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 110,000 SkyMiles? That’ll get you at least $1,100 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.

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:

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, 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:

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?

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  1. Ralph4878 Guest

    How I use my SkyMiles: I've been able to find cheap one-way tickets to/from my family home in North Carolina and HNL (ILM-ATL-HNL for $315.00; HNL-ATL-MYR for $374.00; RDU-MSP-HNL for $345.00), and then confirm an upgrade to Delta One on the longer legs a day or two after booking using around 80,000 miles. Considering how sky high D1 fares are to HNL from this part of the world ($5,900+ r/t...), I find it a good...

    How I use my SkyMiles: I've been able to find cheap one-way tickets to/from my family home in North Carolina and HNL (ILM-ATL-HNL for $315.00; HNL-ATL-MYR for $374.00; RDU-MSP-HNL for $345.00), and then confirm an upgrade to Delta One on the longer legs a day or two after booking using around 80,000 miles. Considering how sky high D1 fares are to HNL from this part of the world ($5,900+ r/t...), I find it a good use of miles I would otherwise not use...I've been Delta Platinum for the last 6 years and actually love everything about DL, except redemptions!

  2. Brian Guest

    You can also redeem miles at Delta Vacations, for a penny per mile as well. That’s my favorite use of miles.

  3. Anthony Diamond

    In fact, Here is how I would rank SkyMiles redemptions, given all award travel now earns MQM and MQD:

    1) Delta One flash sales (typically to Europe)
    2) Domestic or Caribbean flash sales
    3) Regular domestic redemptions
    4) Premium SkyClub beverages
    5) Pay with Miles
    10) Average international business class redemptions

    1. Anthony Diamond

      One edit - I would actually place international economy redemptions at 4) and move everything else down.

  4. Anthony Diamond

    Lucky - I agree with BGriff - you repost this article pretty frequently, but it is very out of date given you earn MQM and MQD on regular award travel with Delta. People redeeming SkyMiles using Pay with Miles are typically redeeming domestic - domestic regular awards get 1.1 to 1.4 cents on Delta, better than the Pay with Miles rate. Further I just redeemed 148K mikes round trip in Delta One to Europe with their sale - I earn over 10K MQM with that booking.

  5. Bgriff Guest

    This article needs to be updated in the context of earning MQDs on "regular" award travel. Is it still the case that you don't earn MQDs on the mileage part of a PWM ticket? If so then you actually earn more toward elite status booking a traditional award.

    And while it is rare to get a lot more than 1 cent/mile in value on a standard Delta domestic award, it is fairly common to get...

    This article needs to be updated in the context of earning MQDs on "regular" award travel. Is it still the case that you don't earn MQDs on the mileage part of a PWM ticket? If so then you actually earn more toward elite status booking a traditional award.

    And while it is rare to get a lot more than 1 cent/mile in value on a standard Delta domestic award, it is fairly common to get a bit more than that, maybe 1.1-1.2 cents/mile (at least before you factor in the earned miles foregone).

    A topic for another time but I was thinking about where Delta typically prices domestic awards these days and wondering if they're slowly creating an arbitrage system for avoiding the taxes charged on domestic tickets ... I think it often works out to just about 1 cent/mile if you exclude the part of a revenue ticket that would be taxes ...

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Ralph4878 Guest

How I use my SkyMiles: I've been able to find cheap one-way tickets to/from my family home in North Carolina and HNL (ILM-ATL-HNL for $315.00; HNL-ATL-MYR for $374.00; RDU-MSP-HNL for $345.00), and then confirm an upgrade to Delta One on the longer legs a day or two after booking using around 80,000 miles. Considering how sky high D1 fares are to HNL from this part of the world ($5,900+ r/t...), I find it a good use of miles I would otherwise not use...I've been Delta Platinum for the last 6 years and actually love everything about DL, except redemptions!

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Brian Guest

You can also redeem miles at Delta Vacations, for a penny per mile as well. That’s my favorite use of miles.

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Anthony Diamond

One edit - I would actually place international economy redemptions at 4) and move everything else down.

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