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3 ways to spend 1 million Delta SkyMiles

Oct. 01, 2021
11 min read
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Although it's generous with benefits for its Medallion elites, the Delta SkyMiles program doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to award redemptions. This is largely because the program lacks award charts, so it sometimes charges sky-high rates for mileage rates for tickets (especially those in premium cabins). SkyMiles has also been prone to unannounced devaluations that have hollowed out some of its value over the past several years.

Hoping to redeem miles for a long-haul Delta One business-class flight? Expect to spend 200,000 miles each way unless you find a good deal.

However, there still are some sweet spots in the program, such as frequent flash sales and partner redemptions — both on Delta's SkyTeam partners and on non-alliance partners like Virgin Atlantic and WestJet. So, in this edition of our "1 million miles" series, TPG's Points and Miles team will discuss how we'd each spend a million Delta SkyMiles.

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Andrew Kunesh, senior reporter

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

I tend to use my Delta SkyMiles to book domestic award tickets, as these redemptions are generally the best way to stretch the value of SkyMiles. But if tasked with redeeming a million SkyMiles at once, I'd split my redemptions between Delta One business-class tickets and planning future domestic travel. All flights would be in business class or domestic first class and on Delta unless otherwise noted, and prices reflect round-trip itineraries.

Here's what I'd book:

  • New York (LGA) to Chicago O'Hare (ORD) for the holidays: 40,000 SkyMiles.
  • New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) to visit friends: 110,000 SkyMiles.
  • New York-JFK to Prague (PRG) to visit family: 210,000 SkyMiles.
  • New York-JFK to Tel Aviv (TLV) with Virgin Atlantic: 170,000 SkyMiles.
  • New York-JFK to Hong Kong (HKG) with Korean Air: 300,000 SkyMiles.
  • New York (LGA) to Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to visit friends for the Fourth of July: 43,000 SkyMiles.
  • New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO): 112,000 SkyMiles.

This would leave me with 15,000 SkyMiles left over, which I'd use for a last-minute economy award ticket. While 1 million SkyMiles don't provide as much value as a million miles with other programs, they can still get you around the world and save you a ton of money in the process. The same holds true even if you don't have a million SkyMiles in your account — check out TPG's full guide to maximizing SkyMiles for more inspiration.

Related: How 3 TPG reporters would spend 1 million United miles

Benji Stawski, strategic travel reporter

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Up until now in this series, I've focused on redeeming my million miles mostly on business- and first-class flights. However, in this case, I believe I'd get the most value from my miles by booking mostly low-cost economy flights through Delta's frequent flash sales.

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First, I'd put 500,000 miles aside to use toward Delta's flash sales as they become available. The sales typically offer economy flights for 5,000 to 10,000 miles round-trip so I'd be able to book anywhere from 50 to 100 trips! However, in reality, it would likely be fewer than that since I'd plan on bringing family and friends along for some of the flights.

Luckily, Delta miles never expire so I'd be in no rush to redeem them all at once. Plus, Delta will continue to offer elite-qualifying credit on award flights next year so I'd likely be able to earn Delta Medallion status with all these trips.

Here are some past flash sales in particular that have caught my attention:

Next, there are some partner redemptions I have my eyes on:

  • LATAM economy flight from the U.S. to Brazil for 50,000 miles round-trip.
  • Virgin Atlantic business-class flight to Israel for 170,000 miles round-trip.
  • Saudia business-class flight to the United Arab Emirates for 170,000 miles round-trip.
  • Intra-Europe economy-class flight on a mix of Air France, KLM and Air Europa for 20,000 miles round-trip.

This would leave 90,000 miles remaining, which I'd use toward last-minute mileage upgrades on Delta flights. Although upgrades only yield 1 cent in value per mile — below TPG’s SkyMiles valuation of 1.41 cents apiece — as Andrew recently shared, there are some instances where Delta offers cheap upgrades close to departure and this option can make sense.

Related: 3 ways to spend a million Capital One miles traveling the world

Katie Genter, senior writer

Delta One on a Delta 767-300. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If I wanted to redeem 1 million Delta SkyMiles quickly, I'd take advantage of the unofficial Delta partner award chart to book the following round-trip business-class flights for two between the U.S. and:

  • The Middle East, such as Beirut (BEY) on Air France, for 340,000 miles.
  • Southern Africa, such as Johannesburg (JNB) on Air France, KLM or Virgin Atlantic, for 460,000 miles.
  • Central America, such as Guatemala City (GUA) on Aeromexico, for 140,000 miles.

I'd need to redeem a total of 940,000 miles for these three round-trip business-class flights for two. I'd have 60,000 miles left, which I'd redeem for inexpensive positioning flights and Delta flash sales. Or, since I often book last-minute travel, I might need to use these extra miles to pay Delta's unofficial close-in mileage charge.

However, if you simply gave me 1 million Delta SkyMiles and told me I could use them at my own pace, I'd likely use them over time to book inexpensive Delta-operated awards as needed. And I'd likely jump on some of the best Delta SkyMiles sweet spots, like flying one of Delta's partners one-way in business class between Japan and Australia for just 75,000 SkyMiles per person.

Related: How to redeem 1 million Amex Membership Rewards

How to earn 1 million Delta SkyMiles

(Photo by The Points Guy)

There are many ways to earn Delta miles, from flying to shopping online, dining out, taking Lyft rides and beyond. However, one of the easiest ways to boost your SkyMiles balance is with a cobranded Delta credit card. Here’s a look:

Card Welcome bonus Annual fee Bonus value*
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardEarn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening.$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates & fees)$564
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express CardEarn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening.$250 (see rates & fees)$705
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express CardEarn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening.$550 (see rates & fees)$705
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card

Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership.

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates & fees)$705
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card

60,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership..

$250 (see rates & fees)$846
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card

Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first three months of card membership.

$550 (see rates & fees)$846

* Bonus value is based on TPG valuations and is not provided or reviewed by the issuer.

Related: 9 Delta SkyMiles sweet spots worth saving up for

Another easy option is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points directly to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio, with cards such as the following:

Bottom line

Delta SkyMiles may be less esteemed than some other mileage currencies out there. However, the miles can still come in handy if you know how to maximize Delta's flash sales and partner redemption opportunities. While you might not earn a million miles overnight, you can easily top off your SkyMiles balance with credit card bonuses.

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

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Katie Genter.

Featured photo by Theodorie/Shutterstock.com.

Featured image by (Photo by Theodorie / Shutterstock.com)
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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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
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

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
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

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • 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.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023