Are Delta SkyMiles Really Worthless? Not if You Use Them Right!

Are Delta SkyMiles Really Worthless? Not if You Use Them Right!
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Critics often bemoan Delta's SkyMiles program as being worthless. They have some genuinely valid concerns, and I wouldn't say that SkyMiles is the most valuable milage program out there by a long shot. But I'm here to tell you that there are benefits to be had from collecting SkyMiles, and there are powerful ways to use them around the world.

The basics of SkyMiles:

If you're not already a Delta SkyMiles member, you can register here. Delta SkyMiles act like any other mileage program when it comes to earning miles: you can earn them by flying, using co-branded credit cards, transferring points with their partners, some of which include shopping malls! If you plan on collecting a lot of SkyMiles, it's helpful to know where Delta flies most. They have hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, New York-JFK, Memphis, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, LAX and Seattle. Abroad, they have focus cities in Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Paris.

Delta is an anchor member of SkyTeam, which is a global alliance of airlines that you can redeem Delta SkyMiles on. Other SkyTeam members include:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines.

Delta also has partnerships with GOL, Hawaiian, Virgin Atlantic, and WestJet.

We'll focus on elite status a little later in this article, but as a base member, you'll earn five SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta flights, minus taxes and fees.  Silver members earn seven miles, Gold members earn eight miles, Platinum members earn nine miles, and Diamond members earn 11 miles per dollar spent.

If you're flying one of Delta's partners, you'll want to consult their respective partner page on Delta's website for earning. You'll earn based on miles flown plus a respective multiplier based on your fare class. Expect deeply discounted economy fares to earn less than 100 percent of miles flown, and business/first class tickets to earn more than 100 percent.

When it comes down to redeeming miles, you'll be able to use them on any flight that has award availability. How much the flight costs will depend on Delta -- they eliminated award charts, and can price awards based on demand.

How does Medallion Status work?

One of the major issues with Delta SkyMiles that frequent flyers often cite is the recent change to a revenue and milage based earning program. Once upon a time, mileage or segments were all that mattered when earning status, but now, mileage and a minimum spending requirement are necessary to attain status at all levels (though with their credit cards, you can negate the spend requirement by spending a certain amount each year on the cards -- more on that below).

To add to the confusion, there are two classifications of award miles: Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and regular miles. MQMs are only used to determine if you earn status, think of them as a tally of the miles you've earned that actually count. MQMs can't be used for award tickets, so when you fly one mile on Delta, you'll usually earn one MQM for every mile flown.

Certain fare classes in premium economy and business (P, A, G, C, D, I, Z, Y and B) earn up to 150 percent on MQMs flown and full-fare classes in First and Business earn 200 percent. One nice thing that Delta does is allow rollover MQMs, which means any MQMs that you earn above the status level can be rolled over to the next year to help you requalify.

Silver status is Delta's lowest status level. It can be earned with 25,000 MQMs or 30 segments, and $2,500 in spend with Delta. You'll receive free upgrades, but only if there is availability one day out from departure (that counts for companions, too). Preferred seats like exit rows are complimentary, and priority wait listing is available as well. Baggage fees are waived at this level, and you'll earn priority boarding, too.

Gold status is Delta's second status level. You'll earn it with 50,000 MQMs or 60 segments, and $5,000 in spend with Delta. In addition to earning all the benefits of Silver status, Gold members will receive a three-day notification window of upgrades, plus upgrades on award tickets. Delta waives same-day confirmed, standby, and ticketing fees for its Gold members, too. You have access to discounted SkyClub membership, SkyTeam lounge access when you travel internationally, and priority security line access.

Platinum status can be earned with 75,000 MQMs or 90 segments, and $7,500 in spending. Upgrades can be given five days out, and there are waived deposit/reissue fees with the status. The fun part about Platinum status is you have the choice of 'Choice Benefits' (choose one):  four regional upgrades, Global Entry Application Voucher, 20,000 bonus miles, a Silver status that you can gift to anyone, or four Delta SkyClub passes. You also receive a gift card.

Diamond status is the granddaddy of all Delta statuses. It's earned with 125,000 MQMs or 140 segments, plus $12,500 in spending. You'll receive complimentary SkyClub membership, and the choice of two of the 'Choice Benefits,' like 25,000 miles, gifting Gold Status, two Global Entry waivers, or six SkyClub passes. You'll also receive a Tiffany's luggage tag.

