer than the SAV to ATL segment. I think that the open jaw has to be the shortest segment.

  3. As a small regional airport flyer, I want to add a little perspective for those in my boat. Don’t discount the power/utility of this just because you don’t live at a hub. For example, in Jan. I am flying (home airport FSD):

    FSD-MSP-JFK-FCO-JFK-MSP stop over until April MSP-ATL-SAV.

    I live close enough to MSP I’ll just drive back, or book a TY point flight. Now, with Greg’s trick, I’ll likely book:

    SAV-ATL-MSP stopover until after June 1, then MSP-CDG-MSP-FSD on Air France. This routing, I think should be legal…. Note, I come directly home…..

    so, you have to deal with how do I get two and from a hub a bit, but it does along you to get the FC/Biz one way…..

  4. actually Atlanta has nothing to do with it since it is just a connecting point. the open Jaw is Savannah and Sioux Falls which is less than the trip to Europe so it should be okay if the routing from Savannah is allowed through Minneapolis

  5. John is correct. I just confirmed I can book exactly what I proposed for 112,500. (not sure why not 100k, but matches your example)

    I felt like a genius (trust me, rare occurance) when I realized I can have this fun too even when flying to and from FSD all the time.

  6. so what currency is worse than pesos? should they now be Delta Drachmas?!?…fly to Greece with Delta Drachmas at our new devalued rates, if you can find availability…delta=blah

  7. No matter how much this is sugar coated, this program is the Hilton of the airline programs. Glad I said good-buy in 2004 ! No regret!

  8. Greg,

    Figured all this out last year when I found there was simply no good way to get FC to Hawaii at low redemption unless I stayed overnight in CA to fly Alaska which way not desirable…

    So, I booked FSD-MSP-LAX-KOA-LAX-MSP stopover MSP-EWR for a weekend in NYC……

  9. As much as Delta’s program is not ideal with all the devaluations (but trust me, AA and UA will increase their mileage levels for business class soon too), with the stopover/open jaw rule that Delta has, it really goes a long way to equalizing things. I get three round trips for every two award tickets. Sure it takes a lot of work, sure my dates often must be flexible, sure it helps to be PM or DM to make free changes (which I am not). But I had very specific dates for a domestic award ticket for a 2-night trip next year. I found low level non-stop flights on DL for my dates. Sure it took patience but it worked.

    I am certainly not a “Delta cheerleader” but as I have said before, I have never found anyone who complains about their program and the worthlessness of SkyMiles who is willing to part with their SkyMiles for little or no cost. It is more an issue of complaining than actually taking action…for most people.

  10. John I’ll do you one better and say that the key is diversity; every mileage program has, what I call, their weaknesses. These programs are designed for the mainstream consumer, and so we need to find the exploits instead. Delta will still be good for certain things like domestic stopovers, travel on partners, availability to Canada, J to South Asia etc. The key is to ONLY use them for those purposes and use a different program if you want to go somewhere else (e.g. Europe in J should be on Aeroplan for 90k, transferred from MR).

  11. @DBest – I totally agree with you. I have miles with AA, AS, DL, UA, F9 (though I haven’t used the F9 miles and I need activity by next month to keep them active!).

    Also, I have had experiences where I found low level flights on DL but not on UA and partners. It happens. As you said, diversity is key. Right now I am building up my UA miles through Chase Ink, Bluebird, etc.

  12. @FM
    Tricking it? How are you tricking the system when your trip actually begins before June 1? There’s no trick. It’s either you do or don’t before the deadline. Master English before writing a blog. *rolls eyes*

    • Jasonj: I know that this post is complicated so its understandable if you didn’t fully understand it. The idea presented here is to take two separate trips: one to California and one to Europe. The first trip is before June 1 and the second trip is entirely after June 1. By combining part of the first trip with the second trip, I get part of my first trip for free plus I get a discount on the second trip by tricking Delta into thinking that the second trip begins before June 1.

  13. I don’t know if it’s just me or I’m not looking at correct place, but I always find delta costs more points/miles for their award seats compare to other airline…..

  14. @FrequentMiler
    Jason’s point is that there is no “trick” – you are starting your outbound trip prior to June 1st so you are entitled to the miles at that level. I understand his point. Two sides of the same coin, but true there is not really a ‘trick’ involved.

    • John: The very fact that Delta sees the outbound trip as starting prior to June 1st is itself the trick. My real outbound flight to Europe begins when I leave my house for the airport on June 29th.

  15. @FrequentMiler. I guess your definition of “trick” is different than most people. I see it as just a part of their rules. Nothing super special about it. Most revenue tickets that have a seasonal pricing (think international flights to Europe as an example) are based on the date of the first flight. So if you depart in low season then continue the rest of your journey in high season, you pay the low season price. Is that a “trick”? By your definition apparently yes. But for most people, no. It is just the way the airline pricing works.

    Now if we can get the entire itinerary to price at the lower mileage level regardless of the return date, THAT would be a trick!!

    • John: In your example, I agree that if you actually begin your journey to Europe during low season, then that wouldn’t be a trick. But if you fly to your home airport during low season, stop-over for months, and then continue on to Europe during high season on the same itinerary, then yes I absolutely think that is a trick, and I expect that most people (if they had any idea what we were talking about) would agree that it was a trick. I’m having a tough time understanding why you don’t think of it as a trick. I agree that it is working within the routing rules, but it is doing so in a way that was clearly not intended for the purpose of: 1) getting a free one-way; and 2) forcing the outbound flight to Europe to the lower price.

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