Delta Award Tips – A Case Study With Open-Jaws

In this post, I’m going to cover a few things – the main one being the ability to book open-jaws across regions with Delta Skymiles, and filling in the open-jaw with another program’s miles. The specific example I use will involve a destination in Brazil (for reasons you will soon see). This is a bit of an “advanced” post, but it’s one that really intrigues me. I previously wrote about it on my old blog, but have updated it for new information and clarity. Please leave a comment if something is unclear.

Ever since Delta decided to show Korean Air award space online, I’ve been intrigued by Korean’s fifth freedom route between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, Brazil (LAX-GRU). Sure, the space was always there, but now it’s easier to find. Keep in mind that you can also use Skymiles on Brazilian airline Gol to travel within Brazil from Sao Paulo, but those seats are not bookable online.

Why is this such an interesting flight to me?

1) It’s the only direct flight between the west coast and Brazil on any airline.

2) It’s on Korean Air – not only is Korean Air a great airline, but any partner space is redeemable at the low level with Skymiles. This is a frustration Skymiles users have with Delta — flights on Delta can often be dramatically more expensive than on partners.

I started playing around with the Delta booking engine and found that LAX-GRU can be redeemed on certain occasions. The flight is only 3x weekly, departing LAX on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays and GRU on Tuesdays/Thursdays/Saturdays. If you keep it at the low-level, it’s only 100,000 miles + $93 taxes in business class.

Delta screenshotThis seems like a fine and dandy award, but there’s another “rule” that intrigues me. The Brazilian government has mandated that no fuel surcharges shall be added for any flights departing Brazil. Fuel surcharges are the bane of certain award programs, namely Avios (for travel on British Airways or any other partner that charges fuel surcharges). I figured that, if one is down in Brazil, why not use that rule to your advantage?

The Premise:

I want to book a one-way trip somewhere else in the world from Brazil, anywhere I can go where I will be exempt from otherwise nasty fuel surcharges. Once I’m at that other part of the world, I want to pick up the back-end of my Delta award (the front-end of which I used to get to Brazil).

One facet of Skymiles that is often misunderstood is that “Delta only allows roundtrips.” Technically, no. Delta only allows you to book award tickets in groups of 2 one-ways. The award chart is structured to show the one-way price between regions. If you book a one-way award, you’ll be charged the price for that one-way segment times two. However, Delta allows open-jaws, meaning that your return ticket can return from a different city in a different region, provided certain rules are met.

If you don’t know what an open-jaw is, think of a triangle with three cities as the vertices. You fly two of the “sides” in the triangle using your award ticket, and leave one side “unflown” (you fill in that side by driving between the two cities or using another ticket).

The main rule in an open-jaw is that the distance of the open-jaw between two cities has to be shorter than the shortest flown leg of the journey. In other words, the open-jaw has to be the shortest side of the triangle.

Let’s use a simple Delta-centric example, using three cities in the USA: Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York. If you draw a triangle between those three cities, you’ll see that the shortest side of the triangle is between New York and Atlanta.

Orange = flown segments. Blue = the un-flown open-jaw, the shortest of the triangle's 3 sides.

Orange = flown segments. Blue = the un-flown open-jaw, the shortest of the triangle’s 3 sides.

If you want to book an open-jaw using those three cities, you have to make the open-jaw between New York and Atlanta. JFK-LAX and LAX-ATL is a valid round-trip with an open-jaw, as is the reverse. LAX-ATL and ATL-JFK is not a valid open-jaw, since the unflown part (JFK-LAX) is longer than ATL-JFK.

If 3 cities make up the vertices of a triangle, the open-jaw is the shortest side of that triangle.

So far, so clear? Good.

The Prior Research:

Earlier this year, I booked my sister on a Delta award to join me in India and Vietnam. Her itinerary was Atlanta to Mumbai via Amsterdam on Delta in coach, and Hanoi to Atlanta via Paris and Washington DC on Vietnam Airlines, Air France, and Delta in business. The total price was 100,000 miles + $111 in taxes: 40,000 miles for Atlanta to Mumbai in coach, and 60,000 miles for Hanoi to Atlanta in business.

