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Your Guide to Booking Award Flights on Delta Air Lines

Aug. 23, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Reward Optimization, Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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  • Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

As a result, offers described on this page may be out of date. See our best credit cards page for updated offers.

Delta is one of the increasing number of airlines that no longer publishes an award chart. That means there is no baseline for how many miles you’ll need to book a certain flight. In essence, award travel is based on demand. If you need to know how many miles are required to get to your dream destination, you’ll just have to search and expect that miles required could change at any time.

Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks to figuring out Delta’s award system. We’ll help you figure it out with this guide:

» Learn more: Delta SkyMiles program: The complete guide

How does Delta Air Lines price out award tickets?

Delta Air Lines roughly bases their award travel on the cash price of a ticket, which is evident when you look at prices and award calendars (below). As you can see, the more expensive tickets tend to require more miles.

Flight costs in dollars from LAX to JFK in economy.

Flight costs in miles from LAX to JFK in economy.

Unfortunately, award flights can and will be priced all over the place. The higher the demand for a flight (during peak travel dates and holidays, for example), the more expensive it will be and the more miles you’ll need to redeem. That makes it hard to determine precisely how many miles you’ll actually need when planning travel.

That said, make sure you’re comparing cash and award prices to make sure you’re getting a decent deal. NerdWallet values Delta miles at 1.1 cents each. This is a baseline value, drawn from real-world data on hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1.1 cents or more in value from your Delta miles.

Since there are no blackout dates for award travel on Delta-operated flights, you may have a better chance of finding award tickets during peak travel times than on some other airlines. Delta does still implement some capacity controls, so keep that in mind.

Miles + Cash awards

Don’t have enough miles for an award ticket? Delta offers Miles + Cash awards. These awards allow you to use a combination of miles and cash to book your travel. Keep in mind, however, that Miles + Cash flights do not accrue miles. Be sure to compare Miles + Cash awards with cash fares as well as award flights to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

» Learn more: Baffled by points and miles? Let the 80/20 rule guide you

Finding better deals on award travel

There are a few ways to locate better deals when it comes to booking award travel with Delta. The first is to have flexible travel plans. Since prices for award travel can fluctuate thousands of miles from one day to another, staying flexible with your travel dates is key to spending less.

Take this price chart showing flights from Seattle to Orlando, for example. If you’re able to fly during a select couple of days, you could save up to 39,000 miles each way.

Another way to save is to use SkyMiles Deals. It’s a page full of frequently updated flights that are available for fewer miles than usual. It includes fares for domestic and international travel, with current deals starting at 11,500 miles for a round-trip flight.

Travel periods for these flights are restricted, so you still have to be flexible (or lucky) to take advantage of these deals.

Earn miles with Delta credit cards

If you’re short on miles for the trip you want, you might consider applying for one of Delta’s SkyMiles credit cards, assuming it’s more than a few months out. There are seven options to choose from:

  • The Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card has an annual fee of $0, but also offers a lower welcome offer: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card has an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $99, and a welcome offer of: Earn 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • The Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card has an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $99, and a welcome offer of: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card takes it all a step further and offers stronger benefits and a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. The card has an annual fee of $250 and the current welcome offer is: Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • Similar to the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card offers many of the same perks. The annual fee is $250 and the current welcome offer is: Earn 45,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 Statement Credit after your first Delta purchase on your new Card in the first 3 months. Terms Apply. .
  • The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card does have an annual fee of $550 but it also confers free Delta Sky Club access and two free Sky Club guest passes. The current welcome offer is: Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card offers many of the same benefits as the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. The current welcome offer is: Earn 45,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Terms Apply.

All of these cards with the exception of the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card include a free checked bag. Each of the cards include category specific bonuses and extra miles per dollar on Delta purchases.

» Learn more: Which Delta Air Lines credit card should you get?

There are airline credit cards out there with bigger welcome offers, but for those who fly Delta, the perks these cards offer may be worth it.

The bottom line

While there’s almost no way to know and plan for award travel on Delta Air Lines since they did away with their award chart, there are still a few ways to make the most of it. Keep an eye out for deals, stay flexible and avoid traveling during peak times to make your miles go further.

 

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:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
Benefits of Delta Air Lines credit cards
Delta adds economy class perks for international flyers

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