Your complete guide to earning and redeeming Delta SkyMiles

Sep 18, 2020

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Delta SkyMiles is one of my favorite loyalty programs, and it’s not just me. The program was voted Best U.S. Airline Loyalty Program at the 2019 TPG Awards. Earning SkyMiles is relatively easy, whether it’s flying or using Delta co-branded credit cards.

You will often get better value redeeming your Delta SkyMiles for awards on partners like Air France and Virgin Atlantic. Still, you can get a lot of value on Delta metal. After you earn SkyMiles, there are many ways to redeem miles for your dream vacation.

Today I’ll break down everything you need to know about earning and redeeming Delta SkyMiles.

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In This Post

Delta SkyMiles Overview

Delta SkyMiles is the loyalty program of Delta Air Lines, the Atlanta-based airline. There are several ways to redeem SkyMiles beyond free flights. However, you typically will get the best bang for your buck when flying — especially if you can book during one of the Delta’s frequent flash sales.

For frequent Delta flyers, the program offers four tiers of elite status: Silver Medallion, Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion. We’ll take a closer look at what it takes to earn these levels and what perks you’d enjoy later in this guide.

SkyMiles program partners

Delta belongs to the Sky Team airline alliance, allowing you to earn and redeem miles when you travel with a member airline. It has also forged additional partnerships with carriers like Virgin Atlantic, Aeromexico and — most recently — LATAM.

Related: Book this, not that: SkyTeam award tickets

Delta SkyMiles elite status

I decided to switch my flying from American Airlines to chase Delta status in 2020, as I’d moved away from Washington, D.C. Those plans have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately. But if you earned Delta status before the pandemic, you’re in luck.

Delta announced in the spring that it would extend whatever Delta Medallion status travelers earned for 2020 through the 2021 Medallion year, which ends Jan. 31, 2022.

Deciding on a preferred airline is a personal decision comprising several factors, including inflight experience and your home airport. However, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably at least interested in Delta elite status.

Related: What is Delta Air Lines elite status worth in 2020?

There are four elite levels of the SkyMiles program. I’ll talk briefly about some of the perks you receive from each tier.

SkyMiles Silver Medallion

The lowest tier in Delta’s program is Silver Medallion status. Silver Medallion generally requires 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) plus $3,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). As a Silver Medallion, you’ll receive:

SkyMiles Gold Medallion

Next up is Gold Medallion, which requires 50,000 MQMs or 60 segments plus $6,000 MQDs. Here’s what you’ll get as a Gold elite:

  • Complimentary first-class upgrades on domestic flights and short-haul international flights. These upgrades start clearing three days before departure.
  • Upgrades to Comfort+
  • Waived same-day confirmed and standby fees
  • Waived baggage fees

SkyMiles Platinum Medallion

The third tier in the SkyMiles program is Platinum Medallion status, which requires 75,000 MQMs or 100 segments plus $9,000 MQDs. In addition to the previously mentioned Silver and Gold perks, you’ll get the following:

  • Unlimited upgrades that clear five days before departure
  • Award redeposit and reissue fees are waived
  • Your pick of a Choice Benefit. These include four Regional Upgrade Certificates (RPUs), 20,000 bonus SkyMiles, or the ability to gift Silver Medallion to a friend or family member

Related: How to cancel or change a Delta Air Lines flight

Delta Diamond Medallion

Finally, the highest public elite tier in the SkyMiles program is Delta Diamond Medallion. This tier typically requires 125,000 MQMs or 140 segments plus $15,000 MQDs. You’ll get everything I just mentioned, plus some even better perks like three additional Choice Benefit options, complimentary CLEAR membership and more.

At each tier, you’ll earn mileage bonuses. Silver Medallion members earn 7 miles per dollar spent; Golds earn 8 miles per dollar; Platinums earn 9 miles per dollar, and Diamonds earn 11 miles per dollar.

Hartmann luggage – a gift from Delta to those who hit 1 million miles
(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

How to earn SkyMiles

There are several ways to earn Delta SkyMiles. The easiest is by flying Delta-operated flights, traveling with a SkyTeam partner or by opening a Delta co-branded credit card. You can also earn miles through everyday activities like shopping and dining.

Earn SkyMiles through credit cards

There’s a Delta credit card for everyone — the loyalist, the business traveler and even the infrequent flyer. Here’s a look at the full suite of Delta SkyMiles credit cards from American Express (terms apply):

