A trip to Europe in April is on our Family Demand Schedule for 2019. I haven’t been able to find award availability until just recently. Here’s how I booked it, using Delta SkyMiles to Italy.
- Departing out of Boston
- Fly into/out of “somewhere” in Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Bologna)
- Want to go during April school break, Saturday to Saturday
- Family of 4 (not willing to split up on different flights)
- No more than 1 connection
- Prefer Business Class or better
My go-to option for Europe is typically United or Aeroplan miles to fly a Star Alliance carrier like Lufthansa or SWISS. TAP Portugal, Turkish and Aer Lingus (a United partner) are also options. But none of those showed award space that accomodated my constraints.
I always take a brief look at AA miles but especially out of Boston they’re not a good option to Europe.
However, things clicked using Delta SkyMiles – in an unexpected way.
For a while there, Delta was pretty great about opening up low-level award availability in Business Class on their own metal. But lately things have really dried up, leaving me to wonder whether I had more SkyMiles than I’d be able to effectively use in the near term.
Establishing a Baseline
I like to start my research with Google Flights to get a baseline for the ideal flights and their costs.
The only direct flight from Boston to Italy is BOS-FCO on Alitalia. For my dates these ideal flights cost $1,300 in Economy, and $5,000 in Business (pp roundtrip). Alitalia award space should show on Delta.com if it’s there, but for my dates there was nothing available. I’ll use $1,300/$5,000 as targets to keep in mind as I consider one-connection options.
Simple Searches on Delta.com
If I search award availability from Boston to Rome roundtrip on Delta.com I find they want a scorching 390,000 pp roundtrip. That’s a whopping 1.56M miles for a family of four. It’s stuff like this that gives SkyMiles a bad name.
I tried searching one-way Boston to Rome. That was even more bleak: 280,000 pp one-way in Delta One (their Business Class).
When searching one-way Rome to Boston I found something useful though: 75,000 pp one-way in a combination of Alitalia FCO-LHR and Virgin Atlantic Upper Class LHR-BOS.
The only problem with this option was the taxes & fees: 468 euros pp one-way on top of 75,000 SkyMiles. Yikes.
Don’t mind the “1 left at this price” – this screen shot was after I booked 4 seats.
What is going on here?
Delta passes along fuel surcharges (in addition to taxes and fees) for one-way flights that originate outside the US. We can avoid this if we book roundtrip, but like I mentioned previously I couldn’t find low-level availability on the outbound.
Seeing the award availability on Virgin Atlantic gave me an idea though…
Make use of an Open Jaw
I did a search for just Boston to LHR. That showed space available for four on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.
With this information in mind, I could book BOS-LHR//FCO-LHR-BOS. That way I’d avoid the nasty fuel surcharges seen when booking FCO-BOS as a one-way. This costs 75,000 miles pp each way so 150,000 miles + $103.21 in taxes & fees all-in.
I’ll have to self-fund LHR to our starting point in Italy, but those flights are cheap and I actually like the flexibility of deciding later where to start our journey. We could even spend some time in London on the leading end of our trip if we wanted.
[Don’t] Just Get Over the Pond
This beats the alternative of just booking BOS-LHR//LHR-BOS because London Heathrow charges higher departure fees than when originating elsewhere in Europe.
For example if I just booked Boston to Heathrow and back then self-funded the rest of the journey from there, taxes and fees would be $311 per person – even on Delta metal as a roundtrip.
So definitely avoid return flights originating out of LHR if possible.
It gets even worse if you use Virgin Atlantic miles to/from LHR. Although the award availability is good, fully loaded taxes & fees spike to $1,348 pp roundtrip. Ouch.
The upshot of it is this: If you can, use Delta miles for Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Atlantic miles for Delta domestically. That way you can minimize fuel surcharges and while maximizing the value of miles.
Putting it all together: Delta SkyMiles to Italy
I needed a total of 600,000 Delta miles + ~$400 for taxes & fees to book it for the four of us.
