8 Tips to Use Delta SkyMiles for Maximum Value

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8 Tips to Use Delta SkyMiles for Maximum Value

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We love Delta SkyMiles, but one thing’s for sure: The airline doesn’t make it easy to use Delta SkyMiles well.

Understanding SkyMiles can be a chore because Delta stopped publishing an award chart years ago. So without that cheat sheet that tells you how many miles you should spend to fly from point A to point B, prices change constantly. And the airline has given flyers a rude reminder of that fact by drastically increasing award rates to book partner airlines like Air France or Virgin Atlantic – not once, not twice, but several times over the last year or two.

That can make it tempting to write SkyMiles off. Resist that urge: There is still value to be had when using SkyMiles for flights.

But there are some important factors to keep in mind to make sure you’re using your SkyMiles wisely. Follow these tips, and you’ll be set.
 

 


 

Use the Price Calendar

Most airlines have award charts that can tell you how many miles you’ll need to book any flight. Delta isn’t one of them.

That means the amount of SkyMiles you need to book a flight can swing wildly day by day. So how can you ensure you’re getting a good deal?

The key is to use Delta’s price calendar and/or five-week search function. This allows you to look at prices for – you guessed it – five weeks’ worth of flights. This option should show up after you’ve started your initial search.
 

delta skymiles calendar 

Scroll through a few months, and you’ll start to get a good sense of what the normal price is. That way you can ensure you’re getting the best deal possible – and not getting hosed by booking a day too early or too late. This price calendar feature is invaluable for ensuring you’re not overpaying on any flight, like these round-trip fares from New York City (JFK) to Bogota (BOG).

As you can see, shifting by just a day or two can be the difference between paying 27,000 SkyMiles and 44,000 SkyMiles – or even 50,000!
 

delta skymiles calendar

 

Avoid Delta Hubs If You Can

It may seem counterintuitive, but odds are you’re going to overpay if you’re flying from one of Delta’s hubs.

Whether you’re leaving from Atlanta (ATL), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Detroit (DTW), or Salt Lake City (SLC), you’ll often miss out on the lowest rates when using your SkyMiles.

We call it the Delta Hub Penalty. Delta flyers are loyal, and Delta knows it. When they don’t have options for a flight on other airlines – as is often the case with flights from its major hubs – Delta can charge more. And that’s exactly what they do.

As an example, let’s look at flights from Seattle (SEA) to Salt Lake City (SLC), a Delta hub. A round-trip award will typically clock in for at least 14,000 SkyMiles … if not much more.
 

delta skymiles salt lake city 

Meanwhile, the longer flight from Seattle to Denver (DEN) – a United hub – is easy to book for just 10,000 SkyMiles.
 

delta skymiles denver 

That’s just one example, but the same principle holds up for almost any flight you book with SkyMiles – domestic or international. So what’s the solution?

You can often save some serious SkyMiles by departing from another airport – especially on international flight deals. For example, on a SkyMiles flash sale on flights to South America, the best deal out of Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) was for 52,000 SkyMiles. But by popping over to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), that dropped to 32,000 SkyMiles. 

It’s always worth checking out neighboring airports and hub airports from other airlines. Even after adding in a connecting flight, you may still come out ahead.

 

Watch for SkyMiles Flash Sales

While Delta’s confusing, dynamic pricing system is frustrating, there’s a tremendous upside: Delta SkyMiles Flash sales.

Untethered from an award chart, Delta is free to slash SkyMiles award rates as it pleases. And the result is some screaming hot deals that are easily the best way to use your Delta SkyMiles. They keep a running a list of available sales on their site, but many of the best deals are never published. We’re constantly finding even unpublished flash sales and sending them to our Thrifty Traveler Premium members.

In just the last year, we’ve found domestic flash sales as low as 8,000 SkyMiles round-trip, flights to the Caribbean starting at 11,000 SkyMiles, and even roundtrip fares to Hawaii from just 14,000 SkyMiles total! Most airlines charge double that or more. You can even occasionally score a deal flying Delta One suites on a flash sale!
 

thrifty traveler premium deal to hawaii 

Want more award alerts like this one? Try out Thrifty Traveler Premium!

But the savings can get even better. Here’s a quick recap of some of the best SkyMiles we’ve seen over the last year or so:

We could go on and on and on. There are so many of these outstanding Delta SkyMiles flash sales – and they seem to only get better (and cheaper!) over time.

 

Use Virgin Atlantic Instead

We’ve had a rule for years here at Thrifty Traveler: When Delta is charging a boatload of SkyMiles, look at Virgin Atlantic.

Thanks to a close partnership between these two airlines, you can use Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta flights. And while Virgin Atlantic recently decimated some of the best sweet spots to book Delta flights, there are still some lucrative ways to book flights for fewer miles.

First, understand: While Delta’s pricing jumps all over the place, Virgin Atlantic is far more stable for booking Delta flights. A short one-way Delta flight under 500 miles will always cost 7,500 points, while flights under 1,000 miles will clock in at 8,500. A one-way trip to Europe in business class is always 50,000 miles. You get the picture.

