Here Are The Best Uses Of Delta SkyMiles

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
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This post has nothing to do with whether or not Delta SkyMiles has a decent elite program. Instead this post is purely about the best ways to redeem SkyMiles, whether you’ve accrued them through flying, or through credit card spend.

Why SkyMiles are becoming comparatively more valuable

Personally I value Delta SkyMiles at 1.3 cents each, which is marginally less than I value American AAdvantage miles (1.5 cents) and United MileagePlus miles (1.4 cents).

So yes, I do think they’re slightly less valuable than American and United miles, but they’re far from worthless, and I’ve actually found myself redeeming quite a few of them lately, mostly points I transferred from Amex Membership Rewards.

Why do I think the value of SkyMiles has increased comparatively?

  • As American and United have devalued their award charts over the past couple of years, the sweet spot of redemptions has become business class rather than first class. That puts Delta at less of a disadvantage, since those miles can’t be redeemed for international first class, but rather only business class.
  • The quality of SkyTeam business class products has improved considerably over the past couple of years, especially for transpacific flights. Just take a look at the excellent products offered by China Eastern and China Airlines on their new 777-300ERs.

I’d note that there are some things which aren’t ideal about SkyMiles:

  • Delta doesn’t publish award charts, so there’s not much transparency when it comes to award pricing.
  • There are fuel surcharges on some awards, though those can easily be avoided and minimized by redeeming strategically.
  • Virgin Australia used to release a ton of business class award space, and was by far the best option for redeeming miles between the US and Australia. While they still release some space, they’re not nearly as generous.
  • You can’t cancel or change an award ticket within 72 hours of departure (though they certainly make exceptions, when circumstances warrant it).

My favorite uses of Delta SkyMiles

With the above out of the way, I figured I’d share what I consider to be five of the best uses of Delta SkyMiles. There are a lot of other great options as well, but these are opportunities which I like the most:

1. Transpacific Awards In China Eastern Business Class

China Eastern has brand new 777-300ERs with reverse herringbone seats and wifi. Reverse herringbone seats are among my favorite business class configurations, and wifi is among my most valuable business class amenities, so I’d probably choose them over a vast majority of other airlines for transpacific flights.

Fortunately award availability in China Eastern is excellent year-round, whether you’re booking a few days out or when the schedule opens. For example, here’s availability between New York and Shanghai nonstop on China Eastern in a couple of months:


For the same award price you can include connections within Asia. For example, soon I’ll be flying from Los Angeles to Shanghai to Colombo in China Eastern business class, which I booked using Delta SkyMiles. There are some fuel surcharges, but they’re not too terrible for a transpacific flight, in my opinion.

2. Transpacific Awards In China Airlines Business Class

Perhaps it’s a SkyTeam revolution, but around the same time that China Eastern released their new business class product, so did China Airlines, which is based in Taipei. They also have a new reverse herringbone seat, with incredible transpacific award availability.

For example, here’s how many dates have nonstop business class award availability between Los Angeles and Taipei in a couple of months:


I would note that there are no fuel surcharges for travel on China Airlines in most markets, which is awesome.

3. Transatlantic Awards In Air France Business Class

Delta doesn’t have access to all Air France business class award availability, but there’s one “secret weapon.” Delta SkyMiles members have access to Air France award space before FlyingBlue members do. So Delta has access to Air France award space 331 days out, while Air France’s own members have access only 305 days out.

As a result, take a look at how good nonstop award availability is next year between Los Angeles and Paris, which is otherwise a really tough flight to book on miles:


Air France has a great business class product as well, assuming you can get their new seat. It’s one of my favorite transatlantic business class products all around, actually.

Air-France-Business-Class-777 - 16
Air France’s new business class

4. Transatlantic Awards In Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

I love Virgin Atlantic. They’re such a fun airline, and they have among my favorite business class lounges in the world. SkyMiles members can book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class awards without any fuel surcharges when originating in the US, and availability is generally quite good.

Virgin-Atlantic-Clubhouse-London - 16Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow

For example, take a look at nonstop availability next year between San Francisco and London:


5. Awards Within The US

Delta SkyMiles is motivated to go revenue based on the redemption side, so their domestic awards price at all kinds of different rates. In many cases they represent an excellent value. For example, take the below flights between San Francisco and Seattle, which are available for just 7,000 SkyMiles one-way:


The revenue cost would be $144, on the other hand:


Two things which make Delta miles great for domestic redemptions are that they don’t charge any close-in ticketing fees, and also that Gold Medallion members and up receive complimentary upgrades on domestic tickets, which is great.

You can be upgraded to first class as a Gold Medallion on a Delta award ticket

Redeeming SkyMiles Bottom Line

Delta SkyMiles aren’t perfect. No mileage currency is. I even value Delta miles a bit less than American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus miles.

