Flying Delta With Points: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

Learn the ins and outs of the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program so you can earn all the miles you need toward your dream award flights.
Last updated Jan 3, 2020 | By Lee Huffman
Flying Delta With Points

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As you plan your next vacation, you should consider flying on Delta Air Lines. Delta flies nearly 200 million people a year to more than 300 destinations across 50 countries. Many of these people pay cash for their Delta tickets, but we're going to show you why flying Delta with points is the way to go.

Some people in the travel community may discount Delta’s frequent flier program as “SkyPesos,” but that’s because they don’t understand the power of these miles — and we’re going to share it all with you today.

Jump To

About Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines was founded in 1928 in Louisiana and is now headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It has major hubs in these 15 key domestic and international markets.

  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Detroit
  • London-Heathrow, England
  • Los Angeles
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • New York-JFK and LaGuardia
  • Paris-Charles de Gaulle, France
  • Salt Lake City
  • São Paulo, Brazil
  • Seattle
  • Seoul-Incheon, South Korea
  • Tokyo, Japan

Delta Airlines partners

Delta is one of 19 airlines that partner together through the SkyTeam Alliance. Combined, these airlines have more than 14,500 daily departures carrying 630 million passengers to over 1,150 destinations. You can book flights using Delta SkyMiles on any of these SkyTeam member airlines.

Additionally, when you fly on a paid flight, you may credit your flight to any of the other SkyTeam partner airlines. By focusing all your earnings to one airline's frequent flyer program, you'll reach elite status with Delta quicker and earn enough miles for a free flight. For example, you may be flying Aeromexico and choose to credit your flight to Delta.

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • AirEuropa
  • AirFrance
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • MEA
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • XiamenAir

Delta has also developed relationships with airlines that are not part of the SkyTeam Alliance. These airlines include:

  • China Southern
  • GOL
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia
  • WestJet

The details of these partnerships vary by airline. The amount of Delta SkyMiles you earn per flight will also vary and, in some cases, certain flights are excluded from participating.

Delta SkyMiles: the Delta Air Lines loyalty program

The airline loyalty program for Delta is called SkyMiles. Through this program you can both earn and redeem miles. You can earn these miles by paying for flights, making purchases with a Delta credit card, or by making purchases with businesses that partner with Delta. Miles that you've earned can be redeemed to pay for flights and upgrades, vacation packages, and more.

Joining SkyMiles is simple to do and there is no cost. To earn miles when flying, just add your Delta SkyMiles number to your reservations. But flying isn’t the only way to earn SkyMiles. For example, you can shop online through Delta’s shopping portal, dine with your registered credit card while eating at restaurants in the Delta SkyMiles Dining Program, or use your Delta co-branded credit card for everyday purchases.

Base-level members of the SkyMiles program earn five miles per dollar spent on tickets, while travelers with higher levels of elite status can earn up to 11 miles per dollar (which we’ll discuss more in the next section). You'll earn these miles on the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges, but government-imposed taxes and fees do not earn miles.

Unfortunately, not all tickets are created equal. When you buy a plane ticket from travel agents as part of vacation packages, or through other third parties, these unpublished fares are treated differently. Instead of earning miles based on your elite status and the cost of your ticket, these exception fares earn miles based on the distance flown and fare class paid (e.g. Economy, Business, First).

Delta status levels

The elite status levels within the SkyMiles loyalty program are called Medallion levels. Beyond the base level you automatically achieve when signing up, there are four Medallion status levels in the SkyMiles program – Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Higher levels earn more miles and receive additional benefits.

To earn status, you’ll need to meet qualifications from both columns below. You’ll also want to know the following terms:

  • MQM: Medallion Qualifying Miles
  • MQS: Medallion Qualifying Segments
  • MQD: Medallion Qualifying Dollars

The reason for all this is that Delta realizes people don’t always travel long distances when they fly. So, with this setup you can meet status qualifications based on the number of miles that you fly or the number of one-way flights (aka segments) flown.

And, in some cases, you can fly a great distance without spending a lot of money. That is why the second qualification is based on the amount of money you spend with Delta. You can also get this qualification waived by spending enough money on your Delta credit cards, such as the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Credit Card.

