Your ultimate guide to Delta SkyMiles

Mar 31, 2020

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Right now is not the best time to travel, given the coronavirus pandemic. However, the time spent on the ground can be used to plan a trip down the line when the authorities say it’s safe to do so.

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One of my favorite loyalty programs is Delta SkyMiles, and it’s not just me. Delta SkyMiles was voted Best U.S. Airline Loyalty Program at the 2019 TPG Awards. Earning SkyMiles is relatively easy, whether it’s flying Delta and one of its partner airlines or opening and using Delta cobranded credit cards. After you earn SkyMiles, there are a plethora of ways to redeem miles to visit friends and family or for your dream vacation.

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

In This Post

Program overview

As noted above, Delta SkyMiles is the loyalty program of Delta Air Lines, the Atlanta-based carrier that’s one of the largest airlines in the world. Delta belongs to the Sky Team airline alliance, giving you the opportunity to earn and redeem miles when you travel with another member airline. It has also forged additional partnerships with carriers like Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and — most recently — LATAM.

Unfortunately, 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, to find out how many SkyMiles you’d need for an award ticket, you’d need to search on Delta.com.

There are a number of ways to redeem SkyMiles beyond free flights, though you typically will get the best bang for your buck when using them for air travel — especially if you can book during one of the program’s 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.

Earning Delta SkyMiles

There are several ways to earn Delta SkyMiles. You can fly Delta-operated flights or travel with one of the carrier’s airline partners. You can also earn miles with several cobranded credit cards (more on that a little later) as well as everyday activities like shopping. We’ll start with flying first.

When you fly Delta, you earn SkyMiles based on the base price of your ticket. You can earn miles even if you aren’t a Delta Medallion elite, which means you can earn miles as soon as you sign up for a SkyMiles account. Since Delta miles never expire, there’s no reason to not 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.

Related: How to earn Delta SkyMiles

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 break this down. For example, if you booked a round-trip Main Cabin flight between Atlanta (ATL) and Johannesburg (JNB) for $1,298 before taxes, you’d earn 6,490 award miles if you don’t have Delta status. That’s because you’re earning five miles per dollar spent, before taxes. Here’s how my account looks (I’m a regular SkyMiles member with no elite status):

However, if you were a Delta Diamond Medallion member like my colleague Nick Ellis, you’d earn over 14,000 award miles.

elm dreamliner
KLM’s World Business class seating on its Boeing 787-9 (Photo by Eric Rosen for The Points Guy)

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.

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

To complicate this even further, if you book a partner flight on the carrier’s own 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.

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.

One of the easiest ways to earn a ton of Delta miles is by opening Delta cobranded credit cards. There’s a card for everyone — the Delta loyalist, the business traveler and even the infrequent Delta flyer. All of these cards offer limited-time increased welcome bonuses that expire in the coming days, so you might not want to wait:

Here’s a look at the full suite of Delta SkyMiles credit cards from American Express (terms apply):

Personal cards:

  • Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
  • 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 40,000 miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Business cards (terms apply):

Note that these offers expire in just a few days, so if you’ve been holding out on opening a Delta card, now is the time to pull the trigger.

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. View our best airlines credit cards here.

Maximizing redemptions with Delta SkyMiles

Now that you have a few SkyMiles in your account, you’re probably wondering how to use them.

My personal favorite: 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 great deals for Main Cabin, Comfort+ and even first class. It’s not unheard of to see 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. By the way, we value SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, making a 90,000 SkyMiles ticket worth $1,080. Not bad for Delta One, right?

Even better: Delta doesn’t charge close-in fees to book SkyMiles award tickets within days or weeks of departure. Delta an excellent option for last-minute award tickets, as you won’t be penalized for booking a ticket with miles when you’re closer to your departure date.

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

Recently, 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 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.

There are other sweet spots, like Main Cabin, transcontinental flights from 25,000 SkyMiles on Delta metal …

… and round-trip flights to Europe on partner airlines.

Another option is to use your SkyMiles for upgrades, which can be done right in Delta’s app. This will even net you bonus MQMs to put you closer to Medallion status, though it will generally offer an inferior value for your SkyMiles when compared to TPG’s most recent valuations.

Finally, there are many non-flight redemption options in the SkyMiles program, including the following:

  • Delta Sky Club memberships
  • Delta SkyMiles experiences
  • Merchandise and other items in the SkyMiles marketplace
  • Magazines
  • Charitable donations

However, these awards will almost always offer a lower redemption value than booking flights with your SkyMiles, so we typically recommend avoiding them.

Delta SkyMiles elite status and getting upgraded

I decided to switch my flying from American to Delta in 2020, as I’d moved away from Washington, D.C. I’m now flying Delta as often as I can to get status, even on routes dominated by American Airlines, such as New York to Charlotte (CLT).

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: Boost your progress toward Medallion status with select Delta credit cards.

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

The lowest tier in Delta’s program is Silver Medallion status, which generally requires 25,000 MQMs or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) plus $3,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). As a Silver Medallion, you’ll receive unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades on domestic flights and flights from the U.S. to Canada, the Caribbean and Central America 24 hours before departure.

Next up is Gold Medallion, which normally requires 50,000 MQMs or 60 segments plus $6,000 MQDs. Like Silver Medallions, Golds get complimentary first-class upgrades on domestic flights and short-haul international flights. These upgrades start clearing three days before departure. You’re also eligible for upgrades to Comfort+, waived same-day confirmed and standby fees, and waived baggage fees.

delta a320 first class seating
Baby’s view while in first-class aboard an Airbus A320 (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

The third tier in the SkyMiles program is Platinum Medallion status, which normally requires 75,000 MQMs or 100 segments plus $9,000 MQDs. In addition to the previously mentioned Silver and Gold perks, Platinum upgrades will clear five days before departure, your award redeposit and reissue fees are waived, and you’ll get 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.

READ MORE: How to cancel or change a Delta Air Lines flight

Finally, the highest 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 Benefits.

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.

Bottom line

Now is not the time to travel, and you should listen to local and national authorities and stay at home. That being said, now can be a great time to think about your travel strategy for later in the year when 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:

Featured image courtesy of Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy

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