Best ways to redeem Delta SkyMiles

Flights and flight upgrades are your best bet with SkyMiles

Using Hilton Honors points

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If you’ve browsed the SkyMiles website and are feeling muddled about your redemption options and where the best values lie, we’ll make it simple for you: For the most part, you’re best off redeeming your SkyMiles for airfare. Since Delta doesn’t have an awards chart and ties the price of awards tickets to the price of the fare, most flights on Delta are a good option, as long as you book in advance.

Here’s a rundown of all your redemption options with Delta SkyMiles:

Delta SkyMiles redemption options


Mile Value (cents)
Flights
1.61
Flight upgrades
2.2
Miles + Cash
1
Pay with miles
1
Delta vacations
1
Car rentals
0.6
Delta Sky Club Membership
1.1
Merchandise
0.4
Gift cards
0.3-0.5
Magazines
0.8
Experiences
varies
Charity donation
1.61

Redeeming miles for Delta flights

In general, redeeming SkyMiles for Delta flights is a good redemption option, and – if you are uncertain about the rest of the redemption options – probably your best bet. Unfortunately, Delta makes matters a little complicated by not offering a fixed rewards chart. The points required for a flight change over time and can vary quite a lot for flights on the same route, as you can see from the chart below:

Upon examination of several classes of fares over several destinations and several routes (both domestic and international), the number of required miles seems to be closely related to the price of the fare -- around 1.61 cents per SkyMile, by our estimates. In other words, you will get a similar value for your SkyMiles no matter where and when you travel or what class you travel in. However, the number of required miles will almost certainly increase as you get closer to your travel date and the fare increases, so it’s best to book well ahead of time with SkyMiles.

Redeeming miles for flights on Delta’s airline partners

You can redeem your miles for on any of Delta’s 31 airline partners – many of them directly through Delta. Unfortunately, partner awards are a little sparse and tend to be more expensive than Delta fares on the same route.

Flight upgrades

Like most features of the SkyMiles program, using SkyMiles for flight upgrades requires navigating a complex set of guidelines, where, among other things, you must figure out what class your fare belongs to out of 27 classes, whether it’s upgradable, whether upgrades are available on a particular flight and what class of fare you can upgrade to. If you can wade through the fine print, it is possible to find some very good values on flight upgrades with Delta, including upgrades into Delta One class (Delta’s version of international first-class) for over 2 cents per SkyMile. We figure you can get about 2.2 cents per SkyMile on average for flight upgrades on Delta. 

Miles + Cash

The Miles + Cash option allows you to pay for a Delta flight with a combination of SkyMiles and cash. The option is available to any Delta SkyMiles member, with a couple of drawbacks: It’s not available for every flight (though you do have a large number of options to choose from on most routes), and, even with part of the fare covered in cash, most of the flights still require a very large number of SkyMiles.

Furthermore, the redemption value for most flights is subpar – we estimate around 1 cent per SkyMile per average looking at a variety of routes and travel times. Still, at least it gives you an additional option in case you can’t collect enough SkyMiles to redeem for an entire fare. Plus, if you search carefully, you can find very good redemption values, especially in Delta One class.

One other drawback: Your entire fare is treated as an award ticket, which means you can’t collect SkyMiles or MQMs on Miles + Cash awards.

Pay with miles

Delta’s pay with miles option lets you pay for a portion of any Delta flight with cash. The option is only open to certain Delta SkyMiles credit card members (Gold, Platinum and Reserve personal and business cards), and you need to have a minimum of 5,000 miles to use it. Each mile is worth exactly one cent and you can pay in increments of $50 -- $50 for 5,000 miles, $100 for 10,000 miles, and so on. It’s not the most valuable use of miles, but it’s a good option to have in case you can’t collect enough miles to cover an entire ticket and you need more flexibility than you get with the Miles + Cash option. On the plus side, you do earn miles and MQMs on the cash portion of your ticket.

Redeeming SkyMiles for Delta Vacations

You can use SkyMiles as a discount toward a Delta vacation package covering both a flight and a hotel stay. Miles are valued at exactly 1 cent when used this way, so it’s not the best use of miles. At the least, you will earn miles and MQMs on the cash portion of the package.

Redeeming SkyMiles for car rentals

You can book car rentals with SkyMiles through the Delta SkyMiles Marketplace. The options vary by location, but include major national car rental chains such as Hertz, Alamo and National. As with most of the other options on the SkyMiles Marketplace, the redemption value for car rentals is poor – you only get 0.6 cent per mile on average.

Redeeming SkyMiles for Delta Sky Club membership

You can use SkyMiles to purchase a membership to the Delta Sky Club lounge network (and to buy a couple of drinks while you’re there). An Executive Membership will cost you 70,000 miles, an Individual Membership costs 47,000 miles, and you can grab a day pass for 5,000 miles. The redemption value for a SkyClub membership isn’t too bad – averaging 1.1 cent per mile across the three options – but it doesn’t match the value you can get by redeeming your SkyMiles for airfare, and, really, there are better routes to Sky Club membership, such as qualifying for elite status or signing up for a credit card with access to Delta lounges. 

Redeeming SkyMiles for merchandise

The SkyMiles Marketplace lets you spend SkyMiles on a small set of merchandise, such as electronics, jewelry or luggage. All in all, it’s not a great use of SkyMiles – the selection is extremely limited and the redemption value averages only 0.4 cents per mile.

Redeeming SkyMiles for gift cards

You can redeem SkyMiles for retailer gift cards – including Amazon, Target and Starbucks – for amounts of $10 to $250. The value of gift card redemptions is poor across the board, no matter the size of the gift card or the retailer, averaging only 0.4 cents per point.

Redeeming SkyMiles for magazine subscriptions

Delta allows you to redeem SkyMiles for subscriptions to magazines, such as Time, Vogue and Sports Illustrated. With an average value of 0.8 cents per mile, this is a poor use of SkyMiles.

SkyMiles experiences

You can use SkyMiles to bid on experiences, such as backstage tours at concerts, travel excursions and special seats at sporting events. The amount that you pay for the experience can vary greatly based on the final bid, and the value is subjective, depending on how much stock you put into experiences such as dinner with a celebrity chef. That said, there are some pretty unique experiences on the list, so it’s worth a look.

Donating SkyMiles

You can donate your SkyMiles to a selection of charities, such as the American Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity. Your donated miles are used toward airline redemptions for that charity, so they do retain their value. On the downside, the donation is not tax-deductible, so you may be better off making a cash donation if you want to report it on your tax form.

Bottom line

Delta SkyMiles are good for redeeming for flights and upgrades, and terrible if you redeem them for just about anything else. If you want to get the most mileage out of your SkyMiles, you’re best off sticking to the skies.

See Related: What are Delta SkyMiles worth?, Which Delta SkyMiles card is best for you?, Best ways to earn Delta SkyMiles, Delta SkyMiles partners, Delta elite status benefits, Delta Sky Club lounges, How to book a flight with Delta SkyMiles

 


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Updated: 07-18-2018