Best uses for Delta miles

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The way to “win” the points & miles game is to acquire points cheaply (or for free) and to then use them towards outsized value.  For example, you may be able to earn 60,000 points or more from a single credit card bonus.  Then, if you find great sweet spot awards, you may be able to use those points for thousands of dollars in value.  With Delta, though, opportunities to get far outsized value are slim (see: Delta Miles are Worth Less).  Still, there are opportunities to get good value and sometimes even great value.  Here’s a round-up of best uses for Delta miles…

Great Value Options

In my opinion, any time you can get 2 cents per mile value or more from Delta miles, that’s great.  Here are some options…

Delta Skymiles Flash Sales

Delta periodically runs Skymiles sales, and often doesn’t even advertise them.  When blogs like this one post about these sales, it’s worth running some searches yourself on Delta.com.  Sometimes you can get extraordinary value from these deals.

Here’s one recent example where Delta was offering one-way flights for as little as 2,000 miles:

SEA-LAX Cash pricing

This was a rare case where Delta miles were often worth more than 2 cents per mile.  Even rarer was the situation where a domestic first class award netted nearly 4 cents per mile value (for the 7:35am flight, above).  Here’s the calculated value per mile for each class of service from the above example:

  • Basic Economy: 2.14
  • Main Cabin: 2.3
  • Comfort+: 2.1
  • First: 3.7

US to Canada via WestJet for 12.5K one-way, economy

The image above was captured from FlightConnections to show WestJet’s North American routes.

I don’t know how long this will last, but for now at least, Delta is pricing all awards on partner WestJet at their old fixed award prices: 12,500 miles one-way within North America.  WestJet has flights to Canada from Atlanta, Boston, Denver, JFK, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and more.  Anytime the cash price is over $170 one-way, you’ll get good value from your miles.  And, anytime the cash price is over $250 one-way, you’ll get great value from your miles.  I was easily able to dig up a few cases where one-way prices were over $300, especially to more remote parts of Canada.

Tip: Don’t trust Delta’s cash price for WestJet flights.  I found an example where Delta wanted either 12,500 miles or $1,062 for a nonstop flight from JFK to Calgary!  That would give you a theoretical value of 8.5 cents per Delta mile.  Via Google Flights, though, I found that the exact same flight could be purchased through WestJet for only $211.  When compared to the more reasonable price, the 12,500 mile award offers 1.6 cents per mile value.  That’s still good for Delta miles, but not the insane value I first thought.

US to South America via LATAM for 25K one-way economy

The image above was captured from FlightConnections to show LATAM’s routes between the US and South America.

Using Delta miles, LATAM flights between the US and South America price at 25,000 miles one-way.  That can be a good or bad value depending on the cash price of the ticket.  Anytime the cash price is over $350 one-way, you’ll get good value from your miles.  And, anytime the cash price is over $500 one-way, you’ll get great value from your miles.

Sky Club Premium Drinks

Delta Sky Club DCA

Delta Sky Clubs offer both complementary and premium alcohol options.  The latter must be paid for with cash or with miles.  When using miles to pay for premium drinks, you’ll get 2 cents per mile value.  You can view a recent menu with prices here.  Here are some examples from the menu:

  • Masala Mule Cocktail: $10 or 500 miles
  • Dom Pérignon Brut 2009 Glass: $39 or 1,950 miles
  • Dom Pérignon Brut 2009 Bottle: $200 or 10,000 miles
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Twomey by Silver Oak 2018 Glass: $13 or 2,600 miles
  • Premium craft or imported beer: $5 or 250 miles
  • Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch: $39 or 1,950 miles

A cool bonus: you can tip the server with miles at the same rate!  For example, you can give the serve a $5 tip and it will cost you only 250 miles.

Good Value Options

In my opinion, any time you can get between 1.3 and 2 cents per mile value from Delta, that’s a good value.

Delta’s “Lowest Award Price”

Many airlines differentiate between standard awards (read: high priced awards) and saver awards.  The trick with these airlines is to find saver award availability for routes where their award chart offers especially low prices.  But Delta doesn’t work that way.  Delta doesn’t publish an award chart and no longer offers any obvious way to see which awards are “saver” awards.  Instead, their award search Price Calendar indicates dates with “LOWEST” award prices for that period.  In the example above, you can see that the lowest award price for whatever search I did at that time was 21,000 miles.

Through many different searches, I’ve found that Delta’s lowest award price often offers between 1.3 and 2 cents per mile value.  Here are some examples…

US to Europe (Delta One Business Class)

Delta charges 210,000 miles round-trip for business class flights to Europe.  That’s a huge number of miles compared to many competing programs.  On the other hand, the same flights are often extremely expensive if paying cash. For example, with a flight I found from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, you could pay either 210,000 miles round-trip (plus $73 in fees) or $4,825.  That leads to a value of 2.3 cents per mile if you’re determined to fly Delta.  For the same dates, though, you could instead fly a competing airline in business class for as little as $2,025.  When compared to the competitor’s price, you’ll get less than a penny per mile value with this award.  This is an extreme example, though, of where the best alternative price is less than half of Delta’s price.  In many cases, your true value will be somewhere in-between.  For example, the next best price for the above trip was $3,112.  Compared to that price, Delta miles offer 1.5 cents per mile value.  My bet is that in most cases you’ll get around 1.5 cents per mile value compared to the best competing cash price.

US to Tel Aviv, Israel (Virgin Atlantic Upper Class)

Delta charges 170,000 miles round-trip (or 85,000 miles one-way) for Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (AKA business class) flights from the US to Israel.  Cash prices for the same trip start at $3,279 on the dates I looked at.  After accounting for award fees, this means that you can get about 1.8 cents per mile value.

Domestic Awards

Pick just about any domestic itinerary and search for the lowest award prices and then compare to paid prices.  In my experience, you’re likely to get around 1.3 cents per mile value.  Here’s an example:

I randomly searched one-way from Salt Lake City to New Orleans for September and found the following award and paid prices:

Here’s the calculated value per mile for each class of service from the above example:

  • Main Cabin: 1.4
  • Comfort+: 1.3
  • First: 1.3

In practice, your results will vary.  In various searches I’ve seen as low as 1 cent per mile value and as high as 1.5.

What did I miss?

Do you know of great uses for Delta miles not included above? Please comment below.

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