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Are There Any Good SkyTeam Programs for Canadians?

 

Back when we were looking at how the new Aeroplan stacks up against other popular loyalty programs, a reader commented that there seemed to be a gap in the analysis: our comparison – and indeed, much of our usual discourse here in the Canadian community – seemed to exclude any SkyTeam award programs as a viable alternative for booking travel around the world.

Indeed, there are a fair few SkyTeam programs that are either relatively easy to collect in Canada, or offer the occasional pockets of value even if they may be more difficult to collect.

Individually, they aren’t necessarily strong enough for you to treat them as a primary program for earning and redeeming points, but I think the details are at least worth familiarizing yourself with, so let’s go ahead and do just that.

1. Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles is perhaps the most attractive SkyTeam program for Canadians. You can earn Delta SkyMiles in a fair few ways from north of the border:

  • Transferring Amex MR points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:0.75 ratio
  • Crediting WestJet flights to Delta SkyMiles
  • Transferring Marriott Bonvoy points to Delta SkyMiles at an optimal ratio of 60,000 points = 25,000 miles
  • Getting US credit cards and transferring Amex US MR points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio
  • Getting US credit cards and signing up for the Amex Delta co-branded cards, which have some pretty strong welcome bonuses:
    • American Express Delta SkyMiles Blue Card: 10,000 SkyMiles upon spending US$500 in the first three months, US$0 annual fee
    • American Express Delta SkyMiles Gold Card: 50,000 SkyMiles upon spending US$2,000 in the first three months, US$99 annual fee (until October 28, 2020)
    • American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card: 60,000 SkyMiles upon spending US$3,000 in the first three months, US$250 annual fee (until October 28, 2020)
    • American Express Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card: 40,000 SkyMiles upon spending US$3,000 in the first three months, US$550 annual fee

In particular, if you’re a frequent WestJet flyer but don’t see much value in collecting WestJet Dollars, then crediting your flights to Delta SkyMiles may be more valuable in terms of eventually redeeming those miles for a high-value premium cabin.

The SkyMiles program allows you to book with any SkyTeam partner, including Air France/KLM, Korean Air, China Eastern, etc., as well as Delta’s non-alliance partners such as Air Tahiti Nui, GOL, Hawaiian Airlines, Mandarin Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and of course WestJet.

The major limitation with Delta SkyMiles, however, is the fact that the program stopped publishing its award charts back in 2015, making it incredibly opaque and difficult to plan around (there’s a reason that the program has the not-so-nice nickname of “SkyPesos”, after all).

Delta-operated flights tend to be priced based on a dynamic model, whereas partner flights technically have fixed prices, but these can be adjusted at any time without notice due to the lack of published award charts.

Here’s a makeshift chart of those fixed prices for partner airlines departing from Canada’s two largest airports, based on a cursory look at the search engine:

Toronto (YYZ)

Vancouver (YVR)

New York (NYC)
economy

5,000

12,500

Los Angeles (LAX)
economy

9,500

8,000

Paris (CDG)
business

75,000

75,000

Singapore (SIN)
business

85,000

85,000

Auckland (AKL)
business

145,000

145,000

Keep in mind that Delta’s search engine isn’t the strongest, either. For example, you may not see any search results show up when you look for Toronto–Auckland direct, but perhaps you will when you search New York–Auckland and Toronto–New York separately. A Delta SkyMiles phone agent should be able to help you piece it together for the same cost as New York–Auckland, although “should” is really the operative word here.

On the other hand, the Delta search engine does have a very useful calendar feature that allows you to easily identify the dates with the lowest-cost flight redemption.

If we were to compare the award rates to, say, the new Aeroplan program, I think Delta SkyMiles might have an advantage in very limited circumstances, but not really when you look across the board.

One example may be for travelling from the West Coast to Europe: the new Aeroplan has devalued this redemption pretty hard, and you may end up paying 85,000 Aeroplan points for a one-way flight in business class on a slightly more indirect routing (say, Vancouver–Toronto–Paris, in case the direct Vancouver–Paris flight doesn’t have availability at the lowest level).

