SkyMiles are valuable, but they can be confusing to redeem
Delta frequently offers 70,000-mile sign-up bonuses on its
SkyMiles credit cards – you may have seen a recent offer and are wondering if you
should get the card.
In fact, 50,000 to 70,000 SkyMiles can take you pretty far,
but Delta miles are a little less valuable (and a little more hassle) than some
Here’s why SkyMiles may not be your top choice for an
airline rewards currency.
Delta SkyMiles value
While SkyMiles are worth far more than the average rewards
program point, Delta miles fall in the middle of airline currencies. We value
SkyMiles at around 1.61 cents per mile on average, which, as you can see from
the chart below, is far below the value of miles on some other major airlines,
including British Airways and American Airlines.
Why SkyMiles aren’t the top airline currency
Delta dynamically prices its airline awards rather than
using a fixed chart and offers a fairly consistent value on its airline awards
without many opportunities to glean extra value from your miles. When we compare
the number of required SkyMiles to the cost of a fare, over a variety of routes,
dates and classes, we find a similar value for most fares.
There are a couple of exceptions – main cabin fares on
international flights seem to be worth more than average, and upgrades appear
to offer an exceptionally good value:
|Fare type||Value per mile (cents)|
One (international first class)
How to value your
We’ve told you how we value SkyMiles, but really, the value
of airline miles is subjective, depending on your own personal goals and
preferences, and, ultimately, how you redeem them. Here are a few questions you
should keep in mind as you try to determine how much SkyMiles are worth to you:
redemption option do you prefer? Are you interested in getting free
airfare, or do you want to use your miles to upgrade into a first-class cabin?
class do you prefer to fly in? Are you more of a luxury or an economy
traveler? In general, you’re likely to get a better value on main cabin and
comfort class fares than on first-class fares with Delta.
- Where do
you want to fly? Are you aiming for a domestic or international
destination? International flights on Delta, particularly in the main cabin,
tend to be more valuable than domestic flights. Also, you should look at the range
of miles required for your intended destination to get an idea of how much it
will cost you.
- Where are
you departing from? If you are located near a Delta hub, such as Atlanta,
you may find better values on Delta flights.
- When do
you want to fly? Check Delta’s flight calendar around your intended travel
dates to see how its fares compare to other airlines.
flexible are you with your flight dates? Since Delta fares – and hence, the
price of its awards – vary drastically by date and time, the more flexible you
are with your dates and travel times, the less you’re likely to pay.
- How far
away is your flight? If you tend to book close in advance, Delta is not a
great option — the cost of its rewards increases as you get closer to your
On top of all this, you also need to consider whether SkyMiles
are flexible enough for your needs, since miles aren’t worth anything if you
can’t redeem them (more on that below).
How to calculate the
value of your SkyMiles
There are many philosophies on how to value points and
miles, but to keep things simple, we offer the following calculation.
SkyMiles Value = Reward Value (in dollars)/Number of Points
Basically, you take the amount that you would pay for the
reward and divide it by the number of points (not including taxes and fees,
which you’ll still have to pay in cash).
The value that you come up with will be a rough estimate.
There are a plethora of factors that can affect the value of a rewards flight,
such as the opportunity cost for the miles that you could have earned if you
paid for your flight with cash or with a rewards card, the lowest possible
price that you could get by paying for the flight in cash on your intended date
(which could vary by the minute and depends on how diligent you are about
checking airfare), the opportunity cost of having to forgo other savings and
promotions, the lowest possible price that you could get by flying with any
airline to your desired destination, and so on.
However, we don’t think you need to make things so
complicated just to do a basic comparison between rewards points. The above
calculation should suffice.
How flexible are
The SkyMiles program is very flexible on redeeming SkyMiles for
flights – you can find award seats on most flights – but you’ll pay for this
flexibility with more expensive award seats. Also, the routing rules for
rewards tickets are flexible, but they’re also rather complicated and you may
find yourself poring over Delta’s terms
and conditions for a few hours trying to determine what is and isn’t allowed:
- SkyMiles never expire.
- There are no blackout dates or limits on award
seats for Delta flights – if a flight has available seats, you can usually book
a rewards ticket.
- You can book almost any flight with a combination
of SkyMiles and cash (either with the Miles
& Cash or the Pay with Miles option).
- The Delta flight network is huge – Delta offers
more than 14,500 daily flights to more than 800 destinations in more than 170
countries. You also can book award flights on any of Delta’s 31 airline
- Flight upgrades and main cabin seats on
international flights have an especially high redemption value.
- Delta routing rules are pretty flexible for
award tickets – you can book one-way fares and open jaw tickets (i.e., tickets
with arriving and departing from different cities).
- You can make changes to reservations up to 72
hours in advance — including origin, destination, routing, date and time –
for no fee.
- There’s no fee for booking an online ticket at least 24 hours in advance. (There are fees for phone reservations and ticket
counter reservations for some international fares.)
- Delta doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on most of
its award flights. (There may be fuel surcharges on flights originating from Europe
and on some of Delta’s flight partners.)
- You have a few other redemption options besides
Delta airfare and flight upgrades, but the value is terrible.
- Delta doesn’t have a fixed rewards chart. The
number of required SkyMiles varies by each flight and changes over time, and
the number of points is tied closely to the price of each flight, which means
there’s little you can do to maximize the value of your rewards. Also, flights
get more expensive the closer you get to the date.
- SkyMiles are awarded on the price of airfare
rather than mileage, which means you can’t strategize your routing to maximize
- The SkyMiles program has undergone many
devaluations recently. If you intend to collect SkyMiles, you should plan to
redeem them as soon as possible to avoid a devaluation.
- Delta does not permit stopovers on award
tickets. Layovers are limited to four hours for domestic flights and 24 hours
for international flights.
Are SkyMiles worth
Your decision to collect SkyMiles may largely depend on your
loyalty to Delta and your preference to fly on Delta flights.
The SkyMiles program gives you a lot of travel options, but,
since Delta links SkyMiles closely to the price of the fare, there’s little you
can do to improve the value of your SkyMiles and – all in all – rewards flights
end up being more expensive with Delta than with some competitors such as
American Airlines. Also, the SkyMiles program, as mentioned, is complicated. You
may want to go with a simpler rewards program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards if
you don’t want to wade through all the fine print.
Our Wallet App can help you determine point values
If you want to know the point values for all your credit
cards – and choose the card that will get you the best rewards value for each
purchase – you should check out our Wallet App. The app
includes a database of more than 3,000 credit cards, and we update the points values for
each rewards program on a regular basis to keep up with changes (and
devaluations) to rewards.
See Related: Which Delta SkyMiles card is best for you?,
ways to earn Delta SkyMiles, Best ways to redeem Delta SkyMiles,
Delta SkyMiles partners, Delta elite status benefits, Delta
Sky Club lounges, How to book a flight with Delta SkyMiles
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