The Complete Guide to Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Program

Most members of this airline loyalty program both earn and redeem SkyMiles by purchasing Delta tickets.
Jun 16, 2022

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

One of the largest airlines in North America and the world, Delta Air Lines operates hubs at eight U.S. airports: Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City and Seattle-Tacoma. It is also a member of the SkyTeam alliance and has more than 25 international airline partners.

If you live in a Delta-dominated city or you fly the airline regularly, you should check out the airline's frequent flyer program, Delta SkyMiles. The program is free to join and lets you earn Delta miles, achieve elite status and more.

Sign-up for Delta SkyMiles

Before you can start earning miles with Delta, you’ll need to sign up for a SkyMiles frequent flyer account. It’s free to join, and you can register here.

How do Delta SkyMiles work?

Beyond serving as the loyalty program name, SkyMiles are also the currency that members can earn and later redeem for flights with Delta or partners, hotel stays and other rewards.

You can generally earn miles by flying, spending on credit cards (Delta has several co-branded cards for its loyalists), traveling with partners, or dining and shopping through designated programs.

Delta SkyMiles do not expire, which is great news for infrequent travelers or those who have loyalty across multiple airline programs.

How much are Delta SkyMiles worth?

Based on the most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Delta Air Lines SkyMiles at 1.3 cents apiece. To determine the value of reward miles, we compared cash prices and reward redemptions for economy roundtrip routes across several destinations and dates. We divided the cost of the cash ticket by the cost of the reward ticket to determine a “cent per mile” value for each flight, then averaged this value across several flights and dates. Read more about how we arrived at these figures.

This is therefore a baseline value for Delta miles, based on real-world data collected from hundreds of economy routes; it is not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1.3 cents or more in value from your Delta miles.

Delta Air Lines vs. competitors: How it stacks in 2022

Delta came in fourth place out of nine airlines in our most recent analysis on the best airline loyalty programs.

Here's a closer look at how SkyMiles competed across categories:

How to earn Delta SkyMiles

Flying on Delta and its partner airlines is the easiest way to earn miles. But there are ways to rack up miles besides flying, such as using a Delta-branded credit card or spending money with Delta partner companies.

The Delta SkyMiles you earn never expire as long as your account is open; this is different from how things work with some other frequent-flyer programs.

Flying on Delta and its partners

Flying on Delta: Although they have "miles" in their name, the number of SkyMiles you earn on Delta flights is based on how much you spend, not how far you fly. The base earning rate is 5 miles per $1 spent, but you earn higher rates depending on whether you have elite status, which Delta refers to as "Medallion" status. (We'll have more on Medallion levels later — or you can jump ahead to that part now.) As of Dec. 9, 2021, you will no longer earn SkyMiles on any basic economy tickets.

Status

Rewards earned

Basic SkyMiles membership

5 SkyMiles per $1 spent.

Silver Medallion

7 SkyMiles per $1 spent.

Gold Medallion

8 SkyMiles per $1 spent.

Platinum Medallion

9 SkyMiles per $1 spent.

Diamond Medallion

11 SkyMiles per $1 spent.

You earn SkyMiles only on the base fare and fees imposed by the airline. You don't earn any rewards on taxes or government-imposed fees that are rolled into the cost of your ticket. So if you are a basic SkyMiles member and spend $150 on a flight, $50 of which is fees, you’ll earn 5 x 100 = 500 SkyMiles.

Flying on partner airlines: Each partner airline has its own rules for earning SkyMiles. In general, the rewards you earn on partner airlines are based on the distance of the flight — so they really are "miles." You can earn bonus miles based on the fare class (such as economy, business or first) and your Medallion status.

Spending on the right credit cards

Delta offers co-branded credit cards with American Express.

Our favorite Delta credit card is the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. The card gives you 2 SkyMiles per dollar spent with Delta. When you pay for tickets with the card, you get the first checked bag free for you and up to eight other people traveling on your reservation. Terms apply.

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More

There's a great welcome bonus for new cardholders, too: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

Other ways to earn Delta SkyMiles

Delta's non-airline partners include:

  • Hotels and Airbnb: You can earn SkyMiles at thousands of properties in most major hotel chains. In some cases, you earn a flat number of points per stay; in others, you earn points based on how much you spend. You can also earn miles at Airbnb. See hotel partners and earning rules here.

  • Auto rentals and Lyft: Several major rental agencies have an option to earn SkyMiles. And if you prefer rental car alternatives, here's a deal from Turo: Delta SkyMiles Members who link their SkyMiles number to their Turo profile will be able to earn 2,000 miles on their first Turo trip and 500 miles on every trip thereafter. You can also earn miles using the Lyft ride-hailing service. Details here.

