Delta Pay With Miles: Everything You Need To Know

Filed Under: Delta, Reward Programs
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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 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 Offering Special Bonuses

We’ll talk more about the Delta Pay With Miles below, but the basic idea is that if you have a co-branded Delta Amex card then you can redeem your SkyMiles for one cent each towards a Delta ticket. This is valuable in the context of the current increased bonuses we’re seeing on Delta Amex cards, which are valid for applications through April 28, 2021.

These offers include the following:

As you can see, these bonuses offer 70,000-90,000 SkyMiles, enough for a minimum of $700-900 worth of travel on Delta. And that doesn’t even include the statement credits or elite miles on some of the cards.

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).

I do 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. However, that’s not consistently possible nowadays.


China Airlines’ 777 business class

For many people just redeeming for domestic travel is a lot more practical anyway.  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 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.


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 (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.

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 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 this way, while personally, this isn’t how I’d redeem my miles.

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 (besides, Delta’s credit cards can also help you earn elite status). 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 Delta 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:

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.

That being said, partner redemptions largely aren’t nearly as good of a deal as they used to be. There are definitely still ways to get way over a cent of value per mile, but it does take some effort with SkyMiles.

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 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).

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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Comments
  1. You can also pay with miles towards vacation packages with Delta Vacations. The mileage earning is a bit wonky, but considering they offer pretty cheap packages, it’s a way to enhance tour savings, especially when paired with their promotions.

    Last year pre-pandemic, I took my wife to London for a long weekend (5 days), and stayed at the Corinthia for about 700$ per person flight + hotel after some miles, and a promotion I had on an AMEX. Full MQM, some winky MQD/redeemable miles.

  2. @ Ben — Delta miles are not worth 1 cpm anymore. If you use this feature, which is possibly the BEST remaining use of DL miles, you won’t earn MDQ. Everyone needs to wake up and realize that the value of Delta miles has now reached 0.9 cpm.

  3. I would recommend adding a note about cancellations of pay with miles tickets.

    If you cancel a ticket, the miles are forfeited and the entire value of the ticket is converted into a voucher (cash portion plus mileage value at 1CPM). The miles do not get redeposited in the manner of award tickets.

  4. Shortly before The Plague hit, Delta Vacations had a great promo offer that was something like a 2 cents per mile redemption. IIRC, the ticket component of Delta Vacations is considered to be a bulk/exception fare and will follow the exception chart for redeemable miles (150-50% of distance flown depending on fare class) and MQMs and MQSs accrue the same as non-opaque ticket purchases.

  5. I think it’s also worth noting you can only use Pay With Miles on Delta-operated flights and not codeshare partner-operated flights.

  6. Upgrade with Miles is a great feature too! Makes Delta one of the easiest airlines to book first-class tickets on when I want to use some of my rewards.

  7. @beachmouse- that’s the promo we took advantage of, paired with the up to 500$ credit given with a new delta platinum biz Amex. We saved a ton.

  8. And also @william does it mean that the whole value (including the 1 cpm from redeemed Skymiles) becomes a cash equivalent that will earn MQM, MQD and redeemable miles when you use them?

    I think the whole discussion here demonstrates that everyone has different value criteria for redeeming miles. Sure, you need to include miles foregone as well as those redeemed for the flight in any comparison with the dollar cost saved. If you don’t need the MQD for your target status level and you can’t roll them over into the next year it doesn’t matter if you don’t receive any. If your sole aim is to use up your mile balance, the other considerations are not relevant to you. I have QF miles that I have accumulated but haven’t used because I needed paid fares to achieve the status I wanted. I doubt I’m the only one making that calculation.

  9. Delta Vacations package redemptions can also sometimes be a better deal for redeeming for long haul premium cabin than miles redemptions are- call in to redeem and you can do like a 10 day round trip that only involves something like a 2 night hotel stay as part of the package. (And no one cases if those two nights are a cheap hostel and you no-show them)

  10. @beachmouse-

    We had Toronto to Cape Town booked through them in biz on KLM and AF and staying in wine country for like $3300/pp but the pandemic nuked that.

  11. Last time I used it, it was limited to flights exclusively on Delta metal. So no european connections

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