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Delta SkyMiles Cheat Sheet for Using Your Miles

Delta SkyMiles Cheat Sheet for Using Your Miles

*Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Dec 18, 2017, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

The information related to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card, Delta Reserve® Credit Card, and Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

If you’re new to Delta SkyMiles, or don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, here is a cheat sheet with the least you need to know to get the most out of your miles. You’ll be prepared for fees, know where to look, and where to get extra miles when you need them.

Airlines you can book and where to find award space

Delta has really improved its website for award bookings, and you can now search and book nearly every SkyMiles partner on Delta.com. Just choose ‘show price in miles’ when you search for flights there.

The holdouts are small partners Czech Airlines, TAROM, Xiamen Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, and Hawaiian Airlines. Here’s a full list of the airlines you can book and where to search for space:

RegionAirlineWhere to checkFuel surcharges
AfricaKenya AirwaysDelta.comYes
AsiaChina AirlinesDelta.comYes
AsiaChina EasternDelta.comYes
AsiaChina SouthernDelta.comYes
AsiaGaruda IndonesiaDelta.comNone
AsiaKorean AirlinesDelta.comNone
AsiaVietnam AirlinesDelta.comNone
AsiaXiamen AirlinesAirFrance.usNone
EuropeAeroflotDelta.comYes
EuropeAir EuropaDelta.comYes
EuropeAir FranceDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
EuropeAlitaliaDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
EuropeCzech AirlinesAirFrance.usYes
EuropeKLMDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
EuropeTAROMAirFrance.usYes
EuropeVirgin AtlanticDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
Middle EastMiddle East AirlinesDelta.comYes
Middle EastSaudia AirlinesDelta.comNone
North AmericaAlaska AirlinesDelta.comNone
North AmericaHawaiian Airlines (within Hawaii only)HawaiianAir.comNone
PacificAir Tahiti NuiExpertFlyer.comYes
PacificVirgin AustraliaDelta.comNone
South AmericaAerolineas ArgentinasDelta.comNone
South AmericaAeromexicoDelta.comNone
South AmericaGOL AirlinesDelta.comNone

Tip: Search one segment at a time for flights, and consider calling in and asking the agent to check the ‘Flights Window’ to see more specific flight options.

How much do awards cost?

Delta no longer publishes award price charts, so the price you pay for awards can change at any time. That said, we’ve compiled the typical lowest price for awards here, though for domestic awards you might find even cheaper awards, often as low as 7,500 miles. All the numbers you see in this table are prices for one-way flights to and from the U.S. For a roundtrip, just double the price.

DestinationEconomyFirst
Within US5,000 - 12,50025,000
Hawaii22,50040,000
Mexico / Caribbean17,50030,000
Northern South America22,50040,000
Southern South America30,00075,000
Europe30,00070,000 (85,000 partner)
Middle East35,000 (42,500 partner)84,000 (85,000 partner)
North Africa35,000 (42,500 partner)70,000 (85,000 partner)
South Africa40,000 (50,000 partner)94,000 (115,000 partner)
India40,000 (50,000 partner)96,000 (120,000 partner)
Southeast Asia40,000 (50,000 partner)80,000 (95,000 partner)
North Asia35,000 (40,000 partner)80,000 (95,000 partner)
Japan35,000 (40,000 partner)80,000 (95,000 partner)
Australia / New Zealand45,000 (55,000 partner)94,000 (115,000 partner)

Delta is notorious for raising award prices without notice, so if you see something you like, book it sooner, rather than later.

Fuel surcharges: Beware that awards which start in Europe can carry substantial fuel surcharges. For example, if you buy a Paris to New York roundtrip award in Business Class you’ll be hit with over $500 in fees and taxes. But if you do a New York to Paris award (starting in the U.S., instead of Europe) you’ll just pay about $100 in taxes on the same flights.

Delta calls this an ‘International Originating Surcharge’ and is figuring if you’re booking an award starting in Europe, you probably live there, and all of the frequent flier programs in Europe impose big fuel surcharges on award tickets. It’s a lousy reason to charge the fees, but one they get away with.

