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Maximizing Delta SkyMiles For Upgrades, Awards and More

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Update: The offers mentioned below for the Delta Gold and Platinum cards are no longer available. View the current offers here: Gold Delta SkyMiles PersonalGold Delta SkyMiles BusinessPlatinum Delta SkyMiles.

Delta SkyMiles may not be the most valuable frequent flyer mile currency out there, but the miles can still come in handy if you know how to use them. While there are still a number of unknowns about the future of the program and the new 5-tier award structure, I though’t I’d take a minute to highlight some of the ways to use them in today’s program- whether it be award tickets, upgrade or even magazine subscriptions.

Boosting Your SkyMiles Account
For those looking to give a quick boost to your SkyMiles accounts, currently both the Delta Gold and Delta Platinum American Express cards have limited time bonuses. Until September 8, 2014 the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express has a 50,000 mile bonus after $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

For those who may value the ability to earn elite qualifying miles, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express also offers 50,000 bonus miles and 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles after you spend $1,000 in your first 3 months. In addition, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 month, plus you can earn a bonus of up to 20,000 SkyMiles and 20,000 MQM’s annually. .

There are still plenty of ways to maximize the 50,000 sign up bonus on Delta Air Lines.
There are still plenty of ways to maximize the 50,000 sign up bonus on Delta Air Lines.

In my August valuations of points and miles, I list Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents apiece, so 50,000 SkyMiles is worth at least $600 in travel to me. However, some redemptions can get you a much better return. Below are some ideas for different ways you can maximize your Delta SkyMiles.

As a reminder, American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio, so if you have the Amex Platinum or Premier Rewards Gold cards, you can transfer your Amex points to Delta to top off your account. Starwood Preferred Guest is also a Delta transfer partner, and they offer a 5,000-mile bonus on transfers of 20,000-points, making the effective transfer ratio 4:5.

Upgrades

You can use 12,500 SkyMiles to upgrade on transcontinental routes
You can use 12,500 SkyMiles to upgrade on transcontinental routes

Delta requires expensive (M+) fares to upgrade from economy to BusinessElite on most international flights, but lower fare classes are required on domestic flights. Additionally, Delta charges more to redeem for BusinessElite domestic awards, but they don’t charge an increased amount of SkyMiles when it comes to upgrading. On my recent New York-Seattle trip, I was able to upgrade from coach to BusinessElite for 12,500 miles one-way. Upgrades to BusinessElite on transcontinental flights are a great option since you only need to be booked on a K+ fare. This is true for all domestic flights, not just transcons. If you happen to be on a full-fare economy ticket, the cost to upgrade domestically is only 5,000 miles each way.

Upgrading with miles can also be a great option for travel to Hawaii, since it costs only 15,000 miles each way to Hawaii and you only need to be a K+ fare; generally it’s not too expensive to buy K fares to Hawaii depending on the time of year. Delta operates a daily flight between Los Angeles and Hawaii on a BusinessElite equipped 767-300ER, meaning that you can upgrade into lie-flat seats on this route if you were to choose this flight.

Award Redemptions

One of the bright spots in the Delta SkyMiles program is the fact that the airline does not charge last-minute award-booking fees. That means you can book a flight within hours of departure without having to worry about the $75 fee that other legacy airlines like American, United and US Airways charge non-elite passengers. Once one-way awards become available in 2015, this will be even more useful when deciding which mileage currency to use at the last minute – which is usually when the most saver level availability exists.

You can redeem your Delta SkyMiles on Virgin Atlantic from JFK-LHR.
You can redeem your Delta SkyMiles on Virgin Atlantic from JFK-LHR.

Virgin Atlantic to London: Virgin Atlantic is one of Delta’s non-alliance partners, which means you can earn and redeem Delta miles on Virgin Atlantic flights, and there are some instances where doing so makes a lot of sense. Like British Airways, Virgin levies huge fuel surcharges and taxes on flights to/from the UK, but Delta does not (even on Virgin flights). For instance, a roundtrip business class award from New York to London in February on Virgin Atlantic would cost you 125,000 Delta miles plus $330 in taxes/fees (compared to over $1,100 when redeemed through Flying Club).

V Australia Awards with Low Taxes: One of the best ways to get a low-level award to Sydney/Melbourne is to redeem Delta SkyMiles on partner airline Virgin Australia, whose award availability you can search on Delta.com. Using Delta SkyMiles means you avoid paying fuel surcharges of as much as $500-$800 (even on some coach awards). Virgin Australia flies 777-300ER’s daily from LAX to Sydney, and from LAX to Melbourne and Brisbane several days a week.

Other Redemptions:

You can redeem your miles for magazines as well.
You can redeem your miles for magazines as well.

Magazine Subscriptions: Before you laugh and think that this is a joke hear me out. Delta is a partner of MagsforMiles where you can redeem your SkyMiles for magazine subscriptions. One of my favorite redemptions is a year subscription of People Magazine for only 2,200 miles. An annual subscription of People Magazine is normally $110, meaning that you can getting a whopping 5 cents per mile in value out of this redemption. Granted, not all magazines are a good deal, so look at what’s available and do the math to see if a subscription to your favorite publication is worth the price.

Consider redeeming your miles for a free night hotel stay.
Consider redeeming your miles for a free night hotel stay.

Hotel/Car Rental Awards: While again not the most valuable redemption, Delta lets you use your miles for hotels and car rentals at a fixed rate through the SkyMiles Marketplace.  This can be helpful if you’re looking for a cheap car rental or hotel stay and don’t want to shell out the cash.

Pay with Miles: Another option for redeeming Delta SkyMiles is their Pay with Miles feature, which is offered only to SkyMiles credit card holders. Pay with Miles allows you to redeem your miles at a rate of 1 cent apiece either for an outright award redemption or for a discount on the cash price of your ticket. The great thing is that when you use Pay with Miles for First or Business Class tickets, you’ll still earn full miles plus Medallion Qualifying Miles for your flight.

You can use Upgrade with Miles during the check-in
You can use Upgrade with Miles during the check-out process.

Upgrade with Miles at Checkout: Delta also allows SkyMiles members to upgrade with miles at the time of purchase. After you your economy class flights, at the bottom of the Trip Summary page, you will have the opportunity to Upgrade with Miles by using the choosing “Upgrade to First Class”. When you choose the upgrade with miles feature, Delta treats this as if you were buying a first class ticket and will book directly into a first class fare, so you will earn the class of service bonus as well, similar to the Pay with Miles feature for first class fares.

Despite major changes to the SkyMiles program, there are still plenty of ways to squeeze value out of Delta’s mileage program. Not only can you earn miles from co-branded credit card bonuses like the current high offers, but also Delta has good partner redemption options. With some strategic planning, you can use your Delta miles for some great, high-value awards.