Four Ways To Receive Excellent Value With Delta SkyMiles

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‘Skymiles' and ‘excellent value' are three words that don't often share space in a sentence these days. The frequent flyer program for Delta Air Lines has a recent history of unannounced changes to its award pricing (having stopped publishing an award chart in mid-2015) and is fast building a reputation for lacking transparency and respect for its members.

The frustrating aspect of all these negative changes to SkyMiles is that while Delta has stripped a lot of value out of the SkyMiles program, both Delta and a number of its international partners have made big improvements to their hard product, with Delta now considered the best in-flight experience of the U.S. legacy carriers.

Delta One offers a great business class experience for overseas travel
Delta One offers a great business class experience for overseas travel

So with a first-rate in-flight experience, but a frequent flyer program lacking the transparency and value of its opposition, what is the best way of maximizing the value of Delta SkyMiles?

Building a Usable Balance of Delta SkyMiles

One of the big advantages to earning SkyMiles is Delta offers fans plenty of ways to accumulate miles, both through its Amex co-brand credit card and via a couple of strategic partnerships that allow members to transfer points from flexible rewards programs.

If you regularly fly Delta, the co-branded cards offer benefits such as first checked bag free and priority boarding, providing some of the same benefits as Delta elite status without having to fly the miles.

Delta co-brand credit cards:

The offer on the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express and Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express are no longer available through this site. You can see a full list of available cards in our marketplace.

It's also possible to transfer points into SkyMiles from a number of different rewards programs such as Marriott Rewards and Diners, but the only two offering genuine value are:

  • Marriott Rewards – Transfer at 3:1 ratio and receive an additional 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points transferred.
  • American Express Membership Rewards – Transfer at a 1:1 ratio to SkyMiles

How To Receive Top Value with Delta SkyMiles

The good news for Delta fans is that it's still possible to extract top value from Delta SkyMiles if you understand the current award pricing structure, have an understanding of Delta's routing and partners and know where to source a healthy balance of Delta miles. The best redemptions with SkyMiles used to be international business class fares, including partners of Delta, where the cost of a ticket in cash is relatively high compared to the number of miles required for the same flight.

The best redemptions with SkyMiles used to be international business class fares, including partners of Delta, where the cost of a ticket in cash is relatively high compared to the number of miles required for the same flight.

Late in 2016, Delta dropped an award pricing bomb and raised the rates on a number of international business class awards, while dropping the cost of round-trip economy awards to some destinations. Then again midway through 2017, Delta gutted partner awards, making it significantly more expensive to fly partners than fly Delta metal. The value mix is now spread between short domestic flights, roundtrip economy awards, and international business class flights.

By being flexible, planning ahead and having a healthy balance of SkyMiles, you position yourself well to succeed in receiving getting value with SkyMiles.

Examples of Excellent Value with Delta SkyMiles

Business Class – Continental U.S. to Asia

SkyMiles has many Asia-based airline partners including Korean Air, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern Airlines and Garuda Indonesia. While not all of these airlines offer service to the United States, Delta themselves has an extensive route network and reasonably priced business-class awards starting at 80,000 SkyMiles one-way. Flying the same route on a partner award will currently set you back 95,000 SkyMiles each way.

One of the benefits of redeeming for flights on Delta metal is the flat $5.60 fee charged on award tickets. Delta passes on any surcharges, fees, and taxes on partner awards which can run into the hundreds of dollars.

LAX-PVG-Business-80000-SkyMiles
LA to Shanghai on Delta for 80K miles plus $5.60

Every day across the five-week period we checked had awards available at the lowest price level and sometimes over multiple routes.

A similar business-class ticket paid for with cash would set you back over $3,000, returning a value of just under 4¢ for each mile.

LAX-PVG-Cash-Price-Delta

Economy Class – Continental U.S. to South Pacific

One of the few awards to drop in price at the end of 2016 was economy flights across the Pacific. You can fly return to Austalia with Delta partner Virgin Australia for 90,000 in economy, down from 100K return this time last year.

Availability is good, and although the idea of spending over a dozen hours parked in an economy seat is not desirable, you are getting roughly 1.8¢ value for each mile which is a fair return with Delta.

