Delta Skymiles Program Review

Last Reviewed: 7/15/2011

Like many loyalty programs (especially airline programs), you need to channel your inner Isaac Newton to understand and master all of the angles and rules of the program. The Delta Skymiles program is no exception.

This post aims to provide a panoramic view of some of the key aspects of the Skymiles program, and in certain cases we execute quick-cut analyses to try to provide insight into specific areas of the program (for example: a comparison of Pay with Miles versus Standard Award redemptions).

If you want to dig even deeper on Skymiles, you might want to check out forums such as flyertalk.com, where you can join or read threads exclusively dedicated to the Skymiles program.

Finally, if you are more interested in learning about different Delta credit cards, you can check out our post, “Delta Credit Cards: Which One Is Best For You?”

Delta Skymiles’ Medallion System

Like many airline loyalty programs, Delta has various levels you can obtain—represented by medallions in order: silver, gold, platinum, and diamond.

You achieve medallion status by earning MQM miles (Medallion Qualification Miles). Any miles flown on Delta on a paying ticket will also count as MQM miles. While MQM miles cannot themselves be used to obtain reward tickets, they act as a counter to determine when you reach the next medallion level.

While you can read the full table of Delta Skymiles medallion benefits here, we’ve extracted what we think are some of the more important perks in the table below:

Benefits and Perks At Each Delta Skymile Medallion Level
Benefit Silver Gold Platinum Diamond
MQMs Req’d (yrly) to Earn Medallion 25,000 50,000 75,000 125,000
MQSs (segments) Req’d to Earn Medallion 30 60 100 140
Umlimited medallion free upgrades (full Y fare) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Unlimited upgrades on discounted fares 1 day in advance 3 days in advance 5 days in advance 5 days in advance w/ priority
Free unlimited companion upgrades Yes Yes Yes Yes
Free upgrades on Award and Pay with Miles tickets No Yes Yes Yes
Medallion mileage bonus 25% 100% 100% 125%

Earning Miles with the Delta Skymiles Program

In addition to the standard 1 mile per mile flown that you earn by being a member of Delta Skymiles, you can also earn a couple of different bonuses on top of that. Specifically, there are fare class bonuses-basically, you get extra miles for flying the “expensive seats”. You also receive additional bonus miles depending on what medallion status you have achieved. The table below provides the details.

Base and Bonus Mileage With the Delta Skymiles Program
Fare Class Base Miles Fare Class Bonus Total Miles Earned Medallion Qualifying Miles Medallion Mileage Bonus
First (F,A,P) 100% 50% 150% 150%
  • Diamond: 125%
  • Plat/Gold: 100%
  • Silver: 25%
Business (J,C) 100% 50% 150% 150% Same as above
Discounted business (D,S,I) 100% 50% 150% 150% Same as above
Premium Economy (W) 100% 50% 150% 150% Same as above
Economy (Y,B,M) 100% 50% 150% 150% Same as above
Discounted economy (H,Q,K) 100% None 100% 100% Same as above
Deeply discounted economy (L,U,T,E) 100% None 100% 100% Same as above
Classes Excluded (R,O,N) (award tickets)

Exchanging Partner Points for Delta Skymiles: Fools Gold or Wise like Yoda?

The Delta Skymiles program also provides you with the option of converting points earned in certain other loyalty programs into Skymiles. It has been GetDebit’s consistent experience that whenever a loyalty program offers any sort of conversion or “points/miles purchase” option, the economics invariably work against the customer. While we did not conduct an exhaustive study, we focused on some of the major loyalty programs (e.g. Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Amex) and, as expected, trading in your points in these other programs for Skymiles would likely be a bad horse trade.

Value of Converting Partner Points to Delta Skymiles
Loyalty Program This Many Partner Pts Gets You This Many Skymiles Partner Per-Point Val (GetDebit Est) Skymiles Per-Point Val (Piq Est) Value of Partner Pts Value of Skymiles Net $ Gain(Loss) on Exchange % Gain(Loss) On trade
Hilton HHonors 10,000 1,000 $0.0043 $0.0111 $43 $11 $(32) -74.2%
Marriott Rewards 125,000 50,000 $0.0088 $0.0111 $1,100 $555 $(545) -49.5%
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPR) 20,000 25,000 $0.0215 $0.0111 $430 $278 $(152) -35.5%
Amex Membership Rewards 1,000 1,000 $0.0125 $0.0111 $12.5 $11.1 $(1.4) -11.2%

As the table above shows, for 4 of their major partners, you are losing anywhere from 11% to 75% of the value of your original partner points when you transfer them into the Skymiles program. While there are many other (generally more obscure/minor) partners we could have analyzed, we believe the economics will bear out similarly. Perhaps the only caveat to making use of this feature would be if you just needed a few additional miles to help you qualify for a free ticket. Then, and only then, it might be worth taking the relatively small absolute dollar hit to achieve that goal. But stay away from exchanging large blocks of points.

