Delta Pay With Miles: Everything You Need To Know

Delta Pay With Miles: Everything You Need To Know

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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 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.

This is especially valuable in the context of the current limited time welcome offers we’re seeing on Delta’s co-branded Amex cards. 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 welcome offer of 100,000 SkyMiles? That’ll get you at least $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.

Get lots of travel with current Delta Amex bonuses

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).

Virgin Atlantic’s A350 business class

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 toward 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 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:

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

You could 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 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.

SkyMiles redemptions don’t get easier than Pay With Miles

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:

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.

Personally I’m happy redeeming my SkyMiles for Dom Perignon in the SkyClub, at the rate of 1.5 cents per mile.

Now that’s a good use of Delta 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.

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.

For those with SkyMiles, do you use your miles for the Pay With Miles feature, or what is your favorite use of them?

Conversations (11)
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  1. Michele Guest

    How hard is booking award flights on Delta's partner carriers? I've never done it but it's the whole reason I'm sticking with the Sky Team alliance. Can you earn MQD's and MQM's based on the same chart used when you book cash flights on those partner sites?

  2. Hilton Guest

    I'm one of those very casual flyers who finds value in Pay with Miles. The bulk of my flights are with Delta because of where I fly, but I only fly a handful of times a year, and usually domestic. I'm unlikely to find award availability that's useful for me unless I save for a few years, and while I know that Skymiles don't expire I feel like I'm better off just using them as I go.

  3. Jeff Guest

    This is how I've been burning SkyMiles. Every year, I end up with a great deal of SkyMiles. But, they're ultimately not valuable if I'm not using them. I simply use them as a giant coupon on paid international business tickets. It earns MQM and I don't have to worry about finding availability and optimizing redemption value. I'd rather use up a six figure balance of SkyMiles at 1 cent mile each year than deal...

    This is how I've been burning SkyMiles. Every year, I end up with a great deal of SkyMiles. But, they're ultimately not valuable if I'm not using them. I simply use them as a giant coupon on paid international business tickets. It earns MQM and I don't have to worry about finding availability and optimizing redemption value. I'd rather use up a six figure balance of SkyMiles at 1 cent mile each year than deal with the hassle of finding redemption that is maybe worth 1.1 - 1.2 cents per mile. These redemptions are going to be domestic economy on routes and schedules I'm not interested in. The search cost is too high. The trade off isn't worth the additional 0.1 cents per mile.

    My other way to burn is SkyMiles is, occasionally, I've found international upgrades to be good value. By calling in, I've found that one can part with surprisingly few SkyMiles for what would be pretty substantial fare increases. I don't know why this is, but I've been surprised by it. Delta doesn't seem to peg the value of SkyMiles here quite like they do in the typical point-of-sale experience online.

    In conclusion, pay-with-miles can be a great alternative to collecting SkyMiles for years for an astronomically-priced and scarcely-available international Delta One award.

  4. OMAATreader Guest

    @Lucky, UA now has "Money+Miles" which basically does what Pay With Miles does right?

    https://www.united.com/en/us/fly/mileageplus/awards/moneyplusmiles.html

  5. Omar Guest

    The only good use of Delta miles left is AF biz awards from non-US points to Europe (BOG, PTY often available and Caribbean islands). Other than that they are useless.

  6. polarbear Member

    So I was always curious:
    1. Pay with miles is only available for Delta-metal flights
    2. Refunds of pay with miles tickets are in the form of e-credit.

    Say I want to book a KLM flight.
    Can I do this?
    - pay with miles for any refundable domestic ticket
    - cancel it and get ecredit
    - use ecredit to buy my KLM flight

  7. Veejay Guest

    Honestly, I like booking an award ticket in economy and then upgrading to first/business in the seat selection menu once I have the ticket. That way, you can get anywhere from 1.2-1.5 cpp on some part of the flight (since Delta favors economy awards) while reducing the overall cost of the ticket (which is what Pay with Miles is trying to do). Another advantage with the award-economy-upgrade-later approach is if you want to get trip...

    Honestly, I like booking an award ticket in economy and then upgrading to first/business in the seat selection menu once I have the ticket. That way, you can get anywhere from 1.2-1.5 cpp on some part of the flight (since Delta favors economy awards) while reducing the overall cost of the ticket (which is what Pay with Miles is trying to do). Another advantage with the award-economy-upgrade-later approach is if you want to get trip insurance. Trip insurance cost will be based only on the economy award ticket fees and will stay on the ticket after you upgrade your seat. So you can save more with trip insurance costs.

    The only downside is that you don't really know exactly how much the overall cost to upgrade until you have purchased the economy award ticket. It's usually around the "first/business minus economy" value sometimes more, sometimes less. So it can be a little bit difficult to compare flights. What I do is that if I'm 90% certain on a flight, I will book the economy award ticket for the flight. And if I don't like the upgrade cost, I'll cancel the flight within the 24 hr booking guarantee window. That 24 hr window saved my butt in a few instances.