LAX-SDY-Economy-SkyMiles-Availability

Availability is scarce up the front of the plane, but you may be able to snag a one-way business class ticket for the 14-hour ultra long-haul across the Pacific on Virgin for 95,000 SkyMiles. Until the changes late in 2016, this route in business presented fairly good value at 80K miles one-way, however, now prices in at 95K each way, and that is only if you can nab one of the (very!) few seats that open up at this rate, as you can see below.

LAX-SDY-Business-SkyMiles-Availability

Business Class – Continental U.S. to London/Europe

Another unannounced change to Delta's award pricing last year was flights to Europe increasing to 70K in business. London has always been one international destination where you could have great success redeeming SkyMiles, and at 62,500 SkyMiles for a one-way business class ticket from the continental U.S. to Europe, it was top value.

From September 2016, that award rate went up to 70,000 miles.

JFK-LHR-70000-SkyMiles

Still, amazing value when compared to the cash price of the flights (close to 8¢ per mile) but it leaves a sour taste knowing that you're paying an inflated rate that came with no advanced notice.

JFK-LHR-cash-delta

Almost every day has flights with availability at the lowest price for four people! Pair this with connections from SkyTeam members Air France, KLM, and Alitalia to get the most out of those miles. Keep in mind that award availability may vary within Europe.

Main Cabin – Within the Continental U.S.

25,000-mile main cabin round-trip redemptions are out there, but Delta has introduced award prices at even lower rates. At 5,000 SkyMiles one-way, you might be tempted to cash in your miles instead of paying out of pocket for a flight from Atlanta to Washington.

ATL-DCA-Economy-5000-SkyMiles

The same flight prices out at $86 which gives you roughly 1.7¢ per mile value.

ATL-DCA-Cash-Delta

Redeeming SkyMiles for these short-haul flights might not represent the absolute best value you can achieve, but you should always consider it if you have the miles. There are many destinations in the U.S. that price out under 10,000 miles one-way.

An Example of A Poor Value with Delta SkyMiles

Just as there are ways to receive excellent value, if those destinations aren't where you want to travel, you'll look elsewhere. If you want to redeem your SkyMiles for a flight from the U.S. to South Africa, be prepared to pay up.

ATL-JNB-Business-Award-Rates

Looking at the entire SkyMiles availability calendar, there are awards from Atlanta to Johannesburg as low as 95K, but they are few and far between. Those 325,000 SkyMiles are almost enough for two round-trip business class tickets from the U.S. to Europe with a big chunk of miles left in your account, and that is only one-way!

Remember, Delta doesn't publish an award chart; these prices could (and regularly do) go up for any of these awards at any time without notice. Our favorite strategy with points and miles is earning and burning — collect your miles and redeem. Your points and miles don't earn interest sitting in your account; make the most of them.

If you're looking to build up your balance with SkyMiles or have a potential trip in mind check out the offers available with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express.

Four Ways To Receive Excellent Value With Delta SkyMiles
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Comments

  • Allan Sheres says:

    I already use an Amex platinum business.
    With which I can transfer miles to many airlines..

    Which Amex is the best deal for me to get the max Amount of miles, a d I presume that there is a bonus to buy delta flights with the Delta card?
    Thanks
    Allan

    • It may come as a surprise but the Starwood credit cards from American Express might be the best option for you, purely from an earning perspective for your business. 20,000 SPG points transfer to 25,000 miles in many programs. The welcome bonuses on the Delta cards are the most lucrative mileage earning cards from American Express that are out there now, but the SPG cards, in the long run, will earn you a loyalty currency that is more flexible.

  • Michael-Ray says:

    I currently have the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express for my own personal use.

    I am most interested on the MQM Bonus. Please help, thank you!

    Would I be able to separately apply for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and/or Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express and still receive the

    You have been identified as a current American Express Card Member. The welcome offer below may not be the same as the offer you saw advertised previously because the offer you saw advertised previously is not available to current American Express Card Members. This offer is also not available to applicants who have had a Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card account.

    Maybe on the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card?

    • AwardWallet says:

      You would absolutely be eligible. Each card is considered a separate product and while you can only receive the associated bonus from each card once per lifetime, being a cardmember of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express does not preclude you from receiving the bonus on any other card. As long as you’re approved and meet the requirements for that bonus, you are eligible to receive it.

