Rookie Wednesday – how to find low level award seats on Delta Air Lines

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RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

There are very few times I EVER spend more than low level points for award tickets. Never internationally and only a few times on a single ticket to get say a friend to meet up with my and Lisa’s flights we did find on low level.

Almost every day I get an e-mail or a tweet about a frustrated reader not able to find good award space from this place to that place so today for rookie Wednesday I thought I would go over how to do this and some bits you must understand to accomplish this. Here we go with background info first.

Medallions get more seats. Period. If you want to get the most low level seats you need to not only reach medallion elite level, but as high an elite level you can get. Next, you must have a Delta AMEX, Gold, Platinum or Reserve card to get the bast access to low level seats. Holiday and peak travel days are going to cost more. If you try to book these paying cash, it will cost more. Why would you expect them to be widely available for free on low-level points at these times? Lastly, with one month to go, finding the perfect flights will be, well, very hard or impossible. I start looking 330 days before my trips and then keep checking until I find what I want. This takes work; you need to understand this.

One of the most important things to start with is that Delta.com does not work. Also, most phone reps are not trained to do all they can to find the low level seats for you that you want. They push “buttons” and if their computer does not display point A-B-C they say “nope, no seats”! I currently have a flight booked to Sweden where I go AZO-DTW-YUL-CDG-AMS-GOT (Kalamazoo to Detroit to Montreal to Paris to Amsterdam to Gothenburg) to get my low level seats and now I am waiting for a schedule change to get just the flights I want. One of the short legs is in coach and when I called to see if business class had opened up (as a Platinum Medallion I can change for free if it opens up) the rep said, “wow, some rep did a great job finding these seats for you”! I did not tell her, yeah, that was me as no Delta rep would work this hard to find the seats for me at 100k!

So how does one do this? Here are the steps one by one (I will demonstrate using business class seats so keep that in mind).

Step one. From the main page, jump from the “More Search Options” page. Then, always always always, (did I say always?) search one way to see if the seats are there. Please do not worry about the tax or price, the only number that matters is the number of miles it will take for the seat or seats you want. First try to search from where you want to go from and to and see if you can find seats. It is unlikely you will find them but if you do you can write down all the info, the flight numbers, times and such or just hold the flights.

Step two or step one part “B”. It is very likely you will NOT find the seats you want with the points A-B search as above. Delta’s search engine does not work for you that way. For example. I may search to go from South Bend Indiana to Gothenburg Sweden and find only 200,000 point seats going from SBN-DTW-AMS-GOT (South Bend to Detroit to Amsterdam to Gothenburg). So here is where you and I have to think. I search for each part one by one checking many airports. I may search DTW-AMS until I find a day that has a 100,000k. Then, if I can find that, I can start to search how to get to DTW. Maybe I will fly SBN-DTW. Maybe AZO-DTW (Kalamazoo is my next closest airport). Maybe I will fly SBN-ATL-DTW (South Bend to Atlanta to Detroit). Maybe AZO-MSP-DTW (Kalamazoo to Minneapolis to Detroit). Then lastly I will try to find seats from AMS-DTW and may have to add in say AMS-CDG-GOT (Amsterdam to Paris to Gothenburg). Wow!

Step three. Search coach. For me, the only vital part to have in business in the part over the water that is 8+ hrs long. If I have to fly coach domestic or intra-Europe that is OK. It is important to understand you can mix-n-match low level coach and business class seats. The key thing to keep in mind is you must be ALL low level for any ticket, once all put into one, for it to, in the end, price out at low level (ie a 25k coach domestic leg + 100k biz leg over ocean + 45k biz intra-Europe = 100k total Skymiles). So, maybe I will drive to Indianapolis and I will fly IND-DTW coach, DTW-AMS biz, AMS-GOT biz or something like that. If you are Platinum Medallion or higher you can always keep trying to see if biz seats open up for any leg and just upgrade free once Delta reps see the space at their end. Keep in mind Delta will often give you an error when you try to grab these one by one and put them into one ticket. But, if you have done the leg work, or, hold them one by one for a rep, they will see what you want and be able to get it when you call.

NO – let’s not, let’s call Delta once we know there are seats!