Status level Miles or segments required to qualify Dollars spent required to qualify
General None None
Silver 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs $3,000 MQDs or waiver
Gold 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs $6,000 MQDs or waiver
Platinum 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs $9,000 MQDs or waiver
Diamond 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs $15,000 MQDs or waiver

All of the Medallion status levels enjoy a variety of perks, which can include unlimited upgrades, complimentary preferred seats, and priority waitlist status. Additionally, they receive many fees waived for checked bags and changes to both cash and award tickets. As your status increases, you get more access to upgrades, waived fees, and other benefits.

In the chart below, each higher level of elite status includes all the benefits from each of the levels that come before it.

Status Level Miles earned per $1 spent Additional benefits
General 5x
  • Earn miles towards free flights and elite status
Silver 7x
  • Unlimited complimentary Delta One upgrades on day of departure
  • Waived baggage fees
  • Priority wait list
Gold 8x
  • Unlimited First Class upgrades 72 hours prior to departure
  • Waived same day confirmed and standby fees
  • Priority security lane access
Platinum 9x
  • Waived award redeposit fees
  • Hertz President’s Circle status
Diamond 11x
  • Highest priority boarding
  • Complimentary CLEAR membership

How to book with points on Delta Air Lines

To book a Delta flight with points, you search for flights just like you would if you were paying cash on Delta.com. The search tool is at the top of the page. However, before starting your search, you'll want to check the box that says "Shop with Miles." This tells Delta that you want to redeem miles to book your flight instead of paying cash.

Flying Delta With Points

Just like a ticket you would pay cash for, you'll enter your departure and destination cities, dates of travel, class of seat, and number of passengers. Once your search results come up, you can choose the flight that works best for you or check the calendar for alternate dates that may have other options.

How much are Delta SkyMiles worth?

Assigning a value to Delta SkyMiles is difficult to do. Delta eliminated its award chart several years ago and now prices award flights dynamically. This means the number of miles required for a flight goes up or down based on consumer demand and time of year.

On average, the value of SkyMiles is estimated to be approximately 1.2 cents per mile based on numerous data points from the community. Your actual redemption value will vary based on where you are flying to and from, the dates of travel, and which cabin of seats you select. Although premium seats cost more points, they often provide a higher value of cents per mile than an Economy ticket. For example, a business class flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam in January 2020 might cost 200,000 miles or $3,892 (non-refundable), which works out to a great value of 1.9 cents per mile.

It’s easy to work out the value of your miles for any given redemption by dividing the cost of the flight in cash by the number of SkyMiles required to redeem the flight. Using my example above, $3,892 divided by 200,000 = .01946 or approximately 1.9 cents per SkyMile.

To find the best deal when booking your award flights, it pays to be flexible. When searching for flights, make sure the box that says "My dates are flexible" is checked.

Flying Delta With Points

Once the search results are available, you have two options to find the best value flights. First, use the "Flexible Dates" grid showing the departure and return dates to find the best combination to find the lowest prices.

Flying Delta With Points

Alternatively, you can use the "Price Calendar" to find the lowest price based on your departure date and the length of your trip. This search functionality makes it easier to move the calendar backward and forward to find the lowest prices.

Flying Delta With Points

If you are unsure of whether or not you are getting the best value, just do the math:

Price of flight / number of SkyMiles required = value of each SkyMile

Using this equation, you can compare any number of flights to find the deal that works for you.

Some people in the travel rewards community worry about maximizing the value of every reward redemption. But as long as the value you’re getting is in the ballpark of the average and it gets you to the destination you want to go, then I consider that a win.

Examples of how you can fly Delta Airlines with SkyMiles

Atlanta, Georgia, to Nassau, Bahama, for 22,500 miles roundtrip in Economy. Finding flights to the islands of the Caribbean are a great way to escape the winter cold and relax on the beach.

Flying Delta With Points

Los Angeles, California, to Sydney, Australia, roundtrip for 70,000 miles in Economy. Visiting Australia to see koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat can be a dream come true when you use your Delta miles to book your flights.

