When Delta SkyMiles Saves the Day

Aug 6, 2015

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Despite devaluation after devaluation, Delta SkyMiles are still far from worthless. Today, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig shares his latest SkyMiles discovery.

For better or worse, United is “my” airline. While TPG swears by AA and his Executive Platinum status, I’m perfectly happy as a United 1K. I get good value from MileagePlus, and while I often do better when redeeming AA miles (as you’ll read below), these two programs generally have me and my family covered.

Last night, however, I faced a dilemma. I’m taking my mother and sister to Hong Kong, Bali and Tokyo next month, and neither of them like connecting flights. I see where they’re coming from, of course, but while I may be willing to connect to save money or to fly a better product (United p.s. flat-bed on JFK to SFO and on to San Diego vs. Newark to San Diego, for example), they have no interest. Which is fine.

For this trip, we’re getting around that issue by building in a 23-hour layover between our New York-to-Hong Kong and Hong Kong-to-Bali segments (booked in Cathay first and business using AA miles), and flying nonstop home from Tokyo (first class on JAL, again booked with AA), but nonstop options from Bali to Tokyo are incredibly limited. In fact, there’s just one daily flight — on Garuda Indonesia’s brand-new 777-300ER.

Business class on Garuda's 777-300ER.
Business class on Garuda’s 777-300ER.

Fortunately, Garuda is now a SkyTeam member, which means I can book that flight using SkyMiles. Miraculously, you can even find and book Garuda awards on Delta’s website, which is a spectacular time saver compared to the incredibly complex process of booking an award using miles from Garuda’s own program (a Citi transfer partner).

So, for this segment, here were my options:

1. Keep the award I had previously booked, which consisted of two Cathay Pacific flights in regional business class for 30,000 AAdvantage miles. This booking required a very short redeye flight that had us leaving Hong Kong at 1am and arriving into Tokyo less than four hours later.

2. Transfer points earned with my Citi Prestige card to book a business-class award on the Garuda Indonesia flight using 63,000 Garuda miles, which requires a half dozen steps (one of which is visiting one of four US sales offices in person).

3. Book an upgradeable economy flight for $735 per person and use 21,000 Garuda miles to upgrade to business, which requires the same steps required for an award.

Bali to Tokyo for $1,600 in business class.
Bali to Tokyo for $1,600 in business class.

4. Pay $1,600 for the one-way business-class flight. Uh, no.


5. Book a one-way Delta SkyMiles award online in just minutes using a mere 40,000 SkyMiles.

I don’t know why I hadn’t considered that last option first! Instead, I went in the order above, wasting a couple hours trying to figure out a way to make this work. I subconsciously assumed that the Delta award would be cost-prohibitive, but that ended up not being the case at all.

There are more than 9 business-class award seats on Garuda's Bali-Tokyo flight most days.
There are more than 9 business-class award seats on Garuda’s Bali-Tokyo flight most days.

Not only did Delta show availability for the three of us, but there were at least nine seats available. See that screenshot above? We’re talking about Delta and a 7-hour business-class flight here, so it wouldn’t be outrageous to assume that 360,000 mileage quote was for just one passenger. Instead, that’s for NINE — this award costs 40,000 miles and less than $15 in taxes every date that it’s available.

So, the moral of this story is that while awards on Delta metal may be obscenely expensive, you can get a fantastic deal when booking with partners, especially for flights within Asia on Garuda Indonesia and Korean Air. You can earn 30,000 SkyMiles after spending $1,000 and a $50 statement credit after your first Delta purchase in the first three months with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express — pair those cards and you’ll have enough for this 7-hour business-class flight on Garuda.

Have you found any SkyMiles award gems?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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