If you have one of Delta's co-branded credit cards and spend $25,000 on it each year, the MDQ requirement will be waived.

How to earn miles with credit cards:

We've detailed how you can earn miles by flying above, but you can also earn them on the ground using these four Amex credit cards:

The Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card currently gives you 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first three months. This is a pretty low spend requirement for that amount of miles, and you'll also earn a $50 statement credit for making a Delta purchase (even a beer in-flight) within the first three months. You'll earn two miles per dollar on Delta purchases, and one mile per dollar on everything else. Your first checked bag is free, and you'll receive 20 percent off in-flight purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees, and if you make $25,000 in purchases on the card, the Medallion Qualification Dollar requirement is waived. The annual fee on this card is $0 for the first year, and $95 after that.

The Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card gives you 35,000 bonus miles, and 5,000 MQMs when you spend $1,000 in the first three months of card membership. You'll also receive a $100 statement credit for making a Delta purchase. Miles earning is the same (two miles for Delta, one mile for everything else). You'll also forgo the Medallion Qualification Dollar requirement if you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the card. What makes this card great is that you'll earn lots of MQMs -- 15,000 at sign up, plus 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 regular miles if you spend $25,000 and another 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 regular miles if you spend $50,000. Use this card to get Silver status with the airline without ever flying a mile, plus 70,000 miles to use on award tickets. The annual fee is $195.

The Delta Reserve Credit Card earns you 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 miles on your first purchase. You'll earn two miles per dollar on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar on everything else. If you make $30,000 in purchases, you'll earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 miles. Make $60,000 in purchases and you earn another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 miles. You also receive free Delta SkyClub access, and the Qualification Dollar requirement is waived if you spend $25,000, and the annual fee is $450.

How to earn and transfer miles with partners:

All SkyTeam partners can earn you miles when you fly on them, as long as you use your SkyTeam number when you fly.

You can also earn SkyMiles instead of hotel points at:

  • Hilton
  • Marriott
  • IHG
  • Accor
  • Hyatt
  • Langham
  • Leading Hotels of the World
  • Maritim
  • Millennium
  • New Otani
  • Nikko
  • Okura
  • ParkRoyal
  • Prince
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Rotana
  • Shangri-La, Taj
  • World Hotels.

Starwood has a special program that we will detail below, and many major car rental companies also offer bonuses.

Using Crossover Rewards with Starwood.

In 2013, Delta and Starwood unveiled Crossover Rewards, a joint program that offers reciprocal earning and status for its respective members in each brand's elite program. Essentially, it means doubling up on miles and points when you stay and fly. You earn your regular Starpoints, but also one mile for every dollar spent on your room rate, and, if you're a Diamond or Platinum member, you will receive 4 p.m. late checkout, internet, and enhanced rooms. When you fly Delta, you will earn your normal Delta miles, but also one Starpoint for every dollar you spend if you're a Gold or Platinum SPG member. Platinum SPG members also receive priority checkin, boarding, unlimited complimentary upgrades, and their first checked bag free.

This is awesome, because SPG is a transfer partner of Delta, so you're essentially earning double miles when you stay at Starwood. There are some real benefits to earning status! If you've never stayed in a SPG hotel, but want Gold status, get the Platinum American Express card, which offers it for free.

The best uses for SkyMiles:

For now, there are some great partner redemption to use your SkyMiles on. Avoid Virgin Atlantic's fuel surcharges by booking through Delta on Virgin's Trans-Atlantic flights, or fly Virgin Australia to Sydney to avoid the same problem. If you're flying in Europe, Delta's six European partners should help you find the availability you need.

My favorite redemption for SkyMiles is on Aerolineas Argentinas flights in South America. I studied there for a summer in 2013, and ticket prices at the time were high for foreigners. Since Argentina is so large, and so beautiful, flying is the quickest option to see the whole country. To avoid a $650 two hour flight (yes, really!), I used 20,000 SkyMiles for a domestic round-trip to go skiing in Bariloche. That's a big savings, and a great, efficient use of miles.

Have any more questions about SkyMiles or Delta? Let us know in the comments!