Delta also imposes fuel surcharges on awards starting in the U.S. with Aeroflot, China Eastern, China Southern, and China Airlines. The China surcharges are pretty reasonable, while the Aeroflot surcharges can be over $300.

Mileage discounts. Delta doesn’t have better award space for its elite Medallion members anymore, but it sometimes gives SkyMiles credit card holders and Medallion members early access to mileage price sales, so it’s worth logging into your account when you search.

What are award change and booking fees?

  • Close-in fee: None.
  • Change date: $150
  • Change airlines: $150
  • Change origin/destination cities: $150
  • Cancel and redeposit miles: $150. You must cancel at least 72 hours before your departure time or else you’ll lose the miles and the ticket can’t be changed.

What are the best award values?

Good value award space on Delta’s own flights can be hard to find, but its international partners have some opportunities to get good value out of your SkyMiles:

  • One of the best deals with Delta miles is to buy Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy tickets from Delta, and upgrade them to Upper Class (Virgin’s Business Class) for 25,000 miles each way. Virgin’s Premium Economy ‘G’ class fares are upgradable with Delta miles, and they often run about $1,200 roundtrip to the U.K. from the U.S., so you can score a Business Class seat for $1,200 plus 50,000 miles roundtrip.
  • Business Class seats to Europe for 70,000 miles one way on Delta Transatlantic flights, including trips with a partner connection in Europe like Atlanta – Paris (Delta) – Rome (Air France). Flights that use a partner like Air France or Virgin Atlantic across the ocean cost 85,000 miles one way.
  • Business Class to Asia for 80,000 miles one way on Delta’s own flights. Partners like Korean, China Southern, and China Eastern cost 95,000 miles.
  • You should also keep an eye open for award sales. Delta runs discounts on award tickets once a month to featured destinations, and these are a good opportunity to lock in a better value.

Can you upgrade with miles?

Yes you can, though for flights June 1st and onward the prices are really, really bad. To the point that you’re better off just booking an award ticket without paying cash and miles to upgrade.

Here are the prices to upgrade by destination for travel starting in the mainland U.S. The letters you see are the fare code for the ticket you purchase. Y/B/M tend to be the most expensive Economy fares and cost less in miles to upgrade while L/U/T tend to be some of the cheaper Economy fares, and cost more in miles to upgrade.

Domestic / Canada

  • Y/B/M: 15,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 20,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 30,000 miles

JFK-LAX/SFO Transcon

  • Y/B/M: 25,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 30,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 35,000 miles

Hawaii

  • Y/B/M: 30,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 35,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 55,000 miles

Europe, Southern South America, North Asia

  • Y/B/M: 60,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 80,000 miles
  • Virgin Atlantic flights (G – Premium Economy fare): 25,000 miles to/from the U.K. for an upgrade to Upper Class (business class) – this might be one of the best uses of Delta miles. You need to purchase the Virgin Atlantic ticket from Delta, as a Delta flight number, which you can do on Delta.com.

Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa

  • Y/B/M: 80,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 115,000 miles

Caribbean / Central America

  • Y/B/M: 15,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 20,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 30,000 miles

Northern South America

  • Y/B/M: 30,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 45,000 miles
  • L/U/T: 50,000 miles

Tip: If an upgrade isn’t available you can be placed on a waitlist to clear if upgrade space opens later on. Waitlists for mileage upgrades officially don’t transfer to the airport if you don’t clear by 3 hours before your departure time, but sometimes you can have luck calling reservations and having the agent put your waitlist request on the airport list, so you have a chance of clearing.

Options when you can’t find low price award space

Unfortunately, you can’t waitlist for award space if the type you want isn’t available. You’ll have to keep checking and book when you see space open up.

Tip: If you see partner flights that are pricing too high, it might be because one part of the trip is in Economy Class and one part is in Business Class. You might have luck calling Delta and asking if they can check the price using the ‘flights window’ to manually price it.

