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How Can I Find an Award for 25,000 Miles?

Dear Tim,

My wife and I have accumulated over 25,000 Delta miles and were hoping to use them for flights to Kingsport, Tennessee, or anywhere within a five-hour drive that Delta flies. In doing a very extensive search, however, I’m finding that for any of the flights, Delta requires 50,000 miles. Is Delta even offering flights for 25,000 miles anywhere? Do you have any creative suggestions for me to obtain flights for 25,000 miles?


Dear G.B.,

Scarce availability of domestic award seats at the typical restricted level of 25,000 miles—what Delta calls its SkySaver award—is an all-too-common problem. Since you don’t have the 50,000 miles required for an unrestricted (SkyChoice) award, that isn’t an option even if you were willing to part with the extra miles.

Delta doesn’t fly to Kingsport, so the first step is finding an alternate airport within a manageable distance of Kingsport. You say you’re willing to drive up to five hours, so you’ve already included that factor in your planning.

The closest major airport to Kingsport is Knoxville. Delta serves Knoxville from two of its hubs, Atlanta and Cincinnati. If there’s no availability to Knoxville, either via Atlanta or via Cincinnati, then you may have to keep expanding your search to ever-more-distant airports until you locate seats at the desired award level.

It could be a long process.

Exacerbating the already difficult award situation is the fact that you’ll need available seats on four flights—from your home airport to a hub, from the hub to your final destination, and then a similar set of connecting flights for the return. You face potential obstacles at each point in the process, which significantly decrease the odds of your successfully booking a round-trip at the 25,000-mile award level.

Another option might be flights by one of Delta’s domestic partners, Continental or Northwest.

As you may have noticed, I’m doing my best imitation of a reservations agent, trying to think through where the bottlenecks may exist and what alternative routings might be used to bypass them. For all my good intentions, I don’t have the knowledge and experience of a reservations professional. That expertise may just be the difference-maker in a situation like this. So I’m going to make a recommendation I find myself making with increasing frequency in these days of scarce award seats: Call Delta’s reservations center at 800-323-2323.

If anyone can bring the necessary experience and creativity to the problem—assessing the demand for travel to various alternative airports, putting together connecting flights that perhaps Delta’s online-booking application wouldn’t combine, and so on—it’s a trained reservations agent. That’s what they do.

There will be a service charge of $10, but that’s money well spent if it makes the difference between being able to use your miles and not. If the agent is unable to book an itinerary that meets your requirements, the call won’t cost you a cent.

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