CREDIT CARD ANNUAL FEE WELCOME BONUS BONUS VALUE* NOTABLE PERKS
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card $99, waived for the first year (see rates & fees) For a limited time, earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Offer ends 10/28/20. $600 First checked bag free; Medallion® Qualification Dollar (MQDs) waiver after spending $25,000 in a calendar year; 20% discount on inflight purchases
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card $250 (see rates & fees) For a limited time, earn 60,000 miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Offer ends 10/28/20. $720 Earn 10k MQMs at $25,000 and $50,000 in calendar year spending (up to 20k per year); MQD waiver after spending $25,000 in a calendar year; a domestic main-cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon card renewal; TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit; priority boarding; first checked bag free.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card $550 (see rates & fees) Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 on your card within three months. $480 Delta Sky Club membership; Centurion Lounge access; earn 15k MQMs at $30k, $60k, $90k, $120k in calendar spend; annual companion pass; complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card $99, waived for the first year (see rates & fees) For a limited time, earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months. Offer ends 10/28/20. $720 First checked bag free; MQD waiver after spending $25,000 in a calendar year; 20% discount on inflight purchases
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card $250 (see rates & fees) For a limited time, earn 70,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months. Offer ends 10/28/20. $840 Earn 10k MQMs at $25,000 and $50,000 in calendar year spending (up to 20k per year); MQD waiver after spending $25,000 in a calendar year; TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit; priority boarding; first checked bag free; earn 1.5x miles on purchases over $5,000 (up to 50k miles).
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card $550 (see rates & fees) Earn 45,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months. $540 Delta Sky Club membership; Centurion Lounge access; earn 15k MQMs at $30k, $60k, $90k, $120k in calendar spend; annual companion pass; complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions

Related: Choosing the best credit cards for Delta flyers

Finally, you can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points directly to Delta at a 1:1 ratio. This allows you to convert points earned on cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card into SkyMiles. There are other Amex transfer partners that could offer better value for your Membership Rewards points, but under the right circumstances, this could be a great way to boost your Delta account balance. Read more about the best airline credit cards here.

Earn SkyMiles by flying

When you fly Delta, you earn SkyMiles based on the base price of your ticket. Since Delta miles never expire, there’s no reason not to become a member — even if it takes a while to earn enough for a free ticket.

However, it doesn’t hurt to have status. 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

I’ll explain the math. Let’s say you book a one-way flight from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) for $253 before taxes. If you aren’t a Medallion member (I’m not), you will earn 1,265 SkyMiles. However, if you’re a Diamond member, you’ll earn over 2,783 miles.

Earn SkyMiles through partners

Another way to earn miles is by flying Delta’s partner airlines, but how you earn those miles depends entirely on how you booked the ticket. For example, when you book partner airline tickets — like KLM — on Delta.com, you’ll earn miles the same as a regular Delta flight — even though the flight is operated by another airline.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

To complicate this even further, if you book a partner flight on the carrier’s website (for example, Air France) and add your Delta SkyMiles number after the fact, you’ll earn miles based on the distance flown. However, the exact amount of SkyMiles you’ll receive varies based on the partner, booking class and whether you have elite status.

You can view full earning rates for partner airlines at this link.

Related: When you will (and won’t) earn miles for your flight

Earn SkyMiles through shopping

If you want to earn some miles without even leaving the house — which is understandable given the current coronavirus pandemic — you can use the SkyMiles Shopping portal to earn bonus miles at over 1,000 stores.

Related: Maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

How to redeem SkyMiles

Things to know

Delta removed published award charts back in 2015, becoming the first major U.S. airline to shift to more dynamic pricing of award tickets. As a result, you will need to search on Delta.com to find out how many SkyMiles you’d need for an award ticket. Delta’s site is pretty easy to navigate, and you can see how many miles you need for a redemption through a handy calendar feature.

Partner awards

Using SkyMiles for Delta-operated flights isn’t the only way to maximize them, however.

In March, just days before quarantine, I redeemed some Delta miles for a first-class flight from Washington-National (DCA) to Mexico City (MEX), returning to New York (JFK) in business. The Washington-Atlanta-Mexico City leg on Delta was adequate, though uneventful. The Mexico City to JFK leg, however, can be described in one word: phenomenal.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

I redeemed just 54,000 SkyMiles for the entire journey. It was a nonstop flight between Mexico City and New York on Aeromexico’s lie-flat 787-9 product. I was able to take advantage of this deal because you can use Delta miles on partner airlines like Aeromexico.

Sweet spots

My personal favorite sweet spot: Delta flash sales.

Delta frequently runs SkyMiles flash sales to short and long-haul U.S. destinations, along with cities in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. In the past year, we’ve seen some terrific deals for Main Cabin, Comfort+ and even first class. It’s not unheard of to catch flights from Washington-National (DCA) to Nassau (NAS) for just 14,000 SkyMiles in Main Cabin, or even Delta One to Asia for less than 100,000 miles.

Delta One Suites (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Another favorite sweet spot is transatlantic economy flights operated by partner airlines. You can snag flights to Europe for 50,000 SkyMiles round-trip, which is a great deal if you have a ton of miles sitting in your account.

If you’re opting to stay closer to home, you can also snag transcontinental flights for 20,000 SkyMiles each way, or just over 50,000 SkyMiles in first.

Related: Best sweet spots with Delta SkyMiles

Bottom line

Even if you aren’t traveling now, you can use this time to think about your travel strategy after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. If you’re a Delta frequent flyer (or thinking about switching), a mix of flying, shopping portals and credit cards can increase your SkyMiles balance for your next redemption.

Read more:

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

Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy

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