Finding the award space can take some trial and error – especially lately, as it’s gotten much harder in recent months to find the award space to book these Delta flights. But when you do, the savings can be huge.
 

use delta skymiles 

Unfortunately, booking a Delta One suite to Tokyo-Haneda (HND), Seoul-Incheon (ICN), or elsewhere in Asia is no longer an option. Nor are sweet spots to get to Australia, South Africa, or even South America. But luckily, you can still snag a bargain on a Delta flight to Europe.

Consider that flying Delta One business class often costs 200,000 SkyMiles or more each way, like this flight from New York City (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA) next year that clocks in at a whopping 235,000 SkyMiles.
 

jfk to frankfurt skymiles 

But you can book the exact same seat on the exact same day for just 50,000 Virgin Atlantic points. 
 

jfk fra virgin scaled 

Finding the award space to book these Delta One seats through Virgin Atlantic has become a chore lately – it’s incredibly hit or miss. But we sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members a heads-up a few weeks back on some wide-open award space on this route to Germany – including some incredibly rare peak summer seats!
 

jfk to fra premium deal 

Get award alerts for the best ways to use your SkyMiles (and other points & miles) with Thrifty Traveler Premium

It’s one of the best deals in the world of points and miles. And while it might be the sweetest of all sweet spots using Virgin Atlantic points to fly Delta, there are plenty of other worthwhile workarounds. For example, while Delta typically charges 88,000 SkyMiles to fly economy on the nonstop between Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Honolulu (HNL) and back…
 

msp to honolulu skymiles 

… you can find those same flights for nearly half the miles via Virgin Atlantic.
 

msp to honolulu virgin atlantic 

You can’t transfer your Delta SkyMiles over to a Virgin Atlantic account, unfortunately. But it’s easy to get the Virgin Atlantic points you need: They’re a Chase transfer partner, Amex transfer partner, Capital One transfer partner, and even a Citi transfer partner. That means you can instantly transfer points from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, American Express® Gold Card, or the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card straight to a Virgin Atlantic account to get the points you need to book.

It turns out, sometimes the most valuable way to use your SkyMiles is to not use them at all.

 

Wanna Fly Biz Class? Look Elsewhere

Read our lips: SkyMiles are not worthless. But there’s one major reason why you might have heard that from other sites and travel influencers – they’re focused solely on top-dollar business class redemptions.

And they’re not exactly wrong about that. If your primary goal is scoring a lie-flat business class seat, Delta SkyMiles are … not great. And that’s putting it lightly.

Consider this:

  • Booking a Delta One flight using your SkyMiles now regularly costs 250,000 SkyMiles each way to Europe … and much more to Asia or Australia
  • Just a few years ago, booking a one-way to Europe in Air France business class or other partner airlines was 75,000 SkyMiles. Today, those same seats cost at least 120,000 SkyMiles – or closer to 200,000 depending on when you book.
  • Delta also decimated a sweet spot to fly partner carriers to the Middle East for 85,000 SkyMiles each way. After another devaluation, those also cost 120,000 SkyMiles, too.

 

air france business class cabin 

Slowly but surely, Delta has eliminated all the once-reliable redemptions and workarounds to squeeze outsized value out of SkyMiles for top-dollar business class redemptions. If that’s not your goal, then SkyMiles can be great.

But the trend is clear: If flying business class is at the top of your list, earning Delta SkyMiles shouldn’t be. 

Check out some better ways to book business class flights than using SkyMiles.

 

Book Round Trip, Not One-Ways

While the flexibility of booking one-way flights can be nice, it will cost you with SkyMiles.

With few exceptions, Delta almost always charges more for booking one-way flights rather than a round-trip itinerary. Even when you’re booking the exact same flights separately, it can cost you substantially more.

For example, take a look at these flights from New York City (JFK) to Athens (ATH) we found a while back. Booking Delta’s nonstop flight to Greece would have cost a whopping 120,000 SkyMiles.
 

use delta skymiles 

But if you booked that exact same flight as part of a round-trip itinerary, the whole trip dropped to just 32,000 SkyMiles. In this example, you could book three round-trip flights to Greece for the cost of a single one-way flight!
 

use delta skymiles 

It’s an extreme example, but that pattern plays out again and again across almost any SkyMiles award booking – on long flights and short ones, too. If you can, book a round-trip flight – it will save you SkyMiles.

 

Avoid Booking Last Minute

Without an award chart, Delta SkyMiles function much like cash prices for a flight. And much like when you’re using SkyMiles, rates can skyrocket in the final two or three weeks before departure.

Look at the next month’s worth of flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to New York City (JFK), and that much is clear.
 

delta skymiles msp jfk 

Lesson learned: It pays to plan ahead when using your SkyMiles.

