Windbag Miles is a blog about points, miles, credit cards, travel, and general windbaggery.

Don't forget to search Delta award itineraries segment-by-segment. Oh wait, I mean "Don't search for Delta award without using this ONE CRAZY TRICK!"

WHOA, TWO POSTS IN A SINGLE WEEK! I could write about what’s going on with the blog and stuff, but you don’t care. It’s boring. Anyway, let’s talk about Delta. Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how Delta’s revenue-based redemption system can make awards less flexible overall, and this post is in a similar vein, since it’s about another one of the consequences of using a rewards program without an award chart.

This actually came up a few months ago, but it was during my blog’s “dead period,” so I didn’t write about it. And because I’m still a fundamentally lazy writer, I didn’t check to see it’s still the case OR take screen shots to illustrate what I’m talking about. Here’s the gist: I was trying to book an award itinerary to France, and I couldn’t get Delta to show any mixed-carrier awards, which was really annoying. Thinking back on it, this has probably been the case for a long time, but it’s still a competitive disadvantage compared to Star Alliance or oneworld booking engines that will happily ferry you to a hub city on United/American and then send you overseas on whatever European carrier has availability out of that hub. (Or, in the case of Aeroplan, suggest an itinerary with five domestic European flights in business class before finally connecting you to the transatlantic leg in economy).

This is the benefit of award charts, since you’re essentially telling the system where you want to go and letting it pull from all available flights within/between the two regions you want to visit. When a program exclusively prices awards from origin to destination, there are no “available” flights, just a bunch of flights each with a specific cost. However, because Sky Miles still manages to offer partner awards, which price according to the traditional available/unavailable scheme (either they show up for 75,000 miles, or they don’t show up at all), you can only book partner awards as direct flights. What’s annoying about this is that Delta is probably the best of the big 3 in terms of domestic availability, but their Frankenstein-monster award booking engine won’t let you take advantage of that feeder network to get to any of their partners’ US destinations.

Delta’s longhaul business class availability is actually pretty good compared to United and American, but it’s still hit or miss, and it’s usually much weaker on the European side of things than Air France/KLM. When I was putting my itinerary together, I was really hoping to get on Air France’s direct flight from San Francisco, but there weren’t any seats available. That only left a bunch of Delta awards through one of their hubs for 320,000 miles. I was going to put my plans on hold and check periodically since they do often open up seats from time to time, and most of the routes to Paris are on A330s (or refurbished 777s, which I got to enjoy last month). However, it occurred to me that Air France does fly out of some other Delta hubs, and availability is often better than it is from SFO, for whatever reason.

Specifically, I decided to check Seattle, since it’s a quick and easy flight from SFO, and the lounge game in SEA is on point. (While I’d prefer a direct flight for obvious reasons, I always like spending time in the Sky Club in Seattle, which is a far sight better than the very mediocre Air France lounge at SFO.) I was able to find two business class seats for 75,000 miles each on the day I wanted, so I went ahead and booked them. It’s funny spending “only” 75,000 Sky Miles on a business class seat these days — it seems like such an incredible bargain even though it’s still more expensive than pretty much every other program. But, as I’ve said before, the fact that you can rack up 300,000 Delta miles in short order via credit card sign-ups eases the sting of their inflated pricing.

With the Air France business seats in the bag, I just needed to get us up to Seattle. And wouldn’t you know it, I found two seats in first class for 10,000 miles each, meaning the total cost of my itinerary was still less than the least expensive award flight on Delta. Sure there are some disadvantages — like having to check in again in Seattle, or potentially having to pay two cancelation/change fees — but I’m still happy with how it turned out, since the domestic leg is pretty short, and I finally get to fly Air France in business class.

Sidebar: It’s ironic that it will have taken over five years from when I started churning to finally fly Air France business, since that’s the one product that really ignited my interest in the hobby. Prior to that, I figured the easiest thing would just be to earn United miles and fly United business class, but then I noticed that United business class kind of sucked, and Air France’s [just-launched reverse herringbone] looked much better. And you can earn their miles from an American Express card??? So yeah, 25 American Express cards later, here we are. I probably would have flown them sooner, except the roll-out of that new business class product took forever, and I really didn’t want to risk getting equipment-swapped into one of their old angle-flat seats after getting excited for the latest and greatest.

After my KLM disappointment, I’m not expecting anything that great, especially since I prefer forward-facing seats like the new Delta One suites I just flew, so I don’t even think this will be my favorite Sky Team business class product. But given how I’m such a francophile in other areas, I definitely should fly Air France business class at some point, so I’m happy I will finally get to. (Speaking of KLM, I’m also a little excited to fly their new 787-10 on the return leg of that same trip, since it will supposedly feature an updated seat. My problem with the 789 seat was that it felt fairly narrow, and since the 781 is the same length, I’m not expecting it to be substantially better in that regard, although it’s always fun to fly a new product on a new plane.)

Anyway, that’s my advice with Delta: don’t be afraid to put itineraries together piece-by-piece, since it may make the most sense to combine their domestic availability with their partners’ long-haul awards. Finally, any time I write about Delta I feel like I should put in the standard disclaimer that I’m sure everyone knows this already, it’s just something that I didn’t know, and if I didn’t know it, then maybe a few of my readers didn’t either. They’re a pretty stupid bunch! (Just kidding, love you folks.)

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Marriott is a great hotel chain, I'm joining The Points Guy as a travel writer, and Emirates is giving out free first class flights: One of these outlandish statements is true, but WHICH ONE????