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After years of incremental devaluations to its unpublished partner award chart, Delta Air Lines has seemingly made its most significant change. Delta now uses dynamic award pricing for partner award flights — doubling or even tripling award rates on some routes.
Here's what you need to know about the latest Delta SkyMiles devaluation and where you can still find value from your SkyMiles.
What to know about the latest Delta devaluation
Delta's most recent devaluation affects partner award flights on routes operated by Delta. Think New York to London and Atlanta to Amsterdam.
How bad is the damage? Well, we can't say exactly. Instead of a "traditional" devaluation — where award prices rise by a fixed amount to the new award price — partner awards are now dynamically priced. That means we can't quantify exactly how much prices have increased.
Examples of new Delta partner award pricing
The starkest example of these changes is found on the route between New York-JFK and London. After Delta's most-recent partner devaluation, Virgin Atlantic business-class awards on this route cost 95,000 SkyMiles each way and topped out at 195,000 SkyMiles for last-minute bookings.
Now, the award price of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class matches what Delta is charging for its flights — whether that's 220,000 SkyMiles one-way for advanced bookings or 375,000 SkyMiles each way on close-in bookings.
This pricing isn't limited to the New York City-London route either. We found Virgin Atlantic business-class awards costing as much as 375,000 SkyMiles each way from Atlanta to London as well.
KLM business-class awards from Atlanta to Amsterdam are now pricing as high as 340,000 SkyMiles each way — matching the award price Delta is charging on its nonstop on the same route.
This same advanced-booking award would have cost 95,000 SkyMiles before these changes. That's a more than 250% increase in the award price.
For reference, KLM only charges 68,000 Flying Blue miles for this same flight. So while you'll need to pay higher taxes and fees — $210 through Flying Blue versus $6 through Delta — the mileage savings make booking through Flying Blue worth it.
Routes not yet affected
Note that this new pricing isn't found on all routes.
For example, Delta and Air France operate flights between Atlanta and Paris. However, Air France business-class awards (when available) are priced as low as 120,000 SkyMiles each way versus Delta One awards for 325,000 SkyMiles one-way.
Also, we haven't yet found an example of increased award pricing on routes that Delta doesn't operate flights. However, that doesn't mean that changes to these routes won't be implemented soon.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
Where you can still get good value from your Delta SkyMiles
Devaluations happen, but that doesn't mean airline miles lose all of their value. Here are a few options if you're wondering how you can still get value from your Delta SkyMiles after these changes.
Partner awards on routes that Delta doesn't fly
So far, we've only found changes to Delta partner award pricing on routes that Delta operates. That means you might still be able to find value on overseas flights on routes where Delta doesn't fly.
For example, at the time of writing, you can book a business-class award from Chicago-O'Hare to Paris on Air France for 120,000 SkyMiles each way.
Delta SkyMiles priced business-class awards to Europe as low as 75,000 SkyMiles each way through October 2020. That means even this "good" use of SkyMiles is still a 60% increase from what you could pay just two years ago. Talk about some severe inflation.
» Learn more: Is inflation affecting points and miles?
Domestic Delta award flights
Delta SkyMiles will be the most valuable on domestic award flights for many travelers. Here, travelers can use Delta's dynamic award pricing to their advantage. For example, you can score some surprisingly low-cost awards by booking low-demand flights during off-peak times.
For example, you can currently book Delta award flights between San Francisco and Seattle for as few as 3,000 SkyMiles each way. Extra-legroom seats cost 7,500 miles one-way and first-class awards only cost 15,000 SkyMiles.
You can get an incredible deal on award flights to Hawaii if your dates are flexible. Here's an example of redeeming just 16,000 SkyMiles round-trip for nonstop award flights between Los Angeles and Honolulu.
Keep in mind that Delta basic economy awards cannot be changed, and you'll lose some miles if you cancel. So if you want flexibility, pay a couple thousand more miles to book a main cabin award that can be changed or canceled for free.
» Learn more: The 4 best ways to use Delta SkyMiles
Overseas flights on partners
Another place where Delta SkyMiles can still stand out is on routes that don't touch the U.S. That might not sound relevant to U.S.-based flyers, but these routes could be part of a more extensive trip.
For instance, I recently visited South Korea and Japan on the same trip. For travel between, I booked a SkyMiles award from Seoul to Tokyo for just 7,500 SkyMiles. That award option is still available at this price — with widespread award availability.
The cash price of these flights is generally $235 each way, so you're still getting plenty of value from your SkyMiles on this route.
» Learn more: What's the value of Delta SkyMiles?
Other international destinations where you can find value are flights within Europe. Delta charges as few as 10,000 SkyMiles each way for flights within the continent — even on long routes such as Istanbul to London.
You might be able to book a cheap cash flight on a low-cost airline on some routes. But, these awards are on Delta's full-service partner airlines, such as Air France and KLM. That means Delta elites can get extra baggage allowance and visit airport lounges.
» Learn more: Cheap flights within Europe to book with points
Delta's partner devaluation recapped
Recently, Delta significantly increased award rates for award flights on its partners. On some routes, the SkyMiles award pricing is the same whether you book Delta or its partner. This change eliminates a significant way that SkyMiles members have been able to score high-value awards.
However, we haven't seen award pricing changes on routes where Delta doesn't operate flights. And the unpublished partner award chart seems to be intact on partner award flights overseas. So between those awards and domestic Delta awards, you can still get value from your SkyMiles.
How to maximize your rewards
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