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How to Earn and Maximize 100,000 Delta Miles

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, The Platinum Card from American Express

While Delta SkyMiles are sometimes not-so-lovingly referred to as Sky Pesos, you can still get plenty of value from these rewards with a little savvy and planning. To help show you how, TPG Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr demonstrates various ways to earn and then use 100,000 SkyMiles.

There hasn’t been a lot of love for Delta SkyMiles in the frequent flyer community lately. The airline continues to make no-notice changes to redemption rates — rates which remain opaque to SkyMiles members. With that said, in no way is it time to write off the SkyMiles program. There’s still tremendous value, if you know where to look.

Today, I’ll continue my series on earning and maximizing 100,000 miles with each of the major carriers. Let’s take a look at how easily you can earn — and then expertly burn — 100,000 Delta SkyMiles.

Earning 100,000 Delta SkyMiles

1. Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses and Spending

As with most carriers, credit card sign-up bonuses are the fastest way to earn huge amounts of airline miles — short of flying a few hundred thousand miles on paid tickets. In fact, many have argued that American Express buying Delta SkyMiles is largely what helped the airline out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Amex continues to lure new customers to Delta products courtesy of sign-up bonuses that can earn you tens of thousands of SkyMiles.

Here are the cards that can get you well on the way to 100,000 SkyMiles:

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

This card is currently offering 60,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after spending $2,000 in the first three months of account opening. This offer expires on July 6, 2016. You can also earn a $100 statement credit after using the card for a Delta purchase in the first three months. The card offers a free checked bag, reduced cost for SkyClub access, a domestic round-trip main cabin companion certificate after your account anniversary and the ability to earn 10,000 additional MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles for spending $25,000 on the card in a calendar year. You’ll trigger the 10,000 MQM and 10,000 bonus miles again when you spend $50,000 on the card in a calendar year. The business version of this card also has limited time sign up offer of 60,000 and 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after spending $2,000 in the first three months of account opening, expiring 7/6/2016.

Annual fee: $195

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Until July 6, 2016 this card currently offers new applicants 50,000 miles and a $50 statement credit after making $2,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. Benefits include priority boarding and a free checked bag. The business version of this card also has limited time sign up offer of 50,000 and a $50 statement credit after making $2,000 in purchases within three months of account opening until 7/6/2016.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Finally for Delta there’s also the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, but this product is better suited to those who want to earn MQMs rather than redeemable miles. You can currently earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles after your first purchase on this card. Spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year gets you another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles, while you’ll earn another 15,000 MQMs and bonus miles when you hit the $60,000 threshold.

You can also transfer Membership Rewards points to the Delta SkyMiles program, so consider these cards:

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN 

With regular business spending in addition to a 50,000 points sign up bonus, you can quickly reach 100,000 Delta SkyMiles in your account.
With regular business spending plus a 50,000-point sign-up bonus, you can quickly reach 100,000 SkyMiles with this card.

You may currently be targeted for an increased sign-up bonus for this card, offering you the opportunity to earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $10,000 in the first three months. That’s a significant step up from the usual bonus of 25,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months, and it may be worth taking advantage of if you can find it through the CardMatch tool. A 50,000-point offer for spending $5,000 in the first three months pops up from time to time, as well.

The card earns you 3 points per dollar in one category of your choosing: airfare purchased directly from airlines; advertising in select media; purchases at US gas stations; US purchases for shipping; or computing, including computer hardware, software and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers. You also earn 2 points per dollar in each of the other four categories, and on eligible purchases through the American Express Travel website and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Note that bonus points are limited to the first $100,000 in eligible purchases per category each calendar year. This card has no foreign transaction fees.

Annual Fee: $175 (waived for the first year)

The Platinum Card from American Express

Gain Centurion lounge access in addition to 100,000 SkyMiles with the Platinum card from American Express.
Gain Centurion Lounge access in addition to as many as 100,000 points with the Platinum Card from American Express.

This card deserves to be number one on the list because the 100,000-point sign-up bonus it offers on a regular basis (including accidentally last week) can be transferred directly into your SkyMiles account. One card and you’re there! Plus, the Platinum Card offers plenty of other worthwhile benefits, including a $200 airline credit each year and Centurion Lounge access.

The mega sign-up bonus is triggered after you spend anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 on the card in the first three months of account opening. However, you have to find the offer first — it doesn’t look to be available currently, but keep an eye out and check the CardMatch tool every so often to see if you’re targeted.

Since this card earns points rather than miles, it’s important to remember that you’ll have to pay an excise tax when transferring from Amex Membership Rewards to an airline — at a rate of .06 cents per mile, up to a maximum fee of $99.

Annual Fee: $450

2. Dining

Maximize your dining purchases to earn big miles.
Maximize your dining purchases to earn big miles.

Another easy way to earn bonus Delta miles is by signing up for the SkyMiles Dining program. This site partners with more than 11,000 restaurants, bars and clubs and allows you to earn Delta miles every time you dine at one of these locations. All you have to do is set up an account, add your credit card(s) and then make a purchase with a registered credit card at a participating establishment.

The standard earning rate is 1 mile for every 2 dollars you spend, but if you subscribe to emails from the site, that jumps to 3 miles per dollar. And once you’ve dined 12 times in a year, you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent. There’s currently a 3,000-mile tiered sign-up bonus you can earn after your first three restaurant visits.

3. Non-Flying Travel

Airline travel isn’t the only way to rack up miles. Don’t forget about registering for SPG’s Crossover Rewards, which allow you to earn SkyMiles in addition to Starpoints on Starwood hotel stays.

You can also earn SkyMiles every time you rent a car — up to 300 miles per rental day with current promotions. Other opportunities to earn bonus miles include booking hotels through Agoda; cruises through SkyMiles Cruises; and hotel+air packages through Delta Vacations.

