7 Key Tricks to Get the Most out of Skymiles

Reader Question:

I am excited about the possibility of free travel. I have some questions maybe you can help me out with. I have a true passion for travel and am always searching for the cheapest way to travel and find the most value for our money. My wife has been an extreme coupon lady for about 3 years and to say the least we are frugal. 

Our favorite type of travel lately has been cruises. The cruise itself I have found some great deals and value but the flights are biggest expense. I am excited to start looking into good credit card offers.

Years ago I took advantage of American Express deals for Delta Skymiles and currently have 216,831 miles. I have always wanted to take a trip to somewhere in Europe and planned on using my Skymiles to make that happen. Recently I have wondered whether it would be good to hold on to our miles and plan a trip in the future to Europe or Australia or use them sooner for domestic travel for more cruises or something else. Can you give me some recommendations on how to use my Skymiles the most efficient way on Delta? 

Dear WorldWanderluster:

It’s exciting to see you drooling at the possibilities of travel that lay before you. With your passion for travel, frugality, and flexible-for-adventure spirit, you are precisely the kind of visitor we’d like to see more of. Thank you for reaching out.

Use Miles Now? Or Wait?

My policy is always to travel as soon, as often, and as much as your employment, family life, finances, and awardwallet will allow.  This means erring on the side of doing things now.

First off, I say this because you don’t know what the future holds. I have a close friend who died suddenly at age 46 from complications that arose from a rather routine knee surgery. None of us plan on dying, but you never know what might prevent you from setting out to see the world.

Another factor is that the value of your miles is constantly vulnerable to travel-reward-inflation.  Some time ago, we were contacted for an article that appeared on Foxnews.com Travel.  The article referenced the many programs which have increased the amounts necessary for airline and hotel bookings. Even more recently, Delta announced increased point thresholds of their own. Points are being devalued.  Don’t hoard them.

New Delta Award Chart

New Delta Award Chart After June 2014

That said, it is smart to budget them. It would be frustrating to spend your points down to 116k and leave yourself 4k shy of the required 120k necessary to book two of you to Europe at the Saver Award level. Identify your priorities and keep your points in various programs in “buckets” to ensure that you have enough to meet your objectives.  Keep some flexibility, though, because that’s the key to using them efficiently.

Most Efficient Way to Use Skymiles

Delta’s Skymiles program is continually ranked behind other carriers in the spectrum for its meager availability and high redemption rates.  What that means is that you have to be even more careful in finding ways to use them efficiently.  First, a few things to remember about the Skymiles program:

  1. There is no booking one-ways, open jaws, or creative multi-destination flights with Delta.  This is a real drawback as we’ve done some great posts on ways to do this with American AAdvantage and United Mileage Plus.
  2. Skymiles don’t expire. We’re telling you to spend them anyway, but it is nice to know that there’s not a chance you’ll miss a date and have them disappear on you.
  3. Bookings are always done on Delta.com.  Even if you wind up traveling on a partner carrier, you still book on Delta.com. You may as well bookmark it because one key will be to visit often and check out your options.

Now, budget your points based on the Saver Award level numbers.  Let’s just say you decide to take your wife and daughter on a domestic trip (25k each) and then later take your wife to the Philippines (Northern Asia – 70k each).  With your 216k, you can pull this off. Another combination might be to make a trip for two to Costa Rica (35k each) and to Europe (60k each).

In order to find availability at the Saver Award level, you need to have some things working for you – First, have a willingness to go anywhere the deal works.  If you’re into cruises, check www.Vacationstogo.com for what departure ports might work and try those destinations. Second, book either way in advance or within 4-2 months of travel. Third, check in on Delta.com often.  So many things affect the pricing on flights, your best bet is just to check in often and, when you do find something that works, don’t hesitate.

Now, here are some other key tricks to making sure you get the most bang for your points-buck when booking with Skymiles on Delta.

  1. Don’t be afraid to consider First Class.  I flew to Guatemala this year and my dates were fixed.  I couldn’t get the Saver award to work for me on Economy seats, but I did find First Class seats for 60k Skymiles.  Normally I’m pretty frugal even with points, but where it was either cough up $1200 to pay for them out of pocket or use the points, it made the decision easy and the flight comfortable.
  2. Consider flying out of an alternate airport. The nice thing about booking with points is that you can usually fly out of your local airport for the same “price.”  But if that’s not working, don’t hesitate to try flying out of a nearby city or particularly a hub.
  3. Weigh using a companion pass. AMEX salts out companion passes every year, and sometimes you’ll be better off using one of those than trying to make a points-booking.
  4. Fly and drive. Earlier this year we had a travel bloggers conference in Toronto.  Flights were expensive, especially once you added in the international taxes.  In the end, we were far better off to fly into Buffalo, NY and drive across.  Cheaper and more scenic.
  5. Pick a destination where you have free hotel stays. It’s not enough just to have free flights.  You need to have some hotel points, as well… especially hotels that have free breakfast – then you’re really saving on out of pocket costs.
  6. Get points you forgot about. If you were naughty and didn’t add your Skymiles flight you’ve taken in the past 9 months, I have good news for you – you can still get them.  Submit your flight info to: http://www.delta.com/acctactvty/mileagecredit.action
  7. Ask for points when things go wrong. Somehow Google really likes to share our “How to Write an Airline Complaint Letter” with searchers.  Go ahead and read it, then put it into practice.  It never hurts to ask.

There’s probably more advice we could give, but that will get you started.  Thanks for Wanderlusting with us!  We hope all our readers comment with any questions and invite us to help you spend your points.  Please be sure to subscribe so you get post summaries and always read what’s pertinent to you.

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One Response to 7 Key Tricks to Get the Most out of Skymiles

  1. Did you have much luck finding Virgin Atlantic availability using Delta Skymiles lately?

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