Your complete guide to the Delta SkyMiles program
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Delta SkyMiles, the loyalty program of Delta Air Lines, is one of my favorite loyalty programs. 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.
There are several ways to redeem SkyMiles beyond free flights. However, you typically will get the best bang for your buck if you snag one of Delta’s frequent flash sales or redeeming awards on partners like Air France. 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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Delta SkyMiles Overview
Delta SkyMiles can be earned in several ways such as flying, spending on Delta’s credit cards, transferring points from the Membership Rewards program, and shopping through Delta’s SkyMiles shopping portal, the SkyMiles dining program through various other promotions offered by the airline. We’ll talk about all of these options below.
SkyMiles program partners
Delta is a member of the SkyTeam airline alliance, which comprises over a dozen airlines worldwide. You can earn and redeem miles when you travel with a SkyTeam airline. SkyTeam serves 1,150 destinations and touches virtually every part of the globe, with flights landing on six continents.
The members are:
- Aerolíneas Argentinas
- Air Europa
- Air France
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Czech Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Garuda Indonesia
- Kenya Airways
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
- Korean Air
- Middle East Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
Delta has many partnerships beyond SkyTeam members, giving you a ton of different options for earning miles even when you aren’t flying on Delta or a SkyTeam airline. While these aren’t SkyTeam members, you should still consider these airlines, especially Air Tahiti, which is one of the best options for getting to the remote Bora Bora.
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Mandarin Airlines
- Shanghai Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Virgin Australia
Delta SkyMiles elite status
I decided to switch my flying from American Airlines to chase Delta status, 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.
For frequent Delta flyers, the program offers four tiers of elite status: Silver Medallion, Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion.
Delta announced last spring that it would extend whatever Delta Medallion status travelers earned for 2020 through the 2021 Medallion year, which ends Jan. 31, 2022. That means it’s now slightly easier to hit Delta elite status without having to step foot on a plane.
Earning Delta Medallion status
- Silver Medallion: 25,000 MQMs plus 3,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs)
- Gold Medallion: 50,000 MQMs plus 6,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs)
- Platinum Medallion: 75,000 MQMs plus 9,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs)
- Diamond Medallion: 125,000 MQMs plus 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs)
These thresholds are what you need to earn to hit each level of Delta status. With the cards mentioned above, MQD requirements for Silver, Gold, and Platinum are waived when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year. However, you must spend a whopping $250,000 on the card to enjoy the MQD waiver for Diamond Medallion.
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.
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. As a Silver Medallion, you’ll receive:
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ and first-class upgrades on domestic flights and flights from the U.S. to Canada, the Caribbean and Central America 24 hours before departure
SkyMiles Gold Medallion
Next up is Gold Medallion. 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. 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
Delta Diamond Medallion
Finally, the highest public elite tier in the SkyMiles program is Delta Diamond Medallion. 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.
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 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)||35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months.||$420||First checked bag free on Delta flights; Medallion® Qualification Dollar (MQDs) waiver after spending $25,000 in a calendar year; 20% discount on inflight purchases on Delta flights.|
|Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card||$250 (see rates & fees)||40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.||$480||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 on Delta flights.|
|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)||Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first 3 months of account opening.||$480||First checked bag free on Delta flights; 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)||Earn 45,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after your first Delta purchase on your new card in the first 3 months of account opening.||$540||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 on Delta flights; 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|
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, you’ll earn miles the same as a regular Delta flight — even though the flight is operated by another airline.
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.
If you do plan to use your SkyMiles to book partner awards, be wary of devaluations.
Delta doesn’t publish an award chart, so the amount of SkyMiles you need to book a Delta flight can fluctuate wildly. The lack of an award chart means that Delta can choose to raise rates at any time, and the airline did so last year.
Delta in October increased the price of many partner awards. The airline is now charging more miles for flights booked between 21 and 59 days before departure and even more miles for those booked within 21 days.
You can view full earning rates for partner airlines at this link.
Earn SkyMiles through shopping portals
Did you know you can earn bonus miles from the comfort of your couch without ever stepping foot outside? That’s right: One of the easiest ways to earn miles is to leverage airline online shopping portals. Just about every major airline has its own shopping portal, Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping portal.
If you don’t already have an account, all you need to do is register using your SkyMiles number so the bonus miles will be credited to your frequent flyer account. Then you can use the search box to find your favorite stores or a product. You can also compare prices and mileage rates. Remember to look out for stores offering bonus miles (more on that later), featured deals and special bonus offers.
After you’ve selected your merchant, click on the store, product or offer, and you’ll be taken to the store’s website to shop and check out. The store will alert the portal when you’ve made a purchase, and the miles you earned will be added to your SkyMiles account. You’ll receive an email to confirm when your miles have been posted, typically within 3 to 5 days. However, depending on the store, it can take up to 15 days for the miles to post to SkyMiles Shopping.
If you want to earn some miles without even leaving the house — which is understandable given the pandemic — you can use the SkyMiles Shopping portal to earn bonus miles at over 1,000 stores.
Transfer Amex points to Delta
Finally, you can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points directly to Delta at a 1:1 ratio. This isn’t usually recommended because SkyMiles have been notoriously devalued, and we value them at just 1.2 cents each. This is 0.8 cents per point lower Amex’s 2.0 cents per point valuation, and it’s hard to get higher value from Delta.
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 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.
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.
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.
Delta flash sales
This is my personal favorite sweet spot. Delta frequently runs SkyMiles flash sales to short and long-haul U.S. destinations, along with cities in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. We’ve seen some terrific deals for Main Cabin, Comfort+, and even first-class in the past year. 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.
Flights from the U.S. to Canada
One of Delta’s partners is WestJet, one of Canada’s largest airlines. This gives Delta loyalists a ton of different options for flying to Canada once the border reopens again. If you’re looking to save cash, booking a WestJet ticket with Delta miles is the way to go, as last-minute flights can be pricey. For instance, I’m seeing round-trip flights between Seattle (SEA) and Vancouver (YVR) for just 11,000 SkyMiles round-trip in July.
LATAM economy flights to South America
Cash flights to South America — regardless of class — are rarely cheap, especially to Brazil. Delta SkyMiles members can now book LATAM award tickets at reasonable prices and it’s one of the better ways to use miles.
For example, you can use 50,000 SkyMiles to book a round-trip economy ticket from New York (JFK) or Miami (MIA) to Santiago (SLC), Buenos Aires (EZE) or Sao Paulo (GRU) on LATAM. Even better? Some of the routes non-stop. The downside is that there only appears to be economy award space available, not business. Still, 50,000 miles to South America is a great deal.
Related: Best sweet spots with Delta SkyMiles
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.
- 5 things you need to know about Delta SkyMiles
- Best sweet spots with Delta SkyMiles
- Advanced guide to maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets
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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