4. Shopping

Shopping portals continue to offer an easy way to add significant earnings to your account. Browse SkyMiles Shopping before you complete an online purchase to make sure you don’t miss easy miles.

5. Invest

If you're looking to stash some cash for at least six months, take a look at the Fidelity miles earning options.
If you’re looking to stash some cash for at least six months, take a look at the Fidelity miles-earning options.

Fund a Fidelity non-retirement brokerage account and earn up to 50,000 SkyMiles. Deposit $100,000 and earn 50,000 miles; deposit $50,000 and earn 25,000 miles; deposit $25,000 and earn 15,000 miles.

The bottom line is that by taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses and being cognizant of a few of your normal spending habits, you can quickly accrue 100,000 SkyMiles.

Maximizing 100,000 SkyMiles

1. One-Way to Africa in Business and an Intra-Africa Flight

Delta is cheaper than United (80,000 miles) and American (75,000) for one-way business-class award flights to Africa. It’s just 70,000 miles for a 12-hour flight in Delta One from Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria, assuming you’re able to find availability.

Fly 12 hours to Africa in Delta One for 70,000 miles.
Fly 12 hours to Africa in Delta One for 70,000 miles.

This then leaves you 30,000 miles to fly partners KLM and Kenya Airways for intra-Africa flights, at a cost of 22,500 miles in economy. 

Fly 14 hours and 45 minutes for just 22,500 SkyMiles.
Fly 14 hours and 45 minutes for just 22,500 SkyMiles.

Interestingly, Delta routes you via Amsterdam (AMS) on partner KLM to fly from Nigeria to Kenya. If you wanted to book just the first leg (LOS-AMS), it would cost you 35,000-65,000 miles (read that again!). You essentially get a 12,500 to 42,500-mile discount for adding on an extra leg. This does leave you responsible for a one-way flight home from Africa, which you can book in economy for 40,000 miles on American, Delta and United.

2. Low-Mileage Domestic Legs

Delta has been offering one-way short-haul award flights for 5,000 miles, which could be a good option if you really want to stretch the value of those 100,000 miles. That said, while this is a cheap redemption option, it doesn’t provide much value, since these tickets are usually pretty cheap when you pay with cash.

Curiously, I couldn’t find 5,000-mile one-way awards on the usual routes, though I did find a few routes for 5,500, 7,000 and 9,500 miles one-way. I also found plenty of routes that cost 10,000 miles one way. An especially valuable low-mileage domestic route would an ATL-CHS one-way, which prices out at $378.10 or only 9,500 miles.

A 45 minute flight would cost you $378.
A 45-minute flight would cost you $378.

Thats a 3.98 cent-per-mile redemption for SkyMiles!

Redeem SkyMiles for almost 4 cents each when looking at US domestic routes.
Redeem SkyMiles for almost 4 cents each when looking at US domestic routes.

Redeeming 5,000 miles for a short-haul flight that costs less than $100 isn’t the best value, but redeeming 19,000-20,000 miles for domestic flights that routinely cost $300-$400 is definitely worth considering.

3. Round-Trip to Australia

Australia is one of the most popular destinations — especially for points and miles enthusiasts looking to avoid the expensive out-of-pocket airfare from the US. Thanks to Delta partner Virgin Australia, you can fly round-trip to Australia in economy for 90,000 miles and $108.66 almost any day.

Virin Australia availability when using SkyMiles looks fantastic through this year.
Virgin Australia availability for SkyMiles awards looks fantastic through this year.

This then leaves you 10,000 miles to score an expensive one-way domestic flight as discussed above! Note that Virgin Australia also serves Brisbane from LAX.

4. Round-Trip to Asia with One Way in Business

Korean Air
Fly the Korean Airlines A380 in business class for 70,000 SkyMiles until October.

Note that this redemption will cost you 105,000 miles, but after completing the minimum spending for a credit card sign-up bonus, you should have an additional few thousand miles under your belt already. Plus, it’s worth the extra 5,000-mile effort to fly partner Korean Air to Seoul with one way in business class on the A380 or new 747-8.

Business on Korean Air to Seoul will cost 70,000 miles one-way and 35,000 miles back in economy — still a very comfortable product, as Korean has the least amount of seats on its A380 of any current operator. Remember to book this and fly before October 1, 2016 when partner rates increase, including this itinerary.

Also, note the recently instituted blackout dates for flying with Korean Airlines when booking through Delta.

5. Round-Trip to Europe and Central America/Northern South America

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 9.53.28 PM
Fly many routes from both Delta and partner Virgin Atlantic to Europe for just 60,000 miles round-trip.

With partner Virgin Atlantic servicing several cities and Delta surprisingly still offering plenty of 60,000-mile main cabin round-trip awards, you can step foot on three continents with your 100,000 SkyMiles. Round-trip to Europe can be had for 60,000 miles, and round-trip to Central America/Northern South America will cost you 35,000-40,000 miles.

Prices for economy awards logically seem to increase the farther south you go on the South American continent. This still leaves you plenty of possibilities to visit places like Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 9.50.49 PM
Fly New York to Bogota, Colombia for only 40,000 miles round-trip.

Bottom Line

Don’t forget other redemptions! See TPG Contributor Nick Ewen’s post on why SkyMiles are far from worthless for more ideas on how to put your rewards to work.

That said, let’s all keep in mind that while these great redemptions exist today, you never know what Delta could change in the future. On that note, remember that some of the above partner rates will increase for flights after October 1. When it comes to SkyMiles, you should do everything in your power to protect their potential value, so burn them as soon as your travel plans allow!

How would you maximize 100,000 SkyMiles?