Partner Flights to Europe with Delta SkyMiles Are Even More Expensive Than I Thought

The other day I wrote about the latest Delta devaluation that increased partner awards to different regions (and came with no notice). One of the silver linings to the recent devaluation was that if you booked a Delta flight as part of the award itinerary, it dropped the mileage requirement to the lowest tier price and thus the price remained the same as it was before the devaluation. Thus, there was a workaround for the devaluation, but I don’t think that’s the case for awards to Europe.

The new redemption rates to Europe

The prior redemption rate for a one way partner award to Europe using Delta miles was 70,000 miles, and the new devaluation increased those mileage requirements to 95,000 for partners.

It’s still pretty easy to find awards for 70,000 on Delta flights.

And for single partner awards you’ll find the redemption rate at 85,000.

However, the issues start popping up when you book a Delta flight along with a partner flight. You do not receive a lower rate.

You actually won’t even be able to see a lot of the availability when you try to put your own Delta + partner awards together. Notice the three Virgin Atlantic flights showing availability from JFK to LHR above. Well, when I switch departure locations those flights either disappear or show no availability.

Here’s another example:

You can see open awards for VS 4.

However, when routing from Las Vegas, there’s no availability showing for VS 4.

And nothing showing for any flights from DFW with VS 4.

And nothing showing from SEA:

I didn’t think too much about this though because it’s common in my experience for search results to spit out different award options when you change the departure location, and I’m sure in Delta’s case its the result of some hyper-complicated inventory process that I don’t care to spend time trying to comprehend.

But I thought I’d at least be able to piece together the flights manually by calling in, since I knew that Virgin Atlantic Flight 26 had open business class seats. However, the phone representatives couldn’t do that for me and told me that the itinerary has to be automatically populated by Delta.

So I don’t think there’s a way to get around the higher mileage requirements by adding a partner by calling in. I thought that was a bummer but I figured I’d just search extra hard online and find eventually find flights with partners + Delta.

Well, that I did, but the results were even more surprising and disappointing.

Partner + Delta awards have increased to Europe

Not only did partner awards increase for a single partner itineraries, but it looks like they actually go up even further when you add a Delta flight. The amount of the increase varies due to Delta’s annoying dynamic pricing, and I saw prices ranging from 117,500 to 140,000 (that’s one way, of course).

Here are some examples of what I saw:

It’s pretty upsetting to see that Delta’s made such a drastic increase in awards to Europe with no notice. Now if you wanted to connect from a place like Las Vegas, you could be asked to pay 140,000 for a  one-way partner award to Europe! I could almost get two roundtrips to Europe with Korean Air miles for that amount. That is utterly ridiculous.

Even the lower rates of 117,500 are terrible, since I could even get a round trip for 110,000 miles with Aeroplan.

This is incredibly confusing because some routes with partners actually went down like flying Korean Air from ATL to ICN. So some partner redemption prices went down and some went up and then some bookings with partners + Delta stayed the same, while others went up (and up again). Add in the fact that these increases are dynamic and that you can’t put together your own segments and SkyMiles quickly becomes a huge (and expensive) PIA to deal with.

After doing what I could to avoid Delta for nearly two years, I finally came around and decided to give them a try for a booking in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic I’ve had in the works for a few months now. That ticket has just gone up to at least 85,000 and if I want to add a connecting flight, I’m going to have to shell out something like 30,000 additional miles or more. I can’t believe these prices and I can’t wait to get rid of these SkyPesos SkyMiles and stick to other loyalty programs that aren’t an absolute nightmare like Delta SkyMiles.

Delta Devalues Partner Awards with No Notice

Via OMAAT, Delta just implemented changes to its partner redemption rates with no advanced notice and even without any formal announcement when the changes took place. It appears that now if you book a flight exclusively on a Delta partner, you’ll be subjected to higher mileage requirements for many routes.

Delta has been one of the last loyalty programs I’ve pursued. My biggest complaint with them is that they they eliminated their award chart in 2015 in favor of dynamic pricing, which means award prices fluctuate and that you’re often left guessing and hoping for a certain redemption rate (that’s probably on the higher side).

For award flights on partners this dynamic pricing wasn’t a huge headache since partner awards are subject to the lowest tier of the dynamic pricing, so all you had to know is what the lowest redemption rate is for a route and that would tell you the mileage requirement for a partner award.

