Rookie Sunday: How to beat the Delta SkyMiles “Married Segment Logic” broken award booking engine with point to point awards (by thinking like a dyslexic)!

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a regular feature on the Renés Points blog. This blog 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 featured topic.

The broken Delta award booking engine on

Let me say upfront, I really admire most of those who work for Delta. The really hard working flight attendants, the normally outstanding phone reps and front line folks who work so hard to take great care of me. Heck, I even like some of those who run Delta itself (the corporation). Those who I do not like (and you should not either) is anyone you see here who has the word “SkyMiles” attached to their profiles. They, and what they do to those who work in IT, are shameful and frankly disgusting. But what does that have to do with today’s rookie post? Really everything.

You see for many, many years SkyMiles were valuable if you simply took the time to do the tiniest bit of manual work and you could find stunning awards. These awards could even include stopovers at amazing cites all over the world to give you a chance to experience more than just one destination on your dream Delta award vacation. Then the group in the link above set about breaking what once was a thing of beauty to be treasured.

Most folks will now tell you that due to what some call “Married Segment Logic” that point to point booking (see the Essentials Tab on the blog point E7) is now impossible. That is not entirely true. It may in fact be impossible for you the end user but it is NOT impossible for Delta people – that is, if they want to get it done. Allow me to illustrate.

This week I had a particularly nasty “Schedule Change Saturday” event hit me. It was so bad that my connecting flight would depart before my first flight left the airport. That kind of mega change meant I would have to get up really early to make this new middle connection. Not good and I had plans that morning anyway I did not want to cancel just because Delta decided to monkey with the flight schedules. So what to do? Call Delta after first checking flights.

The first rep told me something to the effect of: “If my computer does not show it, there is no award space“. In other words I do not want to “Strive For Five” and work hard for you to find flights unless the CPU in front of me tells me even if you “think” you can see the space. I “love” Delta reps who “Strive For One” each day, don’t you?

Now to be fair to the above worthless phone rep, if I were to search for an award from A-B there are in fact limited choices the Delta search engine tosses out. Let me tell you and the Delta reps a dirty little Delta secret:

The computers are lying to you (and me) – and we can prove it (many times)!

The key to this tip is found by thinking, like me, who is dyslexic. If you want to beat Delta, and find an award that should be bookable, you have to think backwards. Let me give you an example.

Say you want to go from USA to Sweden (doesn’t everyone?)! You search for flights and find nothing open because while USA to (Delta Hub wherever) to a Delta Hub in Europe (think AMS, CDG, LHR) is open, the next flight is not per the Delta computer for the day you want.

But then you think backward and search the last leg first and see: Oh my AMS to (Sweden) is, as a leg on it’s own, wide open for a LEVEL 1 award. And here lies the KEY to beating the broken Delta booking engine – engage the human element to help you.

You see the key to making this work is this. First you do the work to see on that from USA to the major Delta hub LEVEL 1 space is open and you could book that if you wanted to. Next, you search from that city if the next leg to wherever is also open at LEVEL 1. Then you call Delta and tell the rep you want to see if space is open for that last leg you want but only as a one-way ticket.

Then, get the rep to tell you out loud that YES you are saying that LEVEL 1 space is in fact CONFIRMED open for that flight! THEN you can ask them to search the entire way.

What likely will happen is the rep will see the issue you saw that the Delta CPUs say there is no award space on that last leg but the same rep has just told you, CONFIRMED, that space is in fact open – it is just the computers are not allowing you or them to book them.

(Think about this for a moment before we move one. Space is open, Delta just does not want to let you, the loyal customer who worked hard to collect the miles, to have the seats that are – IN FACT – wide open to book. Honesty, Loyalty, Integrity and Respect rewarded with each dollar you spend with Delta!)

Now I know the human element is not a perfect solution to the vexing and slimy IT issue the Delta SkyMiles team has created. However, if you get a decent rep who is not willing to go along with the lie that is the Delta award search engine you can get this done. Some Delta folks still have the integrity not to use “alternative facts” if you will to explain away what is confirmed true.