  • I got an offer in the mail for a Delta platinum card that would give me 70K bonus miles, but have a hefty annual fee of $195. I have been reading, and have personally experienced Delta’s devaluation of its program, and know that further devaluation can happen at any time. I also know that every traveler’s situation is different. But any ideas if that 70K offer is worth the $195 annual fee?

  • Some rewards programs like Marriott and Starwood do not allow spouses to deposit points into the same account using our own individual cards. Do you know if my spouse and I both get an AMEX Delta card can we share points or do we have to create two different Delta accounts?

  • Hi Howie,

    I just booked a return flight on Delta from SFO-JFK for 25,000 miles. The same ticket was being sold for $340. Was that a good redemption for those miles or could I have done better?

  • I currently have a Chase Sapphire Reserve as a personal card and love the points I’m getting on it, but I need to start using a separate card for business. As the owner of a small construction business, I could rack up points by charging $100,000 – $500,000 of our materials purchases on a credit card annually. I could also accrue points by giving business cards to my 5 employees and have the points roll up to whatever business card I get. I’m considering getting an AmEx Delta Platinum card as a primary business card (I am a 2 million mile Delta member and travel almost exclusively on Delta). Will this card allow me to give cards to my employees and have their points accrue to it?

    Thanks!

    • Yes, you absolutely could do that. However, before deciding on which card to get you should review your expenses to see if any qualify for category bonuses. If not, you might look at the Blue Business Plus Card: https://awardwallet.com/blog/amex-blue-business-plus/ — which earns 2x Membership Rewards for the first 50k in spend/year, or you might look at a card that earns 2x or 3x in bonus categories such as the business gold rewards card. Keep in mind, Membership Rewards transfer to Delta SkyMiles at a ratio of 1:1.

  • Lee Ann Bixler says:

    Great article on Delta sky miles. I haven’t flown Delta much lately (AA EP), but I do still have a stash of Delta miles to use. Thanks for the information!

    • Leverage them like I currently leverage AA miles — as fillers when you need them. Sometimes you’ll find a random route for less than 10,000 miles, which can be awesome especially if its non-stop and you’d otherwise have to connect.

  • miskocina says:

    I’ve never really managed to get good value for my SkyMiles, so this is really interesting.

    • I agree with you on this. Of the last few times I’ve looked for flights, the redemption rates were awful. However this post is really helpful and I can gage how to look for better value redemptions.

  • While I’m still hesitant to expend too much energy collecting Skypesos, I have to agree that Ex-Asia routings on Skyteam partners are very easy to come by, and do represent a good value. Particularly since it appears that the Chinese airlines, or at least CZ, are trying to up their game. We flew CZ in J, BKK-CAN-JFK last month, and had a pretty great all-around experience. We were met at the gate in CAN and escorted past customs, straight to the transfer desk, where, already being ticketed for the next leg of the flight, we were immediately directed to the lounge. CZ has always had a good hard product, but our flight crews were terrific, and the ground experience was light-years better than when we first flew through CAN in 2013.

    • Thomas, thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve seen LOTS of mixed reviews with CZ, haven’t had any personal experience with them, and even though friends have I’ve been hesitant to recommend them as a solid choice. They just moved up a notch in my book.

      • No prob. Yeah, as you say, it definitely seems to be hit & miss with CZ… I think it was the week before we were travelling, that Lucky wrote a short piece on the woes he had with in-flight service on CZ on a LAX-CAN flight. That review definitely concerned me, but thankfully, we had better experience, as I described.

  • MICHAELJ1 says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your tip regarding the SPG card being the best choice in a number of circumstances.

  • deerseason says:

    Had 14,000 random Skymiles in my account that I couldn’t find a use for, until my wife needed a quick flight from LAX to OAK, for 9500 miles. Not the BEST use of miles, but better than not finding a use for it to begin with. Good to know about the SPG transfer though, not bad to top off an account for a redemption even if the exchange rate doesn’t match up.

  • The fact that SkyMiles don’t expire means I don’t need to focus on them as a priority. They are useful but not as much as Star Alliance for me.

  • Sophia Koala says:

    What about using Delta points for business class to australia?

