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Delta SkyMiles guide: The best ways to earn and use SkyMiles

Delta Air Lines ranks high in quality against most of its U.S. competitors, but its loyalty program leaves something to be desired

Summary

The Delta SkyMiles program can be perplexing. Our guide dives into the details of earning and redeeming miles to help you decide if it’s right for you.

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If you’re looking for a frequent flyer program that offers flexibility and a lot of travel options, or you simply love flying Delta Air Lines, the Delta SkyMiles program should be near the top of your list.

Delta Air Lines is one of the world’s largest carriers and ranks high in quality against most of its U.S. competitors, according to the Airline Quality Rating. However, the SkyMiles program itself leaves something to be desired.

Delta SkyMiles program basics

Delta SkyMiles is the Delta Air Lines loyalty program, which rewards its members with SkyMiles they can be redeem for flights on Delta and its airline partners as well as a few other options such as car rentals, merchandise and gift cards.

The SkyMiles program comes with a lot of pros and cons buried under a tangle of terms and conditions that can make it difficult to determine if the program is the right choice. On the plus side, the program offers a large airline network, a fairly good value on its miles and flexible redemption options with no blackout dates or capacity controls on its own rewards seats.

On the downside, the SkyMiles program is prone to frequent updates that can drastically alter the value of points — for better or for worse — making it difficult to determine what your points are going to be worth in the long run. And the program is difficult to decipher, with lots of surprises lurking in the fine print.

This program also has some booking restrictions worth keeping in mind:

  • There are no published limits on the number of connecting flights.
  • Stopovers are not permitted — layovers are limited to four hours for domestic flights and 24 hours for international ones.
  • There are possible surcharges on award flights originating in Europe and on some airline partners.

We did find some good parts, such as:

  • The program has no blackout dates or capacity controls.
  • Delta permits one-way fares.
  • The airline also permits open-jaw tickets.

Delta SkyMiles program overview

Type of currencyMiles
Average point value (according to Bankrate.com)1.3 cents
Redemption optionsFlights, flight upgrades, Miles + Cash, Pay with Miles, vacations, car rentals, Sky Club membership, merchandise, gift cards, magazines, experiences, donations
Minimum required to redeem5,000 for Pay with Miles awards
Rewards expirationNo expiration
Transfer optionsTransfer up to four recipients at a time
Best forInternational travel and flexible booking

Who is Delta SkyMiles best for?

Loyal Delta flyers will get the most out of Delta SkyMiles. If you’re a traveler who often flies internationally, frequently flies Delta, prefers an airline with high-quality customer service goes for flexibility over value or seeks a good value on airline upgrades, you’ll likely get a lot out of participating in the Delta SkyMiles program.

It’s difficult to find flight coverage of Delta Air Lines specifically, but when including its SkyTeam Alliance partners, the overall coverage is quite impressive. On Delta’s website, it reports around 14,500 daily flights to more than 800 destinations worldwide in more than 170 countries.

How to earn Delta SkyMiles

The good news is there’s no cap on how many miles you can earn with Delta SkyMiles. There are two main ways to earn these rewards — Delta purchases and everyday purchases.

Purchase flights with Delta

After you register for the Delta SkyMiles program, when you book a flight with Delta and enter your SkyMiles number, you’ll automatically earn 5X miles from that purchase, for Main Cabin seats or above. If you qualify for a Medallion Status, you can bump up that rate, from 7X miles to 11X miles on all Delta purchases.

You can multiply those miles even more by applying for a Delta SkyMiles credit card. American Express issues a number of such co-branded cards, such as the no-annual-fee Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, which gives 2X miles on eligible Delta purchases, in addition to any miles you earn with the Delta SkyMiles program otherwise.

We should note that if you purchase a ticket and fly with any of Delta’s 20 airline partners, you’ll also earn miles. That way you’re restricted to flying only with Delta Air Lines.

Use a Delta SkyMiles card for everyday purchases

Other than giving bonus miles on Delta purchases, Delta SkyMiles credit cards provide rewards on a variety of everyday categories as well. The Delta SkyMiles Blue Card gives 2X miles on restaurants worldwide, whereas the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card gives 2X miles on restaurants worldwide as well as at U.S. supermarkets.

Of course, to earn the most miles quickly, you should apply for a card that best matches your spending lifestyle. Small-business owners, for example, may prefer a business card like the

Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card and its 2X miles on U.S. purchases for advertising in select media, U.S. shipping purchases and at restaurants.

