Round-the-World (RTW) awards can be considered one of the best tools in a frequent flier’s arsenal, if you know how to use them properly and maximize their value. At Juicy Miles, we receive round-the-world requests most often for redemptions using American, Delta, and United miles. Today’s post is a guide to booking round-the-world tickets using Delta SkyMiles and we’ll have similar guides soon for AA and UA. Chris, one of our Juicy Miles bookers and resident SkyMiles expert, takes us through his recent experience booking a RTW ticket for a client and what he learned from his adventure.
Even with the devaluation of low level business class to Asia, Europe, and Australia for travel after June 1st, 2014, the price of the RTW award in business class remains unchanged at 280,000 SkyMiles (coach is 180,000 SkyMiles). You can find Delta’s official page for RTW awards here. We consider this one of the remaining sweet spots in Delta’s award portfolio.
Destination Planning & Routing
- You are allowed between 3-6 stopovers/open jaws on your award. Any less than 3 or more than 6 is considered an invalid award. At most, 3 stops are allowed on any one continent.
- You must cross both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
- All destinations must be in longitudinal order traveling in one direction; East or West. Delta calculates a valid award by taking the longitude reading of each stopover city and then ensures they are all in one direction. For example, if traveling east and you want to travel to London, Rome, and Amsterdam, you would have to fly to them in this order: London, Amsterdam, Rome. If you stopped in Rome before Amsterdam, that would be backtracking. For those who enjoy the flying experience, a lot of value can be extracted since there is no restriction on how far North or South the order of cities must be. Starting in Santiago to London to Johannesburg to Moscow to Singapore to Tokyo to Sydney would be valid, and all would require long-haul 9+ hours of flying between each.
- For an open jaw, the starting and ending points must be in the direction of travel. For example, traveling east, if you wanted an open jaw between London and Amsterdam, you must fly into London and out of Amsterdam. The reverse would not be allowed on an eastward itinerary.
Once you have your list of destinations in the right order, its time to start figuring out your routing. Delta has a list of available partners on their website for regular awards.
Unfortunately, RTW awards cannot use all Delta partners; those that are not allowed as of this entry (October 15, 2013) have been crossed out in our list below (Star Alliance / OneWorld it is not ).
- Delta Air Lines
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air France
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Alaska Airlines
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Czech Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Kenya Airways
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
- Korean Air
- Malaysia Airlines
- Middle East Airlines
- Saudia Airlines
- Tarom Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Virgin Australia
- Xiamen Airlines
- *Thai AirAsia
- *Skymark Airlines
*These airlines are only available to Skymiles members residing in Asia.
One might say the biggest loss from the non allowable list is Virgin Australia, drastically limiting options to the Australia/New Zealand. If you wanted to visit Australia outside of the major cities (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth), you would have to use cash or other miles (Avios are a good option). It’s possible that at some point Virgin Atlantic will join the allowable list given their new relationship with Delta.
- “The most direct routing applies.” This is a very loose term. You cannot fly from London to Johannesburg via Atlanta. There are many more direct options via Europe/Africa. IF there is no availability on the dates you want to fly via CDG, AMS, SVO, NBO AND LHR-ATL-JNB is the only thing available, you will be able to get an agent to ticket it. Now, since Virgin Australia and Malaysia can’t be used, agents have no problem flying you from Sydney to Auckland via Seoul on Korean Air. What would normally be a 3.5 hour flight turns into two 11 hour flights. This can work to your advantage (or disadvantage if you’re strapped for time) for some of the more obscure destinations. In the example below, two of the client’s destinations were Colombo, Sri Lanka followed by Antananarivo, Madagascar. Two destinations that don’t have daily service. That was the hardest part of building his award. Moving along by taking somewhat circuitous routings…
- There is no maximum permitted mileage. If your award has you flying 25K, 30K, or 50K miles, its all the same price. This is not the same with traditional revenue RTW tickets.
- You are allowed 16 flight coupons. A flight coupon can generally be thought of as one flight segment, one takeoff and landing. There are two exceptions:
- “Direct Flights” with stops. Direct flights are a confusing airline marketing term. Delta flight #49 is a direct flight from Mumbai (BOM) to Minneapolis (MSP), however the flight stops in Amsterdam (AMS) for 3 hours. If you booked this flight with the same flight number, DL49 from BOM-MSP, that would only count as one flight coupon even though it is actually two flights.
- Open Jaws. While you can really maximize the number of cities you visit by making every destination an open jaw instead of a stopover, each open jaw counts as one flight coupon. The client in our example below wanted an open jaw between Auckland (AKL) and Sydney (SYD). However, in the system the open jaw segment (AKL-SYD) shows as ARNK (arrival unknown) to keep the itinerary’s cities in sequential order, and thus needs to use one of the flight coupons. This exception also has its own exception. If there is an open jaw between your origin and destination (traveling east, say you start your trip in New York and terminate in Chicago) this counts against one of your 6 stopovers/open jaws, but does not count against your 16 flight coupons.
- Only Delta low level availability can be booked for RTW. For partner awards, whatever is available for a standard award is available for a RTW award.
Of course, finding availability can be the most frustrating part. You can use delta.com, airfrance.us, expertflyer.com, or the KVS tool to find availability.
Once you have your itinerary and flights, its time to call Delta to get your itinerary booked. Here are a few interesting facts regarding contacting the DL RTW award desk:
- You have to call Delta and ask to be transferred to the “Around the World award desk”, there is no direct number.
- Their hours are from 9am to 8pm Eastern Time every day.
- Unlike many agents, they will work with you until you are satisfied. If that takes 10 minutes or 3 hours, they will stay with you.
- These are some of the most knowledgeable agents from Delta reservations. They also do double duty as the Rates Desk, among other jobs. Hence, wait times to get an agent can sometimes take several minutes.
Other information regarding RTW award tickets:
- All tickets are manually ticketed, not processed automatically by the system.
- Standard award change fees apply. For general members, Silver Medallion, and Gold Medallion: $150 per ticket. For Platinum and Diamond Medallions: fee is waived.
- Taxes are manually calculated. If you make a change to the beginning of a ticket, the taxes for the entire ticket are recalculated at current exchange rates. If you are only adding on to the end of a ticket, only the new segments’ taxes are calculated.
For those that are curious, here is the current version of our client’s trip (note that his trip is in 2014 and we are still trying to make modifications and of course vary (upgrade) the airlines a bit more, though unfortunately we are very limited by allowable partners flying to his chosen locations). His destinations are traveling east to west, originating in the Midwest. Total miles used – 280,000 and taxes/fees - $347.00
1. Auckland / Sydney open jaw
2. Colombo, Sri Lanka
3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
6. Washington, DC / Madison, WI open jaw
We’ll post the updated itinerary once we confirm all changes. Hopefully this has been helpful and feel free to comment with any award booking questions or reach out to us directly at Juicy Miles for all your award booking needs.