Is Delta “Pay With Miles” A Good Deal?

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
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There are presently welcome bonuses on the co-branded Delta American Express cards:

Delta Amex Cards

I’ve shared what I consider to be the best strategy for applying for these cards, and experience with getting approved. While some like to call SkyMiles worthless, I think there are lots of great uses of these miles. The reality is that SkyMiles remain extremely useful for business class travel to Europe and Asia, which are two of the most popular destinations which people try to redeem miles to.

Redeeming SkyMiles for China Airlines business class is super easy

For those who think SkyMiles are worthless, I do think it’s worth pointing out a way you can redeem your miles without any restrictions. This is a method Nick mentioned he takes advantage of in his post in defense of Delta a while back.

Delta’s Pay With Miles option

There’s no denying that Delta would love to switch to a revenue based program on the redemption side, and that they’re basically trying to establish the mileage currency as something worth one cent per mile.

When redeeming miles through the traditional award chart, some people get considerably more than one cent of value per mile per mile, while others get considerably less than one cent of value per mile.

However, there’s one type of redemption to be aware of, which isn’t offered in the same way through American or United.

Delta has a Pay With Miles option, where you can essentially redeem miles for a discount on the cost of a cash ticket. You can redeem in increments of 5,000 miles, with each set of 5,000 miles getting you a $50 discount. What makes this cool is that you still earn elite qualifying miles for your ticket, and still earn redeemable miles for the portion of your ticket which you paid for in cash.


This is available exclusively to those with a co-branded Delta American Express card, so other members can’t take advantage of this. If you are eligible, you should automatically see the option when you log into your SkyMiles account and search for a revenue ticket.

Take the below flight between Los Angeles and Seattle, which costs $78.10. As you’ll see, below the price it says “Pay with Miles eligible.”


When you get to the next page you’ll have the option of choosing how many miles you want to redeem towards the ticket. You could redeem 5,000 miles and then pay just $28.10.


Or you could redeem 10,000 miles and pay nothing (which I wouldn’t do, since those 10,000 miles could also be used for a $100 ticket — you’d be “wasting” ~$22).


I’d argue this is a significantly better redemption option than booking an award ticket. An award ticket would cost 7,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes. I’d much rather redeem 5,000 miles and pay a total of $28.10, so that I’d earn Medallion Qualifying miles plus also have higher upgrade priority (award tickets are prioritized last for upgrades).



This is an even better deal if you wanted to outright book first class on the above flight. A paid ticket costs $172.10, meaning you could redeem 15,000 miles and then pay $22.10, while an outright award ticket would cost you 37,500 miles.

Delta 737 first class

This certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for redeeming SkyMiles, as I’d much rather redeem them at the saver level for travel on partner airlines.

For example, I think New York to Taipei in China Airlines’ excellent business class product represents a considerably better value, since I value a business class ticket to Asia at more than $700 one-way.


However, I know lots of people who are trying to requalify for status and don’t otherwise have time to redeem miles, and they’d much rather redeem their SkyMiles through the Pay With Miles option.

Delta SkyMiles Pay With Miles bottom line

Pay With Miles is an exclusive benefit for those with one of Delta’s co-branded credit cards. This isn’t how I choose to redeem SkyMiles, since I earn miles primarily in order to book international premium cabin redemptions. However, I think this is a great option to have, and it’s something many value.

I know lots of people who collect miles & points precisely because they don’t want to pay for airline tickets, but rather want to redeem miles as inexpensively as possible. Lately we’ve been seeing a ton of fare sales, both in business class and economy class, so taking advantage of one of those in conjunction with a Pay With Miles deal could make a lot of sense.

This is also great for people who really want to requalify for status, but don’t have enough free time to redeem their miles efficiently. This helps them save money on requalifying for status, while not racking up too big a balance of SkyMiles (since miles devalue over time).

Like I said, I’d personally rather part with one cent than one SkyMile, but everyone values things like this differently, and I know plenty of people who swear by Pay With Miles. So I don’t think it’s a bad use of SkyMiles.

To Delta loyalists, do you ever use the Pay With Miles option?

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  1. I just wanted to confirm, is “Pay with Miles” a different option than the “Miles + Cash” Option that is located next to the “Miles” button? If they are different, is the redemption value the same? 1 cent per mile?

    You kind of pointed out the best “premium” cabin value with SkyMiles seems to be their partner airlines. I doubt you could find 70K business class seat to Asia on DL metal. Flying from HNL, we only get a 10K discount versus the mainland, in spite of flying a significantly shorter distance, and unfortunately, China Airlines has a horrible hard product from HNL to TPE. Makes me want to make a 2500 mile positioning flight sometimes. I have accumulated a decent amount of Skymiles over the years, partly due to their great no expiration policy, just can’t figure out when to “pull the trigger” especially now with kids, so traveling itself is not easy, and getting a premium cabin is impossible as a family. Just have to hope that we can leave the kids with the grandparents for our 15 year anniversary before all the mileage redemptions disappear. Or I guess I can just use my miles on RT domestic economy flights…but that seems so disappointing.

  2. Probably 10 years ago I did indeed use United’s version of “pay with miles” option. Was a royal pain in the $%& to work with CS on the redemption process. Worked similar to Capital One’s purchase eraser feature. Didnt realize UA no longer has this option.

  3. Lucky… What good is a Mile thats worth a penny? Once that happens, people will dig out there old cash back cards. I think I have my college one somewhere…. now where did I put it?

