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As a founding member of the SkyTeam alliance, Delta has a well-connected route network with airlines around the globe. Over the years, Delta has also followed a new path outside of its alliance to invest in airlines in strategic parts of the world where it wants to have greater presence.
When it comes to SkyMiles earning, Delta’s partner list is expansive:
You can earn miles on Delta when flying with these partners or use Delta SkyMiles to redeem for flights on most of these partners.
» Learn more: Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program: The complete guide
Earning miles with partners
On most Delta flights, passengers earn miles based on how much they spend on the ticket (there are a few exceptions for tickets purchased through some travel agents or cruise lines, for example).
For partners airline flights, redeemable miles and Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) are determined by a combination of distance flown and fare class.
MQMs are used to determine progress toward elite status for the coming years. Travelers can also earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). When flying with Delta, MQDs are calculated based on how much you spend on the ticket. When flying with Delta partners, MQDs are also based on a combination of fare class paid and distance flown.
Note: When flying with partners, always make sure that your SkyMiles number is in the reservation and also printed on your boarding pass. Save boarding passes and ticket receipts from partner flights so that if miles don’t post to your account, you can request missing SkyMiles credit retroactively.
Can partner flights be more rewarding than Delta flights?
Sometimes partner flights can be more rewarding than Delta flights. For those chasing Medallion status, flying with partners on inexpensive, long-haul flights can be a lucrative way to earn more MQDs than actually flying on Delta. The higher the fare class, the more MQDs you can earn.
For example, someone flying business class on an “I” fare between Rome and Santiago, Chile, on Alitalia would earn MQDs based on 40% of the distance flown.
Let’s say that the ticket is $2,554. If this were a Delta ticket, MQDs would be based on the fare price. Since this is an Alitalia-issued ticket in “I” class, travelers earn 40% of distance flown as MQDs. In this case, that is $5,908.
That’s almost twice as many MQDs than on a Delta ticket. When long-haul partner fares are low, you can earn a significant number of MQDs toward Medallion status. In the above example, we are using approximate numbers. Technically, the taxes on the above ticket would not count toward the calculation.
When it comes to airline partners, each one has its own earning chart, and travelers should always consult this chart before purchasing a ticket. If the fare class of the ticket you are booking is not listed, no miles are earned.
In addition, SkyMiles Medallion members may earn a “Medallion Mileage Bonus” with some airlines, like Aeromexico or Air France, for example.
» Learn more: The complete guide to Delta Medallion elite status
When it comes to redeeming SkyMiles, things become more complicated if you plan to use partner airlines. Delta infamously removed award charts from its website. These were helpful to travelers so that they could plan ahead and earn a certain number of miles for their desired destination.
With dynamic pricing, Delta made SkyMiles more difficult to use because awards are more closely tied to demand and the monetary cost of a ticket. This means you have no guide to help you save up enough miles for a trip until you lock in the dates. Then, you are forced to pay whatever Delta is charging, unless you can change your destination or dates.
In some extreme examples, such as this one-way between the U.S. and Australia, that can translate to absurdly high redemption rates.
Understand how to use Delta.com
Delta.com is not the most reliable resource for searching for award tickets. Since Delta’s website does not provide every possible route, a phone reservation agent might be able to search for more options.
For the best results, check the “My dates are flexible” box so that you can conduct a calendar search. Another trick is to search for award space segment by segment.
Let’s say you are flying between Atlanta and Athens, Greece. Try searching Atlanta to Paris first. If you find space, then search for flights from Paris to Athens. Once you find both, try to see if you can price the entire itinerary together as one award. Sometimes, longer connections that don’t appear in the initial search might prove fruitful.
Delta runs frequent mileage flash sales that offer discounted redemptions on certain routes.
Note: Delta now prices its lowest awards in basic economy, which do not permit advance seat assignments, flight changes or cancellation. However, basic economy awards are cheaper.
One of the perks of achieving Delta Medallion status is enjoying elite benefits when flying partner airlines. SkyTeam Elite Plus status (awarded to Gold Medallion members and above) comes with complimentary lounge access when flying SkyTeam partners internationally, SkyPriority access (priority check-in and boarding lines) and higher checked baggage limits. These perks can make international travel much more pleasant.
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:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card