Delta’s “Pay With Miles” Feature

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While Delta SkyMiles aren’t my favorite mileage currency, one of the things I do appreciate about SkyMiles is that they have a higher “floor” value than American and United miles. That’s to say that you can potentially “cash out” SkyMiles towards the cost of a ticket at a better rate than you could with AAdvantage and MileagePlus.

This is all thanks to Delta’s “Pay With Miles” feature, which lets you redeem miles at the rate of one cent each towards the cost of a Delta purchase. So in this post I wanted to look at how that works.

How much are Delta SkyMiles worth?

Personally I value Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each. I’m conservative about valuing points, simply because you’re holding onto a currency that can easily be devalued (this is especially true with SkyMiles, since they don’t publish award prices).

Ideally I’d recommend redeeming SkyMiles for business class on a SkyTeam partner airline, like China Airlines, Air France, KLM, Alitalia, etc. For example, China Airlines offers an exceptional business class product, and they’re also generally good about making award space available.

85,000 SkyMiles for a one-way business class ticket from the US to Asia is quite a deal, if you ask me.

China Airlines’ 777 business class

However, for many people just redeeming for domestic travel is a lot more practical.

That’s one of the areas where Delta SkyMiles can be a great program. I know many people get frustrated by miles, and therefore don’t think it’s worth accruing miles with some airlines, whether through flying or credit cards.

Delta’s “Pay With Miles” feature

The good news is that unlike some other points currencies, SkyMiles have a legitimate “floor” value, thanks to the ability to redeem SkyMiles as cash towards the cost of a ticket.

If you have a Delta co-branded credit card then you can redeem SkyMiles for one cent each towards the cost of a ticket, in increments of 5,000 miles. The Pay With Miles benefit is available exclusively to those with select Delta co-branded credit cards, and even elite members without the credit card don’t have access to this benefit.

You should use Pay With Miles for a Delta One ticket

In other words, if a ticket costs $200, you could choose to pay $150 plus 5,000 miles, $100 plus 10,000 miles, $50 plus 15,000 miles, or just pay 20,000 miles outright. The best part is that for all practical purposes these are still considered “paid” tickets. This means that:

  • You’re eligible for complimentary upgrades on these tickets as an elite member (assuming you don’t book a Basic Economy ticket)
  • You’re eligible for Medallion Qualifying Miles and Medallion Qualifying Segments for these tickets
  • You earn redeemable miles based only on the portion of the ticket for which you’re paying cash

That’s an especially great option for someone who is trying to requalify for status with Delta, since you can earn miles towards status requalification while redeeming.

Even for someone who doesn’t want to go through the effort of redeeming SkyMiles for award tickets, this can be great way to use miles earned through the welcome bonus on a Delta credit card.

Let me just emphasize again that this isn’t personally how I’d choose to redeem SkyMiles. Even though Delta has significantly increased many award costs over the past few years, I still think you can get more value through premium cabin redemptions.

However, there is something to be said for there being a floor value for miles, because I can see many people redeeming American and United miles for significantly less than a penny of value per point.

Bottom line

A lot of people choose not to collect SkyMiles because they think that partner redemptions are tough to come by and are expensive.

While that’s not untrue, there is something to be said for there being a floor value for SkyMiles. In the context of larger 60,000-80,000 mile credit card bonuses, that translates to $600-800 worth of travel on Delta, if nothing else.

For those with SkyMiles, do you use your miles for the Pay With Miles feature, or what is your favorite use of them?

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  1. I typically will use pay with miles from the AMEX card on trips where I have to go for a short period of time, but the prices are stupid (i.e. Rochester NY to NYC) Thereby taking a $220 ticket down to about $120, which seems more reasonable for a 40 minute flight.

    The other pair with Miles feature that people don’t realize, is by using Delta Vacations. If you’re just buying flights through Delta’s website, as Pierre said above, you cannot use miles to book to partner airlines. If you book through Delta vacations, you can use miles, just like with the AMEX card (but you don’t have to have the AMEX card) and book Partner airlines.

    I just did the Delta vacations thing for my trip to Australia next year. We’re going for 17 days, but I only need a total of four nights hotel in Sydney, So we booked Los Angeles to Melbourne on Virgin Australia The Business, and then Sydney to Los Angeles in Delta One, used some miles, and saved a significant amount of money (4900$ per person r/t total for Biz and the 4 nights, when the retail price of the tickets is going for almost $9000 alone).

  2. Upgraded ATL > ORD from economy to first for $109 cash and MEM > ATL from economy to first for 7900 miles. Both pretty good deals and a great perk of having skymiles and flying with Delta!

  3. @Brian – great tip on the Delta Vacations loophole!

    One other perk of Pay with Miles that doesn’t get a lot of attention, is if you’re trying to do an MQM run you still get full credit as if you paid in cash.

    Personally I never use pay with points because I agree with Lucky that better value can be had if redeeming on other SkyTeam or partner airlines. Skymiles also never expire, so there’s no urgency to burn them now that their price seems to have bottomed-out for the foreseeable future. On Delta metal it’s virtually impossible now to do better than $0.01/mile in value, even in premium cabins apart from flash sales. Being based in ATL I end up disproportionately on DL planes, though with creative routing I can get on KLM and AF on flights to/from Europe.

  4. I have over 100,000 sky miles and tried to use them to upgrade to Comfort + on a previously booked trip. I was told that my class of fare did not allow me to dot his. I’m not about to pay $169.95 each way for a trip from Boston to Edinburgh but would have gladly used miles. This was my first time trying to use miles, so disappointed!

  5. @Janet

    You shouldn’t be paying 16,900 miles each way for an almost nothing upgrade either. Even if you are taller than 6’6″.

    From the picture in this blog you can fly LAX-TPE on business class for “just 85,000 miles” one-way (can go up to 360,000 one-way on a bad day on DL) or just a little as 95,000 round trip on NH (F*** *** Delta)

  6. @Eskimo, LAX-TPE is only flown by DL partner CI. As such, a one way business class award will cost 85,000 if available. You’ll never 360,000 miles for a one way long haul business class award by flying DL partners.

  7. @Eskimo…Delta wouldn’t even let me use miles, they wanted cash for that tiny upgrade. I declined.

  8. Redeeming at 1c is usually dumb because unless you got your miles free (signup bonus) or from actual flying, then you should have put your spend on a 2% – 2.5% cash back card instead.

  9. CSue – I earn Skymiles three ways

    1) Sign-up bonus
    2) Actual flying
    3) Card spend for status (Delta Plat MQM boost)

    Delta cards are used by those that regularly fly Delta on paid flights (whether paid for on the card itself, or more likely, by their employers).

  10. I don’t often fly on Delta but have earned miles with them off their shopping portals, hotel partnerships, and car rental partners. I’ll usually use my miles to upgrade to business or Delta Comfort on my flights (which are all domestic).

  11. @CSue
    How you redeem miles has nothing to do with what card you use to purchase flights. I agree you shouldn’t use the airline card to buy airfare; use a transferable points card that earns 3x to 5x, or the now-discontinued PenFed Travel Rewards card at 4.25% rebate, or the current PenFed Pathfinder at 3.4%, for example.

  12. @Arlington Traveler

    Wrong, it can cost more.
    Who said anything about having to be nonstop from LAX-TPE.

    Anyway, I’m trying to point out how Delta is extorting Skymiles member by having no transparency. You can fly between the city pair on NH and potentially would cost as little as 13% of what DL’s extortion. That’s paying over 7 times.

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