Step four. You now have to do the exact same thing as we have just done for the return part (as long as your return part also shows 100k total in some way then your 100k out and 100k return = 100k total round trip!). Start searching from “over there” leg by leg till you find the low level seats. Again, don’t let the tax or anything else scare you. It is just all about finding that a low level seat is there for each leg of your trip. As long as that shows up you are fine!

Step five. Then, once you have done that, you will be ready to purchase your ticket either by plugging them in one by one, both ways, into the multi-leg search and hoping delta.dumb will let you grab them all, or, as I said before, hold them in 2 or 4 or 6 tiny one way reservations, or just call the rep with all the info you have in hand and spoon feed them the legs you have. What I have found works best is to say: “I have found low level award seats for all the flights I want, but cannot get them to work on delta.com. May I tell you what I found?” A good rep will say OK what did you find and plug them in. A bad rep will say just give me the dates and cities and will then not find the route you want. CLICK – hang up and call back for next rep!

So these are the basic rookie steps for finding low level seats. Some other good points to keep in mind are these. You need to do most of the work. You need to know to search one way segments from a TON of airports like MIA, NYC (all), CHI (both), YUL, MSP, ATL, CVG, SLC, PHL and on and on and on till you can find a starting point with low level seats to your destination. Then, once you have a few “travel days” that work you can begin to look at the front end and back end of that to find more flights that can work to get you to those cities from your hometown. Also, be willing to stay overnight if need be to make it all work and make it a part of the trip. For example, on one of my trips back from Sweden I will have to overnight in AMS. Rather than just one night, I will stay a few days as I have not yet had time to enjoy the city; if you have a one day layover, why not make it two or three or a week! Same thing domestically, Atlanta is a very kool place and you may even have time to tour the Delta museum during your layover! This is yet one more reason to have hotel points as well so that it does not add much cost to your trip to get the low level seats you want!

I have attempted to make this as clear as I can (in my head anyway) for a rookie. If anything is unclear or you have more questions please ask away and I will update the post or answer them below! – Rene
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38 comments

  1. Good advice…but, I have found that “NYC’ doesn’t work for award searches…only revenue searches. When I try to use NYC for award searches, dl.com forces me to pick LGA or JFK (it doesn’t even offer EWR). Have you found this to be the case?

  2. Excellent post. This approach works perfectly with Delta metal. My experience with partner airlines (especially Virgin Australia) is that many segment to segment show phantom availability. When patching together using multi-city tool, the phantom award space disappears and award is not available at that redemption level. Have also had trouble when holding multiple segments, releasing the segment doesn’t go back into award inventory so rep can’t piece the trip together

  3. @Mark – yes, that is often the case. I often search them all. Also for Chicago, very few work out of MDW but you will get routes that do not show up from ORD!

  4. Thank you. If someone else, who is Platinum, books for you, using their Platinum miles, does that person have to make the calls to Delta? And the subsequent follow-up calls if/when there are schedule changes?

  5. Great post and I have bookmarked it so I will be able to refer to it when I need to book on Delta.

  6. Rene-fantastic post. As a fairly new DM Delta member this may save me some time. I have heard some of these things before but having it all in one article is great!I want to find low level award for Virgin AU for next year travel in business class myself.

    Robert

  7. @PT – A GREAT question thanks for this. Should have included that and will edit the post to include this. If a PM or DM books for you, with THEIR miles, you or they can call and change free all you want. As long as the miles come from a PM or DM account, you get the same perks (but not free bags upgrades etc just talking about changes). Good to have friends who are PM or DM with a ton of points! 😉

  8. I can add just a couple suggestions based on recent experience as a retiree (hence no more status):
    1) Despite delta.com supposedly showing AF/KLM availability, I’ve found that by searching AF via their Flying Blue site I sometimes can turn up biz seats at low levels. Case in point: In 12/11 I searched for 2 biz ATL-LHR, departure in late 1/12. I got there with an AF search, ATL-MIA-LHR-AMS-ATL. (No more DL via MIA now).
    2)No seats were available from frequent searches beginning in 10/11 but appeared exactly 6 weeks from an acceptable departure date of 1/31/12. I also got away with this for recent booking, via delta.com, for almost last minute travel on Korean, ATL-INC-HKG and return.

    No more job may offer no more status, but travel on last minute/flexible dates offers loads of possiblities!

  9. Thanks Rene! Been working on a reservation for awhile now. Afraid to commit to one with lots of stops for fear of fees to change when better comes along. That’s why I wanted to know about the Platinum angle.

