Delta SkyMiles are truly a mixed bag. There are some great ways to use them, like the frequent SkyMiles flash sales we post here and via our Thrifty Traveler Premium service. And then there are some not so great ways to use them, like exorbitantly expensive flights or using them to upgrade to Comfort Plus or First Class. It can be tough to understand what’s what with Delta SkyMiles.
But one of our favorite ways to use Delta SkyMiles is the “Pay with Miles” feature – a perk unique to Delta among the major U.S. airlines, and one that’s available only to Delta SkyMiles credit cardholders. Rather than charging an ever-changing amount of miles for your flight, this feature bases the miles you need on the cash fare – every SkyMile is worth a cent.
It’s not always the best option, but when you find a cheap Delta flight deal you can save some serious SkyMiles. And as an added bonus, you can keep earning Delta Medallion status when using Pay with Miles.
Read on for more details.
What Is Delta Pay With Miles?
Delta’s website spells it all out. Pay with Miles is an exclusive benefit card members who have the co-branded Gold, Platinum or Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express. And starting on Jan. 30, 2020, even the no annual fee Delta Blue SkyMiles card will have access to the Pay with Miles feature.
This benefit allows card members to use their SkyMiles at a rate of one cent each to discount the cash rate of a Delta ticket. Regardless of the ticket price, cardholders can reduce the cost of their ticket by $50 for every 5,000 SkyMiles you elect to use. And because of this, you must have a minimum of 5,000 SkyMiles in your account to take advantage of the feature.
For example, redeeming 10,000 of your miles takes $100 off your fare, 15,000 miles takes $150 off, 20,000 miles takes $200 off, and so on. So if you were looking to book a ticket that cost $400, you could completely remove the charge by applying 40,000 SkyMiles when it comes time to checkout.
The best part? Delta Pay with Miles tickets are eligible to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) where standard award tickets are not. In addition to this, you will earn SkyMiles on any part of a fare that you pay with cash when using Pay with Miles.
Using Delta Pay with Miles to Book Flight Deals
This shouldn’t be your go-to strategy when using SkyMiles. But when flights are cheap, it can be great.
One of our favorite ways to use points and miles is to book cheap flights. It’s the only way to make a flight deal truly free, as you won’t be on the hook for any taxes and fees that would otherwise be charged on an award ticket. And you can harness the power of this great feature by using it when you find a cheap cash flight.
Now, some will argue that getting one cent per SkyMile isn’t the best use, and there is no denying that you can certainly get more value out of them. But if you’re looking to travel for cheap (or free) with Delta and earn MQMs towards Medallion elite status in the process, there’s no better way to do it.
To use the Pay with Miles feature, you must first log into your SkyMiles account on Delta’s website. And you will need to make sure that your co-branded SkyMiles credit card is linked to your Delta account.
From here, you can just search for a flight as you normally would, though we would suggest starting your flight search with Google Flights if you haven’t already. When you find the flight you are looking for, you will see at the bottom whether or not it is “Pay With Miles Eligible.”
All of the examples listed below have this designation.
For the purposes of this example, I selected the nonstop route from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Reykjavik (KEF) for $571 roundtrip. And as you can see below, I can use 60,000 miles to cover the entire cost of $571.75.
Since you have to use miles in increments of 5,000 SkyMiles, I could also use just 55,000 miles and pay the additional $21.75 out of pocket. This is a better value as those additional 5,000 SkyMiles should be worth $50 or more, so getting $21,75 for them isn’t great.
And because of the way that Delta sets its SkyMiles award pricing, you may find that using SkyMiles for the same flight might require fewer miles than the Pay with Miles feature. However, Pay with Miles lets you earn MQMs (which are different than SkyMiles), a critical building block to elite status with Delta. And that’s worth its weight in gold to many.
Delta’s Pay with Miles feature is a great option that allows you to leverage a great flight deal and save some serious SkyMiles. Just remember, you’ll only be eligible for this feature if you carry one of Delta’s co-branded American Express credit cards.
It won’t make sense in all situations, but it is a great hack to have in your toolbelt.
Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0): Delta News Hub via Flickr
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.