Best uses for Delta miles

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This post has been updated to include several reader tips (Mexico to Europe business class for 65K, business class within Asia for 35K, etc.).  Given that Delta credit card offers are currently at a high watermark (70K to 90K!), I figured that this would be a good time to re-publish this post…

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

Recent flash sales:

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.

Mexico to Europe for 65K one-way (business class)

Delta’s saver-level business class flights to Europe cost only 65K one-way, or 130K round-trip, if you start the trip in Mexico.  When comparing a 130K + $242 in fees round-trip award to the best available cash prices when booked through Delta ($3,209), I calculate a per-mile value of 2.3 cents per mile.

Partner awards cost more miles, but non-stop flights to Europe are possible.

If you fly entirely on partner airlines, though, the price is slightly higher (75K one-way). This leads to an estimated 2 cents per mile value.

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.

US to Middle East (including Israel) for 85K one-way (business class)

Delta charges 170,000 miles round-trip (or 85,000 miles one-way) for partner awards to the Middle East in business class.  Cash prices for the similar trips start at over $3,200 on the dates and routes I looked at.  After accounting for award fees, this means that you can get about 1.8 cents per mile value, or more.

Economy flights to the Middle East on partner airlines cost 37,500 miles one-way or 37,000 miles one-way flying Delta itself.

US to Africa for 95K one-way (business class)

Delta charges 95,000 miles one-way for partner awards to Africa.  The best you’ll find for itineraries that include Delta’s own flights is 120K one-way.

Mexico to/from Asia for 90K one-way (business class)

While Delta charges at least 114K one-way for business class flights between the US and Asia, they charge only 90K one-way for business class flights between Mexico and Asia.

Flights within Asia for 35K one-way (business class)

While some routes within Asia price at 45K one-way, I found that many routes price at just 35K one-way for business class.

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.

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.

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 1.5 cents per mile value.  You can view a recent menu with prices here.

A cool bonus: you can tip the server with miles at the same rate!  For example, you can give the server a $3 tip and it will cost you only 200 miles.

What did I miss?

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

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Billy Bob

Can still get Asia to Europe for 90K in business on Air France.
We’ll see what happens as soon as people can actually fly that route.

Tony

Thoughts on Delta First to Hawaii? 50-60K one way usually from East Coast. Seems a good deal, wonder your thoughts

RD DD

Pre-pandemic I found pretty good value flying from non-US destination to non-US destination. Like CDG to Abu Dhabi in business class was around 65k one way (and then AA miles for etihad for the next leg)

WR2

Was ready to say “bbbbut Dom Perignon 2009 for $200 isn’t a good price, so you can’t say that’s a good value just bc of a good cpp”, but actually $200 seems to be close to market price. I did see my local Costco have Dom for I think $140ish, not sure which vintage though.

Skymiles get a bad rap because they don’t make it so easy to exploit like some other programs. I love flying Cathay F with just 2 credit card signups, or J with 1, but the ability to do so obviously has no effect on creating loyal and long term profitable customers with that particular program. So good for Delta, bad for people like me who enjoy international F/J for peanuts.

[…] Delta Skymiles are so devalued that we used to call them Skypesos. And even that became too good so then maybe they should be called Drachmas (the long gone former Greek currency). Or Zimbabwe money or whatever. But if you really try hard you can find some and…these may also be gone by Wednesday lol: Best Uses for Delta Miles. […]

Jordan

Underrated use that I’ve used a few times is either Garuda Air or Korean Air interasia business. I flew garuda DPS – ICN which was about 8 hour life flat on a 5 star airline for 45k

Seth

It seems like economy flights between the US and Mexico on Aeromexico are still fixed at 17k. Those flights can sometimes be $300+.

Marc

What about using them to upgrade? Do they have a set amount of miles it takes to upgrade to Delta One suites? From Economy? Premium Economy?

Dan

In my experience, you can usually upgrade service class at a straight one cent per mile, maybe a little more or less than that.

Still potentially useful if you have a lot of SkyMiles and care about earning MQMs (after booking a paid ticket)!

Frank

A bit off topic:
It seems to me that Virgin Atlantic does not have “honeymoon” suites or seats where I can sit next to my wife in “business class” or whatever they call it. Is this so, or are there certain planes that are outfitted for 2 middle seats without a wall between them?

NK3

Virgin Atlantic had a few A330-200s that they took over when Air Berlin went under. Those are probably the closest to what you are talking about. I had read that they were retiring that model by 2022, so I am not sure if you would encounter it anymore.

The A350 has 2 seats in the middle but they angle away from each other.

For what it’s worth, the 787 seats are not very private. When we flew, we took 2 seats next to each other in the A row, and could easily talk. We also sat at the bar together for part of the flight.

Frank

Thanks for that, NK3

Dan

This is very useful!

Ben

Greg desperately trying to fall back in love with Delta 😉

They’re basically Southwest points today. That’s not all bad, it’s just different.