But now Delta is continuously rolling out devaluations at a rate faster than other carriers and without any notice at all. For example, in 2016, Delta increased awards to both Europe, Australia, and Tel Aviv, some of these overnight with no notice. And now, they’ve just rolled out more devaluations without any notice– this time for partner awards.

It look like some redemption rates are left intact but for routes involving US destinations, there’s been an increase.

For example, JFK to LHR via Virgin Atlantic increased from 70,000 to 85,000 miles one way. As you can see below, the route with Virgin Atlantic is showing the higher redemption rate. (Economy is also up 5,000 miles for this route.)

That’s now 170,000 miles for a roundtrip. For some perspective, you could use 88,000 ANA miles for a roundtrip ticket to Europe (with a stopover) and pay very little in fees if you book with the right partner, as seen below.

ANA miles on Air Canada to Europe in business class is one of the top sweet spot redemptions.

Routes from Australia on partner Virgin Australia have gone up 20,000 miles from 95,000 miles to 115,000 miles.

Other routes to destinations such as Asia and South America are also reflecting higher prices, too.

Dynamic pricing for partners now? 

It seems some routes are reflecting dynamic pricing which means that the award requirements are higher for flights closer to the departure date, so it looks like there’s going to be even more ambiguity for the SkyMiles program.

Both of these devaluations are punches in the gut to me as I had plans (many months in the making) to book both Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic using Delta SkyMiles within the next month. I even took note of the recent devaluations to both of these routes that took place in 2016 and assumed I’d be okay for the time being since they surely wouldn’t introduce another devaluation so soon.

To make matters worse, I’d avoided earning Delta miles for nearly two years because I didn’t trust the award program with its nonexistent transparency. I slowly decided to give Delta a chance and then this happens….

Including a flight on Delta metal

All might not be lost here, however. It seems that when you book an itinerary that includes a Delta flight, that redemption is subject to the old rates. Since I don’t live near a Delta hub, it shouldn’t be an issue to fit in a connecting Delta flight to the routes above and hopefully only have to pay the lower rates. But that’s assuming that this will be the official policy. Delta’s award pricing has been subject to glitches in the past and I wonder if this lower redemption rate is the official policy and even if it is, I wonder how long it will last.

No notice, no shame

It’s a shame that airlines feel that it’s okay to change redemption rates overnight with no notice. Remember, these are loyalty programs we are talking about there. Loyalty is a concept that works both ways. And I don’t see why Delta thinks it’s okay to repeatedly makes these changes with zero notice, even if it’s allowed per the terms and conditions.

When American announced its latest devaluation that took effect in March 2016, it gave notice in November of 2015, giving members plenty of time to make bookings. When United made massive changes to its award chart in early 2014, it gave its members three months to get their bookings taken care of. And there are plenty of other examples of airlines giving their loyal customers at least a couple of months notice before implementing major changes.

I don’t have a lot of ground to stand on in terms of being an outraged Delta loyalty member, as I’ve actively avoided earning and burning Delta SkyMiles for almost two years now. However, I firmly believe that it is poor practice for an airline to changes prices to its loyalty program with no notice, as it goes against everything that a loyalty program is about. I hope true Delta loyalists will consider taking action and entertain other programs so that at some point airlines like Delta will receive the message that these practices are unacceptable.

The Best Ways to Use Miles and Points to Get to New Zealand

My number one bit of advice to someone planning on making it to New Zealand on miles and points would be to plan as far in advance as possible and to stay as open-minded as you can about taking longer routes through other continents, such as Asia. Yes, that means more flying time but it will also make your booking experience much easier given the difficulty involved with getting to New Zealand on award flights. With that said, here are the best ways to use miles and points to get to New Zealand.

Limited direct flights 

The first thing to be mindful of is that there are only a handful of direct flights to New Zealand from the United States.

These include:

  • Houston (IAH) to Auckland (AKL) – Air New Zealand
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Auckland (AKL) – Air New Zealand and American Airlines
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Auckland (AKL) – United and Air New Zealand

Unfortunately, award spots on these flights are extremely hard to find. This is why you need to be open to routing through Asia or Australia to get to New Zealand.