The entire itinerary with connections and open-jaw.

The entire itinerary with connections and open-jaw.

The only cities that matter in our example are the origin and the destinations. Let’s clean up the map:

Delta OJ example 2

The itinerary was Atlanta to Mumbai, open-jaw, Hanoi to Atlanta.

I took care of closing the Mumbai-Hanoi open-jaw with an award ticket on Singapore Airlines.

This booking taught me a few things about Delta Skymiles:

1) You can open-jaw across two regions. The price for each half of the round-trip will match with the corresponding one-way price on the Delta award chart.

2) You can fly one class one-way and another class of service the other way, and pay the corresponding one-way mileage amount for each part of the trip.

Combining #1 and #2, I got Atlanta-Mumbai for 40,000 miles (the low-level coach price for a USA-India one-way) and Hanoi-Atlanta for 60,000 miles (the low-level business price for a Southeast Asia-USA one-way)

3) You can route Southeast Asia to USA via Europe (HAN-ATL was within MPM for an Atlantic crossing, and Vietnam Airlines/Air France publish a TATL route).

Hanoi-Atlanta has a Maximum Permitted Mileage of 12,840 miles over the Atlantic. The itineraries was 10,095 miles.

Hanoi-Atlanta has a Maximum Permitted Mileage of 12,840 miles over the Atlantic. The itinerary’s MPM was 10,095 miles. (via ExpertFlyer)

The Experiment:

Los Angeles to Sao Paulo is 6156 miles. Since that will be one of the two flown segments of the award, that means that my open jaw city must be less than 6156 miles away from Sao Paulo. I went to the Great Circle Mapper and plugged in ranges for 6155 miles away from both GRU and LAX.

The green line signifies all parts of the world that are within 6155 miles away from Sau Paolo.The red line signifies all parts of the world that are within 6155 miles away from LAX.

The green line signifies all parts of the world that are within 6155 miles away from São Paulo.
The red line signifies all parts of the world that are within 6155 miles away from LAX.

The main rule is to stay within the green line, since the open-jaw cannot exceed our LAX-GRU flown leg. This means that our open-jaw can extend as far out as most of Western Europe and much of Africa.

The red line is a little bit more difficult to explain, but I’ll try. It signifies 6155 miles away from LAX – if you exceed that, that means that LAX-GRU is the shorter of your two flown journeys on the round-trip, so all you have to do follow the stay within the green line rule. This means that much of Africa is in play for this open-jaw.

In this example, the explanation becomes tricky in western Europe (UK, Spain, France, etc.), where the distance between those cities and LAX is shorter than LAX-GRU. The best way to guess if a European city is valid for this open jaw is to see if a city is closer to the red line than it is to the green line. By eyeballing it, Barcelona would be a valid city for an open-jaw, while London would not. We can check by inputting those in to the mapper:

Sau Paulo-Barcelona is the shortest side of our triangle, so it is a valid open-jaw!

São Paulo-Barcelona is the shortest side of our triangle, so it is a valid open-jaw!

Sau Paulo-London is NOT the shortest side of the triangle, so it is not a valid open-jaw

São Paulo-London is NOT the shortest side of the triangle, so it is not a valid open-jaw

Let’s check if we can book a Delta open-jaw between Brazil and Spain. Both USA-Brazil and USA-Europe price at 50,000 Skymiles for low-level business one-way. The total price we’re looking for is 50,000 + 50,000 = 100,000 miles.

I looked up the space from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo by searching for a one-way award on Delta’s site, keeping in mind which days the flight operates. I easily found space on Korean Air.

For Barcelona to Los Angeles, I first searched space from SkyTeam hubs like Paris-CDG and Amsterdam to Los Angeles with Delta’s one-way search, found the space, then searched for space from Barcelona to the European gateway.

