6 Delta SkyMiles sweet spots worth saving up for
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Delta SkyMiles was voted the Best U.S. Airline Loyalty Program by readers two years running in the TPG Awards. And while SkyMiles can sometimes get a bad rap for its mileage options, inexpensive domestic award flights remain abundant and can still provide great value for some customers.
In many ways, Delta SkyMiles is a two-sided program. In terms of customer experience, Delta has made great strides in treating its Medallion members well, bending over backward to solve issues and making them feel like more than just another body in another seat. As for how SkyMiles members earn and redeem miles, however, Delta’s loyalty program has been steadily chipping away at the value proposition flyers can expect.
Delta was one of the first airlines to pull its public award charts and move to a dynamic pricing model for award flights. Over time, that has led to the airline charging sometimes stratospheric rates for some of its flagship flights like Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD).
To make matters worse, Delta has continually devalued its loyalty program — even during the coronavirus pandemic. In October 2020, the airline increased the price of most partner awards and even added mileage surcharges for booking at the last minute. Then the airline raised partner award prices again in February 2021.
That said, you can still get value from your SkyMiles if you know where to look. In fact, I’ve found that Delta SkyMiles can sometimes be the best miles for very specific redemptions.
In this guide, we’ll spotlight a few of our favorite ways to get outsize value by redeeming Delta SkyMiles.
Remember that Delta values each SkyMile at roughly 1 cent if used for things like seat upgrades, and TPG pegs their value at 1.1 cents apiece. By the end of this article, though, you should be able to get far more value from your SkyMiles in these unique ways.
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Boosting your SkyMiles balance
Of course, before you can even start thinking about our Delta SkyMiles sweet spots, you have to actually earn the SkyMiles necessary. There are various ways to earn Delta miles, from taking Delta-operated flights to booking trips on SkyTeam airlines, as well as some non-travel options.
One of the best ways to boost your SkyMiles balance to score a few trips is by adding one of the cards below to your arsenal (terms apply). Right now, most of Delta’s cobranded credit cards have higher-than-usual welcome offers that can yield up to 60,000 SkyMiles after you meet the minimum spending requirements. Here’s a closer look:
- Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of card membership; no annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $50 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first three months of card membership; $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 $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership; $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 $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership; $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles, and a $50 statement credit after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates and fees).
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles, 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs), and $100 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the 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, 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs), and $100 statement credit after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
You could also pick up one of the following American Express Membership Rewards-earning cards, as the points transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $6,000 in purchases in your first six months of card membership. The card also provides Sky Club access when flying Delta along with an up-to-$200 annual airline fee statement credit and up to $200 in annual Uber Cash (for use in the U.S.), all for a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees). Enrollment required for select card benefits. Terms apply.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the card within the first three months of card membership. The card also includes Sky Club access (enrollment required) and a wealth of other perks that can largely cover the $595 annual fee ($695 if application is received on or after 01/13/2022) (see rates and fees). Terms apply.
Domestic flights provide solid value
Domestic flights are my favorite way to redeem SkyMiles. Delta has been on a tear of late with SkyMiles flash sales, and many of them target domestic routes in the 500-to-1,500-mile distance range. At time of writing, the airline is pricing many domestic flights at just 6,000 SkyMiles one-way, including transcontinental domestic routes like Seattle (SEA) to New York-JFK.
But you don’t have to book during these flash sales to get a good deal. I often find domestic flights for 10,000 SkyMiles or less each way. For example, you can book flights from New York-JFK to Baltimore (BWI) for as few as 5,000 SkyMiles each way in basic economy — an incredibly low number of miles to spend on an award ticket. You can even book domestic first class on the same short flight for just 12,500 SkyMiles.
You can score solid deals on last-minute domestic flights, too. For example, you could book this Detroit (DTW) to New York (LGA) flight for just 7,500 SkyMiles one week before departure. You’ll find good last-minute pricing on plenty of other domestic routes too.
Not only is 7,500 SkyMiles easy to earn through a welcome bonus attached to a new card, but these short-haul flights can be fairly pricey when looking at cash rates. Many are frequented by business travelers during non-pandemic times, and Delta knows it. Thus, they nudge the prices up accordingly. The higher the cash price compared to the mileage price, the better the redemption value you can get.
Flights from the US to Canada
Delta has a large Canadian footprint and a partnership with WestJet, one of Canada’s largest airlines. This gives Delta loyalists many different options for flying to Canada now that the border has reopened for air travel between the two countries. Better yet, it offers solid award pricing on these award tickets too. For instance, Seattle (SEA) to Vancouver (YVR) starts at just 6,500 SkyMiles in early 2022.
