The Complete Guide to Delta SkyMiles

Delta is one of the biggest airlines in the U.S. and its loyalty program allows flyers to earn and redeem miles.
Sally French
Elina Geller
Sam Kemmis
By Sam Kemmis,  Elina Geller and  Sally French 
Edited by Meg Lee

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Editor's note: Big changes are coming to Delta's SkyMiles program in 2024, including how members can earn elite status. The carrier will also be cutting back Sky Club lounge access. Read more on these upcoming changes here.

One of the largest airlines in North America and the world, Delta Air Lines operates hubs at eight U.S. airports: Atlanta (which is Delta’s headquarters), Boston, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City and Seattle-Tacoma. International hubs and key Delta markets are Amsterdam, Mexico City, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Seoul-Incheon and Tokyo.

Delta is huge on its own, but it is also a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which includes airlines like Aeromexico, Air France-KLM, China Eastern, Korean Air and Virgin Atlantic. Then it has its own separate international airline partners including LATAM and WestJet, making it possible to earn and redeem Delta SkyMiles (and get elite status benefits) on other airlines besides Delta.

But you don’t need to live in a Delta-dominated city or fly the airline regularly to benefit from the airline's frequent flyer program, Delta SkyMiles. If there’s a chance you’ll fly Delta in the future, you might as well sign up for SkyMiles as the program is free to join. And given its wide array of partnerships with companies ranging from Lyft to Starbucks, there are tons of ways to earn Delta miles so you can get closer to that free flight — even if you're not a jetsetter.

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Sign-up for Delta SkyMiles

To start earning miles with Delta, sign up for a SkyMiles frequent flyer account. Register here; it’s free to join.

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 1.2 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 1.2 cents or more in value from your Delta miles.

How has this value changed over time?

Like many other airline miles, the value of Delta SkyMiles jumped in 2021 and 2022, up from a low of 0.9 cents per mile in 2020.

Delta vs. competitors: How it stacks up in 2023

Delta came in fifth place out of nine airlines in our most recent analysis on the best airline loyalty programs. But Delta is a bit of a funky airline in terms of its rankings. While some airlines rank consistently high or low across the board, Delta was all over the place.

It has low fees and operates incredibly well in terms of high rates of on-time performance and low rates of cancellations and baggage mishandling. Its in-flight offerings are pretty glorious thanks to seatback screens and Biscoff cookies.

If you book basic economy, you do get the free cookies and seatback screens, but that’s about it. Checked bag fees, no rewards and no seat choice mean Delta basic economy seats are rough.

And even for other fare classes that do earn miles, Delta’s mileage program isn’t all that rewarding anyway, as Delta miles just aren’t that valuable. However, if you have elite status, other perks are pretty nice.

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.

How are SkyMiles calculated?

Earn miles by 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.) You will not earn SkyMiles on any basic economy tickets.


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.

Earn Delta miles by 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.

Spend on Delta 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.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
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There's a great welcome bonus for new cardholders, too: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months. Terms Apply. The annual fee is $0 introductory annual fee 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

So how do you use points from Delta SkyMiles? Not all redemptions are created equal. Use these tips to maximize Delta SkyMiles redemption value.

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.

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 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 in 2023

As of Jan. 1, 2023, the Medallion program made significant changes to status-earning requirements and benefits, including increased earning requirements for some status tiers. You can read more on that here.

Delta SkyMiles program levels and benefits

The SkyMiles Medallion program has four levels. In order from lowest level to highest level, they are:

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, waived baggage fees and are eligible for upgrades 24 hours before departure. They match to Skyteam Elite level and earn 7 miles per dollar spent.

Higher-level Medallion benefits include:




SkyMiles earned per dollar spent




Upgrade eligibility*

  • 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.

  • 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 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 are MQMs calculated for earning 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.





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





AND EITHER this many MQMs:





OR this many MQSs:





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 2024 is based on your activity in 2023 and will last until Jan. 31, 2025.

MQMs roll over from one year to the next. Say you earned 65,000 MQMs in 2022. 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 2023 to give you a head start on your next year's earning.

Status matching

You may be able to match your Delta status to 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 part of the international SkyTeam alliance, which allows you to earn and use SkyMiles on flights aboard carriers other than Delta.

Skyteam member airlines include:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas.

