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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, SkyMiles, 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.
The pros of the Delta SkyMiles program
Delta SkyMiles are easy to earn
With credit cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card 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 American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can transfer your Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles at a ratio of 1:1. Terms apply.
You can make progress toward elite status without flying
Delta SkyMiles makes it possible for travelers who hold certain co-branded AmEx Delta credit cards to make progress toward elite Medallion status 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:
Silver Medallion: 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MQDs.
Gold Medallion: 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs.
Platinum Medallion: 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs.
Diamond Medallion: 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $15,000 MQDs.
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 Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card 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.
» Learn more: Which Delta Air Lines credit card should you get?
You can score Delta SkyMiles Deals
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 this page 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 cons of the Delta loyalty program
Redemption values are unpredictable
The number of miles you’ll need for a flight isn’t based on a chart; instead, the amount fluctuates with demand. 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.
You can't really optimize redemptions for value
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 Delta Sky Club lounges. If you don’t have enough SkyMiles for a flight, you can use the Pay with Miles 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 1.3 cents.
» Learn more: How much are my Delta SkyMiles worth?
Top-tier Diamond status is hard to reach
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.
How do Delta SkyMiles compare to other airlines?
Delta SkyMiles are above average 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 tied for sixth place 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 methodology.
Is the Delta SkyMiles loyalty program right for you?
First of all, check whether your home airport offers Delta-operated flights. If not, check whether other SkyTeam partner airlines 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.
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 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card