Economy vs business class 

If you want to get to New Zealand in economy, it’s not very difficult to find flights. In fact, your experience with finding award tickets will be much more pleasant than looking for business class routes.

However, if you want to get to New Zealand in business class or first class (at the saver level), you’re going to have to really plan ahead (7 months plus) and be open-minded about jumping on longer routes. Instead of flying directly to the home of the Kiwis, more than likely you’ll be routing through Australia or Asia (or both) so that your final route might end up looking like: US -> Asia -> Australia -> New Zealand. That might not sound like fun, but because you’ll be in business class it should be a lot more bearable. 


  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, SPG

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 75,000
  • Business class: 120,000

United Airlines

My preferred method of getting to New Zealand would be to book a roundtrip with ANA miles on United Airlines since they don’t pass on fuel surcharges and your total fees would be minimal. The problem is the abysmal open award space. At the time of this article, April 2017 had one of the best months for availability and for Saver business class seats and you can see how limited it was to Sydney in April/May in the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 5.33.48 PM

When I searched for availability from the US to Auckland with United on Aeroplan’s website, I found a lot of United award availability for flights 5+ months out and decent availability for flights only a couple of months out but it wasn’t the kind of availability I liked. The major issue with these flights is that the business class redemptions were mostly mixed-class fares, often with economy being the longest leg. If you search long and hard enough (for flights 6-7+ months out) you might be able to find itineraries with business class for the long-haul legs but it’s probably still going to come down to getting a little bit lucky. 

Thus, while getting to New Zealand via United with ANA miles would be terrific,  I definitely recommend expanding your searches to routings via Australia and Asia that involve other partners. Awards seats in business class may still be a little hard to come by but by getting creative with your routes and combining alliance partners, you should eventually be able to piece something together.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand offers the most routes from the United States to New Zealand but the problem is that the award availability is very limited and historically has been. You might get lucky and come across some good availability here and there but for the most part I wouldn’t count on there to be open seats on Air New Zealand.

ANA (plus Asian airline partners)

Using ANA to book ANA plus Asian airline partner airlines to get to New Zealand can be a great option but will obviously require you to connect through Asian airports to get there and back. A lot of the routing through Asia include partners: Singapore Airlines, Asiana, Air China, and Thai Airways. For example, take a look at this sample itinerary from IAH to AKL utilizing ANA and Air China. 

Routing through Asia is probably the easiest way to find awards to New Zealand.

One of the issues for business class redemptions is that the business class fares are often mixed with economy on long segments. For example, most of the routes involving Singapore Airlines options included a long economy leg from Singapore to Sydney or Auckland. The key again is try to book as far in advance as possible, search routing options day-by-day, and experiment with routes through Japan, China, Southeast Asia, etc. If you are relentless with your efforts, you should eventually be able to piece together an all-business class itinerary. 

ANA routing rules regarding connections are a little complex so if you want to try to learn more about them check our this article. If all of that seems a bit over your head, you can just play around with the search function on ANA’s website and try to find connecting flights that work for you based on what they provide.

The total fees at about $465 for a roundtrip is a little high, but you can’t forget that you’re getting an awesome redemption rate of 120,000 for your roundtrip, or if you book with ANA’s own metal, just 105,000!

Stop over and open jaw possibilities

Don’t forget that you’re allowed a stopover and open-jaw with ANA as well. If you’re routing through Asia, it might make sense to book your stopover there in a place like Tokyo or Beijing to help break up your flights. 

Many people who make the trip all the way down to New Zealand like to combine their trip with a trip to Australia or perhaps an exotic destination like French Polynesia.

If you wanted to include a stopover in Sydney you could do the following:

  • Outbound: SFO -> AUK
  • Inbound: AUK -> SYD [stopover] -> SFO

Or, if you wanted to hit up Australia and still make your trip even more exotic by stoping over in a place like French Polynesia you could go with the following:

  • Outbound: SFO -> AUK
  • Inbound: SYD [open jaw] -> Tahiti (PPT) [stopover] -> SFO

You’d have to take care of your flight from AUK to SYD and your fees might be a little higher since your flights might not include just United, but for 120,000 miles, getting to New Zealand, Australia, and French Polynesia is superb, even if you have to shell out a little in fees.

