How to earn miles in the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current card offers. It was most recently published on June 8, 2019.
Delta Air Lines is considered by many to be the best domestic airline in the United States, and its SkyMiles program was voted Best U.S. Airline Loyalty Program at the 2019 TPG Awards. The airline has a huge route network with significant hubs in many large cities, and there are a ton of different ways to earn Delta SkyMiles that you can use to fly for free on its own flights and those operated by its numerous SkyTeam and non-alliance partners. The carrier even runs frequent award sales to snag flights for a minimal number of miles.
If you’re wondering how to beef up your Delta SkyMiles balance, you’re in the right place. We’ll take you through the plethora of ways that you can add to your Delta account, including flying on Delta and its partners, spending on travel rewards credit cards, transferring miles from other programs and more.
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Earn Delta miles by flying
Earning Delta SkyMiles by flying may seem self-explanatory, but Delta overhauled how you earn miles on its flights in 2015. With that in mind, here’s an in-depth overview on how to earn miles with Delta when you take to the skies.
Flying on Delta Air Lines
When flying on Delta-operated flights, you earn SkyMiles based on the base price of your ticket (which doesn’t include government-imposed taxes). Additionally, those with Delta Medallion elite status will earn at a higher rate than those without it— the higher the status, the more miles you’ll earn.
Here’s how many miles you’d earn by Medallion status for every dollar spent:
- No status – 5 miles
- Silver – 7 miles
- Gold – 8 miles
- Platinum – 9 miles
- Diamond – 11 miles
To put this into perspective, a one-way Delta ticket from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) that costs $1,100 before taxes would earn 5,500 SkyMiles assuming the flyer has no Delta elite status. On the other hand, a Diamond Medallion member would earn 12,100 SkyMiles on the exact same ticket.
While this revenue-based scheme is used for earning purposes, keep in mind that Delta Medallion status is still earned based on distance flown, not just dollars spent. In addition, any flight eligible for Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) will earn a minimum of 500 MQMs, even if the distance is shorter. For example, if you’re flying from Newark (EWR) to Detroit (DTW) in economy class, you’ll earn 500 MQMs, even though the flight only covers a distance of 488 miles.
Flying with partners
Things get a bit messy when you start earning miles by flying on one of Delta’s many partner airlines. These flights sometimes earn miles differently from flights operated by Delta, and it all depends on how the ticket is actually booked.
The simplest example applies to flights booked on Delta ticket stock, which generally happens when you book on Delta.com. Even though the flight is operated by another airline, it’s marketed by Delta, and you’ll thus earn miles the same as a standard Delta flight.
But what happens if you book a partner flight on its website and add your Delta SkyMiles number after the fact? In this case, you’ll earn miles based on the distance flown. However, the exact number of SkyMiles you’ll earn varies based on the partner, booking class and elite status.
For example, here’s how many SkyMiles you’d earn on a flight that’s operated and ticketed by Aeromexico:
Looking at the chart above, you’ll see that tickets booked in higher fare classes earn more miles. You should be able to identify your fare class by either calling the ticketing airline or checking the e-ticket sent to your email after purchase. Once you’ve found your booking class, head over to Delta’s list of partner airlines, find your partner and locate your fare class. Multiply the number in the Total Miles Earned column by the distance of your flight(s); the easiest way to figure out this final number is to use the Great Circle Mapper.
Let’s take a look at an example. A one-way flight from New York-JFK to Mexico City (MEX) clocks in at 2,090 miles flown. A regular economy ticket earns 100% of that mileage, so you’d earn 2,090 SkyMiles for this ticket. If you hold Delta Medallion status, you’d earn bonus SkyMiles based on your status tier:
- Silver Medallion: 40%
- Gold Medallion: 60%
- Platinum Medallion: 80%
- Diamond Medallion: 120%
Note that these bonus percentages are based on the base miles earned in the above table; booking a business-class ticket would earn you another 100% bonus, but the Medallion bonuses are calculated solely based on the base miles column.
Earn Delta miles through credit cards
Aside from flying, the easiest way to earn a large number of Delta SkyMiles is through cobranded credit cards, both through welcome bonuses and everyday spending. Currently, American Express issues seven different Delta credit cards: four personal cards and three business cards. Each of these cards has a different suite of perks and benefits. Some are geared toward the frequent Delta flyer, and others are more suited for everyday consumers who want the occasional free Delta flight.
Here’s a look at the full suite of Delta SkyMiles credit cards from American Express, all of which are currently offering limited-time increased welcome bonuses (terms apply):
- Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card: Earn 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening (offer ends April 1, 2020).