I’ve been burning through Amex Membership Rewards at a rapid clip lately, stacking 1.5 cpp uplift through the Amex Business Platinum card and Insider Fares while earning miles for flights. But I had enough Delta miles + Membership Rewards (an instant 1:1 Delta transfer partner) to book the trip.
It was nice to be able to pull this somewhat-complicated partner award booking off without having to call in.
I’m looking forward to checking out Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, and a day-time flight over the Atlantic sounds nice too.
Summing it up
- Award availability on Delta metal to Europe has become more difficult to find
- Delta shows partner award space for Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia online
- You can piece together an award ticket that mixes partners
- One-way awards originating outside the US incur fuel surcharges
- You can avoid fuel surcharges by booking a roundtrip award
- You can book an open jaw which is especially useful if it helps piece together a roundtrip award
- Include a starting leg on the return other than Heathrow to avoid high departure fees
Any tips and tricks in this space you’d like to share?
Good work. And I believe you’ll be eligible to pass that 4 hour layover at LHR on the inbound at Virgin’s Lounge in T3. It’s terrific (Ben Schlappig says best in the world-and he should know) with ordering at your table from a varied menu. Neither status nor credit card gets you in-just the class you’re flying that day.
I don’t care much for lounges but this is a treat.
Counterpoint: skip biz on a 7-hour flight to Europe and make things even easier on yourself!
Interesting and helpful post, Thanks, Robert.
Helpful right now because we are looking at RT PDX-MEX flights for late Jan/Feb 2019 and last night I saw:
$44K + $110 Delta Comfort
$30 or $31K+$110 Main Cabin depending on day
$65K + $105 First
Your post makes me think these prices might be not too bad? What do you think? Might you have any advice for how I could do better?
I have more than enough Delta miles – URs and MRs too – and would also consider an open jaw like PDX to Leon BJX or Queretaro QRO, with return from MEX to PDX. San Miquel de Allende is a definite destination, as it Mexico City, and SMdA is closer to both BJX and QRO than MEX.
Congrats on snagging such good flights for your trip!
I had a quick look at your options to Mexico.
That PDX-MEX flight looks like a good direct flight.
Although you could save a few miles by transferring URs to Korean and booking it as a partner award I wouldn’t recommend it.
In theory it’s 25,000 pp roundtrip in Economy, 45,000 pp roundtrip in Business (plus taxes & fees).
But the complexity of booking it is quite a bit higher than booking online with Delta.
And you’d be using URs which are flexible enough to be used for other parts of your trip.
In the spirit of “book using the least flexible currency first” and since you’ve got the Delta miles already I’d book with those.
It would be somewhere around a 1.5 cpp redemption (in Economy or Business, your choice) which isn’t too bad.
Thanks for taking a look at this, Robert. You are much more up on getting value from one’s points than I am, so I am happy to have your “blessing.” I do appreciate it very much.
Not that familiar with Skymiles since I used up mine a couple years ago and don’t accumulate actively. The mechanics of booking – when you plug in RT, does it give you the option for open jaw? I thought it just gives you “from” & “to”. How do you knit together the two one ways into an RT?
As an aside, I did book two Delta one ways to Europe for someone when the calendar first opened up. As a result had to pay the $$ departing Europe. Was there a way to knit the two together after the fact and get a refund? They were booked two weeks apart.
Thanks for your help.
I booked the open jaw as a multi-city.
I did BOS-LHR on leg 1. Then FCO-BOS for leg 2.
That’s an interesting question about whether you might be able to stitch together two one-way awards into a single roundtirp to avoid the fuel surcharges.
If the award space is there you could rebook then cancel – you might save enough to justify the change fee.
But before I did that I’d give Delta a call to see if they might be able to do what you suggest?
Let us know if you make any headway on that – it could be a very good way to snag space as it becomes available while avoiding fuel surcharges on the return.