Free one-ways on Delta award reservations

One of the least appreciated aspects of award reservations is something discussed in chapter 4 of the book: free one-way flights at the beginning or end of award reservations, which are possible because of the flexibility of some airlines' routing rules. Today I'll take a closer look at just how to take advantage of free one-way flights on international Delta award reservations.

First, we'll put together a basic award reservation: Detroit to Amsterdam in Economy class.  We'll follow the steps I describe in chapter 4, which you can read more about here.

Step 1: Find outbound availability.  Here's a non-stop flight in Economy at the "low" 60,000 mile level from Detroit to Amsterdam:

Step 2: Find return availability.  Here's a flight back from Amsterdam to Detroit a few days later:

Since both these legs are at the "low" level, we know we can book this itinerary for 60,000 Skymiles plus taxes and fees.  Even if it can't be booked online, you can call into the reservation center and they'll be able to find each leg, although they may charge you a telephone reservation fee unless you're a Platinum Medallion or higher.  In this case it turns out we can book the reservation online:

Now let's see about our free one-way flight.  So far we've put together a great low-level award reservation in April.  Now suppose you have some family in Portland and every August you get together there to watch Star Trek in the Park.  Understandably, you'd like to get there as cheaply as possible.  What about a free one-way flight?

Step 3: Find a low-level flight to your next destination.  Here's a low-level flight to Portland in August:

Step 4: Use the Multi-City search to put your final reservation together:

Step 5: Select your flights, and make sure the reservation prices out correctly.  In this case, there was no problem at all.  Note that the entire reservation, with the one-way flight to Portland, costs the same number of Skymiles as the original round-trip from Detroit to Amsterdam.  You'll just pay an extra $5 in boarding fees:

And that's the simplest version of a free one-way flight on a Delta award reservation!  There are just a few more things to keep in mind:

  • The free one-way can be at the beginning OR end of the award reservation.  In the above example we put our trip to Portland at the end of our trip.  Alternatively, we could get a free one-way FROM Portland to Detroit at the beginning of the award reservation.  In either case our trip has to pass THROUGH Detroit: it would be an invalid routing to book a flight from Detroit to Portland and THEN from Detroit to Amsterdam on the same reservation.
  • Use of this trick is somewhat limited by what's known as the "Maximum Permitted Mileage" between two cities.  In this case, our trip from Detroit to Portland fit under the Maximum Permitted Mileage for an itinerary from Detroit to Amsterdam, but a flight to Hawaii might not have.  You can read more about Maximum Permitted Mileage and other restrictions on free one-ways over at the Points Guy's blog or in this post at MileValue, who discusses free one-ways on purely domestic reservations.