How to earn, redeem, and maximize Delta SkyMiles — even if you never fly the airline
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- Delta miles are easy to earn by flying, with co-branded credit cards, or by transferring Amex points.
- You can use Delta miles for flights on Delta or its partners, including Air France and KLM.
- The best deals are often through Delta’s award sales, and your miles will never expire.
- Read Insider’s guide to the best Delta credit cards.
Delta is currently the world’s second-largest airline, and if you live in a hub city like Atlanta, New York, or Seattle, it may be your carrier of choice. Because Delta’s route network is so ubiquitous inside the US and because Delta SkyMiles are (relatively) easy to get, there are many different options for redeeming your miles with Delta and its partners in the SkyTeam alliance — though not all of them offer the best value.
Delta miles never expire, so even if you’re not ready to take a trip right now, it’s a good time to consider boosting your miles balance for a trip when the pandemic ends.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the “sweet spots” for using Delta SkyMiles to book award flights.
To find out how much your Delta miles are worth (along with 28 other airline, hotel, and bank programs), check out Insider’s guide to points and miles valuations for 2021.
How to earn Delta SkyMiles
Earn Delta miles by flying Delta and its partners
The most obvious way to earn Delta SkyMiles is to fly on Delta. Within the past several years, Delta has changed its earning structure, so the number of redeemable miles that you earn on most Delta flights is calculated by your elite status and the total cost of the fare, as follows:
- General SkyMiles Members: 5 miles per dollar
- Silver Members: 7 miles per dollar
- Gold Members: 8 miles per dollar
- Platinum Members: 9 miles per dollar
- Diamond Members: 11 miles per dollar
Delta has 24 airline partners both in the SkyTeam airline alliance and non-alliance partners. You can choose to credit flights on these partner airlines to Delta by putting your SkyMiles membership information into your flight itinerary. The number of SkyMiles that you will earn depends on your route and the fare class of the ticket that you’ve purchased, and vary by partner.
Earn miles with American Express Delta and Membership Rewards credit cards
Another way to earn a lot of Delta SkyMiles in a short amount of time is with the welcome offers on American Express co-branded Delta credit cards.
We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
Delta offers the following personal credit cards:
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
You’ll earn 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening, and receive a free first checked bag on Delta flights for yourself and up to eight companions on the same reservation (worth $30 per bag), priority boarding, a 20% discount on inflight purchases, and a $100 Delta flight credit after you spend $10,000 on the card in a calendar year. There’s an annual fee of $99, waived for the first year (See Rates).
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
You’ll receive access to Delta Sky Club airport lounges when flying Delta, and access to Amex Centurion Lounges when you fly Delta and use your card to book the ticket. You’ll also get two Delta Sky Club one-time guest passes each year, up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, and access to complimentary upgrades for non-elite Delta members.
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
It doesn’t offer much in the way of extra perks, but cardholders earn 2x miles on Delta and restaurant purchases and 1x miles on everything else. You’ll also get 20% back on inflight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets as a statement credit, and the ability to Pay with Miles when booking on Delta.com.
If you qualify for a small-business credit card — either by running your own business or by doing some freelance work — you could be eligible for one of Delta’s three business credit cards:
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
This card comes with most of the same perks as the personal Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, including a free checked bag, priority boarding, and inflight discounts on Delta flights, as well as a $100 Delta flight credit after you spend $10,000 on the card in a calendar year. There’s an annual fee of $99, waived the first year (See Rates).
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
One additional benefit is the ability to earn 1.5x miles on single eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 50,000 additional miles per calendar year). Cardholders also earn 3x miles on Delta purchases and on purchases made directly with hotels.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
Like the personal version, you’ll get access to Delta Sky Club airport lounges when flying Delta, and access to Amex Centurion Lounges when you fly Delta and use your card to book the ticket. The card has a $550 annual fee.
Having an airline credit card can get you additional perks when you fly. In addition to all of the bonus SkyMiles, most of these Delta credit cards come with benefits including free checked bags and priority boarding order on Delta flights.
If you prefer earning transferable points instead of locking yourself into Delta SkyMiles, consider a card that earns American Express Membership Rewards points. Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Delta SkyMiles. That means you can earn Membership Rewards points and have the flexibility to transfer to Delta or use them however you see fit.
Here are a few American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards points that you can transfer to Delta SkyMiles:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 75,000 points after you spend at least $5,000 in your first 6 months of account opening(Note: New Platinum Card® cardmembers can earn 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during the first 6 months of card membership)
- American Express® Gold Card: 60,000 points after you spend at least $4,000 in your first 6 months of account opening
- American Express® Green Card: 30,000 points after you spend at least $2,000 in your first 3 months of account opening
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: 85,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within your first 3 months of card membership
- American Express® Business Gold Card: 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express: Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.
Earn Delta miles through shopping and dining rewards
There are also a few other ways to earn Delta SkyMiles without flying or spending on credit cards. Delta has an online shopping portal where you can earn SkyMiles based on making online purchases at thousands of different stores. If you’re making any online purchases, you should be using a shopping portal first — if not, you’re missing out on thousands of miles or more per year.
Delta also has a SkyMiles dining program, which allows you to get extra miles by eating out at restaurants. You link your credit cards via the SkyMiles dining website, and then when you use a linked credit card at a participating restaurant, you will earn bonus miles. These miles are in addition to the miles that you earn from the actual purchase itself.
How to use Delta SkyMiles
Use miles to fly Delta
It may not be the most glamorous redemption, but one of the best uses of your SkyMiles can be to just fly you domestically with Delta where you want to go, when you want to get there. This holds especially true if you live at or near a Delta hub or focus city.
If you’re an eligible American Express Delta cardholder, you have the option to either pay for your ticket directly with SkyMiles or to use Delta’s Pay With Miles feature. With Pay With Miles, you can lower the cost of your ticket by $50 for 5,000 miles, $100 for 10,000 miles, and so on. It is true that you can often get better than 1 cent per mile value from your SkyMiles, but this serves as a good minimum value redemption for SkyMiles.
Remember too that if you’re short on Delta SkyMiles, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points 1:1 to Delta to top off your account.
Delta award “sales”
Several years ago, Delta was the first airline to remove its award chart. Now, the price of a flight in SkyMiles varies based on the route, the date, the time, number of stops, and anything else that Delta decides. Oftentimes the price in SkyMiles correlates to the cash price of a flight, though not always. At least Delta offers weekly award “sales” from either North America, Europe, or Asia.
The removal of the award chart is why I put the word “sales” in quotation marks. If there is no standard and listed price, how can something be on sale? That doesn’t stop Delta from marketing these as sales, and it is certainly true that you can find some pretty good deals on redemptions from these award sales.
Unlike some other airlines, Delta doesn’t charge any extra fees for booking award flights close to the departure date, so if you have a last-minute trip coming up, you may be able to find a good deal using SkyMiles.
Use miles to fly on partners
Because Delta is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, you can use your Delta miles to fly on Delta’s alliance and other partners such as Air France, China Eastern, Air Tahiti Nui, and Korean Air.
Other ways to use Delta SkyMiles
In addition to redeeming Delta SkyMiles for flights on Delta and its partners, there are also a few other ways to use them. You can use your miles for magazines, gift cards, upgrading your seat, and even other experiences. These are almost always a worse value than using your miles to fly on Delta or partner airlines, and are not recommended.
Dan Miller is a freelance writer and founder of PointsWithACrew.com, a site that helps families travel for free/cheap. His home base is in Cincinnati, but he tries to travel the world as much as possible with his wife and six kids.
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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.
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