While Delta SkyMiles isn’t my favorite mileage currency, one of the things I do appreciate about SkyMiles is that the program has a higher “floor” value for miles than American and United.
That’s to say that you can potentially “cash-out” SkyMiles towards the cost of a ticket (or a variety of other purchases with Delta) 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. In this post, I wanted to look at how that works.
Delta Amex Cards Have Huge Limited Time Bonuses
If you’re not someone who would usually care about Delta’s Pay With Miles program, there’s a reason you should care right now. Through November 10, 2021, co-branded Delta Amex cards are offering huge limited time welcome offers:
- The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is offering a bonus of 70,000 SkyMiles after spending $2,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card is offering a bonus of 70,000 SkyMiles plus a $50 statement credit after spending $2,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is offering a bonus of 90,000 SkyMiles plus 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card is offering a bonus of 90,000 SkyMiles, plus 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), plus a $100 statement credit, after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is offering a bonus of 80,000 SkyMiles plus 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after spending $5,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card is offering a bonus of 80,000 SkyMiles, plus 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), plus a $200 statement credit, after spending $5,000 within the first three months
As I’ll discuss in more detail below, with the Pay With Miles feature, each mile can be redeemed for at least one cent worth of travel on Delta. A bonus of 70,000 SkyMiles? That’ll get you at least $700 worth of travel on Delta. A bonus of 90,000 SkyMiles plus a $100 statement credit? That’ll get you at least $900 worth of travel on Delta, plus the $100 statement credit.
This is seriously a reason to consider these cards, even if you’re not someone who is otherwise big into SkyMiles.
How Much Are Delta Miles Worth?
Personally, I value Delta SkyMiles at a bit over a cent each. I’m conservative about valuing miles, simply because you’re holding onto a currency that can easily be devalued (and in the case of SkyMiles it is indeed often devalued, especially for international partner awards).
While I always hold out hope that there will be good deals for redeeming in international business class, either for travel on Delta, or for travel on a partner airline, the reality is that the value on this front has gotten significantly worse over the years.
At this point there are very few situations where I find partner Delta SkyMiles awards to be a good value, at least for travel to & from the United States (there are often decent values when traveling between other regions, though).
There are sometimes good deals on Delta One international business class tickets, but you’ll get the best value when redeeming roundtrip vs. one-way (Delta SkyMiles is one of the few programs to price awards more attractively for roundtrips than one-ways). For example, you can regularly find awards between New York and London in business class for 160,000 SkyMiles roundtrip. Is that an amazing deal? No. Is it a decent deal when the alternative is redeeming SkyMiles for one cent each towards a ticket? Yes.
Even beyond the lack of international premium options, the reality is that redeeming for domestic travel is just a lot more practical anyway, especially with current travel restrictions. 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 Pay With Miles
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.
In other words, if a ticket costs $200, you could choose to:
- Pay $150 plus 5,000 miles
- Pay $100 plus 10,000 miles
- Pay $50 plus 15,000 miles
- Pay $0 plus 20,000 miles
The best part is that for all practical purposes these are still considered “paid” tickets. Let’s look at some more details about how this program works.
Who Is Eligible For Delta Pay With Miles?
The Pay With Miles benefit is available exclusively to those with Delta co-branded credit cards. This includes all seven co-branded cards, including the Blue, Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cards, both business and personal (the Blue only has a personal version).
Having elite status with Delta in and of itself doesn’t give you access to this program.
Do You Earn MQMs/MQSs On Delta Pay With Miles Tickets?
Yes, you earn Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) for tickets booked through Pay With Miles.
This is one of the reasons the program is so popular, especially among elite members. The tickets you’re redeeming your miles for can still help you requalify for elite status.
Do You Earn MQDs On Delta Pay With Miles Tickets?
Delta Pay With Miles tickets are eligible for the accrual of Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs), but only for the portion of the ticket you’re paying cash for, and not for the portion of the ticket being offset by miles.
Do You Earn Redeemable Miles For Delta Pay With Miles Tickets?
Delta Pay With Miles tickets are eligible for accrual of redeemable miles, though you’ll only earn those miles based on the portion of the ticket for which you paid cash.
