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Delta SkyMiles cheat sheet for using your miles

by on Tue August 2, 2016 • 15 Comments

If you’re new to Delta SkyMiles, or don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, here is a cheat sheet with the least you need to know to get the most out of your miles.

You’ll be prepared for fees, know where to look, and where to get extra miles when you need them.

Airlines you can book and where to find award space

Delta has really improved its website for award bookings, and you can now search and book nearly every SkyMiles partner on Just choose ‘show price in miles’ when you search for flights there.

The holdouts are small partners Czech Airlines, TAROM, Xiamen Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, and Hawaiian Airlines. Here’s a full list of the airlines you can book and where to search for space:

RegionAirlineWhere to check award spaceFuel surcharges
AfricaKenya AirwaysDelta.comYes
AsiaChina AirlinesDelta.comYes
AsiaChina EasternDelta.comYes
AsiaChina SouthernDelta.comYes
AsiaGaruda IndonesiaDelta.comNone
AsiaKorean AirlinesDelta.comNone
AsiaVietnam AirlinesDelta.comNone
AsiaXiamen AirlinesAirFrance.usNone
EuropeAir EuropaDelta.comYes
EuropeAir FranceDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
EuropeAlitaliaDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
EuropeCzech AirlinesAirFrance.usYes
EuropeKLMDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
EuropeVirgin AtlanticDelta.comTickets starting in Europe
Middle EastMiddle East AirlinesDelta.comYes
Middle EastSaudia AirlinesDelta.comNone
North AmericaAlaska AirlinesDelta.comNone
North AmericaHawaiian Airlines (within Hawaii only)HawaiianAir.comNone
PacificAir Tahiti NuiExpertFlyer.comYes
PacificVirgin AustraliaDelta.comNone
South AmericaAerolineas ArgentinasDelta.comNone
South AmericaAeromexicoDelta.comNone
South AmericaGOL AirlinesDelta.comNone

Tip: Search one segment at a time for flights, and consider calling in and asking the agent to check the ‘Flights Window’ to see more specific flight options.

How much do awards cost?

Delta no longer publishes award price charts, so the price you pay for awards can change at any time. That said, we’ve compiled the typical lowest price for awards here, though for domestic awards you might find even cheaper awards, often as low as 7,500 miles. All the numbers you see in this table are prices for one-way flights to and from the U.S. For a roundtrip, just double the price.

Within US12,50025,000
Mexico / Caribbean17,50030,000
Northern South America22,50040,000
Southern South America30,00075,000
Middle East35,00085,000
North Africa35,00085,000
South Africa40,00095,000
Southeast Asia40,00080,000
North Asia35,00080,000
Australia / New Zealand45,00095,000

Delta is notorious for raising award prices without notice, so if you see something you like, book it sooner, rather than later.

Fuel surcharges: Beware that awards which start in Europe can carry substantial fuel surcharges. For example, if you buy a Paris to New York roundtrip award in Business Class you’ll be hit with over $500 in fees and taxes. But if you do a New York to Paris award (starting in the U.S., instead of Europe) you’ll just pay about $100 in taxes on the same flights.

Delta calls this an ‘International Originating Surcharge’ and is figuring if you’re booking an award starting in Europe, you probably live there, and all of the frequent flier programs in Europe impose big fuel surcharges on award tickets. It’s a lousy reason to charge the fees, but one they get away with.

Delta also imposes fuel surcharges on awards starting in the U.S. with Aeroflot, China Eastern, China Southern, and China Airlines. The China surcharges are pretty reasonable, while the Aeroflot surcharges can be over $300.

Mileage discounts. Delta doesn’t have better award space for its elite Medallion members anymore, but it sometimes gives SkyMiles credit card holders and Medallion members early access to mileage price sales, so it’s worth logging into your account when you search.

What are award change and booking fees?

  • Close-in fee: None.
  • Change date: $150
  • Change airlines: $150
  • Change origin/destination cities: $150
  • Cancel and redeposit miles: $150. You must cancel at least 72 hours before your departure time or else you’ll lose the miles and the ticket can’t be changed.

What are the best award values?

Good value award space on Delta’s own flights can be hard to find, but its international partners have some opportunities to get good value out of your SkyMiles:

  • Business Class seats to Europe for 70,000 miles one way on Delta and its partners like Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia. Virgin and Alitalia tend to have very generous award space in Business Class, even during the peak summer season, so it’s worth checking out flights from cities they serve like New York, Chicago, Miami, and Boston.
  • Business Class to Asia for 80,000 miles one way on Korean, China Southern, China Eastern, and Delta with very good availability.

Can you upgrade with miles?

