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Delta’s better award search is still broken, here are the settings to use for the most results

by on Mon November 17, 2014 • No Comment

Delta has upgraded its award calendar search tool, which is great news. Our survey of frequent fliers flagged its issues as a driver of dissatisfaction with the SkyMiles program.

The biggest improvement is that partner flights are now included in the award calendar price display. So when seats are available on airlines like Alitalia, Air France, or Korean Airlines, the calendar will reflect that.

Before, dates with partner options wouldn’t show as available, and you had to click on individual dates to see which ones had partner flight availability.

This is a big improvement that will make availability appear much more generous by default, though in reality the underlying availability is the same it was before.

It’s just much easier to see.

Though as we talk about below that could be bad news if you used the hard to see, but widely available space to your advantage.

Cosmetically, the award calendar looks snazzy and instead of showing color codes, it shows the real price in miles upfront.

But the search is not perfect, far from it. And there are still some big limitations you need to know in order to maximize your chances of getting the award seats you deserve.

Let’s walk through what we’ve learned from test-driving it…

Use this setting to see the most results

Delta gives you four ways to view award results:

  • Round-trip with a one-week view for both the return and outbound (default)
  • Round-trip with a five-week view
  • One-way with a one-week view
  • One-way with a five-week view

The setting that will give you the widest range of options with the lowest prices is the one-way with a five-week view.

Here’s an example of the four views for a Philadelphia to Rome trip in the peak of the summer:


The one-way 5 week search shows you over 10 possible days available at the low 60,000 mile price, versus just one or two with the other four search options.

That’s because the round-trip with a five week view will show you inflated prices if the single date you choose for the return has no availability at the low price level.

The round-trip with a one-week view for both the outbound and return fixes some of that, since you see multiple options for coming back, but it limits you to seeing only one week of options at a time.

So the one-way with a 5 week view wins because it isolates your outbound trip and shows you all the dates that have seats in that direction, so you will find many more options. The tradeoff is that you have to do a separate search for your return flights.

A tip is to open a second window and do a search for your return so you have a handy side-by-side view of  your options for the whole trip.

Most partners still don’t display

Delta lets you use miles with the following partner airlines, although only those in bold are currently searchable using Delta’s award tool:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolinea Argentinas
  • AirEuropa
  • Air France
  • Air Tahiti
  • Alaska
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech
  • Garuda
  • GOL
  • Great Lakes
  • Hawaiian
  • Kenya
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Middle East
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia
  • Xiamen

But now that prime Alitalia and Virgin Australia space is more visible to everyone searching on, not just those who were savvy enough to search individual days, it’s possible those awards could become tougher to score.

Alitalia and Virgin Atlantic offer a small number of award seats on each of a large number of days, which is great when award space is hidden from the calendar view so that only people who know to look deeper can find it.

But now that it will be more visible to everyone by default, it’s possible those seats will be snatched up more often, leading to less seats available for people who knew the ways around the old system.

So if you’ve been saving up for one of those awards, book it as soon as you can.

Long connections to partner flights might not display

Here’s an example. Virgin Australia operates flights from Los Angeles to Australia that have great award availability, but they all depart late in the evening.

So if you’re coming in from another city, like St. Louis, it’s possible the only award space you’ll find from St. Louis to Los Angeles will get you to Los Angeles many hours before the late evening Virgin Australia flight.

Delta’s award calendar doesn’t handle that well.

We think the cutoff is around 10 hours of a layover.

Normally that’s something to avoid, but when heading to Australia spending the day in L.A. on the way out isn’t a bad thing considering the savings of using miles vs paying cash, especially if you’re enjoying a flat Business Class bed on the long flight to Australia.

Let’s look at a search for award flights from St. Louis to Sydney on February 19 as an example.

It looks pretty dismal. The lowest possible price with Delta SkyMiles to Australia in Business Class is 160,000 miles roundtrip. But all we see here are options that are over double that, at 370,000 miles roundtrip.

But if you look at just Los Angeles to Sydney there are lots of days with the low 160,000 mile price. So is it the St. Louis to Los Angeles segment that’s out of award space?

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 11.42.14 AM

Yes, but there are a few days with low priced seats from St. Louis to Los Angeles. They should be showing up in the full St. Louis to Sydney search result, but aren’t.

Let’s drill into February 19, which has seats on both the St. Louis to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Sydney segments. Why isn’t the calendar displaying this option when you do a St. Louis to Sydney search?

Here’s the flight it does display.


You can see the Virgin Australia flight, but it’s all pricing well above the 160,000 miles that’s the lowest possible price.

Looking at the St. Louis to Los Angeles segment by itself, the only option at the low price level is an early 6:30 am flight that gets into Los Angeles at 11:30am, almost 11 hours before the Virgin Australia flight at 10:50pm.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.58.39 AM


Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.58.59 AM

This is a perfectly legal trip – going from St. Louis to Los Angeles, laying over for about 11 hours, then continuing on to Sydney. It should cost you just 160,000 miles.

But Delta’s award engine appears to have a breaking point, possibly with layovers of 10 hours or so, where it won’t consider it part of one ticket price.

The good news is, you can book this over the phone by requesting flights individually. But you shouldn’t have to go through these steps to find these options.

The site shows some partner space that can’t be booked

We tried to search Los Angeles to Tahiti flights, on a route that partner Air France operates.

The calendar showed some prime Business Class space for 100,000 miles, a great price, but one that doesn’t even exist on the Delta award chart.

That 100,000 mile price is really the Economy Class price, and when you click through it gives an error that nothing is available in the class you’re searching for.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 11.54.39 AM

So all in all, the new Delta system is not perfect by any means, but the ability to see at least some partners in a long calendar view is a big improvement over the old system.

We’ve found it makes finding space to Asia and Europe much easier, but if you were a patient person who searched days one by one to find that same space, you might find fewer seats available if more SkyMiles members have an open view of the availability.



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