  4. @Eric, not sure there are many 1% cash back cards that come with a $500 sign up bonus…

  5. I am in the boat of loving pay with miles. Often I can find first class fares cheaper then the outright mileage redemption plus I get the elite qualifying miles to boot helping me keep Diamond status. Also, as mentioned if one is judicious and patient you can find great Business class fares in which pay with miles is nearing equivalency of an outright award; only you collect the MQM’s versus nothing at all. Finally I personally like knowing the floor value of a skymile – no matter what one should always get at least 1 cent per mile in value.

  6. Oh C’mon, not one mention of alternatives like Citi Prestige card here. Let’s compare 10,000 Thankyou points vs 10,000 Delta miles vs 10,000 SPG points.

    Let’s say you earn or manufacture 10,000 points on all these 3 credit cards each mentioned above.

    Agree, You can use 10,000 delta miles towards $100 delta revenue ticket when you have one of these Amex delta miles credit card.

    With Amex SPG credit cards, 10,000 spg points can technically be used for $125 towards Delta revenue fare when you transfer in 20k increments to Delta.

    With Citi Pestige, 10,000 thank you points that can be attained quicker and faster can be used for $125 towards the same delta ticket (or $160 towards an AA ticket).

    Having said that, the Amex delta cards are worth just for the sign up bonuses, but with people in cases as someone like me who has both the Amex spg credit cards and one Amex Hilton and Amex everyday preferred – is out of options signing up for another Amex credit card. I guess we are well off with the current options as-is.

    @lucky – How did you manage to sign up for the Delta credit cards given Alex’s max 4 credit cards rule. We know you have the Amex everyday preffered and both the SPG personal and business versions and you did blog earlier that you have the Amex Hilton as well.

  7. The great benefit of the pay with miles is the MQMs you earn. 1 cent per mile is just the start, the value of MQMs really pushes this redemption method up. I can’t remember the last time Lucky did an elite qualifying M mile valuation. It has to be north of 3 cents per mile though. You also get higher upgrade priority than awards with these tickets.

    Combined with the cheap first class fares Delta has been offering, this is a great deal to fly up front on the cheap and help earn status for those of us that don’t hit diamond every year without effort. Also the MQMs from credit card spend and rollover miles really make Skymiles more lucrative to the average flyer than AA or UA.

  8. I use it all the time. I love this feature. It allows me to have flexibility with using my miles. Sometimes I want to redeem for intl business class, sometimes I want a discount on my flight. Lately I’ve been using it to cover the difference between coach purchased with OPM and first class. I then credit the first class flight to AS. As an AS MVPG, my RDM/EQM bonus is huge. It is great. Even though skymiles are worth nothing, DL has focused on giving redemption flexibility to the traveler, which is excellent. It is so well integrated into the website and buying process that I find more and more that I am using PWM. YMMV

  9. PWM takes away one of the best benefits of being Platinum or Diamond, No change fees 72 hours before the first flight. The return flight can also be change up to a year after you make the first flight.

    If you really need the MQMs and just can’t pay for it, I guess I can see it. But,
    1 cent a mile is not acceptable. Might as well get a 2% card then.

    The award sales that Delta is offering and the bonus miles that Amex/Delta are doing is a sign that people are not redeeming as much. Some of the awards have really gotten high in the last six months. I think Delta has gone to far. With revenue base program, overall people are earning less miles too.

    I am sure many people are set on not paying cash for a leisure trip. You have to look at miles as a type of currency. Give yourself options. Diversify. There are so many better was to use skymiles than with PWM

  10. @g50: Over time with everyday spending, sure the 2% beats 1 cent PWM. But initially the card bonuses on the DL cards will net more than what’s available on a single 2% cashback card.

  11. @Gaurav: Its not all about the signup bonus, especially a card with an annual fee. If I’m paying money to have a certain card, I prefer to know that I will gain points back quickly if the card is being used.

  12. @Eric, if you’ve been doing this for a while you’ll know that there are cards you get for the sign up bonus and cards that you use for everyday spending. I think it’s pretty clear with the increased sign up bonuses Ben has been running a series on the features of DL miles. It doesn’t mean that you should put spend on the card to redeem at 1% after getting the sign up bonus. Everyone needs to look at the information and make decisions that work well for them.

  13. Quick question re: “I’d much rather redeem 5,000 miles and pay a total of $28.10, so that I’d earn Medallion Qualifying miles plus also have higher upgrade priority (award tickets are prioritized last for upgrades).”

    Can you show me where in Delta’s policies it specifically says that Pay With Miles tickets have higher upgrade priority than straight award tickets?


  14. My personal preference is not to use PWM. I like to save my miles for NJ – Europe premium class redemption. However, if you find a great fare to Europe, it can make sense to do some PWM, especially if buying two tickets, and even more so if you do not have unlimited miles. I don’t think Skymiles are useless, they just took my wife & I to Paris in May. That made her happy, and you all know the old adage, “If momma ain’t happy, NOBODY’S happy”. I view Skymiles like any other FF program. Use them when it is to your best advantage. They cannot be any worse than Star Alliance.

  15. PWM tickets are the lowest upgrade priority, below award travel. DL’s site is very clear about this (and I believe always has been since these tickets became upgrade-eligible). PWM can be an easy way to earn MQMs at low to no cost, especially if you’re short on cash.

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