Once I found the space I wanted, I entered the routing into the multi-city booking engine.

I previously found this space one-at-a-time using one-way search.

I previously found this space one-at-a-time using one-way search.

I went through and selected the flights I had found earlier at the low level … and it priced correctly at 100,000 miles!

I even get an overnight stopover in Paris!

I even get an overnight stopover in Paris!

Connecting the Open-Jaw:

Now that I know that I can book an open-jaw between Sao Paulo and Barcelona, let’s look at connecting that open-jaw with another award.

Remember the fifth freedom post and using Google to search flight routes? If we search for “flights from Sao Paulo to Barcelona” you’ll see that GRU-BCN is flown by none other than Singapore Airlines with their 77W, which means that First and Business are available for redemptions with Krisflyer miles! While Singapore Airlines fuel surcharges aren’t as bad, no fuel surcharge is still better. This is a great opportunity to fly Singapore First! Keep in mind that you get a 15% discount on the miles when you book online.

58,225 Singapore Krisflyer miles (59,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points) + $36 for 10.5 hours in Singapore First

58,225 Singapore Krisflyer miles (59,000 Membership Rewards points) + $36 for 10.5 hours in Singapore First

What about Avios? You can book GRU-London-BCN on British Airways in First, and it shouldn’t charge any fuel surcharges due to a Brazilian law. However, according to Million Mile Secrets, you have to first change your address to a Brazilian address. While some may worry about the ethics of doing such a change, understand that the law applies to itineraries, not residency, so BA’s foolish system shouldn’t be charging the fuel surcharges in the first place.

American Airline’s website shows the proper taxes without fuel surcharges.

You should only pay about $70 in taxes.

You should only pay about $70 in taxes.

Anything above $70 is illegal fuel surcharges. Get around this by changing your address.

Anything above $70 is illegal fuel surcharges. Get around this by changing your address.

The Conclusion:

The example I used in here is just one possibility that you can try. All I’m trying to show is how even Skymiles can be used for interesting itineraries, not just more flexible programs like American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus. The further out your destination, the larger your open-jaw can be. Other programs, like Avios, can be used to fill in the open-jaw.

I still agree that Delta miles are some of the tougher miles to use, for a variety of reasons. You can’t book international First class, which takes away flexibility when trying to find premium cabin award space. Their 3-tier award system and lack of decent Skyteam partners in some areas of the world can make it tough to find an award without paying an arm and a leg. I only earn Delta redeemable miles when I am also earning Delta Medallion Elite qualifying miles (like when I’m spending on my American Express Delta Platinum card, or flying their great domestic product). Otherwise I put my spending to better award currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

Looking Back
Is 2,000 Miles Worth Getting a Gym Membership?
  • JettyBoy

    Excellent post.

  • Joaquin

    Great. One question. Is it possible to book an OJ like BCN-LAX-GRU? with no miles…I only find Delta BCN-JFK-GRU 😉
    by the way if you come to BCN, welcome! 😉

    • AKold

      On a paid fare, an open-jaw is possible, it’s just that you would have to follow whatever the rules for paid fares are.

      BCN-JFK-GRU wouldn’t be a valid open-jaw for AN AWARD since BCN-JFK is shorter than the open-jaw between BCN and GRU.

  • Matt

    An accurate and well-researched post on Skymiles? Not something I’ve grown to expect from blogs as of late.

    • Matt

      Kudos to you.

    • AKold

      Thank you! Like I said, I still think DL miles are worth less than other miles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses. A lot of people say Skypesos are worthless, but when I say, “If they’re worthless, I’ll take them off your hands,” nobody ever follow through!

    • David

      Yep, most of the notable miles bloggers are very UA- and AA-centric.

  • CardinalKid

    Saw the original version of this on amol’s blog. Nice to see it here too. Great stuff

    • AKold

      Thanks — only a few slight updates on this one. Delta fixed doing multi-city searches with Korean Air awards (they actually fixed something!) and I included MMS’ tip on address changing for Avios redemptions from Brazil — both of which fixed major issues the first time around.