Redeeming Delta Skymiles for Award Tickets

While you can view the full Delta Skymiles Redemption Chart here, the below excerpt provides you with information on some of the more commonly traveled routes.

Redeeming Skymiles for Award Tickets: Some Major Routes (Miles in Thousands)
From US 49 States Low (Econ/First+Bus.Elite) Med (Econ/First+Bus.Elite) High (Econ/First+Bus.Elite)
Within Cont.US, Alaska, Canada 12.5K/22.5K 20/40 30/50
To Hawaii 20K/37.5K 32.5/67.5 45/90
To Europe 30K/50K 45/100 62.5/162.5
To Northern Asia 35K/60K 60/110 80/170
To Southeast Asia 40K/60K 65/120 87.5/185

Comparing Pay-With-Miles Versus Standard Award Ticket Redemptions

Delta offers the option of using miles to directly pay for an airfare (as if each mile were worth a certain amount of money). Obviously, it’s critical to understand how much better or worse off you would be versus saving your miles for an award ticket. One advantage of course with the Pay With Miles program is that if you have fewer than the required miles for an award ticket, you can still “cash them in” for at least some economic value. Here are some basic facts about the Pay-With-Miles program:

  • Available with the Delta Airlines – Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card.
  • No blackout dates or inventory restrictions—-you just need to make sure the flight is marked as “Pay with Miles” eligible when searching on Delta.com.
  • If you want to pay for an airfare with both miles and a credit card, you must use an Amex card.

The table below provides information on the number of Skymiles required to purchase tickets under this program.

Skymiles Required to Purchase Tickets Under the Pay With Miles Program
Fare(ticket) Price Range Skymiles Required to Cover Fare
<$100 25,000
$100 up to $250
  • Redeem 10K miles for $100 off total airfare OR
  • Increase redemption to 25K miles to cover full cost of ticket.
$250 up to $1,000 Increase redemption in increments of 5K miles ($50 off) to cover all or part of total fare. Example: 15K miles for $150 off; 20K miles for $200 off, etc.
>$1,000
  • Redeem 10K miles for $100 off airfare OR
  • Increase redemption in increments of 10K miles ($100 off) to cover all or part of total fare. Example: 30K miles for $300 off ticket price.

Note: tickets purchased with Pay-With-Miles are treated as awards and thus do not earn award milesage and cannot be upgraded.

The natural question that follows is: so, does it make sense to actually make use of the Pay-with-Miles program? That’s where we here at GetDebit fit in.

As the table below shows, in situations where you can acquire a rewards ticket at the low season pricing level, you’ll almost always be better off with getting an award ticket versus using Pay-With-Miles. However, if you are forced to use your miles on tickets during medium and high season pricing, then Pay with Miles typically will be a better deal for you. Of course, you should do the math on a case-by-case basis when you are considering an actual ticket purchase (since prices always fluctuate), but these are just some general observations to help guide you.

Comparison of Pay-With-Miles Versus Awards Tickets: Small Sample of Various Flight Routes, for Flight From 8/4/11 to 8/15/11
Rout Price Miles Req’d With PWM Award Ticket (Low/Econ) Award Ticket (Med/Econ) Award Ticket (High/Econ)
Boston to London $700 70,000 60,000 90,000 125,000
LAX to Miami $424 40,000 + $24 25,000 40,000 60,000
San Francisco to Chicago $358 35,000 + $8 25,000 40,000 60,000
LAX to Tokyo $1,065 100,000 + $65 70,000 120,000 160,000
JFK to Paris $950 95,000 60,000 90,000 125,000
Phoenix to Seoul $1,611 160,000 + $11 70,000 120,000 160,000
Phoenix to Frankfurt $969 95,000 + $19 60,000 90,000 125,000

The one piece of information I am missing is the availability of Pay-With-Miles flights, since I don’t have a Delta credit card. But a quick examination of Flyertalk and some other blogging sites indicates that availability may not be a major issue (though without actual data, I can’t say for sure). If any readers have info on this, please let us know!

Wrapping it Up

Well, this post took me a seriously long time to put together, maybe a good 10+ hours of writing and research, so if you had the patience to stick it out, congrats!  Since I’m finishing up this post in a hotel in Las Vegas, I’m primed to go hit the tables now.

It’s always tough to come up with a solid “thumbs up, thumbs down” on a specific rewards program, as people’s preferences and personal situations vary so widely. We hope to have accomplished at least two goals here: 1) provided you with a good overview of the various aspects of the Delta Skymiles program, and 2) given you some insight into specific aspects of the program, such as partner redemptions and Pay-With-Miles, as well as a framework for thinking about whether using those aspects of the program makes sense for your situation.

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