Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Program: The Complete Guide

Ellen CannonMay 19, 2020
Delta SkyMiles Rewards Review

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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 also has more than 25 international airline partners.

If you live in a Delta-dominated city or you just choose to fly the airline regularly, you should check out the airline's frequent-flyer program, Delta SkyMiles. It costs nothing to join.

The list is here.

See 2021’s best travel reward programs and more. All backed by tons of nerdy research.

How much are Delta Air Lines miles worth?

Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values Delta Air Lines SkyMiles at 0.9 cent 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, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 0.9 cent or more in value from your Delta miles.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cent per mile.

How to earn Delta SkyMiles

Delta's frequent-flyer program uses a currency called SkyMiles. That rate makes them the most valuable rewards on a per-mile basis of any major U.S. carrier. The industry standard is 1 cent per mile.

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

Unlike with some frequent-flyer programs, the miles you earn never expire as long as your account is open.

Earning Delta SkyMiles when you fly

Earning 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.)


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

NOTE: 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.

Earning 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. Specific rules for each partner airline are available on Delta's website.


Nerd tip: Delta and American Express have made major changes to their lineup of co-branded credit cards, which took effect January 30, 2020. Read about the changes here.

Delta offers co-branded credit cards with American Express.

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
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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. There's a great welcome bonus for new cardholders, too: Earn 35,000 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. Terms apply.


  • 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. 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.

Buying additional 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

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: Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, First Class, Delta Premium Select or Delta One.

  • Basic Economy: This is a no-frills fare. You sit in a standard seat and get free drinks and snacks, but 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 sharp restrictions on ticket changes or refunds. NOTE:You cannot book Basic Economy fares with miles.

  • Main Cabin: This is a standard economy seat. Free nonalcoholic drinks and basic snacks. Seat-back entertainment when available.

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

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

  • Delta Premium Select: First class with extra-comfortable seating and amenities on select international flights.

  • Delta One: 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; for merchandise, gift cards, hotel stays and car rental in the SkyMiles Marketplace; or donate them 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 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

As mentioned above, miles redeemed for economy international flights have an average value of 0.8 cent each. Keep in mind that 0.8 cent per mile is not a horrible redemption option — it’s just not the most valuable option available. If you have your heart set on flying coach internationally, it still may be a decent use of miles.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion status levels

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

SkyMiles Medallion program levels and benefits

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:





SkyMiles earned per dollar spent





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 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 statuses 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

    • $200 Tiffany & Co. gift card

    • 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

    • $200 Tiffany & Co. gift card

    • 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.





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





AND EITHER this many MQMs:





OR this many EQSs:





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 extra 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 partners

Delta is one of 20 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:

  • Aeroflot (Russia)

  • Aerolíneas Argentinas

  • AeroMexico

  • Air Europa

  • Air France

  • Alitalia (Italy)

  • China Airlines (Taiwan)

  • China Eastern (China)

  • China Southern (China)

  • Czech Airlines

  • Garuda Indonesia

  • Kenya Airways

  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (Netherlands)

  • Korean Air

  • MEA (Lebanon)

  • Saudia

  • TAROM (Romania)

  • Vietnam Airlines

  • Xiamen Airlines (China)

As of January 2020, Delta also had partnerships with these non-SkyTeam airlines:

  • GOL (Brazil)

  • Hawaiian Airlines

  • Virgin Atlantic (Britain)

  • Virgin Australia

  • WestJet (Canada)

Credit cards that earn Delta SkyMiles

Nerd tip: Delta and American Express made major changes to their lineup of co-branded credit cards, which took effect January 30, 2020. Read about the changes here.

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

Personal cards

  • 2 miles per dollar on purchases directly from Delta

  • 2 miles per dollar spent at eligible restaurants

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other spending

  • Annual fee: $0

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta

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

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases

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

  • 3 miles per dollar on purchases directly from Delta

  • 3 miles per dollar on eligible hotel purchases

  • 2 miles per dollar at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases

  • Annual fee: $250

  • 3 miles per dollar on purchases directly from Delta

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases

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

Terms apply.

Small business cards

  • Earn 2 Miles on every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta.

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

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

Terms apply.

  • Earn 3 Miles on every dollar 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 dollar on single eligible purchases of $5,000 or more.

  • 1 mile on every eligible dollar spent on other purchases.

  • Annual fee: $250

Terms apply.

  • Earn 3 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.

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

  • Includes benefits like a free checked bag, Complimentary access into the Delta SkyClubs® for you when travelling on a Delta flight.

  • Annual fee: $550

Terms apply.

Need more help deciding?

We've covered all the basic details of the Delta SkyMiles program. But if you still aren't sure whether a frequent flyer program is worth the effort, see our absolute 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 2020, including those best for:

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