How to Get More Value From Delta Air Lines SkyMiles


Among the three major legacy airlines in the United States, Delta has a reputation for reliable operations and quality of service. However, its SkyMiles frequent flyer program is frequently derided for the large number of miles it requires for award flights, and for its lack of transparency.

In fact, Delta is the only major airline that doesn't publish an award chart, so you never know in advance how much your miles are supposed to be worth. Nevertheless, it's still possible to get some decent value from your Delta SkyMiles.

1. Wait for a sale

While Delta awards usually cost more miles than similar awards from other airlines, the carrier occasionally has sales where you can redeem fewer miles for an award. For example, Delta offered round-trip flights for as little as 11,000 miles during an award sale in November 2017. Other sales have offered flights to Alaska or Hawaii from 20,000 SkyMiles round-trip from the continental U.S., and flights to Asia from 65,000 SkyMiles round-trip.

2. Look for partner awards

One of the strengths of the Delta SkyMiles program is the vast number of airline partners it has. Booking partner awards can be a great use of miles for short flights within another country or region. The award availability for these partners can be great, and the prices are much less likely to be exorbitant compared to awards on Delta's own flights.

Delta is part of the SkyTeam Alliance, which includes 20 airlines, such as Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, Korean Air, and China Airlines. Other non-alliance partners include Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Brazil's GOL, and Air Tahiti Nui. Thankfully, you can use your miles to book flights online for most of these partner carriers.

The exceptions are Air Europa, Kenya Airways, and Air Tahiti Nui. To book awards that contain flights on one of these airlines, you have to call Delta.

3. Consider booking business class awards on partner airlines

In general, you'll find more value in international business class awards than you will with economy class. This is because airlines can charge several times more dollars for business class tickets, but most will rarely charge more than twice the number of miles for business class awards.

However, Delta is an exception. It often charges outrageous amounts for business class awards on the flights it operates. The way around this is to look for partner awards in business class.

4. Use Delta's flexible search options

Despite the lack of an award chart, Delta's award flight search feature is among the best out there. By default, when you search for an award flight, you get a matrix of award prices for the three days immediately before and after the departure and return dates you input. If you have a more flexible schedule, you may also want to try their "5 Weeks" search, which returns award flight prices for departures within a five-week search period.

5. Consider the Pay with Miles option

For travelers who have certain Delta credit cards, Delta allows you to redeem your miles for one cent each toward an airfare. This can be a good option when the price of a ticket is very low, but you'd rather spend your miles than cash. To use the Pay with Miles option, you must have an eligible Delta credit card, and have banked at least 5,000 miles for each passenger that you want to book.

If you've met those requirements, search for flights in dollars, and then select a result marked as eligible for Pay with Miles. You can pay for your reservation with miles, money, or a combination of both. This is a great way to use a small amount of remaining miles, or to liquidate your balance if you're done with the SkyMiles program altogether. Just note that you'll usually get less value from your points if you use this option to book first or business class flights than you would if you book an economy class seat.

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