How Much for that SkyMiles Award??

Think there are only 5 tiers in the Delta SkyMiles award charts? Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean there are only 5 possible prices for any given award. The new SkyMiles award engine does a pretty good job of creating itineraries where previously none would have been available because of various award inventory buckets not lining up which is good for consumers. The challenge is that the pricing can be a bit harder to figure out.

To Delta executives this change represents a shift more towards the revenue ticket pricing model. One recently suggested that there is no chart for tickets paid in cash so not having one for award trips shouldn’t be an issue. Of course, there are published fares for paid tickets and many different organizations monitor shifts in those fares; doing so for award options is now much more difficult. But not impossible. And, in some cases, far more than 5 options show up.

Take a trip from Atlanta to Buenos Aires (US->AR). A recent set of searches revealed 10 different point costs for that trip in economy class and 12 different prices overall when the taxes & fees portion gets added in:

  • 30000 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (N)
  • 30000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (N)
  • 37500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
  • 47500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
  • 47500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (ND)
  • 50000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (ND)
  • 50000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
  • 55000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NS)
  • 57500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (NL)
  • 60000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (ND)
  • 62500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
  • 65000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NK)

In business class there were 11 different mileage requirements possible (12 total with the tax difference):

  • 62500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (O )
  • 62500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (O )
  • 97500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OD)
  • 102500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (OL)
  • 105000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OL)
  • 112500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (OD)
  • 120000 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (OS)
  • 122500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OD)
  • 125000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OS)
  • 147500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OK)
  • 150000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OS)
  • 172500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OK)

And, yes, there are itineraries where the trip is less more expensive in economy than in business.

The end-on-end pricing is real and easy to demonstrate in certain examples. Here’s what a trip from the US to Sydney looks like with the split:



As you can see, the SkyMiles award cost on Virgin Australia is 50,100 (I have no idea where that number comes from, but not too long ago it was 50,000) and the ATL-LAX segment adds on 32,500 more miles. Other options from Atlanta to Los Angeles are less expensive but all work in to the end-on-end pricing unless you can find “X” inventory at which point it is just all one price. And that rate is lower than the 85,000 points Delta would charge for “NS” inventory on its own metal through to Sydney that night.


Changing a booking to start at a gateway city and paying for the ticket to get there can help bring the points cost down but it may still botch the total cost of the trip, depending on what you have to pay for that feeder flight. And, of course, the amount of searching required to figure that out is more than most consumers are likely willing to put into a booking.

So, yes, the end-on-end numbers can be better than just pricing it through as a single itinerary. But that doesn’t mean it is all good without the rate charts. And such data is published for revenue fares so hiding it from reward tickets really is less transparent than not.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Thank you for the report, Seth; but I do believe you meant to say “And, yes, there are itineraries where the trip is less expensive in business than in economy.”

  2. Those are very disturbing numbers (the ,100 and ,600 parts). I guess we will see full revenue-based awards very soon.

  3. I agree with GENE. These are the most confusing award figures one can imagine. Basically you’re playing reward seat roulette, and they’re just waiting to count how many suckers would pay more than the base price (aka “saver level 1” of the previous charts)

    why even bother with award inventory buckets at this point? just tie them directly to revenue buckets and have a fixed ratio between miles and dollars.

    1. We’re not quite to a fixed ratio with SkyMiles yet. But things are steadily moving in that direction. Even with partners involved.

  4. The Delta.dumb site is so frustrating. Just trying to piece together a “simple” business booking to Europe from the west coast around Christmas is the ultimate time sink. One weekend gone and I still don’t know what the actual fees to transit LHR will be since I cant get it to price as a single ticket VIE-AMS/CDG-LHR-LAX.

    1. Transiting LHR on that itinerary should total about 150 euro in taxes & fees, excluding the APD and any YQ which may be added in. Calculating the fees is generally pretty easy with ITA.

  5. It seems to me that at least after the base 12,500 awards are sold out, the award price is tied directly to the corresponding fares available to purchase. For example, I was looking at a domestic booking and as soon as the cheapest fare bucket dropped one level, the award price dropped from 20,000 to 17,500.

    1. Awards have been linked to either fares or inventory buckets for a long time now. In some cases it is more obvious than others and in some cases it is more tightly coupled than others, but many airlines have linked the two in some way going back years. I am not at all surprised to hear that you saw the rate change as the fare did.

  6. @Seth: I am more confused on the pricing. I see the ORD-LHR available for every single day in Business in August for 62.5k delta miles, but when I add SLC-ORD to it, only few of the days gives me pricing of 62.5k although when I price SLC-ORD it prices at 25k in business for entire August. Not able to figure out why this is the case. Can you decipher it 🙂

    1. The Delta site has some interesting quirks when it comes to building connecting itineraries, especially through non-hubs. You will likely be successful getting that to work by calling it in.

      Also, things change quickly. I just searched for the non-stop ORD-LHR and many dates – 30-40% at least – in August were unavailable.

  7. In my experience, I find American much more difficult to predict. In many instances, I see seats for sale in the lowest priced inventory bucket, yet there are no saver award seats being offered.

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