In comparison, Delta’s fixed price point of 75,000 SkyMiles for travel on Air France/KLM to Paris may be a viable alternative (not if you’re converting Amex MR points given the inferior 1:0.75 ratio, but rather if you’ve earned SkyMiles through other sources, like crediting WestJet flights or applying for the US co-branded cards).

To other parts of the world, however, Delta’s pricing is much less competitive. For example, the new Aeroplan’s pricing for business class flights to Asia ranges between 55,000 and 85,000 points depending on the distance, whereas Delta SkyMiles charges 85,000 SkyMiles for any transpacific flight.

However, if you’re interested in sampling as many different business class products as possible, then Delta’s program may be the best way to try out some of the lesser-flown SkyTeam partners, such as Korean Air business class or China Airlines business class (the latter is, by all accounts, comparable with EVA Air in quality).

Fly China Airlines A350 business class for 85,000 SkyMiles!

(Note that SkyTeam programs generally do not have access to other partners’ First Class flights, so you couldn’t use SkyMiles to book Korean Air First Class, for example.)

Something else to look out for is Delta’s SkyMiles Deals, which offer lower redemption rates on certain city pairs for travelling on Delta-operated flights. Essentially, these represent the occasions when Delta’s dynamic pricing model can actually work in your favour, although their unpredictability makes them difficult to plan a trip around.

Overall, keep Delta in mind as an option if you’re a West Coast traveller who regularly flies to Europe, or if you’d like to add some SkyTeam airlines to your flight log (I myself would love to try out China Airlines business class sometime soon). Otherwise, the other programs we usually talk about, like Aeroplan, Alaska, or Avios, are probably a better bet.

2. Air France/KLM Flying Blue

Air France/KLM’s frequent flyer program is known as Flying Blue, and there’s basically one reason that you should care about it: Promo Rewards.

You can earn Flying Blue miles by:

Like Delta SkyMiles, Flying Blue is a dynamic award program where the price point varies based on the underlying cash fare. Flying Blue also has the quirk of not being able to book mixed cabins – all of your flights need to be in the same class of service to count as a single itinerary.

By and large, the only reason to go out of your way to earn Flying Blue miles is to take advantage of the program’s Promo Rewards, which are special deals on certain routes and cabins that are refreshed every month. In the past, we’ve seen deals such as a one-way Toronto–Paris flight on Air France business class for 35,000 Flying Blue miles + about $300 (CAD) in taxes and fees, which is a pretty great deal for transatlantic business class.

The Promo Rewards apply a fixed discount (usually 25% or 50%) to whatever the dynamic pricing model spits out – so if a certain date was going to cost 80,000 Flying Blue miles and there’s a 25% discount going on, you’ll pay 60,000 miles, if a certain date was going to cost 53,000 Flying Blue miles and there’s a 50% discount going on, you’ll pay 26,500 miles, and so on. There are “book by” and “travel by” dates to follow as well.

Air France and KLM’s routes to Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton can also be “in play” during Promo Rewards, and you’ll want to keep a close eye on the Promo Rewards page to see which new deals get released every month, standing ready to transfer any of your US MR points, Ultimate Rewards points, or ThankYou points over to the program if you see a deal you’d like to book.

Alas, outside of Promo Rewards, the Flying Blue program doesn’t carry much value when compared to the more valuable programs out there available to you.

3. Alitalia MilleMiglia

Why is Alitalia MilleMiglia on this list? Well, you might’ve seen it on the list of possible transfer partners from Canadian-issued Amex MR points (at a 1:0.75 ratio), and wondered if there are any sweet spots that are worth knowing about, so I feel like we should at least go over it. Spoiler alert: not really.

In addition to transferring from MR points, US MR points also convert to Alitalia MilleMiglia at a 1:1 ratio, while Marriott Bonvoy points can be converted at the aforementioned optimal ratio.