Flying Delta With Points

Atlanta, Georgia, to Johannesburg, South Africa, in Delta One business class for 230,000 miles roundtrip. Going on an African safari is on the bucket list of many travelers. Flying Delta with points in business class is an excellent redemption.

Flying Delta With Points

How to earn enough miles to fly Delta with points

You can earn miles to fly Delta with miles in several ways. Airlines offer many options to increase your mileage balance besides paying for plane tickets and flying all the time.

Fly with Delta

The original option to earn miles is to pay for a ticket and fly somewhere. Delta's loyalty program focuses on how much you paid for your ticket and what elite status you have. The more you pay for a ticket and the higher your elite status, the more miles you'll earn. Base level SkyMiles members earn five miles per dollar, while top-level Diamond members can earn 11 miles per dollar.

As discussed above, exception fares earn miles based on distance flown and the fare class of your ticket.

Earn miles with Delta partner airlines

Because Delta is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance, you can earn Delta SkyMiles by crediting your flights on partner airlines to Delta. You'll earn SkyMiles based on the rules of the partner airline. The specific rules for each airline are posted on this Delta airline partners page. In general, the number of miles earned will be based on the distance of your flight, the fare class purchased, and your elite status.

Use Delta co-branded credit cards

By applying for a Delta co-branded credit card, you'll earn miles everywhere you make purchases. Bonus miles are earned when booking Delta flights and vacation packages, making inflight purchases, and other Delta transactions. For many consumers and small businesses, they earn more SkyMiles by using the Delta credit cards than they do by flying with Delta and its partner airlines.

The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card is a great credit card for most travelers. It provides free checked bags and priority boarding. With Delta now charging $30 per bag each way, you can recoup the $99 (waived first year) annual fee in approximately three one-way flights. With this card, you also earn 2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta, at restaurants, and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.

For frequent travelers, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Credit Card is one to consider. It offers the same free checked bags and priority boarding but goes a step further. Earn 60,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (offer ends 10/28). This card also offers a companion certificate each year that you can redeem for a domestic Economy flight with anyone you choose. With this card, you also earn 3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and at hotels; 2X miles per dollar spent at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets; and 1X miles for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Free Bag & Priority Boarding

Benefits

  • Earn up to 60,000 bonus miles - Offer ends Oct. 28
  • 3X miles on purchases made directly with Delta and at hotels
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights
  • Statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
  • Terms apply

Use Marriott credit cards

It may seem odd that we're recommending Marriott Bonvoy hotel points to fly Delta. However, Marriott partners with multiple airlines to allow its members to convert hotel points into airline miles. There are three ways in which you can transfer Marriott points to Delta.

The first is a straight conversion of Marriott Bonvoy points into Delta SkyMiles. Delta is one of 43 different airlines with which you can convert Marriott’s points into miles. You’ll receive one Delta mile for every three Marriott points you transfer. Plus, for every 60,000 points you transfer, you'll receive a bonus of 5,000 miles.

You can also book flights on over 200 airlines with Marriott points or a combination of points and cash on Marriott’s own website. If you don’t have enough points for your tickets, you can use as few as 10,000 Marriott points, then pay the rest in cash. When booking with Marriott points, all required taxes and fees are included in the points price.

The last option is the Hotel + Air Packages where you receive a one-week Marriott stay in addition to airline miles when you purchase a package. Packages start at 255,000 Marriott points for a Category 1-4 Marriott hotel plus 50,000 miles. To redeem your Marriott points for one of these packages, call Marriott’s customer service at 800-321-7396. The miles will post to your Delta account within a few days and can be used to book any flights you want. The one-week Marriott stay is good for one year and does not have to be booked in conjunction with using the Delta miles. When redeeming points for these packages, the 5,000 bonus per 60,000 Marriott points converted does not apply.

To earn Marriott Bonvoy points, I recommend looking at the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card:

  • The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card is a solid option that earns 6X points at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy and 2X points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases. You'll also receive automatic Silver Elite status and an annual free night worth up to 35,000 points for a yearly fee of $95.
  • Business owners will like that the Marriott Bonvoy Business card can earn up to two free nights each year based on your spending. It earns 6X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 4X points on U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, U.S. purchases on shipping, and wireless telephone services purchased from U.S. providers; and 2X points on all other eligible purchases. You'll also receive Silver status automatically with the ability to upgrade to Gold after spending $35,000.