Yes you can, though for flights June 1st and onward the prices are really, really bad. To the point that you’re better off just booking an award ticket without paying cash and miles to upgrade.

Here are sample upgrade prices one way on the lowest coach fares for flights June 1, 2016 onward, when Delta is changing its upgrade prices:

  • Domestic: 30,000 miles
  • Hawaii: 55,000 miles
  • Europe / North Asia / Southern South America: 80,000 miles (you can get an award ticket outright for about 70,ooo miles)
  • Southeast Asia / Africa / Australia: 115,000 miles

Until June 1st, you can upgrade if you are flying a ‘K’ or higher fare on domestic flights, and ‘M’ or higher for most long haul international flights.

Tip: If an upgrade isn’t available you can be placed on a waitlist to clear if upgrade space opens later on. Waitlists for mileage upgrades officially don’t transfer to the airport if you don’t clear by 3 hours before your departure time, but sometimes you can have luck calling reservations and having the agent put your waitlist request on the airport list, so you have a chance of clearing.

Options when you can’t find low price award space

Unfortunately you can’t waitlist for award space if the type you want isn’t available. You’ll have to keep checking and book when you see space open up.

Tip: If you see partner flights that are pricing too high, it might be because one part of the trip is in Economy Class and one part is in Business Class. You might have luck calling Delta and asking if they can check the price using the ‘flights window’ to manually price it.

Tip: If you have a SkyMiles credit card you can use a feature called ‘Pay with Miles’ – you can read about it here. That lets you use miles to pay for some or all of a flight at a rate of one cent per mile. So 10,000 miles gets you $100 off a flight. It’s not the greatest deal, but you do get full Medallion Qualifying credit when you book tickets using Pay with Miles, and it sometimes costs less than inflated Delta SkyMiles award prices.

What stopovers are allowed?

Delta no longer allows stopovers on award tickets, though you can have a connection of up to 24 hours in a city outside the U.S. or in a U.S. city if it’s your connecting point from an international flight.

What routing is allowed?

Here are some of the most important:

  • To reach Africa you can only connect in Europe.
  • To reach India you can connect in either Europe or Asia.
  • To reach Australia you can go via Asia or direct flights from the U.S.
  • To reach Asia you need to go via the Pacific to get the lowest price. You can fly via Europe but you’ll pay a higher award price.

Can you hold an award seat?

Delta doesn’t allow holding award seat reservations without deducting miles.

Alternative miles to book Delta flights

If you’re short on SkyMiles, you can book Delta flights using miles other than Delta SkyMiles.

Any SkyMiles partner’s miles can access the basic  level award seats, which opens up a few options to book Delta flights without using SkyMiles. The catch is most except Alaska MileagePlan will charge you fuel surcharges for flights to Europe.

Note: While you can book Delta flights with these partner airline miles, you can’t combine these miles with your existing SkyMiles.

Economy Class seats come from ‘X’ class, and Business Class seats come from ‘O’ class, while First Class seats come from ‘R’ class.

  • Korean Skypass (award chart) is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner and generally charges the same or fewer miles as SkyMiles for the same flights, though you can only book round trip awards.
  • Air France Flying Blue (award chart)  is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards.
  • Alitalia Mille Miglia (award chart)  is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
  • Alaska MileagePlan(award chart) is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest and only allows round trip awards.

What hotel points can you transfer from?

You can convert your hotel points into SkyMiles miles any time with no charge for the conversion. Every hotel program has a different conversion rate, and to make it easier to understand, we’ve calculated conversion rates needed for a single mile.

  • Marriott Rewards (rate varies from 5 points = 1 mile to 2.8 points = 1 mile depending on how many points you transfer – conversion rates are here)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (1 point = 1 mile with an extra 5,000 miles when you convert 20,000 points)
  • Hilton HHonors (6.7 points = 1 mile)
  • IHG Club (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Club Carlson: (10 points = 1 mile)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (2.5 points = 1 mile; extra 5,000 mile bonus when you convert 50,000 points)
  • Choice Privileges: (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Wyndham Rewards: (5 points = 1 mile)

Note: Be aware that most of the time there’s a minimum number of points you can transfer, usually 5,000 points or more which are listed here,but the numbers above will give you a sense of how far your hotel points can go.

What credit cards earn SkyMiles?


Personal: Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express ($95 annual fee – free checked bag), Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express ($195 annual fee – earns Medallion Qualifying Miles), Delta Reserve ($450 annual fee – includes SkyClub access).

Business: All three personal cards have Business versions with identical features.

Via Transfer

All Membership Rewards earning cards and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express earn points you can transfer into Delta SkyMiles any time at 1 point = 1 mile. With Starwood you also get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer, though transfers can take a few days, while Membership Rewards transfers are generally instant.

