Nobody knows how many miles Delta charges for international FIRST CLASS award … until NOW!

Delta SkyMiles, the most shadowy program of all times

Delta Airlines is not famous for its transparency when it comes to mileage award. After all, once you see Delta charges 300,000 miles for a one-way award on its own metal between the United States and Asia, it should be pretty clear that they can do whatever they want … because they can.

Therefore, it is rather ironical that the “better” use of Delta miles is actually redeeming them on partner award, the rate can sometimes be slightly better than the redemptions on Delta’s own flight.

For example, a one-way business flight between USA and China currently costs 85,000 miles on partner flights but 90,000 on Delta flights, which, until the advent of A350, features inferior hard products than Delta’s Asian partners.

China Southern business class, which can be found on its Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A380 fleet.

Or, you could redeem Air France latest business class featuring reveres herringbone seats.

However, traditionally Delta does not allow members to redeem for partner international first class award, despite a considerable number of Delta partners that offer them (e.g. China Eastern, China Southern, Korean Air, Air France, and etc.). More often than not, this restriction comes from Delta itself. So it remains a mystery how many Delta miles would be needed for a partner international first class … until now.

Delta’s partner first class redemption cost revealed (sort of)

Today we noticed something strange. When searching for an award on China Eastern between New York and Shanghai, instead of showing saver business class (O) at 85,000 miles, Delta’s website shows an opportunity to redeem first class (A) for this flight!

I searched other dates and it appears that if there is business class availability, the first class award will not be displayed. Instead, the prerequisite for first class option to emerge is a lack of business class availability. As an a Delta Platinum member, I see no risk in canceling an award afterwards. Thus I proceeded to book it, but got the following error message:

I did not go further, and whether this award can be actually ticketed remains dubious. Yet this is an interesting development, in that for the first time (at least that I can recall), Delta displays partner international first class award.

How about other routes and partners?

Unfortunately this trick seems only to work for US-Asia flight operated by China Eastern. First I tested different routes, such as between Asia and Europe, to no avail. The problem is a lack of A class availability on those routes (e.g. PVG-CDG and PVG-LHR). Then I did some search on China Southern between USA and China, which also offers first class on its long-haul fleet. However, the system returns no first class award options, even though ExpertFlyer shows no business class availability and good first class availability.

That being said, it may be the case that I didn’t search the entire award calendar and there might be some instances that you could see first class


It is interesting to see Delta’s website showing partner international award in first class, even though it is still unclear if you can actually book it. A partner first class award between USA and China costs 170,000 miles, which happens to be 100% more than the business class redemption cost (85,000) on the same flight. Given the limited data we have, though, it is inconclusive whether partner international first class award cost is simply two times the business class cost systemwide.

If you have seen “A” award space between China and Europe shown on Delta flight or on more Delta’s partners, please share it in the comments!

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