  10. Good info, I used the advanced search to book tickets for my self and my daughter for san/bkk rt, 120 k miles business class, only problem, no seats on the same days. ( trip in sept, oct 2013)

    So I took what I could get, and was ok with that,

    a few days later Delta send email about schedule change ( just different time of one flight leaving on both our trips.

    it gave the option of changing or canceling or accepting change.

    I accepted on both schedules, and later called their skymiles number to see ( since I was offered the option to change flights)

    thanks to the diligent agent on the phone ( about 20 minutes) He was able to change both our schedules to same flights, same days, only one minor change sea/san not first class on both thickets,

    I really have gratitude ( and respect) for their phone agents.

  11. Look on Air France. I have always been able to find 100000 points awards for business on Air France. Very hard on Delta.

  12. This is a little off the subject, but if I already have the Delta platinum (personal card) and get either the platinum or reserve business, can I still get the sign up bonus? Or when they say “any delta consumer card” does that mean personal and business”? I need another 4000 MQM’s before year end to hit Silver

  13. When looking for seats, review results for “connection airport” for ideas for routings. Also don’t forget to check europe-canada/mexico-us routings. Have found good availibility ams/cdg-yul-msp instead routing through nyc airports.

  14. @Philip – ooops no need to change that too. When you search for 100k on the way back the total again is just 100k as long as all is low level – rene

  15. Rene,
    I did a little experiment to try to wrap my head around this. I found a ML award SLC to HNL RT for 65k in July 2013. I then found a LL award from SEA to HNL OW for 65k and a OW LL return also for 65k. Assuming I can find LL awards to get me to and from SEA, what will this cost when I call an agent to collapse it down into one itinerary?

  16. @Philip – yes but mid level you should be able to just find with std search. If you only find HIGH, then yes this is better and rep can do it. But try for low!

  17. Rene,
    Sorry to be unclear. What I was wondering is why the LL awards from SEA seem to price out the same as the ML award from SLC. Or does it? Thanks for your patience.

  18. Hi Rene,

    Just wanted to say thank you for your clear instructions. I just booked a RT flight to Europe in business class (lie flat seats both ways) at the lowest level (100k). It took about an hour’s worth of work looking at different options, but alas, I was able to make it work. Couldn’t have been done without your blog. My sincerest gratitude sir! Have a wonderful holiday season.

    Brent

  19. Is there fee when calling agent to either book the legs found that weren’t pricing right? What about for collapsing 6 legs you have reserved?

  20. @MR. H – great question. Most times they will try to change a fee but when you tell the rep you could not get delta.com to book this and you ask them to wave it they will. – Rene

  21. Hi,
    This is an excellent post! I wish I found your blog earlier. I have a question, though. In your other post (I think it’s one about stop over), you said that you are allowed up to 10 segments for a round trip. Here you put 8. I’m just wondering which one is true?

    Thanks 🙂

  22. And one more question.
    Are we allowed one stop over AND one open jaw, or one stop over OR one open jaw? I tried to book a trip with a stop over and an open jaw, but it takes more miles than it’s supposed to. I looked up the rules on Delta website and it said an open jaw counts as a stop over?

    Thanks a sorry for all these questions. 😛

  23. “I currently have a flight booked to Sweden where I go AZO-DTW-YUL-CDG-AMS-GOT (Kalamazoo to Detroit to Montreal to Paris to Amsterdam to Gothenburg) to get my low level seats and now I am waiting for a schedule change to get just the flights I want”

    What do you mean by this? are you really going to fly 6 segments, or is there a way to collapse the itinerary and reduce some of the legs?

    thanks!

  24. @Emily – I did all this just to get low level seats. Worst case, YES, I would fly this. In practice, there will be so many schedule changes that I was able to pick a much much much better route as you will see in a future post! – Rene

  25. Thanks! Still trying to figure out if I can find lower than 70,000 to get from PDX to LIM, but if I search one ways or open jaws, it’s coming out about the same (via ATL mostly). Any tips? Or is 70,000 pretty good?

  26. I’m working on domestic award fare outbound MSP-SEA-(stopover)-JUN then inbound ANC-MSP (open jaw). 1st leg is 40k and others 25K ea. Delta prices out @90K. Shouldn’t this be 40k at most?
    Thanks.

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