Alaskan Airlines

Alaskan Airlines offers great redemption rates to a number of destinations around the globe and New Zealand is one of those places. As usual, the rates differ depending on the partner, so here are a few of the best ways to use Alaskan miles to get to New Zealand.

Cathay Pacific B777-300
Cathay Pacific is a great use of Alaskan Miles to New Zealand, Photo by Alvin Law.


  • 85,000 in economy
  • 110,000 in business class

The 110,000 is business class roundtrip to New Zealand (via Australia) and sounds exceptional, right? The problem is that almost all of the search results you find for business class redemptions will be mixed-class cabins, with the long legs from the States being in economy or at best premium economy. Unfortunately, much like Air New Zealand, business class award availability with Qantas is one of the hardest to come by. Every once in a while they roll out with more open dates but for the most part if you want to find open business class seats, you’ll have to do a lot of searching and will probably struggle to find suitable options for a roundtrip (though it can be done).

However, if you’re interested in economy you should be able to find plenty of open seats; it’s just that the deal isn’t quite so sweet at 85,000 miles roundtrip.

Fiji Airways

  • 80,000 in economy
  • 110,000 in business class

Fiji Airways offers more outstanding rates to get to New Zealand but it’s got the same issues as Qantas in terms of very limited business class availability. I searched for months on Alaskan’s website and only found a couple of days with open business class seating but others have had more luck finding business clas availability (via Fiji). Much like Qantas, economy had wide-open dates, however.

Korean Air

  • 85,000 in economy
  • 125,000 in business class

Booking business and/or first class on Korean Air’s metal with partner miles is extremely difficult because they have been known to limit their inventory to partners, sometimes with only one business class seat. I searched through months on Delta and Alaska’s website and only found a seat here and there for business class and economy wasn’t much better. Therefore, while the redemption rate with Alaskan miles is tempting, this isn’t a very practical option for getting to New Zealand for the time being.

Cathay Pacific

  • 80,000 in economy
  • 120,000 in business class

You’ll need to search for award availability with British Airways or Japan Airlines since Alaska often doesn’t show Cathay Pacific award availability. A quick search for availability about 7 months out showed many open business class seats (sometimes up to 5 seats open) between Hong Kong and Auckland and so you’d just need to find Cathay Pacific flights from departure points in the US (SFO or LAX).

The product level on Cathay Pacific and redemption rates make it one of the best ways to get New Zealand and definitely one of the best ways to use Alaskan miles. While award availability is not phenomenal it’s still better than many of the other options for getting to New Zealand, so if you have Alaskan miles then consider Cathay Pacific as a primary choice.

Remember, Alaskan Airlines has a very generous stopover policy allowing one stopover on one-ways and two stopovers on roundtrips. A route through Asia to Oceania is a perfect time to take advantage of these!

United Airlines 

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles:  Chase Ultimate Rewards, Chase cards, SPG (2:1)

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 140,000

As stated, award availability for (saver) business class to New Zealand on United is not great and you’ll need to book far in advance if you want to even have a chance to snag redemptions with business class seats between the US and Australia/New Zealand. On the other hand, if you’re searching for economy flights, you should be able to find plenty of flights 6+ months out and decent availability for flights under 6 months out.

The same logic applies from the ANA bookings: you want to explore routing options with Star Alliance partners through Asia and Australia to New Zealand. United will not allow you to route through Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, to New Zealand (or Australia), so you’ll be primarily looking at bookings through Asia with Star Alliance partners, such as ANA, Singapore, etc.

Another routing rule for United to be aware of is that when routing from North America to the South Pacific, you can only have 3 connections, which means 4 total segments one-way. So keep that in mind when piecing together your routes through Asia. 

United allows one stopover on roundtrips although there appears to be some changes rolling out

Delta Airlines

  • Alliance: SkyTeam
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, American Express Delta cards, SPG

Virgin Australia

  • Business class: 160,000
Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER in LAX (VH-VPH)
Photo by wilco737

Delta has some pretty horrible redemptions to Australia and New Zealand and the lowest I found when I searched was 300,000 miles roundtrip. However, Delta has access to non-SkyTeam partner Virgin Australia which has the largest inventory of business class awards to Australia even in peak times and no fuel surcharges. You may have to route through cities like Brisbane or Melbourne but you should be able to connect to New Zealand with Virgin Australia or SkyTeam member China Airlines. These routes are as low as 160,000 round trip and the business class product looks pretty great on Virgin Australia.