Euro

It’s not just from the US to Tel Aviv on Virgin Atlantic business class that is a good deal, but also to other destinations in Middle East where it is just 37,500 one-way economy and 85,000 one-way business (I got an upcoming itin on KLM but other itins on Saudia, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, or MEA, maybe even Alitalia also work. Adding a Delta segment bumps up the price).
 
Also US to Africa is 40,000 one-way economy and 90,000 one-way business if you fly on partner airlines via Europe or the Middle East. Appears to be 52,000 one-way economy and 120,000 one-way business if you fly Delta direct from the US.
 
Both ideas use the old US Airways booking philosophy of “fly farther via somewhere to your destination for less than if you just flew to the via point as your destination” (the old “Asia as destination via Europe is cheaper than Europe as destination”).
 
Otherwise I also kept my eye on Europe-Middle East flights which are still just 25,000 one-way economy or 42,500 one-way business. Price seems to be in line with other loyalty programs and cheaper than some.
 
If you start/end your European journey in Mexico, it’s a lot cheaper than if you start/end it in the US. If you fly on Delta only or Delta+Virgin Atlantic or Delta+Aeromexico, it is 35,000 one-way economy and either 65,000 or 85,000 one-way in business (I saw itins with both prices on Delta online). If you fly only on Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, it’s 37,500 one-way in economy or 75,000 one-way in business. Not sure about Delta+Air France, Delta+KLM…

Euro

Want to also add one more that I found:

Starting/ending your Asia (at least to northeast Asia) journey in Mexico costs 50,000 one-way in economy and 90,000 one-way in business, whether you fly Delta, Aeromexico, Korean Air, China Airlines and possibly also China Eastern (whenever they start releasing award space again).

Aloha808

Great info. Euro and I see quite a few options for biz class from MEX to CDG and MEX to LHR for 65k o/w and 130k r/t in June. Fees were $200 something for CDG and $400 something for LHR. On the other hand, cash prices for those same (r/t) flights were around $2500.

Last edited 1 year ago by Aloha808

[…] Best Uses For Delta Miles:  This is an airline currency that I struggle to use effectively.  However with Delta being a transfer partner with Amex, I should brush up on how to get outsized value from Delta miles.  Here are some great options. […]

LarryInNYC

My takeaway from this is that you should always take 2% cash over 1 Delta mile. You are very, very unlikely to ever redeem that mile for better than 2 cents and, with the cash, you have enormously more flexibility in how you deploy the money. I’m not a fan of cash back because I plan (imagine, maybe) that I’ll get 5 or 10 cents of “value” from each point — in reality that I’ll be willing to “pay” for things with the miles that I would never pay for with cash (what I think you guys call “the value of Free”). But this analysis makes me think that will increasingly be the way to go as more programs align their redemptions more closely with cash prices.

NK3

I don’t know if there is any currency where I would take 1 point/mile over 2% cash.

I hear you on the value of each point. There have been a few occasions where I have redeemed some currency for 5-10 cpm based on the cash price. But in reality, if I actually paid cash for the fare, it would only be a fraction of that. Last week I picked up a Delta ticket for Mother’s Day weekend at 2500 Skymiles, where the cash price was $63. I worked it out to about 2.3 cents/mile. In terms of actual value, it was probably one of the best redemptions I have made in a long time, because I was about to break out my credit card and pay for the flight.

Another thing to keep in mind–there is only value in a point/mile when you redeem it. Cash back has immediate value. If you earn a mile and wait 5-10 years for a great redemption, the cash back could have grown significantly in a decent index fund. These are (common sense?) things I finally realize as the pandemic drags on and my points/miles collection grows with little to use it on.

paul5795

The difficulty of finding award deals has some effect on the value of the award miles. I will probably keep using what limited Delta miles I have on buying magazine subscriptions.

Aleks

Useful collection of Delta miles uses. They become more like BA avios – mostly good for domestic economy flights with occasional sweet spots for flights abroad. The good thing is Delta has a wide network in US, although right now many flights are cancelled. They need to invest in customer relations side, and stop placing astronomical miles numbers on business awards – this way they can win back more clients. Some of the moves with no more change fees and mile expiration were good moves.

Andre

I’m surprised your article is this long, Greg.

james r brooks

Why do trolls like you exist? Why burn calories on this? To each their own I guess.

quasimodo

or you could realize it as a swipe at skypesos…a little humor

Mahatma G.

brooks you are the one burning calories, take a pill

Billy Bob

Saw a gag-gift book a few decades ago. It was entitled “Everything Men Know About Women” and looked like a regular paperback.

Except every page was blank.

Best part: a ‘review’ on the back cover: “Says it all!”

Full disclosure: married to a beautiful woman for 20+ years, still learning…

james r brooks

I apologize.My comment was pre coffee nad I tire of trolls. I’ll take a lap.