  • Spencer Wheelwright

    Great post – good analysis. Thanks.

  • David

    I really like this post. Thank you! It’s a shame I have no plans to go to GRU. I’d love the opp to fly a random SQ F segment (and KE J too).

    • Dee Tee

      You should, the World Cup (soccer) is going to be there next year. Hooray!

      But honestly, you should if you have the time.

  • Mohan Phansalkar

    Nice post. Like the no fuel surcharges part!

  • ScottrickDad

    The complexity is why I let Scottrick book my flights. (A good friend used to pilot Japan Airlines LAX to Sao Palo, but it seems the flight is discontinued since he retired.)

    • AKold

      Haha, my parents say the same! I also remember seeing Japan Airlines flights to Sao Paulo on the JFK boards … surprisingly, New York is right along the shortest path from Narita to GRU, but I guess that’s what happens when the earth is round,+NRT-JFK-GRU

  • theSHARK

    amazing post! thanks!

  • NYBanker

    Great post.

    When you say “one leg” of the trip, that includes connections enroute, right?

    • AKold

      Great question – yes! That’s why I “cleaned up” the Atlanta-Mumbai, Hanoi-Atlanta example. As long as each leg falls under MPM for that leg, you can have the necessary connections.

  • Scottrick

    Megan is still upset I went to Spain without her. This would be a good way to combine it with a trip to South America and scratch off another continent.

  • Muerl

    This is pretty inspiring, I realized that this could mean that you CAN open jaw the trans siberian rail road, atleast on delta, because its only about 4000km VVO-SVO or 3600km PEK-SVO which is less that most of the BOS (or LAX) to those places

    • AKold

      Very nice, glad I could provide some inspiration! The TSRR is also on my bucket list, and coming from the west coast, I have my eye on the Singapore Airlines flight from Houston IAH to Moscow DME, but Delta miles provide an awesome path, too, since they partner with Aeroflot in Moscow SVO and a plethora of Chinese airlines that you can take from Beijing.

  • PatMike

    Great info ! Very in-depth and bookmarkable. I need to figure out how to use our 500K Delta miles eventually, although we have only flown Delta on 3 short west-coast segments. Gotta love those credit cards and NWA shopping promos of yesteryear.

  • ScottB

    Very educational post! I’m new to learning airline routing and award redemption rules, and this taught me alot about what is a valid open jaw.

  • mark

    This is very helpful – thanks. I’d love to see something on the best use of skymiles to get to Africa…

    • AKold

      I’ll see what I can muster up!

  • Traveller

    Fantastic post. Thank you!!! Added your site to my reading list.

  • Austen

    So I understand you can use an open jaw to return FROM a different zones, but can you return TO a different zone??

    I ask as I ideally want to fly:


    Is this possible?

    I ask as I have 90K sky miles to burn. I initially thought of doing an 80K return from US to Europe in Y and not flying the last LHR-US segment.

    But if I can route back to a different zone I could do one leg in J:
    US-Africa in Y 40K
    Africa-Europe in J 50K

    Let me know your thoughts! Thanks

    • AKold

      This should be okay … In the triangle between Boston, London, and Johannesburg, the shortest side is BOS-LHR, which is unflown. The two longer sides are BOS-JNB and JNB-LHR. Now you just need to find the proper flights to get between the cities.

  • Mitch

    Nice post. Always glad to see someone writing something sane about using SkyMiles. I’m looking forward to my upcoming trip where I fly DL and VA to WLG in F/J, use AA miles to fly QF (including F on the A380) AKL-SYD-HKG, and then take the return portion of my DL award HKG-NRT-ATL-OMA all in F/J. Initially I had KE on the outbound, but it was ticketed during the dark days when fuel surcharges were being collected for KE flights. Since VA is now surcharge-free and I read some great reviews of VA, I decided to go that route.

    • AKold

      Thanks for the kind words (especially from a Skymiles guru as yourself). That’s a great use of an open-jaw!