A Great Card for Travel Rewards Beginners

Benefits

  • Limited time offer: 100,000 point sign-up offer
  • 6X points at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy
  • One free night each year
  • No foreign transaction fee

Use American Express credit cards

American Express credit cards that earn Membership Rewards points are a valuable option for people looking for more Delta SkyMiles. Membership Rewards points can be transferred to 19 airlines and three hotels — with Delta being one of the participating airlines.

Membership Rewards points transfer to SkyMiles on a 1:1 basis with a minimum of 1,000 points per transfer. Be aware that these transfers incur a small excise tax fee of $0.0006 per point transferred. For example, a 100,000 point transfer would incur a fee of $60.

The Platinum Card from American Express or American Express Gold Card are both good options for Delta fliers:

  • Many travelers choose the Platinum Card because it earns 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases. It also provides access to over 1,200 lounges. The card comes with $200 Uber credits, $200 in airline fee credits, and $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credits each year. You can even access the Delta SkyClub when flying Delta or one of its partner airlines.
  • The Amex Gold Card earns bonus points in more categories that most people use every day. With this card, you'll earn 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases. It also offers $120 in dining credits and $100 in airline fee credits per year.

Big Rewards for Dining Out

Benefits

  • 35,000 Membership Rewards point welcome offer
  • High rewards rate in certain categories
  • Up to $100 airline fee credit
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Terms apply

Have friends or family transfer SkyMiles to you

Friends and family can transfer SkyMiles to you, but there is a fee for these transfers. Transfers must be done in 1,000 increments at a cost of one cent per mile with a fee of $30 per transaction. You are limited to 30,000 miles per transaction and 150,000 miles transferred per year.

In most cases, though, you will be better off to have your friends or family book your flight directly from their account. This avoids the unnecessary fees associated with transfers.

Transfers make sense when you are just a few miles short of being able to redeem an award ticket from your own account. For example, if you were 3,000 miles short, the total transfer fee is $60 ($30 transaction fee plus $30 for the 3,000 miles).

Buy more SkyMiles

You can buy Delta SkyMiles, but this is usually an expensive idea. Buying miles costs 3.5 cents per mile. This is often much more expensive than paying cash for the same flight. For example, at 3.5 cents per mile, it would cost $875 to buy enough miles for a 25,000-mile domestic award flight.

But, as an example, a flight from Nashville to New York City in March 2020 that would cost you 25,000 miles can be purchased with cash for only $280. In this scenario, it would not make sense to buy these miles unless you need a small amount to top off your account to be able to book the award ticket. Instead of buying miles, consider transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards or Marriott Bonvoy to get the best value.

Flying Delta With Points Flying Delta With Points

The best credit cards to earn you more Delta SkyMiles

There are many different credit cards that earn SkyMiles directly or allow you to transfer their points or miles to Delta. Credit cards are available for both personal and small business travelers with various levels of benefits and annual fees to fit your budget.

Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business American Express Card Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card The Platinum Card from American Express
Welcome bonus Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months (offer ends 10/28) Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months (offer ends 10/28) Earn 75,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy points when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards rate 2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta, at restaurants, and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases 3X miles per $1 spent on purchases made directly with Delta and on eligible hotel purchases; 1.5X miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (capped at 50,000 miles per calendar year); and 1X mile per $1 spent on other eligible purchases 6X points on eligible purchases at participating Marriot Bonvoy hotels, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X points on all other eligible purchases 6X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 4X points on U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, U.S. purchases on shipping, and wireless telephone services purchased from U.S. providers; and 2X points on all other eligible purchases 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
Annual fee $99 (waived first year) $250 $450 $125 $550
Foreign transaction fee None None None None None
Travel perks $50 statement credit on Delta purchase within three months