My issue is that I wasn’t able to find these awards on Delta’s site but it’s good knowing that this option is at least offered on occasion and/or that you have the possibility of tracking down these awards.

Another option for getting there with Delta but via Asia is China Eastern. 

Singapore Airlines

  • Alliance: Star Alliance
  • Ways to earn miles: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thankyou points, SPG

Singapore Airlines is a bit of a pricey option for getting to New Zealand but it still makes the list since it’s a transfer partner to the major reward programs (and thus easy to accumulate miles for) and it offers one of the best business class and economy products out of any airline.

Photo by Bruno Geiger

Singapore airlines with online 15% discount factored in

  • Economy: 85,000
  • Business class: 170,000

Singapore’s award booking still confuses me, however, when it comes to getting to New Zealand. First, when I input routes from the West Coast to New Zealand, like SFO -> AUK, I get an error message that states:

The Origin and Destination you have selected constitutes a backtrack routing. Backtracking is not permitted except as required by routing restrictions. Backtracking occurs when a journey does not continue in the same direction as that in which it was begun.

I don’t know why their system defaults to that. To work around that error, I searched for award availability in segments, SFO -> SIN and SIN -> AUK.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 9.50.26 AM
Singapore showing 110, miles needed from SIN to AUK

The rate that pops up for SIN -> AUK (seen above)  is 110,000 in business class, which is the amount stated on the award chart for Zone 9 Australia “excluding New Zealand.” So that doesn’t makes sense to me but I guess that is the requirement for getting to New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 9.44.42 AM

The biggest issue with Singapore Airlines (besides fuel surcharges sometimes) is that availability can be terrible. For business class, though, it’s not always that bad and I found a decent amount of open seats for the SIN to AUK segment for dates about 6 to 7 months out. The segments from SFO and LAX to SIN (via oneway or connecting Asian flights) can be a little harder to obtain but with enough flexibility and planning, you should be able to find something. And as usual, economy redemptions are much easier to find.

Remember, you’re given one complimentary stopover when you book a Saver roundtrip on Singapore Airlines.

Star Alliance partners

  • Economy: 110,000
  • Business class: 195,000 

The redemption rates on partner awards are much worse than on Singapore’s own metal. Thus, I personally would avoid trying to book Star Alliance partners with Singapore and try to do such bookings with ANA, United, Aeroplan, etc.

American Airlines 

  • Alliance: OneWorld
  • Ways to earn miles: SPG, Citi credit cards

Miles needed:

  • Economy: 80,000
  • Business class: 160,000

Unfortunately, American doesn’t allow you to transit 3rd regions subject to exceptions and North America to South Pacific (Australia and New Zealand) is not given an exception. This means that routing through the Middle East with Qatar and Etihad or through Asia with airlines like Cathay Pacific will cost you additional miles. Therefore, I’m leaving them and others off the list.

American + Qantas

American Airlines runs a direct flight to Auckland from LAX but as you’d probably expect it’s very difficult to find open seats on that flight. However, if you route your flights through Australia and take American Airlines from LAX -> SYD you can find some pretty good business class SAAver availability at times, although you’ll need to searching for about 9 to 10 months out. Check out the SAAver seats below for business class from LAX -> AUK flying American to Sydney and then Qantas to Auckland.

Great business class availability about 10 months out.

Also, although American Airlines does not allow stopovers, the fees are very reasonable and for the roundtrip business class seats found above, you’d be paying about $73 in total fees!

Only $73 in fees!

You could also try to find other Qantas routes that depart from the United States but as already stated when it comes to business class, those can be pretty difficult to find. However, there are routes from LAX, SFO, and DFW you could at least look into.

Final Word 

Getting to New Zealand with miles and points in economy is not very difficult with sufficient planning but getting there in business class requires: 1) ample planning often 7-10 months out; 2) relentless searching; and 3) flexibility with routing connections through different regions of Asia and/or Australia. If you can handle those three things, you should be able to eventually put together routing to New Zealand; otherwise, you might just have to get lucky and come across sporadic award space. 

Cover photo byDarren Puttock via Flickr

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