The Pros and Cons of the Delta Loyalty Program

Delta makes it easy to earn miles and status without flying, but it's hard to redeem those miles at a high value.
Anya KartashovaJul 26, 2021

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For travelers who live in Delta Air Lines hub cities, and even for those who don’t, the Delta frequent flyer program, , can provide nearly free travel on Delta and its SkyTeam partner airlines. Delta’s loyalty program has had some ups and downs, but you can still find value if you know what to look for (and the pitfalls to avoid).

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of Delta SkyMiles.

With credit cards like the , the and the and their individual welcome bonuses, you can accumulate Delta miles quickly, even if you don’t fly Delta or its partners often.

Because American Express limits a welcome bonus on any given card to once per lifetime, you should apply for a co-branded Delta credit card only when the new member offer is at its highest. Aim for a bonus of 60,000 to 75,000 Delta SkyMiles.

If you have a premium AmEx card, like the or , you can to Delta SkyMiles at a ratio of 1:1. Terms apply.

Delta SkyMiles makes it possible for travelers who hold certain co-branded AmEx Delta credit cards to make progress toward without flying.

Normally, to climb the status ladder, you must fly a specific number of Medallion Qualification Miles or Medallion Qualification Segments and spend a certain number of Medallion Qualification Dollars on flights.

Here are the normal requirements:

But the MQD requirement for Silver, Gold and Platinum status is waived if you make purchases totaling at least $25,000 in a calendar year on your Delta credit card. For Diamond Medallion status, you must spend $250,000 on your card in a year to have the MQD requirement waived. Terms apply.

Plus, the and the come with bonus MQMs as part of the welcome offer to new cardmembers. This can also help you earn status simply by carrying the card. Terms apply.

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Every so often, Delta runs limited-time SkyMiles Deals on its own flights. In the past, we’ve seen great SkyMiles Deals for flights to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and even Australia.

If you stumble upon one of these deals, you can score award flights for as low as 5,000 SkyMiles per direction. You never know when the next deal will strike, so keep checking for future promos. If you’re flexible with your destination, redeeming your miles this way can be a great way to explore the world for less.

The number of miles you’ll need for a flight isn’t based on a chart; instead, the amount . More desirable routes, or flights around holidays, are priced higher than flights with low demand. Because dynamic redemption rates can fluctuate from day to day, it’s hard to predict how many miles you need for an award flight.

Without fixed redemption rates, it’s harder to get good value when you use your SkyMiles for flights. Fixed, chart-based pricing that was once popular for airline redemptions meant the miles price might stay the same, even as the cash price for the same ticket went up. Thus, you could maximize the value of your points by using them to book pricey flights.

But, as it currently stands, when the price in miles goes up and down with the cash price, the average value you can get for your miles is generally lower.

To its credit, the Delta loyalty program has introduced more creative ways to redeem your miles. You can use them to pay membership fees for lounges. If you don’t have enough SkyMiles for a flight, you can use the feature to reduce the cash price of a ticket. But your SkyMiles are worth just 1 cent apiece in these cases, less than our calculated valuation of .

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To qualify for the coveted Diamond Medallion status, you must fly 125,000 miles or 140 segments and spend at least $15,000 on Delta flights annually. Although it’s not impossible to spend that much on flights in a calendar year, it’s quite a lot for an average flyer.

You can avoid the dollar requirement by spending $250,000 on your co-branded Delta credit card, but this option seems to be even less attainable for many.

Delta SkyMiles are  in value as far as airline miles go. Its miles are only worth less than JetBlue and Southwest, and it beats out other legacy carriers, like United and American, in terms of value.

However, the picture gets a little grimmer. Loyalty program-wise, our analysis rated Delta SkyMiles as with United in terms of overall value. We rated individual rewards programs based on each airline's effective rewards rate, COVID-19 response, elite rewards rate and fee rate. Read more about our .

First of all, check whether your home airport offers Delta-operated flights. If not, check whether other fly to your closest airport. The Delta frequent flyer program likely isn’t for you if you have no use for its miles.

Another factor to consider is whether you’d be able to earn elite status, especially if you travel for work. Elite status can make your business trips more comfortable, and earning enough redeemable miles can come in handy for covering the cost of a personal trip.

Finally, consider the co-branded Delta SkyMiles credit cards from American Express. Would you spend enough to accumulate miles for an award trip? If yes, then consider the Delta frequent flyer miles program. Since it's free to join SkyMiles and miles don’t expire, you have nothing to lose by signing up.

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

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