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Delta SkyMiles Rewards Review

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Delta SkyMiles Rewards Review

Delta SkyMiles: The basics

Delta SkyMiles, Delta Airlines’ tiered loyalty program, is split into 5 membership tiers, ranging from general membership to Diamond medallion membership.

  • Delta Sky Miles are worth about 1.8 cents apiece, based on our analysis. Miles are worth the most (≈2.8 cents each) when redeemed for international business-class flights.
  • You can earn elite status by earning Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) or Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs).
  • You’ll get 1 MQD for each dollar spent on personal Delta flights, but you won’t earn any by purchasing flights for someone else.
  • You can generally get 1 MQS from a landing and takeoff, and more on a multi-leg trip. MQMs are earned based on distance flown. You can earn MQDs, MQMs and MQSs simultaneously.

Of these, MQDs are the easiest to earn. The Medallion Status qualification for the year is waived if you spend over $25,000 on a Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express.

Generally, it’s a good idea to either focus on earning enough MQMs or MQSs. If you go on a lot of short flights, you may meet the MQSs requirement faster, and if you go on long flights, you may meet the MQMs requirement faster.

General membership brings home 5 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights; for Silver Medallion status, it’s 7; for Gold Medallion, 8. You’ll also earn 9 miles per dollar with Platinum Medallion status and 11 miles per dollar with the highest status, Diamond Medallion. Here’s  how many MQMs, MQSs and MQDs you need for each status:

General Membership: No MQMs, MQSs or MQDs required
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

Anything above Silver Medallion status comes with unlimited complimentary companion upgrades and complimentary preferred seats, among other perks. With general membership, you won’t get all those extras — but you will get priority boarding and waived baggage fees. Here’s a full list of available benefits.

Cards that earn SkyMiles

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • General SkyMiles membership
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases (that adds up to a minimum of 7 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights – 5 miles from a general SkyMiles membership, 2 miles from the card; you can earn more as a Medallion member)
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • Annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95

Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

Delta Reserve Credit Card

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

How to get more Delta MQMs and SkyMiles

When it comes to the Delta SkyMiles program, it’s not easy to advance from tier to tier. The credit cards Delta currently offers through American Express don’t give cardholders automatic elite status, as some other loyalty programs do, either.

For the most part, you can get MQMs by rolling over any in excess of the threshold from the previous year, collecting the sign-up bonuses on these cards and (sometimes, when they’re available) buying them. On occasion, American Express also advertises limited time offers where you can earn additional MQMs by completing certain transactions with your card. Keep in mind, though, that if you already have an account with American Express, you won’t qualify for the bonuses on these cards.

You can generally purchase SkyMiles at anytime, but these aren’t the same as MQMs and won’t help you gain elite status. At 3.5 cents per mile, they’re also expensive. NerdWallet values SkyMiles at 1.8 cents each, so unless you’re trying to scrape together a couple thousand more for a ticket, it likely isn’t worth the splurge. You’re better off just paying without miles.

How to redeem Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles is a complicated loyalty program, but redeeming miles for Delta flights is fairly straightforward. Just log on to your Delta account and select the flight you want. There are no blackout dates for Delta flights, and if you travel on Saver days, which are noted on the calendar in your online portal, you’ll be able to stretch your miles even further.

Good redemption options

If you want to optimize your rewards, here are some of your best options.

Flying business class on international

When it comes to international flights, NerdWallet values miles redeemed for business class at 2.8 cents each and miles redeemed for economy at 1.1 cents each, a big leap in value. You’ll spend more overall on an business flight than you would for an economy one, but you’ll also get the most value out of each of your miles.

Using Pay with Miles for domestic flights over $100

Delta SkyMiles also has a Pay with Miles program, where you can redeem your miles for a fixed value. For flights over $100, you can get a $100 discount with 10,000 points and additional discounts at a value of 1 cent per miles, in certain increments.

As of Jan. 1, 2015, you can also earn SkyMiles, MQMs and MQDs on these purchases. NerdWallet values miles at 0.9 cent each when redeemed for domestic economy flights and 0.8 cent each when redeemed for domestic business class. For both of these, using Pay with Miles may be a financially sound option.

