bluebird

Using Reward Miles for Flights

17 posts in this topic

I've been saving up Delta Skymiles for years with my upcoming safari to Africa in mind (Zambia, Aug./Sept. 2018!). Now that it's almost time to book my flights, I'm starting to worry if using reward miles is such a good idea.

Have any of you experienced pitfalls because you used reward tickets for a long, international trip? Pitfalls meaning issues with getting seats you want, rebooking problems after missed connections, inconvenient schedules, etc. 

What I've noticed thus far
I've noticed with Delta that I won't be able to book a Delta Comfort seat (slightly roomier economy seats) if I use my Skymiles, although I would hope an upgrade might be available closer to the actual flight. First class is not going to be an option, as it looks like I'd need about 1.3 million Skymiles to book two first class tickets that way. And I hear that first class upgrades never happen on Delta's ATL to JNB route--certainly not for someone with only Gold status (I'm inconsequential as far as Delta is concerned).

Potential savings
Using miles (I'm estimating around 550,000 total) would save me approximately $4,500 USD, assuming my dad and I flew from Salt Lake City to Atlanta to Johannesburg. So, it's obviously a big deal. But I don't want issues with flights to hamper our trip.

Any thoughts? Am I just being an over-planning paranoid? ;-)

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I've never been able to use Aeroplan points for long haul because they put you on milk runs or if looking for business class, they put in those seats on the 2 hour flight, but in economy on the 12 hour flight.

 

I have used my credit card points numerous times as I can get any seat on any airline.

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I've never used miles for an African trip but have used them many times for South America and Europe--mostly on Delta and American. Never had any issues due to the fact that they were miles vs. paid; in fact, there are advantages...I've found far more flexibility if you need to change something, and miles can be redeposited if you need to cancel. (At least, this was the case a few years ago...I haven't used miles recently so can't swear its still the same.) Award tickets should certainly allow you seat selection; I would call Delta to ask about paying to move up to the Economy Comfort seats. This page seems to imply that is possible post-purchase. https://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/support/faqs/booking-your-trip/delta-comfort-plus-faqs.html

 

If I had enough for an African trip I wouldn't hesitate to use them, especially if it were saving me $4500!

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Don't know if it helps much from your point of view with Delta but last year I used Qantas Frequent Flyer points for:-

 

Melbourne to Singapore - Qantas

Singapore to Doha -Qatar

Doha to Stockholm -Qatar

Stockholm to London -BA

London to Joburg to Livingstone - BA & Comair

Livingstone to Joburg -Comair

Joburg to Sydney to Melbourne -Qantas

 

I did pay extra for seat selection on London to Joburg and Joburg to Sydney but that was well worth it.

 

Had 2-3 night stopovers in Singapore, Doha and Stockholm then 3 weeks UK and 11 days Zambia and all flight connections went smoothly without a hitch.

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We didn't use points, but did fly SAN-ATL-Jo'burg this May with Delta and flights IN Economy COmfort were only $1500 RT each person.

just FYI

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@janzin and @Caracal, thanks for the boost in confidence. I'm happy to hear flexibility doesn't change all that much with miles. (I haven't used them for much for booking because I've been saving them for so many years for this trip.)

@Tulips, I wish I had just opened a credit card with that type of rewards system; I think it makes a lot of sense for travel and would make the booking process much simpler. As it stands now, Delta controls everything.

@AandA, great info. So far, searching in July 2018,  flights are right around $2,100 per person, just in economy. I wonder if, as the safari season heats up, it gets more expensive or if I just need to wait for a deal...? It's a bit of a gamble if I end up deciding to use miles. Out of curiosity, how was the long-haul flight in the Delta Comfort section for you?

 

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Posted (edited)

Yeah, was going to say, your flight cost estimate sounds high.

 

Also, as someone who books/plans things very far in advance so I can relate, I've found that booking flights that far in advance doesn't really get you the best deal. I've booked JFK-JNB a few times around 10 months in advance, only to see the price gradually leak down over time. That far out tends to be their "rack" rate, not the cheapest (this is my opinion, not fact). 

 

I just checked flights for JFK-JNB on South African for next August and its $1800. That's ~$400 more expensive than I usually purchase it for, and have flown this route probably 6 times. From experience I now won't start to look for ticket until Nov/Dec, no one is booking these flights that far in advance.

Edited by Crimson255
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@Crimson255, good to know. Maybe I'll give my travel agent a call and see what she recommends. Where I was assuming I'd use miles, I figured the earlier the better. But maybe I should wait a few more months regardless. I was surprised by how much basic economy was adding up to--especially because SLC is a Delta hub.

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We booked our flight about 5 months out. Prices actually climbed as dates got closer.

try to bulkhead seats in Delta Comfort: way better! But still an insanely long uncomfortable flight.... but only way to get to Africa.    Have a wonderful trip!!! We loved it so much that we are returning in 2 years.

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@bluebird A couple of suggestions. Firstly if you have time consider using your miles to go via the UK or Europe as this may be much cheaper compared with the direct flight. For example London to Johannesburg in business class (flat bed, lounge access etc) is 130000 miles per person return. You may have to be flexible with dates and booking early is important. You could link this in with another reward flight from Atlanta to LHR at 140k return in Delta One or 110k in Comfort. So for 270k miles per person you could go business class albeit with a slightly more complicated journey.

 

You could pay for a flight to London and then use miles for the longer flight to JNB in comfort but to be safe you may need to build a day in London in case of flight delays etc.

 

Alternatively use Google Flights if looking at a cash booking and this will show lots of options - indirect routing via London or other European city will be much cheaper than the direct flight from Atlanta. Also look at flights from New York and other big gateways as these can be a lot cheaper - just use some miles to get there. Google Flights can be lots of fun if you like planning!