What will likely happen next is either the competent rep, or you, will have to get a supervisor to “piece the flights together” and then have them issue your ticket. My rep even said she gave the supervisor “some suggestions” to get this done (I know, I am kicking myself now after the fact that I did not ask just WHAT those suggestions were – bad blogger I am really sorry)!

Will this always work? Clearly no but understand it is possible. Reps can still say stupid things like “THE CPU WILL NOT LET ME”! You will at that points have two choices, try to reason with them that they have just told us space is open so make it work. Or, simply HUCB until you find a rep who gets that their tech is lying to them and they will do what it takes to get you what CLEARLY is there.

There is a reason most in the frequent flyer community say SkyMiles are the lowest value award points of almost any airline (and not “A” award winner) because you have to do ridiculous things like the above to get them to honor the simplest awards. I get that and agree and I have told readers for YEARS now not to actively collect SkyMiles but to only take them either as mega card bonus deals or as a byproduct of other goals or flying Delta and Skyteam partners. If you have such points, I hope this rookie tip can help you spend them and get the award flights you want! – René


PS – If this is all to much for you I suggest you reach out to my friend ADAM to help you book the travel you need!


Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. I know DL people read this blog. I’m curious how they sleep at night knowing these actions are at a minimum unethical.

    They should be embarrassed. But they won’t be because they’re too busy counting their recent bonuses.

    • @Dr. John – I have met some of them. I am quite sure, after what they have said to me face to face, they sleep very well knowing they are being totally unethical.

  2. Great column for the newbies here Rene. The strange part is that there is truly competition with better programs we can take our business to in the future, and we do. The Southwest program is great to use and easy to navigate, redeem, etc. We have dropped our Amex Delta and have four of us using a Southwest Visa now for the very aforementioned reasons. Also, was trying to book on miles a trip to London from the SF bay area. It was cheaper to fly British Airways and pay than to use my Delta miles and travel for free. So the taxes, service charges etc made a free ticket on Delta more than a purchased ticket on Norwegian air, and British Airways. How crazy is that to process?

    • @Marcos – The insanity of the programs is one of the reasons you see more, who only care about coach travel, moving to cash back cards. Programs like Southwest that make it simple will be the long term winners for that segment of the market IMO.

  3. Rene, I got a question for you…

    I booked long time ago an 80,000 mike award from ORD-ATL-ICN on the new A350! Score.
    I was hoping to add now a segment from ICN-XIY (Xi’An) in China on Korean air. The segment was available at lowest level. But they told me repeatedly (even with supervisors) that I could not add this and I had to book separately. Is this correct or someone should had been able to add this segment in without affecting the number of miles redeemed?

    • @Serge – If a valid route (I have not looked) you should be able to add it on – BUT – the total route must right NOW be open at the same level you booked. If not it rebooks at the current level whatever that is.

  4. The Points Collector Reply

    Guess I need to HUCA…

    Called Diamond desk today looking to change a one-way award flight from EUR>ATL>”ABC” airport to an ATL>ABC flight with shorter layover in ATL. All flights on the day of our trip are showing 13,500 SkyMiles for the ATL>ABC segment.

    We paid 60k round trip for a roundtrip summer flight US>EUR with an open jaw…a pretty decent use of SkyMiles on a flight that was pricing around $1,400 at time of booking.

    The EUR>ATL>ABC flight home that we booked, with the longer layover, is pricing at 30k SkyMiles.

    The EUR>ATL>ABC with shorter layover is, frustratingly, pricing at 40k even though it’s the same EUR>ATL transatlantic flight and the ATL>ABC flight prices separately at the same 13.5k as the one with longer layover.

    This is exactly the type of scenario that should not be occurring on the website and which a knowledgeable phone rep should be able to make happen, right?

    With no published Delta award chart, how does one know what is considered ‘Level 1’ pricing for a given city pair and date?

  5. The Google Doc with info about one-way Coach award prices is a handy resource for sure, and much appreciated.

    Are the 9 continental U.S. tiers defined anywhere? Trying to understand which tier a flight between any particular city pair would be.

    13.5k shows up only once on the chart – Tier 5, Level 2.

    Does this ‘getting the phone reps manually book and break the married segment logic’ apply explicitly for Level 1 segments, or can/does it apply also to ‘inconsistent pricing’ at other award levels?

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