As a reminder, SkyMiles members earn the following number of redeemable miles:
- Non-elite members earn 5x miles
- Silver Medallion members earn 7x miles
- Gold Medallion members earn 8x miles
- Platinum Medallion Members earn 9x miles
- Diamond Medallion members earn 11x miles
Can You Upgrade Delta Pay With Miles Tickets?
Delta Pay With Miles tickets are no different than any other cash ticket for the purposes of an upgrade. If you’re a Medallion member who would otherwise be eligible for complimentary upgrades, you would be eligible as well on a Pay With Miles ticket.
The exception is if you’re using Pay With Miles to offset the cost of a basic economy ticket, since those tickets can’t be upgraded.
Is There A Limit To How Many Pay With Miles Tickets You Can Book?
Nope, as long as you have sufficient SkyMiles you can use the option for as many tickets as you’d like.
How Do You Book A Delta Pay With Miles Ticket?
The process is really easy. First, you have to log into your eligible SkyMiles account on delta.com (this would be for the account linked to your credit card).
Then you’d just search flights as you usually would. You’ll see “Pay with Miles Eligible” written underneath eligible itineraries.
Once you select the flight and fare you want, go to the trip summary page. When you scroll to the bottom you’ll see the option of choosing how many miles you want to redeem to offset the cost of the ticket.
Once you select the miles you want to redeem, you’ll even see how many redeemable miles, MQMs, and MQDs you’ll earn.
For example, if you choose to redeem 50,000 miles for the above first class ticket you’d just pay $26.20. Then you’d earn MQMs for the ticket as usual, but wouldn’t earn MQDs or redeemable miles, since the entire ticket cost (minus part of the taxes and fees) is covered by miles.
Is Delta Pay With Miles A Good Deal?
People have very different takes on this program. I know some Delta loyalists who always redeem their miles through Pay With Miles. Personally I’m conflicted — I used to think this wasn’t a good value, while now I’m on the fence…
Why Some People Love Delta Pay With Miles
In many cases, it seems to be Delta’s most loyal customers who like Pay With Miles.
One of the big challenges that many frequent flyers have is that they earn tons of miles, but then they don’t actually want to redeem them, since they’re on the elite status hamster wheel and want to earn elite miles for their travel. Delta’s credit cards can also help you earn elite status, and for that matter in 2021 award flights even count towards status.
Pay With Miles is also a useful program for the occasional flyer who doesn’t want to deal with the complexity of frequent flyer programs. It’s nice to be able to redeem miles as you earn them to get discounts on your tickets.
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.
Why I’m On The Fence About Delta Pay With Miles
In the past I used to be kind of opposed to redeeming SkyMiles with the Pay With Miles feature, but that’s not the case anymore:
- I like to try and redeem miles for international first and business class tickets where I can get outsized value, though those options with Delta SkyMiles are few and far between
- In many cases there are such disproportionately good values through other programs that the opportunity cost of redeeming SkyMiles this way are just way too high
Personally nowadays I’m in the “you might as well redeem SkyMiles this way” camp. However, I think it’s important to recognize that you’re not getting a full cent of value per SkyMiles when redeeming using the Pay With Miles feature. Why? The cent of value you’re getting doesn’t account for the miles you’re forgoing by using this feature.
Let’s say you’re booking a $100 ticket for 10,000 SkyMiles using the Pay With Miles feature. By not paying that $100 in cash you’re forgoing:
- 500-1,100 Delta SkyMiles, since you would have otherwise earned 5-11x SkyMiles per dollar spent
- Up to 500 credit card points, since credit cards offer up to 5x points on airfare
In other words, you’re forgoing anywhere from 1,000-1,600 points by not spending that $100 on airfare.
Ultimately you have to subtract that from the value you’re otherwise getting, and as a result, I’d say you’re getting closer to 0.8-0.9 cents of value per mile using this method.
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 largely true, there is something to be said for there being a floor value for SkyMiles.
In the context of these welcome bonuses on Delta credit cards, this means you could be receiving $700-900 worth of travel on Delta with these offers (and potentially much more), and that’s not factoring in the MQMs or statement credits.
For those with SkyMiles, do you use your miles for the Pay With Miles feature, or what is your favorite use of them?