Why you should care about Delta’s Pay with Miles feature

Apr 5, 2021

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I’ll shamelessly admit that I’ve been running on the elite status hamster wheel for several years now.

After achieving Diamond Medallion status with Delta for the first time several years ago I got a taste of “the good life.” And each year since, I’ve devised a strategy to maintain it.

I won’t go into excruciating detail on how I continue to requalify for top-tier Delta status each year, and acknowledge that even with rollover Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs), status extensions and now a fast-track promotion to status, it’s going to be very hard for me to requalify this year, given the backbone of the strategy has been built around finding long flights around the globe for as few dollars as possible.

However, a crucial part of my strategy has been — and will continue to be — utilizing Delta’s Pay With Miles feature.

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Delta One Suites on the Airbus A330-900neo. (Photo by Darren Murph)

What is Pay With Miles?

An oft-overlooked feature of Delta’s SkyMiles program, Pay With Miles allows cardmembers of any Delta and American Express cobranded cards to pay for a portion (or all) of a ticket on a Delta or Delta Connection-operated flight with SkyMiles at a value of one cent per point.

Miles must be used in increments of 5,000 SkyMiles, equivalent to $50 off the price of a ticket, so you’ll likely end up paying a cash co-pay, depending on how many miles you’re comfortable using or how many are left in your account.

So, for example, if I’m looking to purchase a ticket from New York (LGA) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) for $279, I could redeem 25,000 SkyMiles and pay the $29 out of pocket.

Delta economy LGA-FLL
(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The best part, though, is that this payment method is treated like any other cash ticket, meaning you’ll earn MQMs and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) which help you earn or requalify for status each year. Through the end of this year, though, even award tickets on Delta will earn you MQMs and MQDs, so if you compare paid and award prices for a given ticket and find that booking an award ticket outright will cost you fewer miles, you may want to go that route.

Like I mentioned above, Pay With Miles is only available to those who have a Delta cobranded credit card issued by American Express. If you don’t have one in your wallet already, you’re in luck, as some of these cards are offering significantly the following welcome bonuses, as laid out below:

So, if you were to open the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card, for example, you could earn $550 in flights through the Pay with Miles feature just from completing the terms of the welcome bonus.

How to Pay With Miles

If you’re a Delta American Express credit cardmember, you can log in to your SkyMiles account and search for a flight as if you were going to pay in cash.

In your search results, you’ll see the words “Pay with Miles Eligible” under each fare type if the itinerary is operated completely by Delta or Delta Connection carriers.

(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Then, simply select the class of ticket you want, and when you begin payment, you’ll see a box marked “Pay with Miles” which will allow you to select as many miles in increments of 5,000 that are in your account, which can either cover a portion of or the entire ticket.

(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

If you don’t want to — or don’t have enough miles to — cover the entire ticket, you’ll pay for the balance with your preferred payment method.

How I use Pay with Miles

Save for periodic SkyMiles sales, I rarely find a good deal when it comes to redeeming my SkyMiles. More often than not, Delta charges hundreds of thousands of SkyMiles for round-trip flights in its premium cabins, and sometimes even economy flights can reach absurd prices.

But, I’ve accumulated quite a stash of SkyMiles over the years, and I want them to go to good use.

Enter: Pay with Miles.

My goal is to earn MQMs and MQDs on as many flights as I can while getting the best bang for the buck in the process. Since domestic flights are typically reasonably priced, I save my SkyMiles primarily for the purpose of buying long-haul international flights through Pay with Miles.

That way, I’m purely earning miles on most of my domestic travel, and then “recycling” those miles into pricier (and longer-distance) international trips that I purchase via Pay with Miles, guaranteeing that I earn the all-important elite-qualifying miles and dollars in the process.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

I purchase these flights in the economy cabin, so while I won’t typically earn a large amount of MQDs (Pay with Miles tickets will only earn MQDs according to how much of the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges are paid in cash after miles are applied to the ticket), I can add meaningfully to my balance of MQMs. And since I’m shooting for 125,000 of those, every MQM counts.

And, because I am a Diamond Medallion member, I’ve earned a number of Global Upgrade Certificates through Delta’s Choice Benefits program that I can apply to these international itineraries. In the past, it was required to call Delta to see if a particular flight was upgradeable, but now, of course, this process is much easier as Delta added the ability for members to see which flights are eligible for upgrade certificates online.

If I am able to score the upgrade, I won’t earn any more MQMs or MQDs for the flight, but at least I’ll be flying in comfort.

Other uses of Pay with Miles

Of course, there are other uses outside of long-haul flights where using Pay with Miles makes a whole lot of sense. Sometimes, even short flights can be painfully expensive.

I experience this usually once or twice a year when I inevitably wait too long to book a flight to my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. It’s a relatively small air market with just a couple of flights a day to and from New York, and flights around the major holidays are never cheap.

I often use the Pay with Miles to soften the blow of paying what usually is in excess of $500 round-trip for flights that are under two hours in duration each way — and operated by regional jets.

Sometimes, you just can’t be flexible when it comes to travel. The Pay with Miles feature allows travelers to go when they need to without having to search high and low for low-level award availability which may not even exist.

Bottom line

Utilizing Delta’s Pay with Miles has proved to be very valuable to me over the years. It’s allowed me to add to my MQM and MQD balances in my quest to requalify for top-tier Diamond status and has given me the ability to travel when I need to, even when prices are very high.

Even though I know I’m not redeeming my SkyMiles at the maximum of what their value could be theoretically, using this feature guarantees I’ll keep earning toward status and doesn’t allow me to maintain false hope that one day I’ll find award tickets in Delta One Suites to Asia and back for 85,000 SkyMiles each way.

Featured image by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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