How To Redeem Delta SkyMiles To Asia?

Reader Jim sent along the following question by email, regarding redeeming Delta SkyMiles for travel to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix:

My fiancee and I would like to get the best business class experience and value we can using Delta miles (I’m a Diamond Medallion) to go to the Singapore F1 race weekend of Sept 18, 2016. Our main airport is DFW but are fine just using the miles for the main leg out of LAX or other hub. We’re also fine with going in and out of Singapore from Bangkok or Indonesia (for example) if necessary. Anyway, will be interested to hear your thoughts.

I figured this was a generally useful enough question to answer here:

Singapore

Delta SkyMiles are extremely valuable

Some people think I’m kidding or being disingenuous when I say this, but it’s something I truly believe. I’d argue that over the past few years the relative value of Delta SkyMiles has actually increased, at least when it comes to premium cabin partner airline award redemptions:

So as much as we joke about SkyMiles and call them SkyPesos, the reality is that as of now they’re extremely useful for premium cabin partner redemptions.

Delta is trying to destroy the value of SkyMiles

This is my primary objection to SkyMiles. It’s not the current value of the program for premium cabin redemptions, but rather that Delta is doing everything they can to reduce the value of SkyMiles and make it a revenue based program. And it’s not something they’re sheepish about admitting. They know they run a great airline, and therefore feel like they don’t have to run a great frequent flyer program. Because they feel like a great frequent flyer program would be them overcompensating for weaknesses elsewhere.

That’s why my long term perception of SkyMiles is very different from my short term perception of the program.

Redeeming SkyMiles to Asia is easy

The great news is that you have tons of options for redeeming Delta SkyMiles to Asia in business class:

China Airlines

They operate brand new Boeing 777-300ERs on their routes between Los Angeles/San Francisco and Taipei. Connecting flights to Singapore are easy to come by as well. A vast majority of dates have at least two business class award seats available.

LAXTPE

Best of all, China Airlines has reverse herringbone business class seats on their 777-300ERs, which is my favorite type of business class hard product.

China-Airlines-777-Business-Class

China Eastern

China Eastern also operates brand new Boeing 777-300ERs on their routes between Los Angeles/San Francisco and Shanghai, with easy connecting service from there. In general, service on Chinese carriers (at least based on my experiences on Air China and China Southern) won’t be quite as good as on other Asian/foreign carriers, but they also have an excellent reverse herringbone business class seat, which is tough to argue with.

Korean Air

In theory Korean Air releases a decent amount of business class award space, though the issue is that they have tons of blackout dates. While Korean Air’s blackout dates are in theory based on regions (in other words, different regions have different blackout dates), Delta conveniently blacks out space on all routes on any date where Korean Air has blackout dates. The same doesn’t apply if redeeming Korean Air SkyPass miles.

Korean-Air-Blackout-Dates

As you can see, Korean Air has blackout dates September 13-19 (they’re supposed to be just for domestic Korea awards, though in practice Delta will likely apply them to all routes), so they might not be the best option if going to see the Grand Prix.

Korean-Air-Business-Class

Delta releases a lot of award space as well!

As much as I’ll be the first to give Delta crap for not publishing award charts and having about 42 different award levels, they actually have a ton of saver level award space for travel on their own flights to Asia.

Below is a calendar of availability for travel on their own flights between Los Angeles and Singapore in business class for two people (partner flights are excluded):

Delta-Metal

70,000 miles per person is the one-way saver level, so that’s actually pretty great availability.

Delta-Space

As far as product goes, Delta has a pretty great business class product as far as US carriers go, so I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them.

Is getting to the gateway the toughest part?

As you can see above, space from US gateways to Asia is excellent. So will there be trouble finding space to get from Dallas to the gateway? Delta is notoriously stingy with domestic award space, though even that might not be a challenge.

Delta flies between Dallas and Los Angeles simply to compete with American, and in general space is excellent on those flights.

Here’s the economy award space for two people on flights between Dallas and Los Angeles:

DFWLAX-Y

And here’s the first class award space for two people on flights between Dallas and Los Angeles:

DFWLAX-F

So even that shouldn’t be an issue.

Bottom line

While presumably there will be increased demand to Singapore for next September due to the Grand Prix, we’re not talking about the World Cup or Olympics here. In other words, I don’t think the Grand Prix should cause huge restrictions in terms of award space.

With that in mind, my strategy would be to:

  • Book as one-ways as soon as the schedule opens. You’re Diamond Medallion, so can always cancel for free anyway. But you’ll want to lock in the space as soon as possible.
  • I’d focus on Delta metal, and then China Airlines and China Eastern, as that’s likely where you’ll find the most space, and also the best onboard hard product. For me business class is all about the hard product.
  • When you go to search for flights, I recommend doing so segment-by-segment. First try to find space from a North American gateway to Singapore, and once you’ve done that, work backwards and find space from Dallas to that gateway. Given Delta’s general weakness in Dallas, that should actually prove pretty easy. Beyond that, keep in mind that Delta partners with Alaska, and they fly from Dallas to Seattle, should you have trouble finding space on Delta flights.
  • Use the multi-city section of delta.com to book. Once you’ve found all the flights you want, use the multi-city part of the website to actually try and book the flights. Hopefully they price correctly.