Book a car, hotel stay or vacation package with a SkyMiles travel partner

Delta is also partnered with various hotel chains, such as Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards Club, World of Hyatt and more, so you can earn miles on your hotel stays. And it boasts popular homestay brand, Airbnb, as an option. For international travelers, it’s a win-win situation, since you’ll have to stay somewhere — you might as well earn some bonus miles while you’re at it. For example, if you stay at an eligible Sheraton property, you could earn 2 miles per dollar you spend on the stay.

Delta’s partners don’t stop at hotels though. Depending on which car rental brand you choose to rent from, you could receive a discount on base rates and earn some miles. The brands available include Hertz, Thrifty, Alamo and Enterprise.

You may use the Delta portal to book not only flights but also hotels and vacation packages. In fact, booking a vacation package could get you up to 5,000 miles per person.

Activate deals with SkyMiles partners

Outside the more obvious ways, Delta has plenty of other brands it partners with to offer you more chances to earn miles. You can use these non-travel partners to earn consistent miles on your everyday purchases, even while you stay closer to home.

One such partner is Lyft — link your SkyMiles account to your Lyft account and you receive at least 1 mile per dollar on every Lyft ride you take in the U.S. Do you enjoy live entertainment? In that case, you can use Delta’s website to book your next concert ticket through Ticketmaster and 1X mile on the purchase.

Shop through the SkyMiles shopping portal

Like many other rewards programs, Delta SkyMiles has its own shopping portal. With more than 1,000 stores available with exclusive deals and promotions, you can gain a good number of miles just by online shopping.

Among the stores and brands included on the shopping portal are Aesop, Blue Apron, Merrell, PetSmart and Verizon. All you must do is sign-up for the portal using your SkyMiles number, click on the store to be redirected to their site and shop like normal (you may choose to use your Delta SkyMiles card, but it’s not required). After that, the miles should show up on your account.

Dine at a restaurant participating in SkyMiles Dining

Another solid, but often overlooked, method for earning miles is signing up for SkyMiles Dining. Though perhaps not as well-known as other options, you can get miles just by dining at participating restaurants or bars and paying with your linked credit or debit card. Even better: You’ll receive an extra 1,000 bonus miles in the first 30 days if you sign up right now.

Thankfully, the wide variety of places participate in the program, from local restaurants to mom-and-pop bakeries and ubiquitous fast-food chains. You can even increase your rate to 5X miles if you take part in SkyMiles Dining eleven times in a year and say you don’t mind receiving promotional emails.

How to redeem Delta SkyMiles

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to Delta SkyMiles seeing as there are as many ways to redeem miles as there are to earn them.

Flights

You can use your miles to book airfare to more than 1,000 destinations, and thankfully there are no blackout dates on Award Travel for Delta Air Lines flights. You can essentially go anywhere using your miles, as long as it fits into your schedule. You can even redeem your rewards for seat upgrades, while you book or afterwards.

To avoid spending your own money, you can use miles to pay other airline-related charges such as a premium drink while relaxing in a Delta Sky Club, ticket change fees or Same-Day change fees.

Delta gift cards

Whether you want to use it for yourself or plan to gift it to someone else, you can use miles to buy Delta gift cards, which have no expiration date.

Delta vacations

In addition to flights, you may also use rewards to book an entire vacation package. Plus, if you’re a handful of miles short from covering the whole package, you can pay the rest of it in cash (using your preferred payment method).

Transfer or donate miles

For those feeling generous and not planning to fly in the near future, you can donate your miles through SkyWish. With connections to charitable organizations across the world, you can support any particular cause of your choice.

If your generous spirit extends to your friends and family, you can transfer to them, too — up to four SkyMiles accounts at a time. You must transfer at least 1,000 miles at a time and up to 150,000 miles in a year. Keep in mind, there’s a processing fee of $30 per transfer.

Magazines

Some frequent flyers will appreciate the chance to redeem points for magazine subscriptions that will keep them entertained on their next flight and at home after their trip ends.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion Tiers

There are four different elite status levels — known as Medallion Tier — for Delta SkyMiles members. On the bright side, there are multiple ways to qualify for a Medallion Tier. However, the qualifying requirements are higher than elite statuses offered by other airline rewards programs.

Here, we summarize the difference currencies required to qualify for a Medallion Tier:

  • MQMs — Medallion Qualification Miles are based on the distance of your flown flights and fare class, excluding Basic Economy tickets.
  • MQSs — Medallion Qualification Segments are simply the number of flights you take, except those on Basic Economy.
  • MQDs — Medallion Qualification Dollars are basically how much you spend annually on flights booked with Delta or its partners. Depending on the Delta SkyMiles card you hold, you may receive an MQD Waiver, which waives the needed MQDs to be eligible for a tier after you’ve spent a certain amount with your card in a calendar year.
  • Diamond: The highest tier offers exclusive benefits like the highest complimentary upgrade priority, highest priority boarding among Medallion Members, expedited baggage service and complimentary Clear membership.
  • Platinum: With this tier you can be rewarded with unlimited complimentary upgrades, waived baggage fees, Sky Priority boarding and 20,000 bonus miles, among other benefits.
  • Gold: This tier also receives unlimited complimentary upgrades and access to the full Sky Priority suite of services. You’ll also enjoy waived fees and a high priority status when calling customer service.
  • Silver: This is the lower tier, but it still comes with plenty of perks like priority boarding, unlimited complimentary upgrades and waived baggage fees.