But there are still fantastic uses of these miles, whether you’re looking to travel transpacific in a reverse herringbone product, or are looking to travel from the West Coast to Europe nonstop in a great business class product. I redeem a good number of SkyMiles, and it’s one of the reasons my balance of Membership Rewards points is low at the moment, since I’ve been transferring a lot of them there.

If you don’t yet have some of the following cards, I’d seriously consider applying for them:

What is your favorite use of Delta SkyMiles?

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  1. I’ll be interested to see what you think of China Eastern, because the few reviews that are out there are not good at all.

    And I’d also be interested to hear if you’ve ever been able to book an AF award in the window before Flying Blue allows awards to be booked, because there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that all of those awards seem to be phantom space.

  2. The price of trans-pacific flights from the US to Asia and Australia are going up in October, which makes SkyMiles even less valuable.

  3. @ Kristen — The only website through which you can book is Delta’s, so I’m using that primarily.

  4. As a leisure only traveler (4-6 times a year), as I am sure many of us are that read this blog, I have to say the key is to diversify. Personally, I still feel American AAdvantage is better than Delta SkyMiles because it is easier to earn miles using alternate methods such as shopping portals and generally speaking it takes a little less miles to go somewhere in both economy and business/first class internationally. However I regret feeding my AAdvantage account for the past few years while neglecting my SkyMiles account. I should have listened when they said to diversify.

  5. Ben, thanks for the post. Do you generally recommend transferring AmEx points to Delta or Etihad, or does it depend on the itinerary you want to book?

  6. Here in TPE now and flew China Airlines 777 business class from JFK-TPE last month. Great product and service.

    But booking on was a challenge. My wife and I were trying to find availablility in a 2 week window for May. The Delta search would show it was available for 70k. I go through entering all the info, and then after confirming, it said there was an error or seats not available anymore. Go back and search and it wasn’t available. She’d check multiple times during the day for weeks and it’d show availabe, but then not. So definitely some kind of problem w/ searching.

    Finally she was able to find a date one day and we were able to book it w/o problems.

  7. Lucky,

    I just want to let you know that China Airlines also offers awards from JFK-TPE over the phone. I booked it for 70,000 miles in business class + 5.60$. Amazing deal in my opinion, much better service than China Eastern

  8. @ Gonzalo — All depends on the itinerary you’d like to book. I’d decide where you want to go, which program offers the best value, and then only transfer points once you’ve decided.

  9. @ Grant — I’d say United metal awards to Europe and Asia represent a great value, and then otherwise partner business class to Asia. Otherwise first class to Asia via Europe on Lufthansa is still the best value for a first class redemption, in my opinion.

  10. What’s the best way to get to Beijing using Skymiles? Right now I’m looking at some Delta One options out of SEA at 70,000 Skymiles one way, but wasn’t sure if there are any other routes out of LAX, ORD, JFK that would be cheaper.

  11. This post reads like the planting of seeds that will be the basis down the road to justify dumping AAdvantage for SkyMiles, after which we will begin hearing how SM is the best FF program in the business (just like not too long ago AAdvantage was the best FF program in the business). The ironic thing is that the anticipated claims about how great SM is will be made even though AAdvantage’s fall from grace is apparently for becoming too much like SM ! 😉

  12. What about AeroMexico to South America?

    Recently booked JFK->MEX->SCL in J for 62,500 miles plus a chance to fly the 787 on the JFK->MEX route. Good flatbed seats each way, food was meh and MEX is a pain to transit.

    That said, compared to Delta via ATL i was able to get there in J for 25,000 miles more than Delta Y.

  13. @ DCS — This post isn’t at all about loyalty. This post is about a great credit card sign-up bonus, and what you can do with the points you earn through that sign-up bonus.

  14. I’d put DL TATL on that list. I’ve always found their east coast availability to be pretty good. As for VA, I just flew ATL-LHR on VA and was underwhelmed:
    The clubhouse is quite nice, and the food was okay, but as VFW says, it’s all about the seat in business. VA’s “Dream Suite” is my least favorite business class seat. Here’s hoping the replacement is better.

  15. How did we did not see this coming?

    1. Day one: rip apart AA and state you’re considering switching to Delta
    2. Day two: pimp those AMEX Delta affiliate links

    I say this with all honesty – you’re good man. Thought you were toast, but by switching to Delta you can concentrate on those AMEX affiliate links with all your posts that will be sure to come over the next year.


  16. Thanks for this post. Previously I didn’t think much of China Eastern. I remember last year you were talking about China Eastern 777 business class and their new seats but unfortunately the flights I wanted to take were operated by A332’s. so I didn’t give them a second choice as seat guru has them with their old product. However looking at the seat maps it looks like the 330’s use a similar 1-2-1 layout. So even those if thats true would also be a great use of Delta points.