  • Dining: Register your credit card with SkyMiles Dining and earn up to 5 miles per dollar when you use that card at thousands of participating restaurants. (You can use any credit card; it doesn't have to be a Delta-branded card.)

  • Shopping: Earn miles at hundreds of online merchants through the airline's shopping portal, SkyMiles Shopping.

  • Transfer from other programs: Delta SkyMiles is a transfer partner for both American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Purchase SkyMiles

You can buy additional SkyMiles through the Delta website, but this generally isn't a good value. SkyMiles cost 3.5 cents apiece when purchased like this, which means you're paying more than three times what the miles are worth on average.

How to redeem Delta SkyMiles

If your top-of-mind question is: “How do I use points from Delta SkyMiles?”, you’ve come to the right section of this Delta guide. Know this: Not all redemptions are created equal. Keep the following tips in mind to get more value out of your Delta SkyMiles redemptions.

Good redemption options

SkyMiles are redeemable for flights through Delta Air Lines and its partners. In most cases, you redeem by booking through Delta's website. Go to the booking tool and choose the option for seeing the price in miles. Then enter information about when and where you want to travel, and choose your fare class: Basic economy, main cabin, Delta Comfort+ (premium economy), first class, Delta Premium Select or Delta One.

How many SkyMiles are needed for a flight? It depends on your destination, but SkyMiles members can redeem as few as 4,500 SkyMiles for a domestic short-haul flight.

  • Basic Economy: This is a no-frills fare. You sit in a standard seat and get free drinks and snacks. However, you don't get to pick your seat, you're the last to board the plane, you can't get upgraded even with Medallion status, and there are fees of $99 or $199 to change a flight. You cannot book Basic Economy fares with miles and you cannot earn any miles on Basic Economy fares.

  • Main Cabin: This is a standard economy seat. You get free nonalcoholic drinks and basic snacks, plus seatback entertainment when available.

  • Delta Comfort+: This is essentially "economy plus." You get 4 inches of extra legroom and dedicated overhead carry-on storage.

  • First Class: You get a bigger seat with more legroom; free alcoholic drinks, snacks and meals on longer flights; dedicated storage and flight attendant service; and priority boarding.

  • Delta Premium Select: This is first class with extra-comfortable seating and amenities, available on select international flights.

  • Delta One: This is first class with lie-flat seating, available only on select long-haul flights.

Unlike some other airlines, Delta doesn't publish an award chart showing you exactly how many miles you need for a given flight. You have to figure it out the hard way — by entering your flight information and seeing what it costs in terms of miles.

Delta advertises that there are no blackout dates for award travel.

You can also use miles to purchase seat upgrades; membership to Delta Sky Clubs airport lounges; vacation packages; exclusive experiences; merchandise, gift cards, hotel stays and car rental in the SkyMiles Marketplace; or donations to charity through Delta SkyWish. See details about these and other options here.

If you happen to have at least 2.5 million SkyMiles in your account — and who doesn't? — you can redeem them for private jet travel. According to Delta, those 2.5 million points are "enough to take up to four passengers round-trip from Atlanta to South Florida."

Bad redemption options

For the most part, using SkyMiles for anything other than flights will result in below-average redemption values. Delta and its partners might push promotions for these unorthodox redemption options, but don’t take the bait. Unless the offer is really extraordinary, you’re almost always better off using miles for flights.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Because Delta ties the cost of award flights very closely to the cash price, you might see some very high award prices when cash prices are high. Although these are not necessarily bad options, it does mean you should double-check that the value you’re getting from miles is equal to or greater than the value you’re getting by just paying cash.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion status

Anyone can join the Delta SkyMiles program for free, but to move up from basic membership to elite status (where the real perks are), you need to fly the airline regularly.

Changes for 2022

Flyers can earn elite status credits on Delta award flights in 2022. Usually, only flights booked with cash would qualify. The number of credits earned depends on the booking class and some other factors — see here for complete details.

SkyMiles Medallion program levels and benefits

The SkyMiles Medallion program has four levels. We'll start by looking at what you get at each level, then how to get there.

All Medallion members get priority check-in and priority boarding. All levels above Silver get priority security lane access and priority baggage service at select airports. Additional benefits include:

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Diamond

SkyMiles earned per dollar spent

7.

8.

9.

11.

Upgrade eligibility*

  • Complimentary upgrades to First Class or Comfort+ seats starting 24 hours before departure.

  • Complimentary upgrades to First Class or Comfort+ seats starting 72 hours before departure.

  • Complimentary upgrades to First Class seats starting 120 hours before departure and to Comfort+ seats soon after ticketing.

  • Complimentary upgrades to First Class seats starting 120 hours before departure and to Comfort+ seats soon after ticketing.

