Whether you’re just getting started with points and miles or a seasoned award traveler, credit card points and airline miles can make your head spin. What’s a good deal when using your miles … and what’s not?
That’s especially hard to figure out when it comes to Delta SkyMiles. Years ago, Delta ditched the award chart that set prices when using SkyMiles, moving to a dynamic pricing model that means how many SkyMiles you need to book a flight is constantly changing based on the cash price, demand, time of year, and more.
So how much are Delta miles worth? That’s tricky to pin down, as it varies just as wildly as what Delta will charge you. But we’ve crunched some numbers that can help be a guide for what you should get when redeeming your SkyMiles – and reassure you that they are not worthless.
Related reading: 8 of the Best Delta SkyMiles Redemptions
Compare to Cash Prices
There’s a simple formula that can help you understand just how far your miles are getting you: CPM, or cents per mile. It works like this.
Cost of flight in cash / cost of same flight in miles = cents per mile (cpm)
Here’s a simple example. Say you’re looking at a $250 flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Las Vegas (LAS). You plug that same flight into Delta.com and search with SkyMiles to find that you could book it for 25,000 miles. Take $250 and divide it by 25,000 and you get .01 – exactly 1 cent.
But that’s not set in stone. A stash of 10,000 SkyMiles won’t always cover $100 in airfare. It’s constantly changing, just like airfare in general.
So we crunched some numbers, running hundreds of searches on Delta’s site to compare the cash cost against using SkyMiles. In doing so, we confirmed a trend and established a baseline to help you understand the value of SkyMiles when booking flights.
Here’s a real example. A long weekend trip from Minneapolis to Las Vegas in March of 2021. As you can see, if I were to pay cash, the ticket would cost $597.80.
That exact same flight using SkyMiles costs 52,000 miles.
Follow the formula above and you’ll calculate that in this example, your SkyMiles are worth about 1.15 cents each. In our experience, that’s fairly average for most domestic flights.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can get far more value redeeming SkyMiles on international business class – especially with partner airlines like Air France, KLM or Virgin Atlantic. For instance, you can buy a one-way flight in Virgin Atlantic’s new business class suites from Los Angeles (LAX) all the way to Tel Aviv (TLV) for a whopping $3,449.
But you can book that same flight for just 85,000 SkyMiles and $50 in fees.
After factoring in the additional fees you pay on award tickets, your SkyMiles were worth almost 4 cents apiece in this example. It’s one of the best ways to use your SkyMiles, period.
But the reality is that redemptions with outsized value like that are few and far between with SkyMiles. So here’s one last example, from a recent Delta SkyMiles flash sale to London we sent to Thrifty Traveler Premium members. With that sale, you could fly from Minneapolis to London and back for 38,000 SkyMiles, plus about $195 in fees.
Paying cash, that same flight would be about $878.
Subtract that $195 in fees and follow the formula above, and you’re getting about 1.8 cents per SkyMile on this flash sale.
So what do we make of this? Are SkyMiles worth 1.1 cents each? Are they worth 1.8 cents apiece? Or are they really worth 4 cents or more?
The answer is yes – to all of the above. How much your SkyMiles are worth depends upon how you use them. But after running hundreds of searches like these, here’s what we can tell you.
You should be able to get 1.2 cents to 1.3 cents or more in value out of your SkyMiles. That’s our barometer for a good use of SkyMiles. On a great SkyMiles flash sale or big international trip, you can easily do much better.
Look at the cash price of the flight you’re considering and divide it by .012. For a cash flight that costs $450, is Delta charging more than 37,500 SkyMiles? Your SkyMiles should be worth more than that – you might be better off saving your miles for a different trip.
That’s not a perfect system, but it can set a baseline expectation of how much SkyMiles are worth.
This logic works well…until it doesn’t. There are a number of nuances with the redeeming SkyMiles you’ll want to be aware of.
Beware of the Delta Hub Penalty
With no award chart, Delta award prices act more like cash fares. And that’s not all bad.
But as you dive into flight pricing with SkyMiles, you can clearly see how Delta’s hub penalty works … and how it works against travelers based in Delta’s hubs.
Say you’re in Seattle (SEA) and want to pop down to Denver (DEN). You’re in luck because it’s pretty easy to find a good deal for just 11,000 SkyMiles round-trip – and less if you’re willing to book a basic economy award.
However, if you want to fly to Delta’s major hub in Salt Lake City, you can typically expect to pay more – even for a much shorter flight. Why? Because you’re flying into a Delta hub, on a route where Delta dominates with far less competition.
Meanwhile, airports big and small where Delta doesn’t have a huge presence – like Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) or even Chicago-Midway (MDW) – are often the best ways to score a good deal with cash or SkyMiles, on long-haul or short flights.
If Delta wants to charge you too many SkyMiles for your flight, try adding in a short flight on either side to see if it brings down the price.
Long story short, your miles won’t go quite as far if you are flying to or from Delta hubs like Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Detroit (DTW), Atlanta (ATL), and more. Since Delta has such a stronghold on the competition in these markets, they can simply charge more for certain routes being that they are not tied to an award chart.
Avoid Booking Delta One Business Class with SkyMiles
The Delta One Suites are some of the newest and nicest business class seats flying today. But if you want to book it with SkyMiles, be warned: You’ll need a lot of them.
Take, for example, the flight below from Detroit (DTW) to Amsterdam (AMS) this coming March. Delta flies their fancy new Airbus A350 planes equipped with the Delta One suites on this route.
Delta wants $3,200 for this one-way flight to Europe. While many other airlines cut flyers a sweet deal when using miles to book premium seats, Delta doesn’t. This same flight will cost you 310,000 SkyMiles.
We occasionally see discounted rates on Delta One redemptions through SkyMiles flash sales, but they’re rare. In fact, the norm in recent years has become paying 240,000 SkyMiles to 300,000 SkyMiles or more. In almost every case, you’ll be getting just 1 cent in value from your SkyMiles on these pricey fares.
But there’s a much better way to book a Delta One business class seat with miles. Thanks to Delta’s partnership with Virgin Atlantic, you can book Delta flights using Virgin Atlantic miles.
That’s significant for two reasons. First, the rates to do so are astronomically cheaper. The exact same, 310,000-mile flight from Detroit to Amsterdam flight can be booked for only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles each way.
Second, Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of many of the major credit card points programs – American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, and even Marriott Bonvoy. That means these points are fairly easy to earn.
Now, finding award availability through Virgin to fly Delta One at these rates is no sure thing. It requires a lot of flexibility – especially lately, as Delta has made it harder and harder to book business class flights through partner airline programs like this. You’ll have to find days with award availability through Virgin Atlantic.
Again, flexibility here is key.
Upgrading with SkyMiles is Even Worse
Back in 2018, Delta rolled out the ability to upgrade your seat with SkyMiles. That means you can buy a main cabin economy ticket, then use SkyMiles to upgrade to Comfort Plus or first-class – or even Premium Select or Delta One on long-haul flights. flights.
The appeal is undeniable. In 2019, Delta indicated that 4,000 flyers were using SkyMiles to upgrade each day. But in our minds, it’s not a great value for your SkyMiles. In almost every case, you’ll get roughly 1 cent for each SkyMile you use.
Take for example an upcoming flight I have from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Denver (DEN). I can upgrade my economy ticket on the way to Denver to Delta Comfort+ by paying $41.93 or 3,900 SkyMiles. Or I can opt for a First Class upgrade for $170.93 or 15,900 SkyMiles. In either case, it’s almost exactly 1 cent per SkyMile compared to the cash price.
You are almost always better off booking the cabin you want to fly from the start. In both of these cases, I would have spent less SkyMiles by just booking into Comfort Plus or First Class from the start.
Tips for Maximizing the Value of Delta SkyMiles
We’ve gone through a number of things to avoid when it comes to using your SkyMiles, so let’s talk about some ways in which you can maximize the value of your SkyMiles.
Delta SkyMiles Flash Sales
We can’t stress this enough. There is no better way to maximize the value of Delta SkyMiles than by booking a Delta SkyMiles flash sale.
When Delta implemented dynamic award pricing back in 2016, that came with a big downside – unpredictable rates that can swing drastically day by day, and often 250,000 SkyMiles or more to fly business class as discussed above. But there’s a major upside for travelers: Delta is now untethered to also cut award rates even lower, too.
That gives Delta the freedom to cut award rates however it sees fit. Call them SkyMiles flash sales or SkyMiles deals – call them whatever you want. They can be amazing. Sometimes it’s an easy way to save a few thousand SkyMiles on a trip. Other times, you’ll save 50% of your miles or more, making it easily the cheapest way to travel with miles. Like SkyMiles themselves, the deals vary greatly. Oftentimes, they are unrelated to the cash price of the same flight so you can get serious value out of your SkyMiles.
If you’re flexible, willing to go wherever you can for a good price, these deals are unbeatable. There’s no telling when Delta will cut award rates on flights to the Caribbean islands. Or Mexico resort towns. Or top spots all across Europe or Asia.
Recently, we’ve found some of the best-ever SkyMiles flash sales with deeply discounted rates to Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, Europe, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and beyond. Here’s a small sample of the best recent deals we’ve found.
- Nationwide flights to London – roundtrip from 32,000 SkyMiles!
- Nationwide flights to Spain – roundtrip from 32,000 SkyMiles!
- SkyMiles to Mexico from 10,000 miles roundtrip!
- SkyMiles Flash sale to Europe from 32,000 miles roundtrip
- SkyMiles sale to Alaska from 5,000 to 10,000 roundtrip
- New York to Bogota – 12,000 miles or 30,000 in business class
- 10,000 SkyMiles from Seattle (SEA) to Hawaii roundtrip!
- Costa Rica for 11,000 SkyMiles roundtrip!
- A flash sale to Argentina for just 30,000 SkyMiles roundtrip
- Fly to Puerto Rico and back for just 10,000 SkyMiles total
Want the next crazy SkyMiles flash sale like this? We find unpublished sales and send them to Thrifty Traveler Premium members, along with cheap domestic and international cash fares.
Use the Delta Award Price Calendar
When you are looking to use your Delta SkyMiles, one of the first things we recommend doing is to look at the price calendar for your route. That’s the key to finding the best deal for your SkyMiles – and squeezing more value out of them.
By giving yourself a five-day view by selecting Flexible Dates after starting your search – or even five weeks by picking “Price Calendar” – it can give you a better sense of what an award ticket can (or should) cost when you’re looking to go.
Look at these flights between Minneapolis and Las Vegas, for instance. Though I entered Thursday, March 10 to Sunday, March 13, this view shows me that I could save 34,000 SkyMiles by departing on a Tuesday or Wednesday instead.
If you know how many days you want to be gone, you can click over to the “Price Calendar” tab for an even longer look at possible trips.
This isn’t unique to Delta SkyMiles, but having some flexibility with your days will be key when it comes to getting the most out of your SkyMiles. Even adjusting your departure or return dates by one or two days can save you tons of miles. Again, these rates should closely mirror the cash price of the flight, unless of course there is a SkyMiles flash sale happening as discussed above.
So How Much are Delta Miles Worth?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact value for Delta SkyMiles.
The airline is free to charge what they please for each and every route they fly – and there is no question that the airline is working to closely tie the SkyMiles award program to the cash value of its flights. In doing so, they’re continually driving the value of SkyMiles closer and closer to just 1 cent apiece.
In that case, 50,000 miles would be redeemable for around $500 towards Delta flights. Fortunately, things haven’t gotten that far yet.
We’ve concluded that you should be able to fairly easily get up to 1.5 cents apiece out of your SkyMiles. Anything above that – like on a great Delta SkyMiles flash sale or incredible rare discounted Delta One award – is outstanding for SkyMiles.
Delta SkyMiles can no doubt be frustrating to use thanks to their dynamic award pricing system. But while many write them off as worthless, there is still plenty of value – and great ways to use them. It just helps to understand how much Delta miles are worth so you can ensure you’re using them wisely.