  • Hitesh Chandwani

    I’m curious. Can I book a DL award with an open jaw AND a stopover? (I think it should be possible)

    Sample itinerary (and one that I am planning for):

    JFK-BOM (via AMS or CDG)
    open jaw
    SIN – CDG (stop-over in CDG for about 4 days)
    CDG – JFK

    How can I plan this? With MR and SkyMiles, I have enough for 2 low-level Business awards (120k SkyMiles each).

    • AKold

      You can, though you may have to call it in. If an agent doesn’t allow it, call again.

  • jeremy

    Hi:very helpful post, could I do PTY-CVG(stop) CVG-LAS(destination)LAS-PTY? Should that come out to 35k DL miles?

  • Ciara Beatty

    I am trying to fly SFO- DUB, CDG to SFO and by adding a third leg inbetween such as BCN to CDG, or DUB to AGP it looks like the miles dramatically drop, however when I chose the last leg of my flight I am told its not available even though I am able to select this leg as apart of a roundtrip or one way flight? Any ideas? Thanks!

  • Matt

    Anyone care to help figure this one out? I’ve got the following pricing at 220 (when it should be 150):

    1. NBO-LIM (stopover) – ORD
    2. ORD-HKG
    (distance from NBO-HKG is shortest)

    It appears to be breaking the fare into 115 (NBO-LIM r/t), 45 (LIM-ORD o/w), 60 (ORD-HKG o/w). At least that’s the only thing I can figure.

    But in my opinon, NBO-ORD should be 75k o/w (lima stopover incl), and ORD-HKG should be 60k o/w, so it should total 140k (or maybe 150k if you want to take the original 75k*2)

    • matt

      Mod, Please remove. NBO-ORD with LIM stopover is not allowed; exceeds MPM, breaks fare.

  • Adam

    Kinda new to this so sorry if this is entirely out there. I have an award DCA–>PVG (DL: DCA->DTW->ICN and KE: ICN->PVG) then PVG–>DCA (KE:PVG->ICN w/5 day stopover and DL: ICN->DTW->DCA).

    Is it possible to tack on a one way to Europe from DCA/IAD at the same 120k business class low-level. I’m sure its violating something, MPM, RTW, etc but was hoping for a miracle. If not, can I still do the free one-way within the US from DCA/IAD since its technically DCA–>PVG rt?

    • AKold

      I doubt you can route Asia to Europe via the USA … you can try to get a free one-way after DCA domestically though.

  • Zdenek

    Tried to make a reservation ICN-AMS stopover AMS-EBB destination EBB-LAX but it prices as 150k (ICN-EBB) + 120k (EBB-LAX) instead of 135k. LAX-ICN is shortest. Any idea?

  • Curious Explorer

    Would you say Korean Air is the best premium class product available to get from the US to Brazil on award travel even though you can only get business class?

    • AKold

      I would … TAM rarely releases F space, and AA/United First aren’t that amazing.

      • Mr. Cool

        pesos cannot be used to book F on partners either???

        • Amol

          No. Delta doesn’t have an international F cabin and doesn’t allow for international F redemptions on partner carriers.

  • Curious Explorer

    And is there any way to get creative with a DL ticket out of ANC?–Seems like that is limiting me from having any fun with open jaws. Not having much luck on

  • shay peleg

    Can i do something like rdu-jfk-fco-tlv-jfk-rdu(stopover)-jfk-gru(open jaw)?

  • Mr. Cool

    “LAX-ATL and ATL-JFK is not a valid open-jaw, since the unflown part (JFK-LAX) is longer than ATL-JFK.”

    i practice.
    i flew PEK-TAS, TAS-SVO using DL miles this summer. it cost me 70k pesos + the SU flight was mistakenly bidness class, since DL categorizes “O” as eco but SU deems “O” bidness.
    PEK-SVO is definitely the longest of the 3 legs & it was flown.

    • Amol

      That’s really more the exception than the rule.