Alitalia publishes an award chart, but it doesn’t appear to be very accurate. For example, while the chart shows that a business class flight between Canada and Italy costs 70,000 Alitalia miles one-way (and double for round-trip)…

…a search on the Alitalia website reveals the true pricing of 48,000 Alitalia miles one-way and 80,000 Alitalia miles round-trip.

Now, on the surface, 80,000 Alitalia miles for a round-trip flight to Europe isn’t a bad deal at all; in fact, it’d be equivalent to 106,667 MR points, which is lower than what would be required to book a round-trip transatlantic flight through Aeroplan (110,000 points currently, 120,000+ points after November 8).

However, you’ll notice that Alitalia imposes hefty fuel surcharges of €300+ on the round-trip redemption, so it should only really be considered if you truly value the convenience of a direct flight between Toronto and Rome, also keeping in mind that Alitalia’s business class product seems like it’s not much to write home about.

Alitalia business class

Redemptions on SkyTeam partners get very expensive very quickly, and the carrier-imposed surcharges continue to rear their ugly head.

Instead, by far a better option if you’re interested in booking SkyTeam business class flights, such as Air France or KLM business class, would be to take advantage of frequent fare sales departing from Europe.

Overall, the most that can be said about Alitalia MilleMiglia is that it’s at least an option for Canadians who collect MR points, but ultimately, there’s a reason that it’s arguably the least appealing out of all eight MR transfer partners.

4. Aeromexico Club Premier

Finally, Aeromexico Club Premier is a SkyTeam program that may be of interest… but only for the truly dedicated mileage geeks.

That’s because of the very unique Aeromexico round-the-world award that they offer, which allow you to book up to 16 flights on SkyTeam partner airlines around the world on a single ticket, with a stopover of extended duration between each flight.

That’s right, you can have 15 stopovers on the same ticket with the Aeromexico round-the-world award. We’ve actually written a detailed post about this sweet spot in the past, so head over there for the full details, list of examples, etc.

The Aeromexico round-the-world award costs 224,000 and 352,000 Aeromexico points, respectively, for economy and business class. Since you’re most likely going to be interested in business class if you’re going out of your way to book this behemoth of a redemption, you should note that 352,000 points is equivalent to 220,000 Amex US MR points, due to the unique 1:1.16 transfer ratio there.

However, I’d only recommend tackling this award if you’re a very experienced with booking award tickets: first of all, mixed-cabin awards are not permitted, so you need to find business class space all the way if you want to book a business class award.

Then, the Aeromexico round-the-world award can only be booked over the phone, and the call centre agents, by all accounts, aren’t the easiest to work with in the first place are likely to be unfamiliar with this award as well. You’d definitely need to have strong drink or two in hand, both for planning out the trip and for actually getting it ticketed over the phone.

Outside of this very niche but potentially very attractive sweet spot, the Club Premier program presents minimal value. For travel to Mexico, you can expect to pay 28,000 or 52,000 Aeromexico points one-way in economy class or business class, respectively.

Factoring in the 1:1.6 ratio from US MR, and that’s equivalent to 17,500 or 32,500 US MR points… but the new Aeroplan program is priced even more favourably at 12,500 or 25,000 points, respectively, so there’s no reason to burn your highly valuable US MR points here.

Conclusion

At the moment, the SkyTeam alliance doesn’t offer much to attract us Canadians away from the more familiar domain of Star Alliance and Oneworld’s airlines and award programs.

WestJet’s partnerships with Delta SkyMiles and Flying Blue may allow some of WestJet’s frequent flyers to access these programs more easily, but the dynamic nature of both programs limit their appeal to only a specific subset of redemptions. Meanwhile, Alitalia MilleMiglia has a long way to go before it can compete with the other transfer partners of Canadian-issued Amex MR points, while Aeromexico Club Premier has a sweet spot that will ultimately only appeal to the most hardcore mileage geeks out there.

Based on their existing partnerships, it certainly seems like WestJet and the SkyTeam alliance could be a natural fit if they were to link up, offering Canadian travellers greater access to what’s perhaps an underrated airline alliance. WestJet: are you listening?