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One of the new features of Delta’s 2015 mileage program is the ability to book Cash + Miles awards.
These awards let you pay some cash so you can use fewer miles for some awards on Delta flights. So for example instead of paying 60,000 miles plus $58 in taxes for a trip to Europe, you could pay just 45,000 miles plus $337 in cash (including taxes), saving you 15,000 miles.
When does this make sense?
We reviewed several itineraries using a Platinum Medallion account, and basically Delta is letting you buy miles for 1.8 cents a piece when you choose a cash and miles award. This may vary over time, but for now the rates are consistent.
This isn’t a good deal for every trip, but it’s a good deal for some.
It basically boils down to whether you think 1.8 cents is a good deal for buying miles, which can make sense if:
Here’s an example where it can make sense….
For this flight from Boston to Amsterdam, you can buy a cash and miles ticket in Business Class for 105,000 miles + $436.80, instead of 125,000 miles + $57.80. In this case you’re buying 20,000 miles for $379, or about 1.8 cents each.
The price of a Business Class ticket in all cash on that same flight is over $8,000, so you’re buying miles at 1.8 cents for a trip that gets over 6 cents per mile in value, a very good deal.
Even in Economy Class this trip makes sense with Cash and Miles.
For just 45,000 miles and an extra $279 you’re getting a trip where your miles are worth over 2.5 cents each. So paying $279 to save 15,000 miles (a price of 1.8 cents each) is a decent deal.
Business Class on Delta’s transcon flights between JFK and San Francisco and Los Angeles regularly costs $2,000 or more with all cash. But you can get it for $290 + 50,000 miles roundtrip. Your miles are worth over 3.8 cents each in this case, a very good deal.
How do cash + miles award rules work?
For example, if you paid 15,000 miles + $190 for a cash and miles ticket that would cost 25,000 miles if you paid all miles, you would get a 25,000 mile refund if you decided to cancel the ticket and redeposit.
It’s a little counterintuitive as you’d expect them to refund all the cash and just the 15,000 miles you paid.
You can see the number of miles your cash purchased when you reach the checkout point on Delta.com. In this example, $179 in cash ‘bought’ 10,000 miles, and you burned 15,000 miles on top of it and the taxes.
So if you refund the ticket you’ll get the ‘total ticket value per passenger’, or 25,000 miles + $11.20 returned to you.
How to use this to buy miles for 1.8 cents each
You can use this refund feature to buy miles for 1.86 cents each if you’re a Platinum or Diamond Medallion.
That’s because Platinum and Diamond members don’t get charged a fee for award ticket changes or redeposits.
So if you are short of miles for an award, you could buy some cash + miles tickets, refund them, and pad your mile balance with the extra miles you’ve purchased.
In the example above you’d net an extra 10,000 miles in your account for $179, or 1.8 cents.
Do this for 5 trips and you can buy 50,000 miles for $895.
This is a helpful way to top off your account if you’re in a pinch for a high value award.
How is this different than ‘Pay with Miles’?
There is another way to book Delta flights with part cash and part miles.
It’s the Pay with Miles feature available to holders of the Delta SkyMiles American Express cards.
This feature let you use miles to pay for tickets at a rate of about 1 cent each, either in full, or part with cash, and part with miles.
So for a $500 ticket you could use 20,000 miles to take $200 of the cost, or 50,000 miles to pay for the whole thing.
It doesn’t give you the opportunity to get leveraged value out of your miles the way Cash + Miles can, since Pay With Points is directly tied to the cash cost of tickets and worth no more than 1 cent each.
But it does get treated like a full cash ticket for the purposes of SkyMiles, which means you EARN miles when you fly based on the cash portion you paid, along with Medallion Qualification Miles.
Cash + Miles tickets are treated like mileage tickets, so they don’t earn any miles when you fly.
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