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How Delta SkyMiles fit into my points and miles strategy

Aug. 03, 2022
8 min read
Delta Air Lines commuter jet
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Delta Air Lines frequent flyers, you know the pain.

You spend a lot with Delta to earn Medallion elite status, and in the process, you earn a lot of Delta SkyMiles. When it's time to book a big trip, however, you're faced with redemption levels of 100,000 or more SkyMiles for business-class trips to Asia, Europe and other regions. Comparatively, you can use American Airlines and United Airlines miles to book similar tickets for a fraction of the mileage cost.

Despite this, I still find value in my SkyMiles — in fact, they make up a large part of my points and miles strategy. I've found that they can provide tremendous value as long as you use them properly and set realistic expectations. Part of this is because the redemption value is good, part is elite status, and part is simply because I can conserve my transferable points and other airline miles for other more valuable redemptions.

Let's take a closer look at why I value SkyMiles, even if they're not the most valuable points in my portfolio.

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Low-cost domestic award tickets

I often use my SkyMiles to fly to my hometown near Chicago. (Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

As I've mentioned in previous articles, my favorite way to redeem Delta SkyMiles is on low-cost domestic award tickets.

Some routes can start as low as 4,500 SkyMiles one-way plus taxes and fees. From New York City, I often find good SkyMiles deals on short-haul flights to Boston and Washington, D.C., when booking a few months in advance. This sure beats taking the bus (most of the time) and often saves me more than $100 per one-way trip.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Better yet, flights to my hometown, Chicago, are inexpensive if you book in advance. I often use SkyMiles to get home for friends' and family members' birthdays as well as other events.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Generally, I'll pay up to book Main Cabin award tickets with Delta since you can't change basic economy awards for free. Even then, SkyMiles are often far cheaper than other points options. Plus, since I'm a Diamond Medallion, I can enjoy my elite status benefits when booking a Delta award ticket instead of another random carrier.

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Related: 6 Delta SkyMiles sweet spots worth saving up for

Booking last-minute domestic awards

You can book last-minute tickets with Delta SkyMiles. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

I book much of my domestic travel at the last minute, often after award space dries up with other airlines. However, another nice thing about SkyMiles is that you can book flights, generally, until the last minute if there's an open seat. The airline doesn't have a "no blackout date guarantee" like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, but I've found it's pretty close — even when booking a same-day ticket.

Of course, you'll often pay a pretty penny for these redemptions if there's high demand or if you're booking a same-day departure. Still, it sure beats paying cash for the same ticket. Take this next-day flight from New York City to Los Angeles, for instance. It's 33,000 SkyMiles or $392. I'd spend the SkyMiles instead of cash any day, even if it's not the best value redemption.

But sometimes you'll get a decent deal. For example, this ticket from Chicago to New York City costs just 16,000 SkyMiles the day before departure.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Related: Here’s how to book the flight you want when award space is limited

SkyMiles make it cheaper to earn Medallion elite status

SkyMiles award tickets earn MQMs, MQSs and MQDs, which helps me retain my Delta elite status. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

Another big draw to Delta award tickets is the fact that award tickets earn Medallion Qualification Miles, Medallion Qualification Segments and Medallion Qualification Dollars as long as the flight is operated by the airline. You'll earn 1 MQM per mile flown, 1 MQS per segment flown and $10 MQD per 1,000 SkyMiles redeemed.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

For example, I flew from New York to Seattle earlier this year and paid 22,500 SkyMiles for the flight. This earned me 2,421 MQMs, 1 MQS and $225 MQDs. Delta first introduced this program at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, but the airline made the benefit permanent earlier this year.

Requalifying for Delta Diamond is one of my top travel priorities this year, so I've been redeeming SkyMiles for the bulk of my domestic personal travel — even if I can get a slightly better deal with another loyalty program. After all, it effectively reduces the amount I need to spend to keep Diamond Medallion.

This also comes in handy if you're just short of another status tier. For example, last year, I was roughly $400 MQDs short of Diamond Medallion status. So, I redeemed 40,000 SkyMiles for a first class flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to O'Hare International Airport (ORD) in Chicago to see my family for the holidays. The ticket wasn't cheap, but it was well worth it to close the gap to Diamond Medallion.

Related: Your guide to Delta Air Lines lifetime elite status

I can save other points and miles for higher-end redemptions

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

Another benefit to using Delta SkyMiles for the bulk of my domestic travel is that I can keep my other points and miles for high-end redemptions. So instead of transferring my American Express Membership Rewards points to Avios to book short-haul domestic flights on American Airlines flights, I can book the same route with SkyMiles and save my Amex points for a business-class trip to Europe later in the year.

This has effectively made SkyMiles my go-to for booking domestic award tickets, as I know I won't redeem them for long-haul international airfare anyway. I can either get a better deal by booking with SkyMiles, or I can pay slightly more miles than another program but keep my more valuable points and miles for a better redemption.

Related: Award chart ‘sweet spots’ that will save you money on domestic flights

Earning Delta SkyMiles

You can top up your SkyMiles balance with spending on a cobranded credit card. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

There are many ways to earn SkyMiles, some of which don't require getting on a Delta flight. The easiest way to earn a sizeable amount of SkyMiles at once is with a cobranded credit card. Delta and Amex offer a handful of these, each with different benefits, fees and welcome offers.

Here's a look at the lineup of personal cards:

You can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta at a 1:1 ratio. Just note that you'll pay an excise fee of 0.06 cents per point (capped at $99 for a single transfer) when you transfer Membership Rewards points to Delta and other U.S. domestic carriers.

Related: The complete guide to American Express Membership Rewards partners

Bottom line

Delta SkyMiles may not be the most valuable points program in my portfolio, but it still has its place. I use my Delta points to book domestic flights and subsidize my journey to elite status. In turn, this frees up my transferable points balances for more long-haul travel.

Featured image by ANDREW KUNESH/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees