Delta SkyMiles are truly a mixed bag.
There are some great ways to use them, like the frequent Delta SkyMiles flash sales we send to our Thrifty Traveler Premium members. 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. But one of our favorite (and most underrated) way to use SkyMiles is the Delta Pay with Miles feature.
This quirky perk is unique to Delta among the major U.S. airlines, and it’s available only to Delta SkyMiles credit cardholders. Rather than charging an ever-changing amount of miles for your flight like a normal SkyMiles redemption, this feature bases the miles you need on the cash fare – making every SkyMile worth a cent toward your flight.
It’s not always the best option, but when you find a cheap Delta flight deal you can save some serious SkyMiles.
Read on to see how it works – and when it makes sense to use it.
Related Reading: How Much are Delta SkyMiles Really Worth?
What Is Delta Pay With Miles?
Delta’s website spells it all out.
Pay with Miles is an exclusive benefit for card members who have the co-branded Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. Even the no annual fee Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card will be able to use Delta Pay with Miles.
This benefit allows card members to use their SkyMiles as if they were cash instead. Regardless of the ticket price, cardholders can reduce the cost of their ticket by $50 for every 5,000 SkyMiles they use. That means you must have a minimum of 5,000 SkyMiles in your account to use Pay with Miles.
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 cover the entire cost 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). This previously gave tickets booked with the Delta Pay with Miles feature an edge over standard SkyMiles award ticket.
But that is no longer the case. Earlier this year, Delta made a permanent change to SkyMiles award tickets. They now earn credits towards Medallion Elite status so long as you book at least a main cabin award fare using your miles.
On the plus side, with Delta Pay with Miles, you don’t have to cover the whole cost of the flight with miles. You can apply as many, or as few miles as you like, in increments of 5,000 SkyMiles.
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, or if you don’t have enough miles in your account to book an award ticket, it can be a great option.
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, 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. For example, this flight between Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Phoenix (PHX) can be booked for $166 in Delta Basic Economy.
Once you find the flight you are looking for, you will see whether it is “Pay With Miles Eligible.” All of the examples for this flight listed below have this designation.
As you can see below, since I hold the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, I can use 20,000 SkyMiles to cover the entire cost of $165.80.
But since you have to use miles in increments of 5,000 SkyMiles, I could also use just 15,000 SkyMiles and pay the additional $15.80 out of pocket. This is a better value as those additional 5,000 SkyMiles should be worth at least $50 or more, so getting $15.80 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.
In this example, I could use just 13,000 SkyMiles and $11.20 if I booked this as a standard award ticket, so if you are looking to use SkyMiles, it is always worth checking both the standard award ticket price and the price using Delta Pay with Miles. You’ll find that sometimes, the Pay with Miles pricing requires using fewer SkyMiles.
But if I only had 10,000 SkyMiles in my account, for example, the Pay with Miles option would be my only choice.
Delta Pay with Miles vs. Delta Miles + Cash: What’s the Difference
It is easy to confuse the Delta Pay with Miles feature with another feature that Delta calls Miles + Cash. But these two options are completely different.
Delta Miles + Cash tickets work exactly as they sound. It allows you to pay for flights using a combination of both SkyMiles and cash. Unlike the Delta Pay with Miles feature discussed above, you don’t need to be a SkyMiles credit card holder to do it. It is available for anybody with a SkyMiles account – although it’s not an option for Delta Basic Economy flights.
Critically, these tickets are still considered award tickets. And unlike Delta Pay with Miles, the Delta Miles + Cash rates are fixed. That means you are not able to customize how many miles and how much cash you use at the time of booking.
Miles + Cash rates can be found by searching your flight on Delta’s website as you normally would. Once you land on your search results, there should be an option in the top right corner to show pricing in Miles + Cash.
Again, these rates are fixed and you can not adjust how much of each (miles & cash) you use for each flight.
Miles + Cash rates are generally not a good deal. Since we can’t use this feature for basic economy tickets, a main cabin round-trip ticket on this flight is $276.80. The Miles + Cash price is 9,000 SkyMiles and $191.20. Woof.
That means you are essentially saving $85.60 cash in exchange for 9,000 SkyMiles. That is less than a cent each for your miles and not a good value. If you have a co-branded SkyMiles credit card, skip the Miles + Cash option. You will always be better served using the Pay with Miles feature.
Our Favorite Delta Pay with Miles Hack
There’s an easy way to take this even further.
If you hold The Platinum Card® from American Express (non-Delta version), you’ll get a $200 airline credit to use each and every year of card membership. If you hold the Hilton Aspire Card, you’ll get a $250 credit each year.
These airline credits you get from American Express cards are fairly straightforward … until they’re not.
What purchases will trigger the credit? Well, a lot. But it’s important to stress that buying airfare outright generally won’t work – with some exceptions, as you’ll see. Cabin upgrades, buying miles, and several other similar purchases also aren’t eligible.
In short, these credits are meant to cover incidental fees. And that leaves us with a handful of great ways to use them up every year, including some sneaky workarounds. And one of those ways is using Delta Pay with Miles to cover some of your fare with miles, and then using the credit to remove the cash portion of the fare.
We’ve tested this method repeatedly and can confirm it works. It goes like this:
Cardholders of one of Delta’s co-branded American Express cards can use Pay with Miles, which allows you to put SkyMiles toward the cash price of your ticket. Every SkyMile is worth a cent, so a 5,000-mile payment knocks $50 off the price. By applying some miles toward your purchase, you can then put the remainder on your Amex Platinum, or Hilton Aspire card – and the credit should kick in.
This, of course, requires you to hold both a Delta co-branded credit card and either a Platinum Card (non-Delta version) or the Hilton Aspire Card.
Our testing suggests that the final charge to your card (after using Pay with Miles) should be under $250 for this method to work. So if your plane tickets are $350, you’d want to apply at least 15,000 SkyMiles to knock the price down to $200. A few days later, the credit should kick in.
Just remember: You need to select Delta as your preferred airline before going this route. And beware, workarounds like these may not last forever. It could disappear at any moment. But for now, it’s a solid way to use some SkyMiles and put your airline fee credits to use.
Delta’s Pay with Miles feature is a great, albeit somewhat niche, 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 – especially if you don’t have enough SkyMiles in your account to book an award ticket. And it is always worth comparing the actual SkyMiles price to the Delta Pay with Miles pricing.
Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0): Delta News Hub via Flickr