Fee benefits

  • Waived baggage fees.

  • Waived baggage fees.

  • No fees for same-day flight changes.

  • Waived baggage fees.

  • No fees for same-day flight changes.

  • No ticket reissue fees.

  • No fee to redeposit awards when canceling a ticket paid for with miles.

  • Waived baggage fees.

  • No fees for same-day flight changes.

  • No ticket reissue fees.

  • No fee to redeposit awards when canceling a ticket paid for with miles.

Status on SkyTeam partner airlines**

Elite.

Elite Plus.

Elite Plus.

Elite Plus.

*For all statuses, companions on your reservation get the same upgrade eligibility as you. **All levels above Silver also get access to SkyTeam lounges

For Platinum and Diamond status only: Choice benefits

Medallion members at the Platinum and Diamond levels are eligible for "Delta Choice Benefits," in which they choose the premium benefits they want from a list.

  • Platinum members can choose one of the following:

    • Package of four regional upgrade certificates.

    • Single voucher for Global Entry application fee (worth $100).

    • 20,000 bonus miles.

    • $200 Delta travel voucher.

    • Gift of Silver Medallion status to a friend.

  • Diamond members can choose three of the following:

    • Individual membership to Delta Sky Clubs (unlimited access for self; guests pay a fee).

    • Executive membership to Delta Sky Clubs (unlimited access for self and two guests) — This option counts as two choices.

    • Package of as many as eight upgrade certificates (eight regional, four global, or two global and four regional).

    • Two vouchers for Global Entry application fee (worth $100 apiece).

    • 25,000 bonus miles.

    • $200 Delta travel voucher.

    • Gift of Gold Medallion status to a friend.

How to earn SkyMiles Medallion status

To earn Medallion status, you'll need to understand the terms MQD, MQM and MQS:

  • MQDs are Medallion Qualifying Dollars. You earn 1 MQD for every dollar you spend on Delta flights. This includes the fare and airline fees, but not taxes and government fees.

  • MQMs are Medallion Qualifying Miles. You earn these based on how far you fly and the fare class of your ticket. With regular economy class tickets, you earn 1 MQM per mile flown. For higher classes, it may be 1.5 or 2 MQMs per mile flown.

  • MQSs are Medallion Qualifying Segments. You earn these based on how many takeoff-to-landing flights you fly. A nonstop flight from Seattle to New York, for example, would earn 1 MQS. But if you changed planes in, say, Minneapolis, then you would earn 2 MQSs.

You earn status by spending a certain amount of money (that is, earning MQDs) and earning either a minimum number of MQMs or a minimum number of MQSs. Note that, as of Dec. 9, 2021, travelers won't earn MQDs, MQMs or MQSs on any basic economy fares.

SkyMiles status levels and MQD/MQM/MQS required to earn.

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Diamond

To earn this status, you must have MQDs of at least:

$3,000.

$6,000.

$9,000.

$15,000.

AND EITHER this many MQMs:

25,000.

50,000.

75,000.

125,000.

OR this many MQSs:

30.

60.

100.

140.

Medallion status for a given year is earned based on activity in the previous calendar year. Your status is generally good until Jan. 31 of the following year. For example, your Medallion status for 2021 is based on your activity in 2020 and will last until Jan. 31, 2022.

MQMs roll over from one year to the next. Say you earned 65,000 MQMs in 2019. That's enough for Gold status (which requires 50,000 MQMs) but not for Platinum (75,000). The "unused" 15,000 MQMs roll over to 2020 to give you a head start on your next year's earning.

Status matching

Delta also offers to match your status in another airline loyalty program. You must have current elite status with a qualifying airline, and you cannot have used the match in the previous three years. Once you’re accepted in the match program, you get complimentary Medallion status for three months. To keep it for the rest of the year, you need to earn it during those three months:

  • Silver: 6,250 MQMs / 8 MQSs and $750 MQDs / MQD waiver

  • Gold: 12,500 MQMs / 15 MQSs and $1,500 MQDs / MQD waiver

  • Platinum: 18,750 MQMs / 25 MQSs and $2,250 MQDs / MQD waiver

Delta's airline partners

Delta is one of 19 airlines in the international SkyTeam alliance, which allows you to earn and use SkyMiles on flights aboard carriers other than Delta.

The other SkyTeam airlines are:

  1. Aeroflot.

  2. Aerolíneas Argentinas.

  3. AeroMexico.

  4. Air Europa.

  5. Air France.

  6. China Airlines (Taiwan).

  7. China Eastern (China).

  8. Czech Airlines.

  9. Garuda Indonesia.

  10. ITA Airways.

  11. Kenya Airways.

  12. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (Netherlands).

