Delta SkyMiles Reward Optimization for Beginners

Rand ShoafJuly 24, 2020

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

It’s true that Delta award prices can be unpredictable since the program moved away from a fixed price award chart. However, with a little planning, there is still plenty of value when redeeming miles for award flights in the program.

If you’ve been racking up SkyMiles and are now ready to start using them, this guide is for you. We’ll also share some of the top ways to redeem your miles to get maximum value.

How to get started using your points

The first step to redeem your SkyMiles is to log into your account, which can be done from Delta’s homepage.

Once you’ve logged in, you can search for award flights by entering your departure and destination city. You’ll also need to select the “Shop with Miles” option. Under “Advanced Search” you then have the option to select the desired cabin such as economy, business or first class.

When searching for award flights using Delta’s award engine, you’ll always be given a weekly or monthly calendar pricing overview before viewing your available flights on individual dates. This is actually quite a nice feature, as it is possible to toggle between the weekly and monthly views to compare the overall award price range during your travel period.

Once you’ve selected travel dates, you can click “Continue” to view available itinerary options. From here it’s all about sorting by route and price to find the ticket that fits your needs.

What to consider when redeeming

NerdWallet currently values Delta SkyMiles at 

1.1 cents

each. This means you’ll want to aim for redemptions that give you at least 1.1 cents per mile.

To calculate your Delta SkyMiles redemption value, use this easy formula:

Price of flight in cash / Price of flight in miles

Say, for example, you found a round trip business class flight from Los Angeles to Seoul that costs either 78,000 miles or $2,559. That means you’re getting a value of 3.28 cents per mile ($2,559 flight price / 78,000 miles). This is clearly a high-redemption value and a great use of miles based on NerdWallet’s current valuation of SkyMiles.

Redeeming on Delta flights

As expected, you can redeem your SkyMiles for Delta flights. However, it’s not as straightforward as you might suspect. Since Delta’s move to dynamic pricing in 2015, determining the price of award flights has become much more difficult and ultimately unpredictable.

Since award flight pricing is determined based on numerous factors including route, date and availability, you will need to complete an award search to see prices.

When searching you can compare flights on a weekly and monthly view, which helps discover the lowest possible price. However, this also goes to show just how much variability there is in Delta’s award pricing.

Redeeming on partner flights

With your SkyMiles, you will also have the option to book award flights on any of Delta’s SkyTeam airline partners, as well as several non-alliance partners, such as Virgin Atlantic and Hawaiian Airlines.

An upside of booking partner airline awards is that these fares are not dynamically priced, which means you won’t have the unpredictability you will have with awards on Delta flights. The downsides are that you cannot always find availability for partner awards, and finding them can take persistence and planning.

A few program sweet spots

Whether you want to fly within the U.S. or internationally, here are a few standout redemptions within the Delta SkyMiles program.

Fly business class to Europe

Arrive in Europe well-rested after traveling in Delta One’s business class cabin with lie-flat seats. For 80,000 SkyMiles you can fly one-way from the U.S. to Europe on any of Delta’s trans-Atlantic flights. Plus, you will only pay $5.60 in taxes and fees!

Fly business class to Asia

You have plenty of options for flying to Asia with Delta’s multiple Asian SkyTeam alliance partners. You can find one-way business class flights from the U.S. to Asia for around 80,000 miles.

A highlight would be flying across the Pacific in luxury on Delta One suites or Korean Airlines Apex Suites.

Flash Sales and SkyMiles Deals

Finding incredible redemption deals with SkyMiles Flash Sales is by far one of the best uses of SkyMiles. You can keep your eye out for deeply discounted award flights on Delta’s website.

The good news is that Delta publishes a running list of sales on their award flights. Some exceptional past highlights have included:

  • Round-trip economy award flights to Europe for 22,000 miles.

  • Round-trip economy award flights to Japan for 30,000 miles.

  • Round-trip business class award flights to Europe for 98,000 miles.

  • Round-trip economy award flights to the Caribbean for 10,000 miles.

Cheap domestic flights within the U.S.

A sweet spot within the SkyMiles program is using miles for basic economy short-haul domestic flights within the U.S. You can often find these dirt-cheap fares included in SkyMiles Flash Sales. However, it’s possible to find these cheap fares on their own, too.

With a bit of planning, you can often find domestic one-way flights for around 5,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes and fees which represents just one of the many ways to optimize your Delta SkyMiles.

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:

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.