Delta SkyMiles are fairly valuable, but they come with a lot of fine print – are they worth the extra hassle?
Delta frequently offers elevated sign-up bonuses on its SkyMiles credit cards – you may have seen a recent offer and are wondering if you should get the card. In fact, 50,000 to 75,000 SkyMiles can take you pretty far, but Delta miles are a little more hassle to redeem than some airline miles.
Read on to learn about Delta SkyMiles value and determine whether it’s the right airline rewards program for you.
Your gateway to Delta perks
Why should you get it?
Since its annual fee is waived in the first year (then $99 annually), the Delta SkyMiles Gold card is the most affordable option for scoring a large introductory bonus and perks with Delta Air Lines.
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See related: Which Delta SkyMiles card is best for you?
Delta SkyMiles value
Delta SkyMiles are worth far more than the average rewards program point and are more valuable than most other airline miles. We value SkyMiles at around 1.61 cents per mile on average, which, as you can see from the chart below, is topped only by one other major airline: American Airlines.
How we value SkyMiles
Delta dynamically prices its airline awards rather than using a fixed chart and offers a fairly consistent value on its airline awards without many opportunities to glean extra value from your miles.
When we compare the number of required SkyMiles to the cost of a fare, over a variety of routes, dates and classes, we find a similar value for most fares.
There are a couple of exceptions – main cabin fares on international flights seem to be worth more than average, and upgrades appear to offer an exceptionally good value:
|Fare type||Value per mile (cents)|
|First class/Delta One||1.2|
|Main cabin domestic||1.3|
|Main cabin international||2.2|
|First class domestic||1.1|
|Delta One (international first class)||1.3|
How to value your SkyMiles
We’ve told you how we value SkyMiles, but really, the value of airline miles is subjective, depending on your own personal goals and preferences, and, ultimately, how you redeem them. Here are a few questions you should keep in mind as you try to determine how much SkyMiles are worth to you:
- Which redemption option do you prefer? Are you interested in getting free airfare, or do you want to use your miles to upgrade into a first-class cabin?
- What class do you prefer to fly in? Are you more of a luxury or an economy traveler? In general, you’re likely to get a better value on main cabin and comfort class fares than on first-class fares with Delta.
- Where do you want to fly? Are you aiming for a domestic or international destination? International flights on Delta, particularly in the main cabin, tend to be more valuable than domestic flights. Also, you should look at the range of miles required for your intended destination to get an idea of how much it will cost you.
- Where are you departing from? If you are located near a Delta hub, such as Atlanta, you may find better values on Delta flights.
- When do you want to fly? Check Delta’s flight calendar around your intended travel dates to see how its fares compare to other airlines.
- How flexible are you with your flight dates? Since Delta fares – and hence, the price of its awards – vary drastically by date and time, the more flexible you are with your dates and travel times, the less you’re likely to pay.
- How far away is your flight? If you tend to book close in advance, Delta is not a great option – the cost of its rewards increases as you get closer to your booking date.
On top of all this, you also need to consider whether SkyMiles are flexible enough for your needs, since miles aren’t worth anything if you can’t redeem them (more on that below).
How to calculate the value of your SkyMiles
There are many philosophies on how to value points and miles, but to keep things simple, we offer the following calculation.
SkyMiles Value = Reward Value (in dollars)/Number of Points
Basically, you take the amount that you would pay for the reward and divide it by the number of points (not including taxes and fees, which you’ll still have to pay in cash).
The value that you come up with will be a rough estimate. There are a plethora of factors that can affect the value of a rewards flight, such as the opportunity cost for the miles that you could have earned if you paid for your flight with cash or with a rewards card, the lowest possible price that you could get by paying for the flight in cash on your intended date (which could vary by the minute and depends on how diligent you are about checking airfare), the opportunity cost of having to forgo other savings and promotions, the lowest possible price that you could get by flying with any airline to your desired destination and so on.
However, we don’t think you need to make things so complicated just to do a basic comparison between rewards points. The above calculation should suffice.
How flexible are SkyMiles?
The SkyMiles program is very flexible on redeeming SkyMiles for flights – you can find award seats on most flights – but you’ll pay for this flexibility with more expensive award seats. Also, the routing rules for rewards tickets are flexible, but they’re also rather complicated and you may find yourself poring over Delta’s terms and conditions for a few hours trying to determine what is and isn’t allowed:
- SkyMiles never expire.
- There are no blackout dates or limits on award seats for Delta flights – if a flight has available seats, you can usually book a rewards ticket.
- You can book almost any flight with a combination of SkyMiles and cash (either with the Miles & Cash or the Pay with Miles option).
- The Delta flight network is huge – Delta offers more than 14,500 daily flights to more than 800 destinations in more than 170 countries. You also can book award flights on any of Delta’s 24 airline partners.
- Flight upgrades and main cabin seats on international flights have an especially high redemption value.
- Delta routing rules are pretty flexible for award tickets – you can book one-way fares and open jaw tickets (i.e., tickets with arriving and departing from different cities).
- You can make changes to reservations up to 72 hours in advance – including origin, destination, routing, date and time – for no fee.
- There’s no fee for booking an online ticket at least 24 hours in advance. (There are fees for phone reservations and ticket counter reservations for some international fares.)
- Delta doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on most of its award flights. (There may be fuel surcharges on flights originating from Europe and on some of Delta’s flight partners.)
- You have a few other redemption options besides Delta airfare and flight upgrades, but the value is terrible.
- Delta doesn’t have a fixed rewards chart. The number of required SkyMiles varies by each flight and changes over time, and the number of points is tied closely to the price of each flight, which means there’s little you can do to maximize the value of your rewards. Also, flights get more expensive the closer you get to the date.
- SkyMiles are awarded on the price of airfare rather than mileage, which means you can’t strategize your routing to maximize your mileage.
- The SkyMiles program has undergone many devaluations recently. If you intend to collect SkyMiles, you should plan to redeem them as soon as possible to avoid a devaluation.
- Delta does not permit stopovers on award tickets. Layovers are limited to four hours for domestic flights and 24 hours for international flights.
Are SkyMiles worth it?
Your decision to collect SkyMiles may largely depend on your loyalty to Delta and your preference to fly on Delta flights.
The SkyMiles program gives you a lot of travel options, but, since Delta links SkyMiles closely to the price of the fare, there’s little you can do to improve the value of your SkyMiles. Also, the SkyMiles program, as mentioned, is a bit complicated. You may want to go with a simpler rewards program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards if you don’t want to wade through all the fine print.