  13. Korean Air.

  14. MEA (Lebanon).

  15. Saudia.

  16. TAROM (Romania).

  17. Vietnam Airlines.

  18. Xiamen Airlines (China).

Delta also had partnerships with these non-SkyTeam airlines:

  • Hawaiian Airlines.

  • Virgin Atlantic (Britain).

  • Virgin Australia.

  • WestJet (Canada).

Credit cards that earn Delta SkyMiles

Delta's credit cards are issued by American Express. All of the cards offer different spending rewards.

Personal cards

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express"
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases directly from Delta.

  • 2 miles per $1 spent at eligible restaurants.

  • 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible spending.

  • Annual fee: $0.

Terms apply.

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta.

  • 2 miles per $1 spent at eligible restaurants and U.S. supermarkets.

  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

  • Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

Terms apply.

American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • 3 miles per $1 spent on purchases directly from Delta.

  • 3 miles per $1 spent on eligible hotel purchases.

  • 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets.

  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

  • Annual fee: $250.

Terms apply.

American Express Delta Reserve Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • 3 miles per $1 spent on purchases directly from Delta.

  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

  • Annual fee: $550. This includes access to Delta Sky Clubs airport lounges.

Terms apply.

Small business cards

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • Earn 2 miles on every $1 spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta.

  • Earn 1 mile on every $1 spent on other eligible purchases.

  • Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

Terms apply.

American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • Earn 3 miles on every $1 spend on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with hotels.

  • Earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on single eligible purchases of $5,000 or more.

  • Earn 1 mile on every $1 spent on other eligible purchases.

  • Annual fee: $250.

Terms apply.

American Express Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
  • Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases.

  • Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

  • Includes benefits like free checked bags and complimentary access into Delta Sky Clubs and AmEx Centurion Lounges (or Escape Lounges) when flying Delta.

  • Annual fee: $550.

Terms apply.

Is the Delta SkyMiles program right for you?

We've covered all the basic details of the Delta SkyMiles program, including how to use Delta SkyMiles for maximum value. But if you still aren't sure whether a frequent flyer program is worth the effort, see our beginner's guide to frequent flyer programs.

Frequently asked questions

You can technically transfer your Delta SkyMiles to another person’s account, but it’s almost always a bad idea. Delta charges 1 cent per mile and $30 per transfer, which wipes out the value of the miles.

Delta SkyMiles do not expire, but they might lose value over time.

Delta SkyMiles cost 3.5 cents each when purchased directly, far more than their typical value. That is to say: Buying Delta miles is generally not a good move.

MQM stands for Medallion Qualification Miles, which are required to earn Delta Medallion (elite) status. MQMs differ from standard SkyMiles in that they cannot be used to book flights, yet both MQMs and SkyMiles can be earned by either flying on Delta and its partners or using a Delta co-branded credit card.

Generally, you cannot buy Medallion Qualification Miles directly; however, Delta occasionally runs promotions that let you pay to upgrade your existing Medallion status tier.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

partner programs

IHG® One Rewards
Get exclusive benefits and earn points faster
World of Hyatt
Enjoy free nights, member rates and more
Alaska Mileage Plan
Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
IHG® Rewards Program

IHG® One Rewards

Wherever you go, however you stay, IHG One Rewards offers rewards for every one.

on IHG One Rewards’ website

Highlights:
  1. Cheers to new tiers: New tiers allow members to earn points faster.
  2. Piling on the perks: New members benefits that enhance every stay
  3. Milestone Rewards: Allows members to choose their rewards.
  1. Cheers to new tiers: New tiers allow members to earn points faster.
  2. Piling on the perks: New members benefits that enhance every stay
  3. Milestone Rewards: Allows members to choose their rewards.

on IHG One Rewards’ website

World of Hyatt

World of Hyatt

With the World of Hyatt loyalty program, enjoy a world of rewards designed to revolve around you.

on Hyatt's website

Highlights:
  1. Earn points for things you already enjoy with Hyatt
  2. Use your points for free nights at more than 1,100 hotels around the world
  3. Three elite tiers to unlock exceptional benefits - room upgrades and more.
  1. Earn points for things you already enjoy with Hyatt
  2. Use your points for free nights at more than 1,100 hotels around the world
  3. Three elite tiers to unlock exceptional benefits - room upgrades and more.

on Hyatt's website

logo image

Alaska Mileage Plan

Mileage Plan is Alaska's loyalty program for anyone who loves to travel and is free to join!

on Alaska's website

Highlights:
  1. Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
  2. Our members earn 30% more miles on average than other airlines
  3. You earn based on how far you fly, not how much you spend
  1. Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
  2. Our members earn 30% more miles on average than other airlines
  3. You earn based on how far you fly, not how much you spend

on Alaska's website

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.