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Since Delta eliminated its award charts in 2015, the SkyMiles program has become notably more unpredictable and, at times, outrageously expensive. With business-class flights on long-haul routes often priced at over 450,000 SkyMiles, it’s understandable to feel like your SkyMiles balance holds little value.
But if you have a stockpile of Delta miles, they are far from worthless. There are still excellent redemptions available, particularly during the carrier’s award sales.
So, let’s explore some strategies for maximizing the value of your Delta SkyMiles.
Redeem on Delta flights
You can use your Delta SkyMiles to book Delta, Delta Connection and Delta Shuttle flights. Since Delta uses dynamic pricing, award rates can vary significantly. For example, in November, one-way main cabin award rates from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) range between 16,000 and 49,000 miles.
Even though Thanksgiving travel skews award prices over these dates, significant price volatility is normal. If you want to maximize your SkyMiles, flexibility is important.
Taxes and fees are generally reasonable on Delta tickets. Expect to pay $5.60 per person in taxes and fees on most domestic tickets and international tickets departing the U.S. However, Delta adds carrier-imposed surcharges on many awards that start outside the U.S., most notably those originating in Europe.
Keep an eye out for SkyMiles deals
A great option for redeeming Delta miles is taking advantage of SkyMiles deals. These deals typically apply to specific city pairs, so it may be necessary to book positioning flights to fully maximize these promotions.
Last year, Delta offered a flash sale with round-trip flights for just 5,000 SkyMiles. The airline recently offered round-trip airfare to Auckland Airport (AKL) from most major U.S. airports for just 37,400 SkyMiles round-trip.
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If you have no immediate use for your SkyMiles, you may be best off saving them for the next big SkyMiles deal. Just be sure to keep an eye on Delta’s SkyMiles deals page.
Save at least 15% with select Delta credit cards
If you have an eligible Delta credit card, you can save 15% on Delta-operated award flights when you use your miles and pay the taxes and fees with the card. This can be a great option to reduce the price you pay on Delta award tickets — and a major reason to open (and keep) a Delta card in your wallet.
Read more: Best Delta credit cards
Rebook when prices drop (or cancel when your plans change)
Once you’ve used your miles on a Delta flight, be sure to keep your eyes on the award rates. As long as you’re not on a basic economy ticket, Delta offers the ability to rebook flights when prices drop, and you’ll receive the mileage difference back in your account. You should even be able to do this right from the Delta App.
And if your plans change, you should be able to cancel your flight for a full refund of both the miles and the taxes and fees — again, unless you’re on a basic economy ticket.
Redeem on partner flights
Delta is a member of the SkyTeam alliance and has three non-alliance airline partners. This gives you more flexibility to redeem your SkyMiles on various airlines and routes across the globe. Here is the complete list of Delta’s airline partners:
- Aerolinas Argentinas
- Air Europa
- Air France
- China Airlines
- China Eastern Airlines
- Czech Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Garuda Indonesia
- ITA Airways
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Middle East Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Xiamen Air
- Cape Air
- Hawaiian Airlines
Although there are no online award charts, partner awards generally have a specific price range. For example, one-way business-class airfare from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Mexico City International Airport (MEX) ranges between 42,000 and 44,000 miles.
Another great option is WestJet-operated flights from the U.S. to Canada. Round-trip award tickets in economy class still clock in at 25,000 miles plus ~$60 in taxes and fees, and availability is relatively widespread, especially when you book in advance.
These flights routinely cost more than $500, giving you a redemption value of more than 2 cents per miles.
Delta also has some appealing non-U.S. partner sweet spots.
For example, Dubai International Airport (DXB) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) on Air France business class generally costs around 42,500 miles plus 120 United Arab Emirates Dirham (around $32). In comparison, Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda Airport (HND) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) costs 35,000 miles plus up to 6,910 Japanese Yen (around $50) for a connecting business-class Korean Air or China Airlines flight.
Delta can increase these rates at any time, and they have done so on multiple occasions. To obtain the current award price, you will need to contact Delta directly or search the website.
While Delta has tried to improve its website to display partner awards, it may still have limitations, particularly when booking mixed-cabin itineraries. The website often prioritizes Delta-operated flights, which may not be ideal if you have specific flight requirements. We recommend searching for flights segment by segment and being prepared to call Delta if the website doesn’t offer the desired trip options.
Redeem for upgrades
You can also use your SkyMiles for upgrades to a higher class of service. If you have a confirmed Delta-marketed and operated flight, you should have the option to pay cash or use miles to upgrade your flight directly on Delta’s website.
If you redeem your miles for an upgrade using this method, you’ll generally get around 1 cent per mile, which is lower than our 1.41 cent valuation of Delta SkyMiles. This could be a viable option if you have a surplus of SkyMiles and no immediate plans for their use. However, we generally recommend prioritizing award flight redemptions, as discussed in previous sections.
You can also use Delta miles to upgrade specific flights operated by Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic or Aeromexico. This option is subject to fare class requirements and is available only on select routes each partner operates. For more details, please refer to Delta’s “upgrade with miles” page.
You’ll also want to make sure there’s upgrade inventory available. Fortunately, all four partner airlines mentioned above publish business-class award inventory on ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), allowing easy searching and setting up alerts if the desired seats are unavailable when you book your flight.
Redeem for Delta Vacations
Delta Vacations recently enhanced redemption rates for SkyMiles members looking to use their rewards for vacations. You’ll get at least 1.15 cents when you use your miles to cover a Delta Vacation.
In practice, however, you can occasionally find better redemption rates.
A two-day escape from Los Angeles to Hawaii with lodging at the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach costs $1,797.90. Alternatively, you can redeem 143,832 SkyMiles to book this vacation (a 1.25-cent redemption rate).
In this example, Delta also includes a round-trip transfer from the airport to the hotel, whether you pay with miles or cash.
How to earn Delta miles quickly
You’ll need to have SkyMiles to take advantage of the redemptions mentioned above. Fortunately, there are several ways to increase your balance. One of the simplest ways to earn Delta miles is by using Delta’s cobranded American Express credit cards (terms apply). Here are some of the current welcome offers available for these cards:
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership. Offer ends Aug. 2, 2023. The card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Earn 85,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership. Offer ends Aug. 2, 2023. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Earn 85,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership. Offer ends Aug. 2, 2023. The card has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card: Earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Aug. 2, 2023. The card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then a $99 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card: 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Aug. 2, 2023. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Aug. 2, 2023. The card has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Remember that any of these cards include access to the TakeOff 15 benefit, which will save you at least 15% on Delta-operated award flights.
You can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points from cards like the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. However, you’ll be subject to an excise tax offset fee. And Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to Delta SkyMiles at a 3:1 ratio.
Although the value of Delta SkyMiles has decreased in recent years, there are still excellent deals to be found. While the program has been moving toward a redemption value of 1 cent per mile, you can still surpass that, especially with SkyMiles deals and Delta Vacations.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business Card, click here.