Delta Rewards Program: Pros and Cons

Delta makes it easy to earn miles and status without flying, but it's hard to redeem those miles at a high value.
Anya Kartashova
By Anya Kartashova 
Updated
Edited by June Casagrande

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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.


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. The Delta 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.

The Medallion program will see some changes in 2023, including increases to MQD requirements for certain tiers. You can read more on that here.

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 1.2 cents.

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 about average in value as far as airline miles go. Its miles are worth less than JetBlue and Southwest, and it beats out other carriers, like United and Hawaiian, in terms of value.

Program

Mile value

1.4 cents.

1.7 cents.

1.2 cents.

1.1 cents.

1.2 cents.

1.5 cents.

1.5 cents.

1.2 cents.

Is the Delta miles 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 2023, including those best for:

Cards for Delta from our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Points
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more cards for delta
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