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How-to: Use Delta SkyMiles to Book an Award Ticket to Europe: Searching Availability
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How-to: Use Delta SkyMiles to Book an Award Ticket to Europe: Searching Availability

by jeffreyAugust 28, 2013

Delta SkyMiles is notoriously one of the worst frequent flyer programs to use for award travel. The seat availability for award travel is slim, their website is buggy/broken and it’s difficult to book seats on SkyTeam partner airlines with Delta SkyMiles. These things said, it’s not at all impossible to book award travel on Delta–it just takes longer and requires you to have more flexibility. This series will help you understand how to squeeze the most amount of value out of your Delta SkyMiles. 

Searching for award availability 

The list goes in order of Delta hub size and therefore, number of flights offered. I recommend starting with the hubs first because you’ll likely have an easier time trying to get from YOUR AIRPORT to DELTA HUB.

The Delta SkyMiles booking process is very much based on trial and errors– the empowering part is knowing which options are best available to try so that you can find the seats you want. For most of these searches, we’ll be using the one-way search to speed up the process. (NOTE: Delta charges the full round-trip price in miles when booking a one-way, so I would never actually book a one-way, I’m just using it for my research. For this example, I’m trying to find flights that are being quoted at 60k miles–the USA to Europe low price). I always start by punching in my desired dates + desired cities and see what it spits out first:

For example:

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 3.31.50 PM

As I expected, Delta returned a terrible option for this trip:

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 3.33.08 PM

47 hours AND 115k miles to get from the US to France?! Good try Delta.

Next, click  “View Award Calendar” on the left sidebar to make sure there aren’t any obvious dates available:

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 3.44.13 PM

The “View Award Calendar” tool is extremely useful when trying to narrow down date availability fast. In this case, I could clearly see my preferred date of March 29 isn’t available at the low-award price but, if I have some flexibility, I could go on March 18 or 19th. This tool can help prevent hours and hours of needless searching.

For some of you (the exceptionally lucky ones), you might be done after this step. You can skip down to “Ticketing the Award” section below. For the majority that is still getting terrible results, we’ll continue in detail.

OK–So, we still need to find space from Charleston, SC (CHS) to Nantes, France (NTE) on March 29 for 60k SkyMiles. With Delta and their broke-ass system, the only way is to painstakingly  search leg-by-leg, segment-by-segment until you find seats available at the low-award price. The best advice for booking flights from North America to Europe is to start by finding the flight that gets you across the Atlantic. Once you find space on a New York-Paris flight, you can then search for Your City-New York and then Paris-Your Final destination. It’s common that the tighter award space will always be the expensive transatlantic flights and not the cheaper domestic/regional ones.

Europe award route maps

I highly recommend you print the following part of the post and use it as a worksheet when searching.

ATLANTA (ATL) to: gcmap.com

atl-europe

DUB Dublin [Intl]
MAN Manchester [Ringway Intl]
LHR London [Heathrow]
MAD Madrid [Barajas]
CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]
BRU Brussels [National/Zaventem]
DUS Düsseldorf (Duesseldorf) [Rhein-Ruhr]
BCN Barcelona [Intl]
FRA Frankfurt [Rhein-Main]
STR Stuttgart [Echterdingen]
ZRH Zürich [Zürich-Kloten]
MXP Milan (Milano) [Malpensa]
MUC Munich (München, Freising)
VCE Venice (Venezia) [Marco Polo / Tessera]
FCO Rome (Roma) [Leonardo da Vinci Intl (Fiumicino)]

Then NEW YORK (JFK) to: gcmap.com

jfk-europe

JFK New York [John F Kennedy Intl]
KEF Reykjavík [Keflavík]
SNN Shannon (Limerick) [Intl]
DUB Dublin [Intl]
LHR London [Heathrow]
MAD Madrid [Barajas]
CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]
AGP Málaga [Pablo Ruiz Picasso]
BRU Brussels [National/Zaventem]
CPH Copenhagen (København)
FRA Frankfurt [Rhein-Main]
ZRH Zürich [Zürich-Kloten]
NCE Nice [Côte d’Azur]
MXP Milan (Milano) [Malpensa]
PRG Prague (Praha) [Ruzyne]
PSA Pisa (San Giusto) [Galileo Galilei Intl]
VCE Venice (Venezia) [Marco Polo / Tessera]
FCO Rome (Roma) [Leonardo da Vinci Intl (Fiumicino)]
SVO Moscow [Sheremetyevo Intl]
ATH Athens (Spata) [Eleftherios Venizelos Intl]

NEWARK (EWR) to: gcmap.com

ewr-europe

CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]

Detroit (DTW) to: gcmap.com

dtw-europe

LHR London [Heathrow]
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]
CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]
FRA Frankfurt [Rhein-Main]
FCO Rome (Roma) [Leonardo da Vinci Intl (Fiumicino)

Boston (BOS) to: gcmap.com

bos-europe

LHR London [Heathrow]
CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]
FCO Rome (Roma) [Leonardo da Vinci Intl (Fiumicino)]

Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) to: gcmap.com

msp-europe

LHR London [Heathrow]
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]
CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]

Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to: gcmap.com

ord-europe

AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]
CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]
FCO Rome (Roma) [Leonardo da Vinci Intl (Fiumicino)]

Philadelphia (PHL) to: gcmap.com

phl-europe

CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]

Pittsburgh (PIT) to: gcmap.com

pit-europe

CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]

Cincinnati (CVG) to: gcmap.com

Once a Delta hub, now the only transatlantic and  longest flight out of CVG is the Paris route.

cvg-europe

CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]

Salt Lake City (SLC) to: gcmap.com

slc-europe

CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]

Seattle (SEA) to: gcmap.com

sea-europe

 

CDG Paris (Roissy-en-France) [Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)]
AMS Amsterdam [Schiphol]

I really would just go down the list, inputting city pairs into the one-way award search until I find something I might be able to make work.

After searching, I found this flight (JFK-AMS) on March 29 in the 60k SkyMiles tier.

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 4.17.37 PM

Next, because my origin isn’t New York, I need to find a way to get from Charleston (CHS) to JFK. Just fire up the one-way search and start punching in. Note: The magic number here is 25k miles to know that you’ve found low-price award seats.

Ok, I’m hitting a wall:  the best I can price out is for 40k miles from CHS – LGA:

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 4.26.33 PM

Now, if I have the extra miles, I could decide that I’m satisfied with this option and pay the extra 15k miles it will require to book–bringing the grand total from 60k to 75k–but, determined to book this trip with only 60k miles, I go back to the drawing board and the cycle repeats.

Need help? Drop us a line on Twitter or add a comment to this post–we’d be happy to help!

About The Author
jeffrey
jeffrey