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Delta Miles + Cash vs. Pay with Miles tickets: Which should you book?

March 19, 2021
8 min read
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The most common Delta mileage ticket is a standard award ticket. This is when you redeem miles to cover the entire ticket fare, save for taxes and fees. It's the default option when you check the "shop with miles" box on Delta's site.

But what if you don't have enough SkyMiles to cover the entire flight you want? While you could quickly boost your balance by buying miles or transferring them from the Membership Rewards program, those aren't your only options. You could fast-track your award by leveraging Delta's Miles + Cash option or if you're a Delta credit card holder, the Pay with Miles option.

Today, we're going to dive into these redemption options, discuss what types of tickets are eligible and compare the value they offer. We'll also touch on how upgrades work with each of these ticket types. As you're going to see, these redemptions are very different from one another.

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(Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

What are Miles + Cash tickets?

Exactly as it sounds, this option allows you to pay for flights using a combination of miles and cash. It's available to all SkyMiles members on select main cabin, first class and Delta One flights operated by Delta, Delta Connection and Delta Shuttle. It's not available for basic economy or partner flights.

You're essentially buying a set number of miles so that you can book your flight. As such, these bookings are still considered award tickets, meaning you won't earn any miles are elite-qualifying credit. Unlike with some other programs, Delta's Miles + Cash tickets have set rates, so there's no slider to customize exactly how many miles you'd like to use.

To book one of these tickets, search for a flight on Delta's site as you normally would. Then, at the top of the results page, under "show price in," click "Miles + Cash." Some flights are available for as little as 500 miles out of pocket.

Related: Everything you need to know about maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets

(Photo courtesy of Delta)

But how good of a deal will you get? It depends.

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In the example above, you're buying 5,000 miles for $90, which comes out to 1.8 cents apiece. That's higher than TPG's valuation of 1.1 cents per SkyMile, but still significantly less than the 3.5 cents per mile Delta usually charges to buy them outright. The cash price of the ticket above is about $108. So you're essentially redeeming $6 worth of miles to save $12, though you won't earn any miles for your flight.

(Photo courtesy of Delta)

However, for some redemptions, you'll get far less value from your miles. For instance, there's a flight from New York-JFK to Cancun (CUN) available for $268 or 15,500 miles plus $175. In this example, you're buying 7,500 miles for about 1.9 cents apiece. The remaining 15,500 miles you need to pay are worth about $171 based on our valuations, so you'll effectively be paying $346 for a $268 flight — not a good deal.

Related: How to earn Delta Medallion elite status without flying

(Photo courtesy of Delta)

Note, mileage purchases in Miles + Cash transactions are nonrefundable. If you cancel your award, you'll get the miles purchased deposited into your account.

What are Pay with Miles tickets?

Pay with Miles is a feature available exclusively to cobranded Delta Amex cardholders. It allows you to redeem a fixed amount of miles to get a cash discount on your Delta-operated flight.

You can redeem SkyMiles in increments of 5,000 miles to take $50 off your ticket cost. So for a $200 ticket, you could redeem 10,000 miles and pay $100 in cash for the ticket. This gives your miles a fixed value of 1 cent each, which is just slightly less than TPG’s valuation of 1.1 cents apiece. It's ideal for those that like simplicity or are booking cheap cash tickets that would be expensive to book as awards. It's also useful for those chasing elite status.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers

Unlike Miles + Cash tickets, which are treated as award tickets, Pay with Miles tickets are treated like revenue tickets. So, you'll still earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and redeemable miles on the portion paid with cash. Also, unlike Miles + Cash tickets, you can use this feature to book basic economy tickets.

To book a Pay with Miles flight, sign in to your Delta account and search for flights as you normally would. Eligible flights will be marked as "Pay with Miles Eligible."

(Photo by Delta)

If you don’t already have a Delta credit card, see below for the current welcome offers:

Upgrading Delta mileage tickets

Normal upgrade rules apply to Miles + Cash and Pay with Miles tickets. You can now even apply upgrade certificates to both of these types of tickets. For the upgrade hierarchy, remember that Miles + Cash tickets are treated as award tickets and Pay with Miles tickets are treated as revenue tickets. Basic Economy (E fare) tickets are never eligible for upgrades.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

Delta Premium Select. (Photo by Benji Stawski / The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Neither of these redemption options will get you the most bang for your buck. However, with Delta shifting toward more of a “one cent per SkyMile” approach for many redemptions, Pay with Miles is becoming increasingly attractive. It takes the headache away from searching for award availability to find the best deal. Plus, unlike award tickets, it won't slow you down from earning Medallion status since you still earn elite-qualifying credit, as well as redeemable miles on the cash portion. All you need is a Delta credit card, such as the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex, to unlock this feature.

If you prefer getting top value out of every mile, remember that Delta miles never expire, so you can always save them until you have enough to book a traditional award ticket. Luckily, if you're short miles, there are many ways to quickly boost your SkyMiles balance.

Featured image by (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023