Delta Pay With Miles: Everything You Need To Know

Filed Under: Delta
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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. In this post I wanted to look at how that works.

How Much Are Delta Miles 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.

Ideally, I’d recommend redeeming SkyMiles for business class on a partner airline, like Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, etc. For example, China Airlines offers a great 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 a solid 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 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, $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.

So, 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 select Delta co-branded credit cards. This includes those who have either the business or personal version of the Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Delta Amex.

Delta Amex Cards

See this post for everything you need to know about Delta Amex cards.

Having elite status with Delta in and of itself doesn’t give you access to this program.

You should use Pay With Miles for a Delta One ticket

Do You Earn MQMs/MQSs On Delta Pay With Miles Tickets?

Yes, you earn Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles and Medallion Qualifying Segments 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, 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. So 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 tickets.

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.

Delta Pay With Miles tickets are upgradable the same way as paid tickets

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 (this would be for the account linked to your credit card).

Then you’d just search flights as you usually would. You’ll see a designator indicating that says “Pay With Miles Eligible.”

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 25,000 miles for the above first class ticket you’d just pay $7.30. 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 this way, while personally, this isn’t how I’d redeem my miles.

Why Some People Love 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. This program is a great solution for those people.

Similarly, this is a useful program for the occasional flyer who doesn’t want to deal with the complexity of frequent flyer programs.

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 Don’t Think Pay With Miles Is A Good Deal

Personally I like to try and redeem miles for international first and business class tickets where I can get outsized value.

If you were getting a full cent of value per SkyMile when redeeming using Pay With Miles then I’d say it’s a pretty solid value, but that doesn’t account for the miles you’re forgoing by using Pay With Miles. Let’s say you redeem 10,000 miles to save $100 on a ticket. 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.

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 these 60,000-75,000 mile welcome bonuses, that potentially translates into $600-750 worth of airfare on Delta, which is a solid bonus.

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. There is also an upgrade with miles features that is available for anyone, not just Delta credit card holders. The valuation for miles for upgrading is closer to 1.2 cents.

  2. The other benefit is unlike pure award tickets on Delta, pay with miles tickets are eligible to use RUCs and GUCs

  3. I think that what this actually shows is that Skymiles are just barely above worthless.

    Regarding what a value it is to score a roundtrip business-class award ticket to Asia for 170K Skymiles, first, that’s one of the very few rational Skymiles redemption options left, and second, you can do the same for far fewer miles using Etihad, ANA, Cathay, Alaska, JAL, Asiana, Virgin Atlantic and KAL, among others. In fact, you can get first-class award tickets to Asia for less than that.

    To show you how bad things have gotten, I have a DL certificate for a domestic coach award that was good for one year. I tried to use it five times. No luck. And no extension, either.

    When you spend years depriving your best customers with any decent reward for their loyalty, you end up with . . . Skymiles.

  4. Ferdinand – I see decent availability in early spring (March, April) to Europe on Delta from JFK at the 80,000 mile range. American more or less charges 115,000 miles for the same flight nowadays (saver isn’t available). I also redeemed a coach seat recently, JFK to LAS, using my credit card companion ticket – the cash cost was about $400. And Pay with Miles and Upgrade with Miles are good for tactical use. SkyMiles is a decent program – you don’t get outsize value out of it, but you can get consistent and decent value from it.

  5. @Ferdinand Magellan

    What is a ” DL certificate for a domestic coach award”, from SkyBonus? If so you need to book in a specific fare (cheaper ones)

    RT to Asia for 170k (180k on DL) used to be 120k 5 years ago. And back then you earn x2 miles as elite on distance. Earn less burn more, exponential devalue.
    This shows how Ed Bastian, CFO then, is making $$$$$$ for Delta.

    Yes Skymiles are just barely above worthless. But at least this is a safety net feature to cash out at $0.01 rather than LAX-SYD for 930,000 miles + fees or CLE-DTW for 81,000 miles (yes for a 2:30 hour drive)

  6. I went to the award section of DL to see how I could apply my 91,000 SkyMiles for a trip to Spain . I could do it with less miles plus $77, but the routing was crazy…multiple stops and leaving my home at 2 a.m. when I usually take evening flights. I’ll look into your pay with miles suggestion. Also, I upgraded from economy to Comfort + on a trip this past summer and it took wayyy too many miles.

  7. Why would anyone on earth do that. .01 per mile. Most people get their miles from credit cards. Get a 2% card like the venture card if that’s how you want to redeem your points. Delta SkyMiles sucks. Never get their AMEX cards. Biggest waste.

  8. @Ryan, I dunno, I figure my card pays for itself with the companion certificate and occasional checked bags.

  9. I am happy with my upcoming Delta flight. LAX to Haneda round trip. Business Class 98k plus $56.

    For me a good deal!

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