Bad redemption options

Make the most out of your SkyMiles by avoiding these lower-value redemption options.

Flying business class on domestic

NerdWallet values miles redeemed on domestic business class flights at 0.8 cent each, less than they’re worth when redeemed for domestic economy seats. You’d be better off using Pay with Miles in this case (if the flight is more than $100).

Flying economy on international

Flying economy on international flights may be less expensive than business class, but you’ll get less value out of each mile. NerdWallet values miles redeemed for economy international flights at 1.1 cents each, 1.7 cents less than miles redeemed for business class international flights. Business-class tickets are more expensive though, so while you’d be getting more value, you’d also be using more miles.

Note that 1.1 cents per mile is not a horrible redemption option — it’s just not the most valuable option available. If you have your heart set on flying coach internationally, it still may be a decent use of miles.

Using Pay with Miles for trips under $100

When you use Pay with Miles for trips under $100, the best value you can get is about 0.4 cent per point — much less than you’d get when purchasing awards tickets. Avoid this redemption option for low-cost tickets.

Using Pay with Miles for international trips

For international flights, where NerdWallet values miles at 2.8 cents each for business and 1.1 cents each for economy, Pay with Miles won’t be worth it. You’d be better off just buying the tickets with cash in these situations and saving your miles for future transactions.

Transfer partners

Although Delta is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, you can’t transfer SkyMiles to SkyTeam airline loyalty programs. If a Delta flight doesn’t go directly to your destination, you can use miles for the partner leg of the flight; you won’t always be able to book direct travel with miles, though. You can purchase tickets from Delta’s SkyTeam partners on other websites, but you may earn fewer MQMs on these. Here are Delta’s airline partners according to their website, as of April 23, 2015:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • XiamenAir

You can also book travel on Delta through Delta’s Codeshare partners. According to Delta’s website, these include:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • GOL Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Olympic Air
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia International
  • WestJet

Check out this page for a full list of Delta’s partnerships.

If you’re an SPG Platinum or Gold member, you can sign up for Starwood Preferred Guest rewards, too, through the SPG-Delta crossover program. This allows you to earn Delta miles on SPG purchases.

Fine print

  • Delta is the only major U.S. airline with miles that don’t expire, according to the airline.
  • Award ticket prices and Pay with Miles cost the same for children and adults. Remember, you can pay for tickets partially with miles and partially with cash. However, these miles+cash transactions aren’t eligible for SkyMiles earnings, MQMs, MQSs or MQDs.
  • Once you get an award ticket, you can’t change the name on it. Your award ticket doesn’t cover taxes and other fees, so you’ll also have to pay extra for that.

Top cards that earn Delta SkyMiles

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

If you’re satisfied with general membership benefits in the SkyMiles program, Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express may be the right fit for you. You’ll earn a generous bonus: Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Terms Apply.. With one-way Saver tickets starting at 10,000 miles, that’s enough for a full trip, with miles to spare. Aside from earning 5 points per dollar spent on Delta flights through your general membership, you’ll also earn 2 extra miles per dollar on Delta purchases (including flights) and 1 mile per dollar for all other purchases.

The card comes with an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95, but if you spend more than about $1,000 in Delta flights each year, it’s worth the investment. And with miles that never expire, you’ll have plenty of time to earn enough points for your next getaway.

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

For our calculations, we sampled 10 popular airline routes — five domestic and five international — for both economy and business/first class flights. These are the routes we used:

  • LaGuardia Airport, New York, to Miami International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport
  • O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, to LaGuardia
  • Los Angeles to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
  • Miami to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow International Airport
  • Honolulu International Airport to Narita International Airport, Japan
  • Los Angeles to Incheon International Airport, South Korea
  • Orlando International Airport to Gatwick Airport, London
  • Miami to Toronto Pearson International Airport

For domestic flights, the miles value ranged from 0.4 to 1.3 cents each. For international flights, the miles value ranged from 0.8 to 4.4 cents each.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes and fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes and fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cent per mile

Last updated on March 11, 2016.