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Airline alliances offer benefits, diverse destinations and plenty of confusion for even the most veteran travelers. The SkyTeam Alliance includes 19 separate airlines, each with its own award chart, routing rules and transfer partners, so wading through all the options is nearly impossible.
Here we’ve identified some of the best ways to use miles and transferable points among SkyTeam Alliance members, including Delta, Aeromexico, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. We've also included information about how to transfer miles into these programs.
In general, even though it’s possible to earn miles and reciprocal benefits between members of the SkyTeam alliance, it’s difficult or impossible to transfer miles between these programs. Instead, you can transfer flexible travel rewards such as credit card points to the appropriate program, then use these points to book on another SkyTeam partner. For example, you could:
Transfer these points to Virgin Atlantic miles.
Use those Virgin Atlantic miles to book a flight with Delta.
In fact …
Sweet spot No. 1: Use Virgin Atlantic miles for nonstop Delta awards
Award travel enthusiasts like to bemoan the Delta SkyMiles program's dynamic price system, in which award (mile) prices roughly track with cash prices for a given route. This makes it hard "maximize" SkyMiles for much more than the 0.9 cent per mile that we value them.
But there is another way to book Delta award flights for (often) better value: through the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program. Unlike the regular Flying Club award chart, which varies by season, the Delta award chart is static and full of sweet spots.
This chart shows round-trip airfare on Delta using Flying Club miles. The best value in terms of cents per point will be found in the right column, which includes both first and business class fares. As you can see, a round-trip flight in Delta One (first class) from North America to Europe costs as few as 100,000 miles plus fees.
We found plenty of availability on Delta One from Seattle to Paris for 100,000 Flying Club miles plus $153 in fees. The exact same itinerary costs $3,796 when paying cash, rendering a value of 3.6 cents per Flying Club mile for the award ticket.
However, this award chart is unusual in that it only represents direct flights. Adding a single stop by, say, starting in Salt Lake City, bumps the price dramatically to 145,000 flying Club miles plus fees. This is still a decent deal, but hardly the steal that direct flights offer.
Transferring to Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards® at a 1:1 ratio, so signing up for and using a card that earns these points is an easy way to take advantage of this sweet spot.
Sweet spot No. 2: Use Air France/KLM miles for flights to Hawaii
Flying to Hawaii using cash or Delta miles can be costly, but SkyTeam member program Air France/KLM Flying Blue offers generous award prices for flights from the North American mainland to Hawaii.
First, a warning: The "best" way to book these awards is through the Air France website, which is notoriously buggy. You’ll need to be logged into a Flying Blue account to make award searches, and there’s never any guarantee that it will work.
Flights from the mainland to Hawaii start at 17,500 plus fees each way, so target this price point when making searches. And keep in mind that you can call Air France to make an award booking if the website isn’t working.
Transferring to Flying Blue
Like Virgin Atlantic, Flying Blue is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards® at a 1:1 ratio. It’s also a transfer partner of Capital One Miles and Citi ThankYou points at the same ratio, and Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:3 ratio. In other words, it’s very easy to accrue Flying Blue miles.
Sweet spot No. 3: Use Aeromexico for an around-the-world itinerary
In terms of pure value, you’re unlikely to get more bang for your award buck than the SkyTeam "Go round the world" pass, which offers just what it sounds like: A one-way ticket around the world on SkyTeam airlines with several stops along the way.
Why should you book this bucket list trip through Aeromexico’s Club Premier program? Because it offers unusually generous terms for an award booking, maxing out at 15 stopovers. Yes, that means you can stop in 15 different cities along the way.
A few important notes:
The fare costs 224,000 kilometers for economy or 352,000 kilometers for business class. Yes, Aeromexico uses kilometers instead of miles.
You’ll have to call Aeromexico to book, though you will need to find award availability beforehand. We recommend using Delta’s award search tool first, then confirming availability using Aeromexico’s.
The itinerary must travel consistently in the same direction, east or west — no backtracking.
Although it’s a long shot for most award travelers, this is a fun project for anyone sitting on a ton of transferable points who's willing to take on the challenge of piecing together an itinerary.
Transferring to Club Premier
Aeromexico is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Capital One and Marriott. That said, only American Express Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1.6 ratio, effectively offsetting the difference between miles and kilometers. That is, 1 Membership Reward point turns into 1.6 Club Premier kilometers, which is 1 mile. This means that 220,000 Membership Rewards points will turn into the required 352,000 for a business class booking (or you can transfer 140,000 points for economy).
The bottom line
These are just three of the hundreds of ways to book awards with SkyTeam member airlines. Since Delta doesn't offer many high-value opportunities outside its occasional SkyMiles deals, using other SkyTeam member programs are a backdoor way to score these maximized redemptions.
Don’t have miles with SkyTeam partners? Don’t worry — many are transfer partners of popular travel credit cards, which means you can rack up a bunch without flying a mile. Or a kilometer.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card