  8. Veejay Guest

    Honestly, I have more luck with booking an award ticket in economy and then upgrading to first/business with cash using the seat selection menu. That way you can take advantage of how Delta tends to favor economy award bookings of around 1.2-1.5 cpp and reduce the overall cost of first/business. Which at the end of the day, reducing the cost of the ticket is what Pay with Miles is trying to do. Another advantage with...

    Honestly, I have more luck with booking an award ticket in economy and then upgrading to first/business with cash using the seat selection menu. That way you can take advantage of how Delta tends to favor economy award bookings of around 1.2-1.5 cpp and reduce the overall cost of first/business. Which at the end of the day, reducing the cost of the ticket is what Pay with Miles is trying to do. Another advantage with this strategy (award economy + cash seat upgrade) is that if you took on trip insurance, it is only based on the fees from the economy award which makes it way cheaper. Once you book the economy award ticket and bought trip insurance, the insurance on the ticket is still applied when you make the seat upgrade to first/business at no additional cost.

    The only downside is that you don't really know how much it costs to upgrade into first/business with cash until you book the economy award ticket. It's usually fairly close to the "first/business minus economy" fare. So shopping around for the right flight can be a little bit tough. What try to do is purchase the economy award ticket once I'm 90% sure I want to fly that specific flight. Then cancel the flight within the 24 hour booking window if I don't like the upgrade cost. That 24hr booking guarantee saves my butt in alot of instances.

  9. Anthony Diamond

    In 2021 and 2022, using Pay with Miles is usually inferior to redeeming for regular way domestic award flights.

    1) Pay with Miles is called at 1 cent per SkyMile, you can get 1.2, 1.3, often 1.4 by just booking the award

    2) Award bookings earn MQM and MQD in 2021 and 2022

    So as of right now, Pay With Miles is pretty inferior IMO (unless you don’t have a lot of miles and are just using what you have left to defray part of a ticket).

    1. Nola New Member

      Anthony is absolutely correct. If you look at the 1 cent value for redemption through pay with miles compared to the price (in miles) for an award ticket, the award ticket will almost always give a better return. And the award tickets now earn MQM and MQD (at least through 2022 but, hopefully, for much longer since DL is trying to make SkyMiles a currency). So the better use of miles (at least for this year) is to book award tickets and avoid pay with miles.

  10. DLPTATL Guest

    Lucky, thanks for the detailed breakdown on the Pay With Miles program. Like you I know lots of Delta loyalists with Platinum and Diamond status who choose to churn and burn miles this way. What holds me back is that I have tons, I mean TONS of MQM's but getting MQD's is much tougher to re-qualify for Diamond status ($15k spend with DL or $250k spend on your eligible DL AmEx). In 2021 and 2022...

    Lucky, thanks for the detailed breakdown on the Pay With Miles program. Like you I know lots of Delta loyalists with Platinum and Diamond status who choose to churn and burn miles this way. What holds me back is that I have tons, I mean TONS of MQM's but getting MQD's is much tougher to re-qualify for Diamond status ($15k spend with DL or $250k spend on your eligible DL AmEx). In 2021 and 2022 when full points redemption (vs pay with points + $s) flights are counting towards MQDs it makes a lot more sense for many of us to go this route to get MQD credit for the entire flight at $0.01 per Skymile. In 2023 it's anyone's guess as to what will be the best strategy for using miles and re-qualifying for status.

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Veejay Guest

Honestly, I like booking an award ticket in economy and then upgrading to first/business in the seat selection menu once I have the ticket. That way, you can get anywhere from 1.2-1.5 cpp on some part of the flight (since Delta favors economy awards) while reducing the overall cost of the ticket (which is what Pay with Miles is trying to do). Another advantage with the award-economy-upgrade-later approach is if you want to get trip insurance. Trip insurance cost will be based only on the economy award ticket fees and will stay on the ticket after you upgrade your seat. So you can save more with trip insurance costs. The only downside is that you don't really know exactly how much the overall cost to upgrade until you have purchased the economy award ticket. It's usually around the "first/business minus economy" value sometimes more, sometimes less. So it can be a little bit difficult to compare flights. What I do is that if I'm 90% certain on a flight, I will book the economy award ticket for the flight. And if I don't like the upgrade cost, I'll cancel the flight within the 24 hr booking guarantee window. That 24 hr window saved my butt in a few instances.

1
Michele Guest

How hard is booking award flights on Delta's partner carriers? I've never done it but it's the whole reason I'm sticking with the Sky Team alliance. Can you earn MQD's and MQM's based on the same chart used when you book cash flights on those partner sites?

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Hilton Guest

I'm one of those very casual flyers who finds value in Pay with Miles. The bulk of my flights are with Delta because of where I fly, but I only fly a handful of times a year, and usually domestic. I'm unlikely to find award availability that's useful for me unless I save for a few years, and while I know that Skymiles don't expire I feel like I'm better off just using them as I go.

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