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@bluebirdWe have always used miles for our trips to Africa.  We have Alaska Air miles and they have a good partner list and I am sure the Delta does as well.  The last trip two years ago it took me about  two months to finally get the tickets that we wanted.  I would check on line several times a day as well as call the partner desk.  I was getting worried but it did work out wonderfully well..Emirates first class.  Now they have upped the miles needed so we will not be doing that again.  Most tickets can be booked 331 days in advance.  We have also used British Air but be aware that their fees and taxes are very high.  And, I also check the flights on Google Flight Search.  It will give you all of the flights available and at least give you the information to get you started.  Good luck!

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@pomkiwi and @marg thanks very much for the info. You've given me a lot to think about, especially if Delta One from Europe is that much lower in SkyMiles to JNB. (Right now from Atlanta, it's more than half a million miles per person!) Maybe we can extend the adventure a bit in order to have a more comfortable flight.

 

I'll definitely play around with Google Flights before making any decisions.

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I can't comment on Delta as I have miles on Lufthansa Miles & More. But in terms of trouble, I did have issues while on the reward trips (not due to them though) and everything was solved immediately.

 

Flying Europe - Vancouver, Calgary - Toronto, Toronto - Europe in 2012 on miles, they had technical problems with the domestic flight within Canada and had to exchange the plane to a smaller one. That left everybody with E and F seats stranded as there were only four instead of 6 seats available. I was absolutely treated like any other paying passenger and due to my (then) gold status I got rebooked as one of the first guests arriving in Toronto about 5 hours later than originally scheduled. I was so happy about that as I planned on attending a wedding there the next day which was the reason for my trip to Canada to begin with. And I even got some cash compensation for the delay. On my way back home after a delayed flight from Toronto, I still just made my domestic flight within Germany before they closed the door, but my luggage didn't. It then was delivered to my home a day later.

 

Going to Galapagos this year, I had a reward ticket San José (Costa Rica) - Panama - Guayaquil - Baltra - Quito - Panama - San José. Coming back from the islands, the flight from Baltra to Quito was more than 3 hours delayed which would have meant missing my connections - and maybe even my return ticket to Europe which was a separate paid ticket from San José. The amazing staff of the boat I was on in the Galapagos Islands then got me on an earlier flight very spontaneously the same morning which meant I needed to leave more or less immediately as the flight then was 3.5 hours earlier then planned. And I even got upgraded into business class upon arrival at the airport.

 

I couldn't tell any difference between paid and reward tickets. I'll use air miles for my flight to Chad next year as the paid ticket there would be quite expensive. Also for traveling within Africa and within Central / South America I found reward tickets to be considerably cheaper than paid tickets.

 

As mentioned by others, do look into (partly?) paid tickets via Europe as well if you have enough time to factor in "safety buffer times" between flights. There have been some good deals around and for my trips to Africa paid tickets were always quite cheap. Look into Turkish Airlines and British Airways, sometimes also some of the Middle East carriers and KLM / Air France have very attractive specials.

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I used approx. 550,000 miles (combination of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Aadvantage miles) over the summer to take 4 teenagers business class and myself first class to Indonesia this summer with overnights in Tokyo and Singapore.  I estimate that it was over $30,000 in value.  So, it can definitely be done.  I'll be using miles to travel business class and first class to Africa with an overnight in Dubai or Zurich for our trip.  I'm not familiar with Delta's program.

 

As said above, you are treated just like other paying passengers.  I think it's actually better, because usually you can make changes to dates, times, etc. if you keep the original origin and destination.  

 

There are several award booking services that you might consider.  For a fee, they will find you award space.

 

It should be 190,000 miles round trip per person business class from US to South Africa.  You just have to find the space.  DON'T PAY ANY MORE.  Website is cryptically difficult.

 

PM me if you need help finding the award booking service.  Let me do a little research into Delta's program and I'll get back wit you.

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@sdfamily thank you so much for all of the great info. I didn't even consider a booking service to help me. What a fantastic idea; it would be worth a few to get better seats at a reasonable amount of miles. If you do have that name, please let me know. But I'll do some Googling as well!

 

@BieneMaja, so glad to hear you've had good overall experiences using miles. It sounds like it's worth the search to find the seats we want!

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I have had good experiences using booking services. I have my miles on Chase which means they can be transferred to a number of different frequent flyer programs. I found the options to be overwhelming and it was helpful to have someone who could navigate all of that. I had about 200,000 miles and was able to book business class round trip to Africa (Los Angeles to Uganda on Turkish Air, returning from Nairobi) plus one way for my son from LA to Entebbe (he will be coach, LOL). I paid for his return ticket from Africa. 

 

Good luck with your arrangements! A stopover in Europe is nice but I have limited vacation so I don't want to cut into my AFrica time!

 

 

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Several people have mentioned this in passing, but I wanted to highlight this: just because you have Delta points doesn't mean you have to fly Delta or use their rewards scheme (though you can, of course). You can also use their points on all their partners' airlines, which means also using their partners' scale for rewards. Delta Airlines is part of the SkyTeam Partnership; this website can tell you more about which airlines partner with them:  https://www.skyteam.com/en/frequent-flyers/.

 

Using frequent flyer miles from airline X to fly on airline Y can get a little complicated, but there are a few websites out there that can help you to navigate booking SkyTeam partnership miles. Two resources that I know of are The Points Guy (https://thepointsguy.com/) and Million Mile Secrets (https://millionmilesecrets.com/). Good luck, and feel free to DM me if you have any questions.

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