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 toward 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 toward the cost of a Delta purchase. In this post, I wanted to look at how that works.
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.
This is also worth considering in the context of Delta Amex credit card welcome offers. If a card has a welcome offer of 100,000 SkyMiles, that could get you $1,000 worth of travel on Delta. This is seriously a reason to consider these cards, even if you’re not someone who is otherwise big into SkyMiles.
In this post:
How much are Delta SkyMiles 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 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 and not one-way (Delta SkyMiles is one of the few programs to price awards more attractively for roundtrips than one-ways).
For example, you can sometimes 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 toward a ticket? Yes.
The reality is that for many, redeeming SkyMiles for domestic travel is just 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 toward the cost of a ticket.
If you have a Delta co-branded credit card then you can redeem SkyMiles for one cent each toward 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 the following:
- Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card (review)
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 just as you usually would.
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 also accrue Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) at the same rates that they usually would. Since you’re redeeming each mile for one cent, that means you’re earning one MQD for every 100 miles redeemed.
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).
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.
The Delta TakeOff 15 perk is a good alternative
If you’re thinking of redeeming your SkyMiles for Delta flights, also consider TakeOff 15, which is a perk available exclusively for those with a co-branded credit card. With this, you receive 15% off any Delta SkyMiles award ticket for travel on Delta. The price shown will automatically reflect this when you go to make a booking while logged into your eligible SkyMiles account.
Delta has dynamic award pricing, and in many cases you’ll find that with the 15% discount, you’re getting significantly more than one cent of value per mile.
If you’re chasing elite status, also keep in mind that nowadays Delta SkyMiles award tickets also count toward elite status. Flights earn MQMs and MQSs as they usually would, while they earn MQDs at the rate of one cent per mile. In other words, if you redeem 20,000 SkyMiles for a ticket, you’d earn 200 MQDs. This is at least an alternative to Pay With miles that you should be aware of and research when making a booking.
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, especially for those of us who prefer the flexibility of booking one-ways
- 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. That’s why the TakeOff 15 award redemption discount often represents a better deal.
Personally I’m also a fan of redeeming SkyMiles at the rate of 1.5 cents per mile toward alcohol in Sky Clubs.
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.
The Delta Pay With Miles program lets those with a co-branded Delta Amex card redeem SkyMiles at the rate of one cent each toward the cost of a ticket, in increments of 5,000 miles. For many SkyMiles members this is a favorite way to redeem miles, as redemptions don’t get easier than this.
However, also be sure you consider the opportunity of the TakeOff 15 redemption option, allowing you get a 15% discount on award tickets. In many cases the math will work out better on those redemptions.
For those with SkyMiles, do you use your miles for the Pay With Miles feature, or what is your favorite use of them?