 

Don’t Use Your SkyMiles to Upgrade (or Other Add-ons)

You almost have to give them credit for their ingenuity. Delta wants you to cash in your SkyMiles for as little as you’ll take for them.

Case in point: Delta has started allowing flyers to use their SkyMiles to upgrade to Comfort Plus or First Class seats. The airline plans to start selling checked baggage fees in SkyMiles. You can even avoid basic economy by burning your SkyMiles.

And while it may be tempting to use miles rather than cash to get a bigger seat upfront, it’s a poor use of your SkyMiles. The amount of SkyMiles you’ll use for the upgrade is tied directly to the cash price, and in almost every case you get just 1 cent for every SkyMile you use. You can do much better by using those miles for flights.

Still, thousands of travelers are upgrading with SkyMiles every day. The airline says it’s all about giving flyers more options to use their SkyMiles. The reality is it’s about limiting how much Delta is giving you when you cash in your SkyMiles.

Don’t do it.

 

How to Earn Delta SkyMiles

Here’s a look at what’s available, from the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card to the top-tier Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

But as you’ll see, the best way to earn SkyMiles may not be a Delta credit card at all…

 

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

  • Earn 70,000 SkyMiles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of card membership. This limited-time offer ends on Aug. 3, 2022.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight – savings of at least $60 on each round-trip flight, per person.
  • Priority boarding (even with a basic economy ticket)
  • Earn 2x SkyMiles per dollar spent at both restaurants and U.S. supermarkets
  • Earn 2x SkyMiles per dollar on eligible Delta purchases and 1x mile for all other spending.
  • Earn a $100 Delta flight credit if you spend $10,000 on the card in a calendar year.
  • Get 20% off in-flight purchases such as food & drinks in the form of a statement credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year (then $99 per year). See rates & fees.

 

Delta Credit Card Offers
 

Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card.

 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

  • Earn 90,000 SkyMiles after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of card membership. This limited-time offer ends on Aug. 3, 2022.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight, savings of at least $60 on each round-trip flight, per person.
  • Priority boarding (even with a basic economy ticket)
  • Get a domestic main cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon card renewal – one of this card’s best benefits!
  • Earn 2x SkyMiles per dollar spent at both restaurants and U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 3x SkyMiles per dollar spent on eligible Delta purchases, and at hotels.
  • Receive up to a $100 credit to cover the cost for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years.
  • Get 20% off in-flight purchases such as food & drinks in the form of a statement credit
  • Get into the Delta Sky Club when you’re flying Delta by paying $39 (and bring up to two guests for $39 each)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $250 annual fee. See rates & fees.

 

Delta Credit Card Offers
 

Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card.

 

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

  • Earn 100,000 SkyMiles after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of card membership. This limited-time offer ends on Aug. 3, 2022.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight – savings of at least $60 on each round-trip flight, per person.
  • Priority boarding (even with a basic economy ticket)
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club access when you are flying Delta. You’ll also get two, one-time guest passes each year to the Delta Sky Club.
  • Complimentary access to the American Express Centurion Lounges when you are flying Delta on a ticket purchased with your Reserve card. You can also bring up to two guests in with you for a fee of $50 each.
  • Get a domestic main cabin or first-class round-trip companion certificate each year upon card renewal.
  • Earn 3x SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
  • Receive up to a $100 credit to cover the cost for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years.
  • Complimentary space-available upgrades, even for non-Medallion members. A great way to improve your upgrade chances.
  • Enjoy 20% off in-flight purchases such as food & drinks in the form of a statement credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $550 annual fee. See rates & fees.

 

Delta Credit Card Offers
 

Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card. 

 

Amex Membership Rewards Credit Cards

Beyond Delta’s own credit cards, there’s arguably an even better way to earn SkyMiles.

American Express has its own suite of credit cards that earn Membership Rewards points. But you can transfer Membership Rewards points from Amex directly to your Delta SkyMiles account on a 1:1 basis (1 point = 1 Delta SkyMile). And thanks to some excellent bonus categories, you can earn even more SkyMiles than by using one of Delta’s co-branded cards in certain spending categories.

One of our absolute favorites is The Platinum Card® from American ExpressIt starts with a standard, 100,000-point welcome bonus after spending $6,000 in six months. But be sure to check and see if you qualify for a 150,000-point bonus for the same spending requirement.
 

amex platinum card
 

Click Here to learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express. 
 

The American Express® Gold Card is another strong option. The card is currently offering a 60,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 within six months of card membership. But like the Platinum Card, you may qualify for a much higher offer through CardMatch.

You’ll also earn an unlimited 4x points per dollar spent at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 each year then 1x) – the highest bonus on the market – and 3x points on airfare booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. This card has an annual fee of $250 (see rates & fees), which we feel can be worth it.
 

Amex Rose Gold
 

Click Here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card.

 

Bottom Line

Delta SkyMiles are easy to use, but harder to use well. Follow these tips and you’ll be traveling like a pro in no time.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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