How to redeem Delta SkyMiles for maximum value
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Since Delta removed its award charts in 2015, the SkyMiles program has become significantly more unpredictable (and sometimes comically expensive). With long-haul business class flights routinely selling for more than 250,000 SkyMiles, it's easy to feel like your SkyMiles points balance is effectively worthless.
But fear not: If you find yourself with a stash of Delta SkyMiles, they’re nowhere near worthless. There are still some solid redemptions available, especially when Delta runs one of its regular award sales.
In this guide, I'll discuss how to redeem Delta SkyMiles for optimal value. I'll cover how to redeem SkyMiles for Delta and partner flights and discuss using miles for merchandise.
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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 award charts in early 2015. So 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 November and December for one-way award flights from New York to Atlanta:
As you can see, prices vary from 6,500 miles to 48,000 miles for a one-way award flight. Even though Thanksgiving travel skews award prices over these dates, significant price volatility is normal. As a result, flexibility can save you a boatload of SkyMiles.
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. Of course, you can use additional miles to book a standard economy class seat and avoid the basic economy restrictions.
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 those originating in Europe.
Keep an eye out for SkyMiles deals
One of the best ways to redeem Delta miles is by booking a SkyMiles deal. Delta posted these deals regularly pre-pandemic, 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 positioning flights to utilize these deals.
Earlier this year, Delta had a flash sale with round-trip flights for just 5,000 SkyMiles.
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):
- Act fast: Darn good Delta deal alert with tickets starting at 5,000 SkyMiles.
- Delta flash sale to Tahiti: Round-trip flights starting at 50,000 SkyMiles.
- New Yorkers: Book round-trip award tickets for as few as 5,000 SkyMiles with this flash sale.
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
Delta is a part of the SkyTeam alliance and has several non-alliance partners like Virgin Atlantic and WestJet. So, you can redeem your SkyMiles on several different carriers and routes worldwide. Here’s Delta’s full list of airline partners:
- Aerolineas Argentina.
- Air Europa.
- Air France.
- China Airlines.
- China Eastern.
- Czech Airlines.
- Garuda Indonesia.
- ITA Airways.
- Kenya Airways.
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
- Korean Air.
- Vietnam Airlines.
- Xiamen Air.
- Cape Air.
- Hawaiian Airlines.
- Virgin Atlantic.
Fortunately, partner award tickets are not priced the same as Delta tickets. Instead, partner awards have a set price range despite the lack of online award charts. For example, here's the nonstop award chart from New York to Seoul on Korean Air. As you can see, one-way business class rates fluctuate between 120,000 and 170,000 points.
Delta can choose to raise these rates at any time (the carrier has done so several times). You’ll need to 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 you can book most SkyTeam and non-alliance carriers directly online. However, the site isn’t great at piecing together mixed-cabin itineraries. It will often “force” you into Delta-operated flights, so we’d encourage you to search segment by segment — and be prepared to call if delta.com won’t construct the trip you need.
Redeem for upgrades
Another way to redeem your SkyMiles is for upgrades to the next class of service. 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 delta.com.
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 otherwise, I recommend sticking with redeeming for award flights as discussed in the previous sections.
You can also redeem Delta 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.
Redeem for Delta Vacations and gift cards
Like most airline mileage programs, you can redeem your SkyMiles for many things other than flights, including gift cards and Delta Vacations. But, these redemptions will almost always yield a lower return than when redeeming SkyMiles for air travel on Delta or one of its many partners.
For example, a $50 Delta gift card costs 5,600 SkyMiles. That's a redemption rate of 0.89 cents per SkyMile, significantly below our valuation of Delta miles at 1.41 cents each.
Here at TPG, we recommend using your miles for the maximum value. So if you can, redeem your SkyMiles 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). Here are the current welcome offers for these cards:
- Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening.
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening. $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening. $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening. $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card: Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then a $99 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card: 60,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first three months of card membership. $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Despite Delta SkyMiles losing value over the last few years, there are still many great deals you can book. The program has been marching toward 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.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business Card, click here.