    Question – can you mix awards with Delta. For example can you say fly SFO to London on Virgin, then London to Amsterdam on KLM on a single award?

  17. I just don’t get it! You and other blogs post about the best use of DL points but every time I look for availability I can NEVER find anything to Europe from the East Coast that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I have never seen the 62.5 OW pricing you show above unless I connect 3 times to get from Point A to Point B. Best I found recently was on Aeroflot with a connection in Moscow but I have never seen AF or VS (or even DL) shop up on the flights I am searching for those rates…and no I am not being specific about dates but searching a date range.

  18. @Lucky — So you say, but the already very think line was unquestionably crossed when you launched into your “favorite ways to use skymiles” rather than limiting the post to how to earn the miles through the features CCs.

    BTW, please do not might my “intrusions” because I do believe that it’s just fine for you to begin convincing yourself that SkyMiles will be better than the “new” AAdvantage, although the latter is simply a copy for the former 😉

  19. @Christian: Are you looking for high season or shoulder season travel? I generally find that DL availability is best for the latter. On my most recent booking, I found lots of VA UC @125K at 300+ days out. VA availability pretty much evaporated closer in.


  20. Best use of Delta Skymiles for me is Africa in business class. I’m currently sitting in a the Sky Lounge at JFK for a trip to Comoros, Madagascar and Seychelles. In December, I’m checking out Congo, DRC and Chad.

  21. Won’t the complementary upgrades be to Comfort+ as opposed to first class?

    I haven’t tried to find Virgin Atlantic inventory with Delta SkyMiles, but back when I did try it was nearly impossible to find. Has that gotten better in recent months?

  22. Totally theoretical since Sky Peso awards, if ever available, are priced sky-high. I, like Christain above, never see anything from the east coast to Europe that isn’t priced sky-high in miles.

    I only use them for South America.

  23. My favourite is still a Middle East-Middle East routing that combines 2 7h flights for 40k DL miles in J oneway. Second favourite is Asia to Middle East via Europe for 70k in J oneway or to India via Europe for 65k.

  24. Lucky,
    It has always been my dream to book an award flight from ATL to either CDG or AMS but just some months ago I came across onemileatatime -thanks 4 all the info 😉 -so I began accumulating miles on Delta; but at this point I’m not sure if I should continue w them or just move over to FlyingBlue since I haven’t been able to figure out how many miles I’ll need for transatlantic first class round trip

  25. I find the best use of Delta Skymiles is to book a Skyteam RTW itinerary for 280,000 miles. The RTW desk agents are competent. I was told the coding on the RTW ticket supercedes other award seekers, so no issue obtaining the aircraft and routings desired. I’ve done it twice thus far, and constructed terrific itineraries:



  26. Just realized that award ticket in the main cabin is ineligible for requesting complimentary comfort+ upgrade.

  27. @Andyandy…I have looked for both high and shoulder season in the past and I like I said IF something is available at the lowest rates in Business Class it is a ridiculous itinerary with 2-3 stops or on an airline like Aeroflot. I have much better luck with UA and even AA. (if I’m willing to pay the taxes on a BA J award since AA metal flights to Europe are rarely available) I can understand when people refer to Skymiles as Skypesos and clearly they took over the honor of worst redemptions from NonePass which thankfully went away and got better after the merger with UA.

  28. I’d also add a vote for Virgin Australia’s new 777 business class between LAX-SYD. Nicer business class than any of the SkyTeam partners, and usually redeemable for fewer SkyMiles than delta metal on the same routes.

  29. @lucky – i was able to redeem 225,000 skymiles for a great itinerary: JFK-AMS (delta one), CGD-SIN (air france business class), then NRT-JFK (Korean air business class), so for me that was an extremely valuable redemption, especially considering the cash cost of the ticket. how do i tell if the 777 from CDG-SIN will have AF’s new business class product?

  30. I was trying to book a flight on Air China with Delta Skymiles then I realized that Air China is part of star alliance and China Air is skyteam. Haha. Wondering if I’m on the only only who confuses the 2.

  31. Ben, Thanks for all the great information. One question. I just made Delta platinum for the first time in my life and am about to retire from the military to San Antonio, TX. I have 265,000 miles and my wife has just over 100,000. I’d like to take a really nice trip anywhere but would rather not use all my miles booking a business class seat when I might be able to get a complementary upgrade. What would you recommend? Thanks!

  32. Sorry – had just read someone else’s comments and so I said Ben when I made my recent comment… I shoulda gone with Lucky.. 🙂

  33. 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!!!!!

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