Likewise, New York (LGA) to Toronto (YYZ) can be booked starting at just 5,500 SkyMiles. This flight can get expensive when booking at the last minute, so it’s a nice backup plan if you’re planning a no-notice trip to Canada’s most populous city.
Planning a tour of Canada? You can use miles to book intra-Canada flights on WestJet, too. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite as cheap — on all the dates I searched, all Canadian domestic flights on WestJet cost 12,500 SkyMiles or more. Regardless, this is a great option to have if you want to save some cash by using SkyMiles instead.
Fly to South America with LATAM
Delta and LATAM announced a major partnership in 2019. Under this partnership, Delta purchased a large chunk of the South American carrier and LATAM left Oneworld.
Thankfully, LATAM awards are (mostly) unaffected by Delta’s recent partner devaluation, so SkyMiles members can still book LATAM award tickets at reasonable prices. For example, you can use 25,000 SkyMiles to book a one-way economy ticket from Miami (MIA) to Sao Paulo (GRU) via Lima, Peru (LIM), on LATAM. Business-class tickets are more expensive at 95,000 SkyMiles one-way, and this pricing is the same to any of LATAM’s South American destinations.
That said, you’ll pay a premium when booking these awards at the last minute. Try and book at least 60 days before when you have to travel — otherwise, you’ll spend as much as 35,000 miles on the same economy ticket and 105,000 miles for business class.
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find business-class tickets on these routes. Regardless, 25,000 SkyMiles is a solid deal for an economy flight from the U.S. to South America and is something you should consider when you’re ready to travel abroad again. But if you can be a little flexible, you might have good luck.
Fly Air France to the Caribbean
Did you know that Air France operates a Caribbean route network from the U.S.? The carrier serves Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP), and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe (PTP), from Miami (MIA), but the flights to Port-au-Prince are suspended until next year. The airline will also start service from New York-JFK and Montreal (YUL) to Pointe-a-Pitre in November.
Pricing is reasonable too. Miami to Pointe-a-Pitre costs 20,000 SkyMiles in economy and 35,000 in business class each way.
The same flight costs nearly $1,100 round-trip in business class this November, so the 70,000-mile round-trip ticket can be a great way to save some cash.
These flights are generally operated by an Air France A320, so don’t expect anything too special in business class. That said, it’s a great way to fly an international carrier without leaving North America.
Head to the Middle East in business class
One of the best SkyMiles partner deals is on flights from the U.S. to the Middle East in business class. These flights cost just 85,000 SkyMiles one-way on partner airlines, even if you transit through Europe. This gives you a chance to experience Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic business-class products without spending an exorbitant amount of SkyMiles.
Here’s a sample Virgin Atlantic booking for New York-JFK to Tel Aviv (TLV) via London Heathrow (LHR). It costs the stated 85,000 SkyMiles and $60.60 in taxes and fees.
Or, you can fly from New York-JFK to Beirut (BEY) for 85,000 SkyMiles and $209.50 in taxes and fees on a mixture of Virgin Atlantic and Middle East Airlines flights.
You’ll find the same pricing on flights from the West Coast too. You’ll pay the same 85,000 miles for a flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Tel Aviv (TLV).
This is arguably the best partner SkyMiles award, but it may not last long. Recent devaluations skyrocketed the price of most partner awards, so these tickets to the Middle East could be next on the chopping block. Book this ticket fast if you want to get in on the deal.
Keep an eye out for flash sales
Delta frequently runs award sales, both for domestic and international flights. In the past, we’ve seen excellent mileage prices to Europe as part of these deals. For example, a 2019 sale that offered round-trip tickets for 16,000 SkyMiles from San Francisco (SFO) to London (LHR) was one of the best economy award prices we’ve ever seen.
These sales are announced a few times per year, though we’ve seen fewer of them during the coronavirus pandemic. Keep an eye on Delta’s deals page for more sales. Of course, you can sign up for the TPG newsletter or follow TPG on Twitter to get notified of these deals as well. We hope to see Delta start to offer them more frequently soon.
Delta isn’t doing you any favors by not publishing an award chart, but it’s still possible to get far more than 1 cent per point in value from your SkyMiles.
For the best redemptions, keep an eye on the airline’s award flash sales, book low-cost domestic flights and utilize the airline’s partners when it makes sense.
If you can’t get great value out of your miles for an upcoming trip, save them for next time. There’s no use in spending 200,000 SkyMiles for a New York-to-Los Angeles flight when you can redeem 85,000 SkyMiles for a business-class flight to the Middle East later down the line. Use another type of miles or pay cash when it doesn’t make sense to use your SkyMiles.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold 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 Blue 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 Gold Business card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business card, click here.
Additional reporting by Darren Murph and Carissa Rawson.
Feature photo by Fasttailwind/Shutterstock.com.
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Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.
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