How do you transfer miles?

You have to pay if you want to transfer miles from your account to someone else, and Delta charges $10 for every 1,000 miles you transfer, or 1 cent each. You can transfer a maximum of 150,000 miles out of your account each year, and a recipient can receive a maximum of 300,000 miles per year. Each transfer transaction has to be 30,000 miles or less.

It’s not a terrible deal, but if you can, you’re better off booking an award for someone else from your own account, since you can use your miles to book tickets for anyone you’d like, even if you’re not traveling.

Do SkyMiles expire?

Delta miles never expire.

The following two tabs change content below.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
Learn more

Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95

Annual Fee


Foreign Transaction Fee Waived


Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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15 thoughts on Delta SkyMiles cheat sheet for using your miles

  1. trish

    So I have 50,000k skymiles. I am trying to get my niece and her daughter flights using my miles. Is there any way to get their flights booked using my miles with out transferring or gifting? It would end up costing more to do that then the actual flight. I am at my wits end with Delta. I even drove to the airport today to try and get tickets and they said they couldn’t help and only reservations could. I have given up on them with being transferred and never getting anywhere. Also, not getting anywhere with their contact us via email option either. i promised my niece this trip, she has gone through way to much with cancer lately and needs something for her and her daughter to look forward to.
    Any Ideas or help would greatly be appreciated..


      @trish – Sorry to hear about the hassle. You can book a ticket in the name of anyone you’d like using your miles. Just go to, choose ‘Show price in miles’ when you look for flights, and you can book there. 50k might not be enough for 2 tickets, but you should be able to take care of one.

      1. trish

        Just wanted to thank you and that I was able to get the tickets online and after speaking to online support. Although I did have to tell them that yes you can purchase a ticket with both miles and money. They said it couldn’t be done. I said well, I am looking at it on my screen (child was flying so, hence the call) and it shows the miles and the amount I need to pay. She had to get her supervisor after I told her to look it up on their website where she saw it. Lesson: don’t take “no: for an answer.

  2. Scott

    I have Skypass miles with Korean Air from my time in the service. I know I will probably never fly their airline ever again, so is it possible to convert those miles over to Delta since they’re partner airlines?

  3. Tony

    I’m trying to book at trip for the family using mostly delta skymile.
    My wife has 300K. I have 150K. We can get tickets for 50K (flying to Hawaii).

    1. We plan on paying for the others cash…. can we get these tied together?
    2. Should my wife (who usually earns silver) fly on a paid ticket?
    3. This is my first time booking awards. Does my wife or I need to be on the award part of the tickets?

    Thanks for any help!



      @Tony – You can book the award tickets for anyone you’d like. You or your wife don’t need to be on the award part of the tickets.

      As for whether your wife should fly on a paid ticket – if it will get her over the threshold for Silver status for next year, or to Gold status, then it might be worthwhile.

      And you can ask Delta to link the reservations among the award and paid tickets so if there is a delay and you need to be rerouted the phone agent will be aware.

  4. Candy Short

    I have purchased round-trip Premium Economy tickets with Delta for an Alitalia operated flight from LAX to Rome.
    Tickets are a W.

    I would like to be able to upgrade them to Business Class using miles. I have plenty of Delta Miles
    but have no miles in my Alitalia Millemiglia club account due to the fact that I just joined.

    Is there any way to move the Delta Miles to the Millemiglia club since they are partners? If not,
    would I be able to have them moved at the time of check in if there is space available in Business

    Perhaps this is a Delta flight after all, and I wouldn’t have to worry about Alitalia’s club?


      @Candy – Unfortunately you can’t use your Delta miles to upgrade Alitalia flights – and can’t send them over to an Alitalia account.

      Alitalia could let you upgrade with its own miles but unfortunately they require you to buy the ticket as an Alitalia ticket (ticket numbers from Alitalia start with ‘055’ rather than the ‘006’ of Delta issued tickets).

      Yes, this is terribly complicated and poorly explained by the airlines

      The good news is Alitalia’s premium economy is a very comfortable service. And perhaps they will have a cash upgrade option at the airport, but don’t count on it.

  5. Lydia Lane

    Hi. I have 51,000 points with AMEX Gold card. I don’t want to book a flight through their Membership portal. I think the better value is direct with Delta. Is that correct? How would I go about paying for a round trip fare with AMEX points?

  6. Diamond Vargas

    According to your “Fuel Surcharge Award Cheat Sheet 2015” post from July 28, Delta awards incur fuel surcharges on all Czech and Air Europa flights — not just those starting in Europe — and on Tarom, Kenya, Middle East, and Air Tahiti Nui flights in general. Might be worth updating one or the other to make sure they’re consistently accurate.


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