We’ve gathered here today to talk about Delta SkyMiles, otherwise known as Delta SkyPesos or Delta SkyRubles. Delta’s loyalty program has become quite problematic for miles collectors in the last few years after removing its award charts and increasing redemption rates, even in economy class.

However, booking award flights in the traditional sense isn’t the only way SkyMiles can be used. In fact, let’s talk about some of the unconventional redemption options available and determine whether the program has any redeeming qualities left.

delta skymiles

Miles + Cash (Ugly)

Miles + Cash is an option for Delta travelers who don’t have enough SkyMiles for an award ticket but still want to reserve their spot on the plane. Unsurprisingly, a combination of miles and cash isn’t tied to anything, and since there are no award charts, the resulting “price” is usually a random number that often makes no sense from a value perspective.

01. Delta Miles Cash example 1

Let’s take a look at this flight from Los Angeles to New York (JFK). Its cash prices are $118 for basic economy, $153 for main cabin (economy), $307 for Comfort+ and $658 for Delta One.

02. Delta Miles Cash example 2

If you want to pay for the same flight using Delta SkyMiles or Miles + Cash, simply toggle the tabs in the top right corner of the result page. Had you wanted to use SkyMiles to cover your entire ticket, you would redeem the following number of miles:

  • Basic economy: 8,500 SkyMiles
  • Main cabin/economy: 11,500 SkyMiles
  • Comfort+: 23,500 SkyMiles
  • Delta One: 59,000 SkyMiles

03. Delta Miles Cash example 3

As you can see, basic economy isn’t an option with Miles + Cash so we won’t include it in the comparison. Now, consider a one-way economy flight to New York. It costs $153 when you pay cash, 11,500 SkyMiles + $5.60 when you redeem miles for an award ticket or 6,500 SkyMiles + $95.60 when you select Miles + Cash. In other words, your miles are worth 1.28 cents each when you choose option to book an award ticket or 0.88 cents when you the Miles + Cash option.

In this case, Delta essentially wants you to pay $90 for 5,000 miles. Not today, Satan! Even at a rate of 1.28 cents, those miles are worth just $64. I would either pay cash or redeem SkyMiles, but I wouldn’t use the Miles + Cash option in this scenario.

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Pay with Miles (Bad)

Pay with Miles is available to co-branded Delta SkyMiles credit cardholders only for flights operated by Delta. If you have at least 5,000 SkyMiles in your account, you can use this feature.

To Pay with Miles, a Delta flight doesn’t have to have award availability. Your miles can be redeemed toward a revenue ticket at a rate of 1 cent per mile. In other words, your 5,000 SkyMiles are worth $50. Think of it as a travel portal and combine cash and miles to cover the cost of the trip.

Simply select a cash flight and choose Pay with Miles at checkout. You’ll have to choose how many miles you want to redeem in 5,000-mile increments, and your miles are worth no more and no less than a penny each.

Let’s see an example of when this could be a good way to use your miles.

From time to time, airlines run fare sales to Europe. It’s often possible to book a round-trip flight in the neighborhood of $500. However, a mileage ticket usually costs 60,000 to 70,000 miles plus taxes for the same trip. In this case, you can use 50,000 SkyMiles to cover your flight instead of redeeming more miles and still being on the hook for taxes.

Additionally, in the interest of paying as little cash as possible, you can always pay part with miles and part with cash. In this case, you’ll even earn Medallion Qualification Segments (MQS) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD) toward elite status on the portion of the ticket paid with cash. Of course, elite status won’t matter for the vast majority of travelers.

Again, you have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth it to redeem your SkyMiles at such a low rate, but there are instances in which it could make sense. 

Fly Now, Earn Later (Good-ish)

This is another option available to Delta Amex cardholders only. The program will front the miles for redemption with one condition—you have to pay the airline back through credit card spend within six months. If you fall short of the goal, you’ll have to purchase the remaining miles for 2.5 cents each. If only SkyMiles were worth that much…

The loan amount depends on how much you spend with your card on average. The miles can’t be sent back or transferred, and the account must be in good standing for the transaction.