How much are Delta SkyMiles worth?

According to Bankrate’s point valuation system, Delta SkyMiles points are worth an average of 1.3 cents. Let’s take a closer look at how this stacks up among other rewards programs.

How do Delta SkyMiles rewards value compare?

Let’s compare Delta SkyMiles to another popular frequent flyer program, Southwest Rapid Rewards. The number of rewards cards that earn Rapid Rewards miles are about the same as Delta SkyMiles, but the redemption options for Rapid Rewards miles are more varied than Delta. Southwest Rapid Rewards are also worth an average of 1.5 cents apiece, making them slightly more valuable per point than Delta SkyMiles. We should note, Delta SkyMiles Medallion Tiers provide more perks and advantages like Southwest’s elite statuses, and its flight coverage isn’t nearly as extensive as Delta’s as Southwest lacks any airline partners.

However, when compared to an issuer rewards program like American Express Membership Rewards, the Delta SkyMiles program falls short. Membership Rewards are valued at an average of 2.1 cents each, meaning they’ll get you more in travel or merchandise or gift cards with fewer points. Amex also offers many more ways to earn and redeem points than Delta does. Plus, if you prefer to redeem Delta SkyMiles for flights, you can always transfer your Membership Rewards points to your SkyMiles account at a 1:1 ratio since the airline is an Amex transfer partner.

Delta SkyMiles transfer partners

Delta SkyMiles does not allow you to transfer miles to another airline. However, it does have 20 airline partners that will earn you Delta SkyMiles.

Airlines

Delta SkyMiles partners with the following airlines:

  • Aeroméxico
  • Air France
  • China Eastern
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Air Europa
  • Cape Air
  • China Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • ITA Airways
  • Kenya Airways
  • Middle Eastern Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • WestJet
  • Xiamen Airlines

Hotels

Similar to its airline partners, Delta does not allow you to transfer SkyMiles to a hotel partner. Instead, you may earn SkyMiles when booking hotel stays with these hotel partners:

  • Airbnb
  • IHG Hotels & Resorts
  • Radisson Hotels
  • Accor
  • Hyatt Hotel & Resorts
  • Langham Hospitality Group
  • Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
  • WorldHotels Collection

Top credit cards that earn SkyMiles

Ready to start earning Delta SkyMiles? One of these Delta SkyMiles credit cards may be a good fit for you.

Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card

This is a great no-annual-fee option if you’re more budget-conscious. With the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, you can earn 2X miles on restaurants worldwide and on eligible Delta purchases, 1X miles on all other purchases and can earn 10,000 bonus miles when you make $500 in purchases in the first three months of having the card. The main drawback is that its only major travel perk is a 20 percent discount on Delta in-flight purchases.

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

You have to travel a lot to get the most out of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, but globetrotters are heavily rewarded as they can earn 3X miles on Delta airfare and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X miles on U.S. supermarket and restaurant purchases and 1X miles on everything else. You can also earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs (which help you qualify for a Medallion Tier) after making $3,000 in purchases in your first six months. All these rewards come at a price of a $250 annual fee.

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

A card with a mid-tier annual fee of $99 ($0 intro fee for the first year) that still earns plenty of Delta SkyMiles is the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. On Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets, you’ll get 2x miles and on other eligible purchases, you’ll get 1X point. For a welcome bonus, you must spend $2,000 in six months to earn 40,000 bonus miles. You’ll also gain access to perks like getting a free first checked bag, priority boarding and 20 percent back on in-flight purchases in the form of statement credit. If you spend more than $10,000 in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta flight credit.

Frequently asked questions

Do Delta SkyMiles rewards expire?

The good news is that any rewards you earn through Delta SkyMiles never expire.

Can I share points with friends and family members?

It is possible to gift miles to as many as four recipients at a time. Some transaction fees may apply when you share points with a friend or family member.

Can you buy Delta SkyMiles?

You can purchase Delta SkyMiles, which can make it easier to redeem points for flights if you fall a bit a short on miles. The going rate to buy SkyMiles is 3.5 cents per mile, in increments of 2,000 miles. After you buy them, they will be applied to your account within 24 hours.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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