  • Virgin Atlantic has a decent award to Johannesburg. 75k each way in business is way better than Delta offers.

  • One of the best things about Skymiles is that they don’t expire. (That is a remnant of the Northwest Worldperks program, Delta Skymiles used to expire without some sort of account activity.). I also don’t actively accrue them but I always have some, and can transfer my Amex MR or starpoints to Delta in case I find something of good value. Flexible points are they way to go.

  • I guess the ‘value’ shopper in me will have me staying with 25,000 mile cross country round trips. I’m glad those are still there after the point devaluation.

  • Being a Canadian and living in Canada, I find Delta Skymiles’ partnership with Westjet to be valuable.

    I used my miles to fly from Toronto to Las Vegas, directly on westjet, using my skymiles.

    I got great value on the miles!

  • The_Bouncer says:

    Hmmm…looks like there could be some value in the 5k awards.

  • Overall I can’t complain about DL. They’ve been around a long time and have an expansive route map. However, many years ago DL more or less handed over DFW and surrounding markets to AA, as if from Texas to LAX did not interest them. Were DL to reenter those markets and compete more, I’d withdraw from flying AA and shift my spend to DL. Doubt it would ever happen. Then again, who knew DL would go after SEA?

  • Gotta hand it to DL as it wasn’t that long ago the airline was filing for bankruptcy protection and now their profits are stratospheric. They must be doing something right. Perhaps releasing more SM seats from time to time is a step in the right direction too.

  • Definitely some interesting redemption options, but don’t trust them enough to accumulate lots of Skymiles.

  • Bill from Maine says:

    I have become a proponent of SkyMiles over the last couple of years because of the value I have received from them. I sent 4 of my kids and grandchildren to Orlando for 16,000 miles & $11.20 each instead of paying $274.00 each. With a little flexibility(Tuesday,Wednesday departure) I see plenty of opportunities for me and my wife to fly to Munich this September for 60,000 miles in economy or 80,000 in Delta Comfort round trip plus $234.00 taxes. That same trip runs $3280.00 in economy for both of us.
    There is still great value to be had with SkyMiles and a vast array of AMEX card promotions to help you get that trip you have only dreamed of.

  • Thanks! I have been sitting on some miles from an old credit card signup and have been looking to leverage them the best way possible.

  • Nice job on covering Delta miles values. Made me a believer that there is some value there. Thanks!

  • Delta getting a lot of love lately!

  • Good to see there are still uses for SkyMiles.

  • Stuck in the ATL so good to know.

  • Even million delta miles can now go in a blink when redeeming for international travel. I have gotten 2 one-way Delta one from Atlanta to Shanghai for 480K.

  • Never fails to teach me something when I stop by the blog. Forced me to check on my Delta account and it seems I am “richer” than I thought> 🙂

  • good summation

  • Like many others, I am having difficulty booking award travel on Delta. I want to go from Orlando, Florida to Bergen, Norway. It is a long trip so I want to stay 11 days. With the 331 day rule, the challenge I have is that at or near the 331 day for my outbound flight, there are plenty of low miles, decent flights. However, I cannot book those as I have to wait until 331 days from my return trip. By the time this occurs, all the decent flights at reasonable miles are gone. In fact, most if not all seats are gone even on lousy flights with long layovers. Would appreciate any and all suggestions. Even considering booking a short duration trip (3 days or so) as soon as the outbound day becomes available to secure it and then a week – 10 days later, changing my return date when the one i want actually becomes available. A Delta agent said I could do this and that it was probably my only alternative. For example, today (7/3)I could book a trip of 5/25 outbound with a return on 5/28. On 7/8, I could change the return date to the real date I want of 6/7. Supposedly for a $150 fee. Thoughts? comments? Better suggestions? Thanks!!!!!

  • I’m at my wit’s end.

    I’m trying to plan a trip from the US to Rome a year out. I have almost a half million Skymiles and it’s impossible to navigate the Delta site, let alone book through to one of their partners, Air France or KLM. For a single business class RT, Delta is asking upwards of 600,000 points for ONE ticket. And forget trying to find a Premium select – they block all of those from miles bookings.

    Anyone know how to break this code? I need two business class tickets next October or so. Thanks.

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