  • AeroMexico.

  • Air Europa.

  • Air France.

  • China Airlines.

  • China Eastern.

  • Czech Airlines.

  • Delta Air Lines.

  • Garuda Indonesia.

  • ITA Airways.

  • Kenya AIrways.

  • KLM.

  • Korean Air.

  • MEA (Middle East Airlines).


  • TAROM.

  • Vietnam Airlines.

  • Virgin Atlantic.

  • Xiamen Air.

Delta also had partnerships with these non-SkyTeam airlines:

  • Cape Air.

  • China Southern.

  • Hawaiian Airlines.

  • WestJet.

Delta SkyMiles credit cards

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

Personal cards

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
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  • 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.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
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  • 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 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

Terms apply.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
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  • 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.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
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  • 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.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Effective 2/1/25, Reserve Card Members will receive 10 Visits per year to the Delta Sky Club. To earn an unlimited number of visits each year, the total eligible purchases on the Card must equal $75,000 or more the previous year. To earn unlimited visits in 2025, you’ll need to spend this amount between 1/1/24 and 12/31/24.

Terms apply.

Small business cards

Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
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  • 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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
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  • 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.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
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  • 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.

Flying on Delta

The actual experience of flying with Delta is among the best you’ll find across any U.S. airline. With free movies, seatback screens and free in-flight messaging, your time in the air makes for one of the best in-flight experiences you could have. And don’t forget those Biscoff cookies.

As far as the seats go, everyone except people with basic economy tickets will get to pick their seat. Physical basic economy seats aren’t actually different from standard economy seats, but because basic economy flyers don't get to pick, they'll likely end up with a middle seat. If you are in one of the pricier airfares that lets you pick your seat, choose wisely with this Delta seat selection guide.

The Delta fare classes are (in order from swankiest to stingiest) are:

And some lucky folk might get one of those better seats without even paying extra for it. Here’s the ultimate guide to getting on Delta’s upgrade list.

That’s the in-cabin experience, but what about other aspects of flying Delta, like checking bags and changing your flight? Here’s what you need to know:

Delta bag fees

Delta does not charge for carry-on bags, even for basic economy fares. For checked bags, expect to pay bag fees with most Delta fares ($30 for your first bag on Main Cabin and Comfort+ fares throughout North America and the Caribbean), unless you’ve got something like a Delta credit card that lets you bring checked bags.

If you need to change or cancel a Delta flight

If you need to cancel a Delta flight, terms vary by the type of airfare you bought:

Basic economy ticket

Nonrefundable ticket for travel originating in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean

Nonrefundable ticket for other travel

Refundable ticket

What do you get if you cancel within 24 hours of booking?

A refund to your original payment method at no charge.

A refund to your original payment method at no charge.

A refund to your original payment method at no charge.

A refund to your original payment method at no charge.

What do you get if you cancel after 24 hours of booking?

The remaining value as an eCredit (which expires), minus a cancellation fee.

The remaining value as an eCredit (which expires).

The remaining value as an eCredit (which expires), minus a cancellation fee.

A refund to your original payment method at no charge.

Some Delta fares are refundable, though not all. Whether Delta gives you a refund depends on how quickly after booking you change your mind, whether you paid in cash versus points and the type of fare you booked.

For flights in the early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, some travelers were issued Delta eCredits. Many of these credits are valid through Dec. 31, 2023, for use booking flights scheduled throughout 2024.

If Delta cancels your flight (or just delays it)

If the canceled flight was Delta’s choice — not yours — then you have more options.

Delta offers full refunds on flights it cancels, regardless of fare class, if you choose to not take another flight. Opt in to text, email or app alerts from Delta for the quickest notifications related to your flight status.

If your flight is canceled, you can rebook yourself on Delta’s website or app by choosing an alternate flight or sometimes another departure or arrival airport other than your original one.

If your Delta flight is delayed, you also don’t necessarily need to take the same one you booked. Flyers are eligible to rebook tickets to their final destination in the event of a flight cancellation or a schedule change of more than 30 minutes. Delta’s flight delay compensation policy means you might get additional travel assistance depending on the circumstances. Delta sometimes reimburses for expenses like extra hotel room nights, but it depends on your situation. If you do have additional expenses, save those receipts.

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 2023, including those best for:

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