How to redeem Delta SkyMiles for maximum value

Mar 13, 2021

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If you’ve kept up with the points and miles game over the past few years, you’ve probably heard Delta SkyMiles referred to as “SkyPesos” at least once. This term is frequently used as the derisive name of the carrier’s currency thanks to unannounced devaluations and the removal of award charts in 2015, making the price of awards unpredictable (and sometimes comically expensive).

But fear not: If you find yourself with a stash of Delta SkyMiles, they’re nowhere near worthless. In fact, there are still some solid redemptions available, especially when Delta runs one of its regular award sales. Delta even won the best airline loyalty program at the 2019 TPG awards.

With that in mind, I’ll take a detailed look at how to redeem your Delta SkyMiles for optimal value. We’ll cover how to redeem Skymiles for both Delta and partner flights and discuss using miles for merchandise. Let’s jump in!

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In This Post

Redeem on Delta flights

You can redeem your Delta SkyMiles for Delta, Delta Connection and Delta Shuttle flights as you’d expect. However, as noted earlier, Delta removed its online award charts in early 2015. This means you must search for your award on Delta’s website (or call customer service) to get an accurate price.

Unfortunately, these prices change frequently based on the flight, the date, the number of people booking and other factors. Take a look at this week-long snapshot of availability in October/November for one-way award flights from New York-JFK to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD):

As you can see, prices vary from 8,500 miles to 40,000 miles for a one-way award flight. That level of price volatility is normal by Delta standards. Even individual flights on these dates have a wide range of prices. As a result, flexibility can save you a boatload of SkyMiles, so be sure to check all times for the best available price.

One big positive about this type of dynamic pricing is that Delta will frequently offer award flights below the “standard” rate of 12,500 miles each way. Booking the above route on an American-operated flight booked through the AAdvantage program would set you back at least 12,500 miles. Three of the above dates have rates at less than half those amounts.

Unfortunately, Delta started rolling out Basic Economy on award tickets in 2018 and expanded it in early 2019, so the lowest-priced awards will often book into this restrictive fare class. That’s great for those looking to minimize their mileage usage but not so great for those travelers who want added flexibility and perks on their tickets.

Taxes and fees are generally reasonable on Delta tickets. Expect to pay minimal taxes and fees on domestic tickets and international tickets departing the U.S. However, Delta does add carrier-imposed surcharges on many awards that start outside the U.S., most notably out of Europe.

Related: The advanced guide to maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets

Keep an eye out for SkyMiles Deals

One of the best ways to redeem SkyMiles is by booking a SkyMiles Deal. Pre-pandemic, Delta posted these deals regularly and they can offer deep discounts on tickets in both economy class and Delta One. These deals are generally between specific city pairs, so you may need to book your own connecting tickets.

Here’s a sample of previous offers:

We’ve seen a rash of award sales to destinations all over the globe. Here are some of the most notable (all prices were for round-trip flights):

If you have no immediate use for your SkyMiles, you may be best off saving them for the next big SkyMiles Deal. Be sure you’re following us on Twitter and Facebook to learn about these deals as soon as they launch.

Redeem on partner flights

(Photo by Iakov Filimonov /

Delta is a part of the SkyTeam alliance and has several non-alliance partners like Virgin Atlantic and WestJet. This means that you can redeem your SkyMiles on several different carriers and routes worldwide. Here’s Delta’s full list of airline partners:

SkyTeam partners

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentina
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • MEA
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Air

Non-alliance partners

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • GOL Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Mandarin Airlines
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia
  • WestJet

Fortunately, partner award tickets are not priced the same way as Delta tickets, as they have a set price despite the lack of online award charts. For example, here’s an award search for a nonstop, business-class flight from New York-JFK to Shanghai (PVG), a route operated solely by partner airline China Eastern:

That being said, without award charts, Delta can choose to raise these rates at any time (and the carrier has done that several times). To get an estimate on a Delta partner ticket, you’ll need to either call Delta directly or search its website for an up-to-date award price.

Delta has been enhancing its website to display partner awards, and at the time of writing, you can book virtually all SkyTeam and non-alliance carriers directly online. However, the site isn’t great at piecing together mixed-cabin itineraries and will often “force” you into Delta-operated flights.o we’d encourage you to search segment-by-segment — and be prepared to call if won’t construct the trip you need.

Related: The best websites for searching SkyTeam award availability

Redeem for upgrades

Another way to redeem your SkyMiles is for upgrades to the next class of service, though be forewarned: The exact details can be very complicated. The simplest method was launched at the end of 2018. When you have a confirmed ticket on Delta, you should now have the option to pay cash or use miles to upgrade your flight directly through

However, the value of these redemptions is generally pegged to roughly 1 cent per mile, lower than TPG’s most recent valuation of Delta miles at 1.41 cents apiece. If you’re swimming in SkyMiles and don’t have any planned use for them, this might make sense, but I’d recommend sticking with the full award flight options noted above.

Also, you can redeem your miles to upgrade certain flights operated by Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic or Aeromexico. However, there are specific fare-class requirements, and this option is limited to select routes operated by each carrier, so be sure to check Delta’s upgrade with miles page for more details.

You’ll also want to make sure there’s upgrade inventory available. Fortunately, all four of these carriers publish business-class award inventory on ExpertFlyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures), making it easy to search and set alerts if the seats you need aren’t available at the time of booking.

Related: Your ultimate guide to upgrading with miles

Redeem for rental cars, hotels and merchandise

Photo courtesy of Hyatt Hotels
(Photo courtesy of World of Hyatt.)

Note: The Delta SkyMiles Marketplace was discontinued on Aug. 27, 2020, with Delta citing the coronavirus pandemic for its removal. It may return when travel restrictions are lifted and we’ll update this page accordingly.

Like most airline mileage programs, you can redeem your SkyMiles for many things other than flights, including gift cards, Apple products, cruises, car rentals, hotel rooms and even for experiences via auction. However, these redemptions will almost always yield a lower return than when redeeming SkyMiles for air travel on Delta or one of its many partners.

To illustrate this, I priced out a one-day car rental in Chicago through the SkyMiles Marketplace. An economy car through Alamo costs 10,437 miles. The same car rental booked directly through the Alamo website costs $48.17, giving you a value of just 0.46 cents per mile — less than half of TPG’s valuation.

SkyMiles Marketplace redemptions will vary from redemption to redemption, but it’s almost less than the value you’d get by booking Delta- or partner-operated award flights. Here at TPG, we always recommend using your miles for the maximum value, so if you can, redeem for flights.

How to earn Delta miles quickly

Of course, any of the above redemptions require you to have SkyMiles in your account, and there are many ways to boost your balance. One of the easiest ways to earn Delta SkyMiles is through the carrier’s cobranded American Express credit cards (terms apply). See current welcome offers below:

Bottom line

Despite Delta SkyMiles losing value over the last few years, there are still many great deals you can book. The program has been marching towards a set redemption value of 1 cent per mile, but you can still outstrip that, especially for premium-class awards on partner airlines. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for cheap domestic tickets and SkyMiles Deals to get the most bang for your miles, as doing this may save you miles compared to other mileage programs.

Featured image of Korean Air 747-8 business class by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business Card, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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