Tip: If you have a SkyMiles credit card you can use a feature called ‘Pay with Miles’. That lets you use miles to pay for some or all of a flight at a rate of one cent per mile. So 10,000 miles gets you $100 off a flight. It’s not the greatest deal, but you do get full Medallion Qualifying credit when you book tickets using Pay with Miles, and it sometimes costs less than inflated Delta SkyMiles award prices.

What stopovers are allowed?

Delta no longer allows stopovers on award tickets, though you can have a connection of up to 24 hours in a city outside the U.S. or in a U.S. city if it’s your connecting point from an international flight.

What routing is allowed?

Here are some of the most important:

  • To reach Africa you can only connect in Europe.
  • To reach India you can connect in either Europe or Asia.
  • To reach Australia you can go via Asia or direct flights from the U.S.
  • To reach Asia you need to go via the Pacific to get the lowest price. You can fly via Europe but you’ll pay a higher award price.

Can you hold an award seat?

Delta doesn’t allow holding award seat reservations without deducting miles.

Alternative miles to book Delta flights

If you’re short on SkyMiles, you can book Delta flights using miles other than Delta SkyMiles.

Any SkyMiles partner’s miles can access the basic level award seats, which opens up a few options to book Delta flights without using SkyMiles. The catch is most except Alaska MileagePlan will charge you fuel surcharges for flights to Europe.

Note: While you can book Delta flights with these partner airline miles, you can’t combine these miles with your existing SkyMiles.

Economy Class seats come from ‘X’ class, and Business Class seats come from ‘O’ class, while First Class seats come from ‘R’ class.

  • Air France Flying Blue (award chart)  is a transfer partner of Citi® ThankYou® and American Express Membership Rewards®.
  • Alitalia Mille Miglia (award chart)  is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
  • Alaska MileagePlan(award chart) is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest® and only allows roundtrip awards.

What hotel points can you transfer from?

You can convert your hotel points into SkyMiles miles any time with no charge for the conversion. Every hotel program has a different conversion rate, and to make it easier to understand, we’ve calculated conversion rates needed for a single mile.

  • Marriott® Rewards (rate varies from 5 points = 1 mile to 2.8 points = 1 mile depending on how many points you transfer – conversion rates are here)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (1 point = 1 mile with an extra 5,000 miles when you convert 20,000 points)
  • Hilton HHonors (6.7 points = 1 mile)
  • IHG® Club (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Club Carlson: (10 points = 1 mile)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (2.5 points = 1 mile; extra 5,000 mile bonus when you convert 50,000 points)
  • Choice Privileges: (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Wyndham Rewards: (5 points = 1 mile)

Note: Be aware that most of the time there’s a minimum number of points you can transfer, usually 5,000 points or more which are listed here, but the numbers above will give you a sense of how far your hotel points can go.

What credit cards earn SkyMiles?

Direct

Personal:

  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

  • 2X Miles on Delta Purchases*

  • Check your 1st bag free on every Delta flight*

Highlights
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Want even more flexibility? Pay with Miles is a Card Member feature that gives you the option to redeem miles for all or part of the price of your tickets on Delta.com.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

See additional details for Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

More Info

  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card ($195 annual fee – earns Medallion Qualifying Miles),
  • Delta Reserve® ($450 annual fee – includes SkyClub access).

Business: All three personal cards have Business versions with identical features.

Via Transfer

All Membership Rewards earning cards and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express earn points you can transfer into Delta SkyMiles any time at 1 point = 1 mile.

How do you transfer miles?

You have to pay if you want to transfer miles from your account to someone else, and Delta charges $10 for every 1,000 miles you transfer, or 1 cent each. You can transfer a maximum of 150,000 miles out of your account each year, and a recipient can receive a maximum of 300,000 miles per year. Each transfer transaction has to be 30,000 miles or less.

It’s not a terrible deal, but if you can, you’re better off booking an award for someone else from your own account, since you can use your miles to book tickets for anyone you’d like, even if you’re not traveling.

Do SkyMiles expire?

Delta miles never expire.


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