Understanding an Award Chart

No one has ever accused an airline of making things simple, and that includes figuring out how many miles you need to use to get somewhere.  In this post, we’ll look at an award chart and make some sense of it.  Please note: These things can get complicated, so don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense the first time around.


From U.S. 49 (excludes Hawaii) & Canada: Economy Class BusinessElite®, First or Business Class
Miles shown are each way based on round-trip purchase.*First Class / BusinessElite
Saver Standard Peak Saver Standard Peak
Within Continental US, Alaska and Canada 12,500 20,000 30,000 22,500 /
40,000 /
50,000 /
To Hawaii 20,000 32,500 45,000 37,500 /
67,500 /
90,000 /
To Caribbean 17,500 27,500 37,500 30,000 50,000 70,000
To Mexico 17,500 27,500 37,500 30,000 50,000 70,000
To Central America 17,500 30,000 40,000 30,000 50,000 70,000
To Northern South America 22,500 35,000 50,000 45,000 65,000 90,000
To Southern South America 30,000 47,500 65,000 50,000 100,000 162,500
To Europe 30,000 47,500 65,000 50,000 100,000 162,500














What you see here is a snippet of the Delta Airlines award chart for passengers originating in the US or Canada.  There are, of course, similar charts available for other countries.  Let’s break it down.

Across the top, you see that you have two choices: You can fly in Economy (coach) or Business/First.  In Delta’s case, there are only two types of cabins, coach or business, but some airlines have as many as four.  Right now, that distinction is not important.

Down the left-hand column, you see destinations.  That column is pretty self-explanatory, simply giving you options on where you can go from the US 49 and Canada.  Note that I have cut off portions of the chart to make it easier to read.  If you want to see the entire chart, you can look here.

Finally, underneath the class of service options (Economy or Business/First), you have three “time” options: Saver, Standard and Peak.  Not all airlines use these exact terms, but they all have similar concepts.  These options reflect the popularity of the destination at a particular time of the year.  The more popular, the more it will cost.  When you search for an award, the airline will show you a calendar indicating what category your flight falls into.  Here are a few quick definitions:

Saver: Think of it as the award being on sale.  Saver awards are to unpopular destinations and/or during lighter times of the year.  The airline knows that it won’t be able to fill the plane with paying passengers, so it makes the award cheaper.

Standard: This is the “base case” for the airline.  Planes will be pretty full but not overly so.

Peak: As the name implies, you are traveling to a popular destination at the busiest time of the year.  The airline knows that it will be able to fill seats with paying passengers, so it makes very few seats available for rewards, and those that are available will not come cheaply.

Example 1: You’re going to visit your Aunt Gladys in Fargo North Dakota next February.  Brr, awfully cold.  Not a lot of people will want to be on that flight, so the airline designates the flight as a Saver award.  You live in Minneapolis, so you go to the left-hand column and choose Within Continental US, Alaska and Canada.”  It’s not a particularly long flight, so you figure that Economy class is fine.  Using those criteria, the flight will cost you 12,500 miles.

Example 2: You have such a nice time with Aunt Gladys that you decide to take her on a whirlwind trip through Europe next April.  You’re going to start the trip in Amsterdam and backpack around the continent.  You want to make the flight a good one, so you decide to pay up for Business Class tickets.  Your trip leaves on April 20, a very popular day to be flying to Amsterdam.  In fact, that day is so busy that Delta categorizes it as a Peak day.  So let’s triangulate again: Europe is all the way at the bottom of the left-hand column and you need to use the Business Elite, First or Business Class designation.  Even worse, it’s a Peak day, meaning that the ticket will cost that many more miles.  Sure enough, a peak ticket to Europe in Business is 162,500 miles.   Are you sure she doesn’t want to just visit you in Minnesota?





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  1. […] The actual mechanics of booking the flight and understanding an award chart can be found here. […]

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