SkyMiles-Multi-City

Good luck, Jim — you shouldn’t have any issues booking this! Well, assuming Delta doesn’t destroy the value of their program within the next few months!

Comments

  1. I’d just like to add that the multi-city booking tool usually prices incorrectly, but it’s usually easy to get an agent to price it out once you have the flights you want to take selected, and there’s no charge since you’re a dm. There also won’t be a wait either. But don’t tell them that the website is pricing incorrectly, because then they’ll try to route you to an unhelpful online help desk.

  2. I am hoping that more and more people are convinced by such analyses and stick with or move to Delta SkyMiles…since they are far less valuable than AA or UA miles. The fact is that DL miles get you Business Class awards AT BEST; you can’t ever get First Class awards. And the DL and partner Business Class awards often “cost” almost as many miles as do UA and AA First Class awards, let alone just a bit less than UA and AA partner First Class awards. So for just a few more miles, you can travel First Class on usually better carriers to Asia with UA and AA miles than you can on only Business Class with DL and its partners.

    The same is true for the DL flights and partners with Business Class awards to Europe. The DL and partner premium awards are no better than those than UA and AA and their partners, but the DL awards usually cost more…or are on inferior carriers.

    Stick with DL SkyMiles all you want. Virgin Australia is the one area where DL miles are better…but anyone with Amex MRs can access those through DL miles, anyway.

  3. The following paragraphs provide outdated information:

    “When you go to search for flights, I recommend doing so segment-by-segment.”

    “Use the multi-city section of delta.com to book”.

    “Delta is trying to destroy the value of SkyMiles” however is accurate.

  4. @lucky: How do you search China airlines award space? Does it come up automatically on Delta’s search engine?

  5. I never see these kinds of awards available when I look at Delta, do you have a special screen 🙂

  6. In March I transferred 210,000 Amex points to Delta then booked 3 business class tickets to Tokyo on Korean Air. Taxes were about $45 per ticket, plenty of availability and I thought the service and hard product were excellent.

  7. Since you are a delta diamond, I’d call the Diamond line after you’ve found space. Make sure they price it correctly!

  8. My experience with China Eastern Business on a 2 cabin plane was that it was very good. Pyjamas, interesting Asian menu, acceptable, but not great booze. The lounges in Shanghai leave a lot to be desired. I’d recommend a stopover in Shanghai if time permits. great way to spend a few days and no visa required if you meet the 72 transit requirements.

  9. I have to agree with others: I can’t get Delta.com to show me non-Delta options such as China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, and Korean Air if Delta flies to the destination, such as Seoul and Singapore. It only shows extortionate Delta prices.

    Even when I search segment by segment on a direct route by the above carriers, I still only get expensive options on Delta metal.

    These airlines only come up for me on intra-Asia itineraries where Delta obviously doesn’t fly.

    Do I have to call Delta to ask about availability? That would be horrid since Skymiles agents don’t even know who their partners are.

    Also, the Chinese airlines all have nasty fuel surcharges when using Skymiles. I don’t really understand why you didn’t mention that above. Definitely makes it MUCH less attractive to use Delta miles to fly to Asia.

  10. Any updates on whether Delta is still blocking/limiting the China Southern A380 in J on LAX-CAN? Expert Flyer shows a lot of availability but I can never get it to come up on Delta.com.

  11. Ben, What do you do when you’re trying to book KE flights on DL website and it returns the stupid error message that the flights have just been sold out only to see that it’s still available and DL etkt can’t book the seats either. It just happens too many times that I see it as a risk to transfer Amex MR points to DL.

  12. Hi Ben,

    Is it at all possible to buy a regular ticket and then use less miles to upgrade on trips to Asia? Delta economy fares that are upgradeable start at $5k. What about on partner airlines?

    Thanks,

    Ben

  13. I get Delta to show me partner options all the time. And they always seem to have the dates that I need.

    And while I know this blog focuses a lot on First Class and showering at 36K feet, Delta One internationally is perfectly fine for me. Flat beds, Westin bedding, Tumi kits, and food that’s usually a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10.

  14. The last bit of advice is not really correct any more unfortunately … especially on their own metal flights, Delta now prices awards on an O&D basis. So finding domestic availability and international availability and trying to combine them won’t work the same way any more — it definitely won’t work on the multi-city tool, which it would have in the past. Agents will sometimes still piece it together for you, especially a Delta low award connecting to a partner award, which often price wrong for no good reason, but that is getting harder and harder to achieve.

  15. A question for different continent: When does partner space show up on the Delta system? I was looking to book Alitalia Magnifica class for a trip next year and nothing shows up–even looking directly at FCO-JFK/ATL-that isn’t a DL operated flight. I’m suspecting that the Alitalia space just hasn’t been released yet…. Do you have any advice on how to locate partner space that isn’t AF (which doesn’t seem to have lie flat yet)?

    Thanks!

  16. Hi Lucky (and anyone else who can chime in):
    Question #1: I’m seeing the same as what has been previously mentioned here. I can’t get the delta awards site to bring up any Korean Air awards for next year – it only bring up Delta metal (which coincidentally has a lot of low level availability). Which brings me to….
    Question #2: Since I’m seeing a lot of Delta low level biz availability to both ICN and Narita – how does the delta biz seats fair on the 747 and 777? Worth taking or holding out for Korean Air? The 747 seem a lot nicer than the 777, no?

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