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Earn up to 70,000 miles: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 10,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership (offer ends April 1, 2020)
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Earn up to 100,000 miles: 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership (offer ends April 1,2020)
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Earn up to 100,000 miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs): 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs when you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership (offer ends April 1, 2020)
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card: Earn up to 70,000 miles: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 10,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership (offer ends April 1, 2020)
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card: Earn up to 100,000 miles: 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership (offer ends April 1, 2020)
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: Earn up to 100,000 miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs): 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership (offer ends April 1, 2020)
Earn Delta miles through partners
You can also earn Delta SkyMiles through a number of Delta’s other partners. These methods make it easier than ever to earn miles based on things you already do, like eating out, staying at hotels and shopping online. Let’s check them out.
Transfer points from American Express
Currently, Delta SkyMiles has one credit card transfer partner: American Express Membership Rewards. You can transfer Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. However, you will pay a fee of $0.0006 per mile (up to a maximum of $99) to offset the federal excise tax, so the transaction can carry an additional cost if you’re transferring enough for a large, international award.
Oftentimes, putting purchases on a card that earns Amex Membership Rewards points will yield more SkyMiles per dollar spent than one of Delta’s cobranded American Express cards. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with any airline (or with American Express Travel), whereas the Delta cards above will only earn 2x miles. Since you can transfer Amex points directly to Delta, you’re effectively earning 5x SkyMiles on these purchases.
Transfer points from Marriott
You can also transfer hotel points from a variety of programs to your Delta SkyMiles account. In my experience though, the only worthwhile transfer is from Marriott Bonvoy. These points transfer at a ratio of 3:1, but for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer to an airline partner, you’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus, dropping the ratio to 2.4:1 when you transfer in increments of 60,000 points.
Like most airlines, Delta has its own online shopping portal: SkyMiles Shopping. This site lets you earn extra SkyMiles on your everyday online purchases in addition to any miles earned with your credit card. To use the portal, just sign up for a SkyMiles shopping account, find your merchant on the site and click through its link. Each merchant offers a different amount of miles per dollar spent, and these rates fluctuate frequently — especially around the holidays.
Check the portal frequently for spend and merchant bonuses. As of the time of writing this piece, Delta is running a promotion with Neiman Marcus that awards 4 miles per dollar spent at the merchant (the normal rate is 2 miles per dollar). If you’re looking to make a purchase anyway, this can mean some serious bonus miles if you start at Delta’s portal instead of going directly to the merchant’s site.
The Delta SkyMiles Dining program is a great way to earn extra miles when dining out. Just sign up for an account, link a credit card and dine at a participating restaurant, cafe or bar. When your registered card is swiped at these establishments, you’ll earn extra SkyMiles in addition to the miles you already earn with your credit card (make sure to use a card that earns bonus points or miles at restaurants).
The number of points you earn on purchases depends on your status in the dining program (which is completely separate from your Medallion status). There are three tiers: member, online member and VIP. You’ll become an online member by signing up for email alerts, and you can get VIP status after making 11 transactions within 12 months. If you don’t give the program a valid email address and sign up for email alerts, you’re a standard member and will only earn 1 mile for every $2 spent. Online members will earn 3 miles per dollar spent, while VIP members will take home 5 miles per dollar spent.
As of the time of writing this article, SkyMiles Dining even offers a welcome bonus; you’ll earn 3,000 miles after making three $30 dining purchases within 30 days of account opening (and writing reviews for each).
Link your SkyMiles number to your Lyft account
Here’s an easy way to earn miles: just link your Delta and Lyft accounts. When you take a ride with Lyft, you’ll earn 1 mile per dollar spent on everyday rides and 2 miles per dollar spent on airport rides. Business travelers can rack up huge amounts of points with this promotion. And best of all, once you’re linked, you don’t need to click through a link to earn SkyMiles on Lyft rides. They’ll be automatically credited to your account and can even be stacked with the Lyft’s partnership with Hilton Honors.
Earn on Airbnb stays
Like Lyft, you can earn Delta SkyMiles whenever you stay at an Airbnb property. Just head over to Airbnb’s Delta website, enter your SkyMiles number and click through the link before you make a booking. You’ll earn 1 mile per dollar spent on Airbnb purchases with no limit, so longer trips can rack up a nice haul of SkyMiles.
There are plenty of ways to earn Delta SkyMiles, whether it’s through flights, credit cards, transferring points or using one of Delta’s many other partners. Even better? SkyMiles is one of the only loyalty program currencies that never expires. While Delta did win the 2019 TPG Award for Best Airline Loyalty Program, it does have some important things to keep in mind when you go to book flights. However, with the myriad of earning opportunities above, you’ll hopefully have no shortage of SkyMiles the next time you’re planning a trip.
For details on the redemption process, check out our guide on how to redeem miles with the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program.
Additional reporting by Carissa Rawson.
Featured photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines.
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