First checked bag free for up to nine passengers

Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding

20% in-flight savings on food, beverages, and audio headsets

$100 statement credit on Delta purchase within three months

First checked bag free

Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding

Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year

Earn up to 20,000 MQMs based on spending

20% in-flight savings on food, beverages, and audio headsets

$300 Marriott credit each year

Free night up to 50,000 points

Complimentary Gold status

Earn Platinum status after $75,000 in purchases

15 elite night credits

Priority Pass Select membership

TSA Precheck or Global Entry reimbursement

Travel protections, such as baggage delay

Free night up to 35,000 points

Second free night after spending $60,000 in a calendar year

Complimentary Silver status

Earn Gold status after $35,000 in purchases

15 elite night credits

Travel protections, such as baggage delay

Airline fee credit of $200

Global Entry or TSA Precheck reimbursement

Fine Hotels & Resorts and The Hotel Collection discounts and benefits

The Global Lounge Collection of 1,200+ locations

Uber $200 credit

Marriott and Hilton Gold status

Transfer points to airline and hotel partners

Saks Fifth Avenue $100 credit

Commonly asked questions about flying Delta with points

How many Delta SkyMiles do I need for a free flight?

The number of miles required to fly Delta with points varies based on where you are flying to and from, the dates of travel, and the class of service. Delta uses variable pricing on award tickets and does not publish an award chart.

Delta does publish a list of SkyMiles Deals that are available between select destinations at considerable discounts. The list of options are updated every week, so check back on a regular basis for the best deals. With these specials, flying Delta with points can be done for as little as 10,000 miles roundtrip. In November 2019, roundtrip flights between San Jose and Los Angeles were available for only 10,000 miles.

Flying Delta With Points

Delta also offers SkyMiles Flash Deals each month where certain routes are greatly discounted. For example, the November 2019 Flash Deals included flying Delta with points in Delta One business class for only 98,000 miles roundtrip.

Flying Delta With Points

When do Delta SkyMiles expire?

The miles you earn from flying, using a Delta credit card, or partners will never expire.

How do I transfer miles on Delta?

You can transfer Delta miles to friends, family, or anyone else who has a Delta SkyMiles account. If they don’t have one, an account can be opened for free within minutes at Delta.com. Transfers must be made in increments of 1,000, but a transfer can include up to four recipients at a time. The cost to transfer miles is one cent per mile, plus a $30 fee per transaction.

There is a maximum of 30,000 miles per transaction and you are limited to transferring a total of 150,000 miles per year out of your Delta SkyMiles account. On the flip side, you may receive up to 300,000 miles annually.

Can I gift my Delta miles?

You may gift Delta SkyMiles to someone else at a cost of 3.5 cents per mile plus taxes. Gifts are made in 2,000 increments with a maximum of 60,000 miles per transaction. That is also the maximum that any SkyMiles member may be gifted per year.

Note that these gifts do not come out of your SkyMiles account. Instead, you are buying these miles to top up someone else's account.

Can I use my Delta SkyMiles to book a flight for someone else?

Yes, you may book flights for anyone using your Delta SkyMiles. To book these flights, you'll need the passenger's name, date of birth, and contact information. It helps to also have their Delta SkyMiles frequent flier number and, if they have one, their Trusted Traveler number for TSA Precheck or Global Entry benefits.


The bottom line on flying Delta with points

Flying Delta with points is a great way to travel for business or pleasure. It is free to sign up for the SkyMiles loyalty program and you can earn miles by flying, spending on a credit card, or through Delta's partnerships.

It is unfortunate that Delta does not offer a fixed award chart, but searching for award space is simple. Delta's award search tools make it easy to find the lowest prices available by looking at the calendar to find the right days to travel and length of trip, and then simply doing a little math.

There are many credit cards available from Delta that earn SkyMiles. Plus, credit cards from Marriott and American Express Membership Rewards earn points that transfer over to Delta. These cards not only earn great rewards, but also offer valuable travel benefits to enhance your vacation experience.

With so many destinations to choose from around the world and options to earn valuable rewards, it is no wonder that so many people love flying Delta with points. Where will you fly with your Delta SkyMiles?

Double miles on Delta purchases

Benefits

  • Earn up to 60,000 bonus miles - Offer ends Oct. 28
  • Earn a $100 Delta Flight Credit to use toward future travel after you spend $10,000 in the first calendar year
  • 2X miles on eligible purchases with Delta, at restaurants worldwide, and more
  • First checked bag free + priority boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Terms apply