Keep in mind that if you need miles in a pinch, American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta SkyMiles at a rate of 1:1 and the transfer is almost instant. It’s a much better way to top up your account if you have that option.

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Delta Flash “Sales” (Good)

Since Delta no longer publishes award charts — at least not publicly — it’s hard to know what kind of a discount you’re really getting with its “sales”. Nonetheless, one of the better ways to redeem your Delta SkyMiles is during one of its monthly award flash sales. We’ve seen round-trip deals from the United States to Europe for as low as 26,000 miles, to South America for 36,000 miles and to Australia for 48,000 miles in the last couple of years.

These sales usually last two days, so you have to be in the know and act quickly. If you can make the dates work and the destination of the month is somewhere you want to go, why not take a discounted award trip?

Of course, to make it happen, you have to have SkyMiles in your account or have an option to transfer some in before the sale ends. Again, Amex Membership Rewards points are of help here.

Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon to see cheap cash tickets during these award sales so you’ll want to check both cash and award tickets to see what is the best option for you.

delta skyclub
Delta Sky Club lounge at LAX Airport Terminal 2.

Delta Sky Club Membership (Bad)

Flyers who’d like to invest in a Delta Sky Club membership can do so with the help of their SkyMiles. Individual membership (for one person) costs $545 for one year or 54,500 SkyMiles. Executive membership (for you and up to two guests) goes for $845 or 84,500 miles.

There’s clearly a pattern here. Delta keeps pegging each SkyMile to 1 cent apiece, and you have few options left to raise that value.

Champagne in the Sky Club (Good)

Speaking of Sky Clubs, you can buy a glass of Dom Perignon for either $35 or 1,750 SkyMiles. Now, that’s a fun way of redeeming those SkyPesos for a surprisingly good value. At 2 cents per mile, pass me the bubbly!

Delta offers a few types of champagne at Sky Clubs, and the redemption rate is 2 cents per mile for each of them so you’ll get a decent rate regardless of how fancy you want to be.

Why not make your trip more enjoyable and start it off with a glass of premium Champagne? You don’t even have to fly upfront to appreciate it. Although the SkyMiles’ value is pretty good here, I still wouldn’t redeem all my miles for booze, no matter how nice it is. However, I’d entertain the idea once or twice.

Final Thoughts

When you redeem Delta SkyMiles, always always always run the numbers first. I get it—nobody wants to take a pop-up math quiz just to book a flight, but that’s the only way to ensure you extract value out of your SkyMiles. Of course, some of these unique ways of using them are better than others.

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Anya Kartashova

About the Author

Anya Kartashova is a travel junkie who wants to visit everywhere in the world. As she crosses destinations off her list, that list grows even larger with new places being added. There’s no way to determine whether her wanderlust will ever subside. Probably never.

Learn More About Anya

9 Responses to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Ways of Redeeming Delta SkyMiles”


Blake Ringholz

What about using Skymiles to pay for Delta Vacations? At the end of August/Beginning of September, Delta Vacations was giving you 2 cents per mile (rather than 1). I ended up using 400,000 miles for an $8000 Cancun All Inclusive resort. I went to the hotel website directly, and saw that it was the same price as thru Delta Vacations. I thought that was a good way to redeem.

Thoughts?

Hi,

I appreciate everyone’s help on this site we’ve just started (2 player mode) and have about 320000 miles since February so we’re on our way. My question is what is the formula to figure out the redemption rate? In the example you say miles are worth 1.28 how did you arrive at that?

Thx
Bob

Hi, This is only a comment regarding Delta’s mileage program. I was fortunate to have received 60,000 miles when I took ok the Delta AMEX gold card. Although I booked a couple of months ahead, I was very aggrieved to have had to use 41,000 miles for a one way from BISMARCK to PROVIDENCE. I suppose that I can balance it to the cost of the annual fee.


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