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Delta’s Cash + Miles awards can be a good deal & how to buy SkyMiles for 1.8 cents

by on Fri January 2, 2015 • 37 Comments

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:

  • You’re redeeming for a high value ticket – Just divide the cash you would need to buy a ticket in all cash divided by the miles you need. That gives you a value per mile. If it’s 2 cents or more, you’re getting a  good deal buy using cash and miles to buy them for 1.86 cents each. So for example a ticket that costs $1,500 but requires 60,000 miles has a value of 2.5 cents. Using cash and miles to pay fewer miles is a good deal in this case.
  • You’re conserving your miles for a high value award. Since earning miles by flying may be tougher for you with the new SkyMiles, you might want to consider Cash and Miles even on less valuable trips, because they save you miles you can use for a really valuable trip. The new strategy here is to be more judicious with your miles and use opportunities like this to make them go further on awards you can’t afford with cash alone.

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.

Another example…

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?

  • You can only buy cash + miles tickets on roundtrip itineraries.
  • You will only see cash + miles options when logged into your SkyMiles account on
  • Once you buy a ticket the non-tax cash part you pay is nonrefundable in cash.
  • However, you *can* refund what you paid in cash in the form of miles, as if you paid for the trip at the full mileage price.

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 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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37 thoughts on Delta’s Cash + Miles awards can be a good deal & how to buy SkyMiles for 1.8 cents

  1. victor santiago

    I am looking to fly MSP to LAX, leaving May 15, returning May 24, for three passengers. The main cabin ticket price is $321 per person. The cost per ticket in miles is 22,000. They are quoting me a price of $570 and 36,000 miles for the three tickets. Do you think this is a good deal? Also, I don’t know if I should take this into consideration but, economy seats for this flight are $287.


      @victor – The cash and miles isn’t as good deal as a ticket straight up with miles here. You’re getting less than 1 cent per mile in value. 22,000 miles per ticket is decent if the price is $321 per person. You’re getting about 1.5 cents per mile in value.

  2. Sarah

    Hello – Thank you for such a great article! I have been contemplating the cash + miles option for awhile. We just opened the Delta credit card in order to fly to Hawaii next summer (which is usually about 45,000-50,000 per person). However, my mother-in-law asked us to come for Christmas. My flight option is either $512, 34,500 miles or 24,500 miles+cash. We are trying to conserve miles and cash at the same time (broke graduate students). I have 98,000 miles total which would leave me about 64,000 miles (if i bought the miles only option) which isn’t enough for Hawaii. What do you suggest? Thank you so much!!

  3. Asuka

    Hi there.
    I’m confused about miles + cash option.
    I just purchased round trip tickets by using miles + cash option. I used 15,000 miles and paid $190. I thought they will only take 15,000 miles from my accout but Delta took 25,000miles. If I knew this, I would just use 25,000 miles only.
    Are they going to refund me 10,000 miles later?
    Is that some kind of mistake? Should I contact Delta?


      @Asuka – Strange, maybe you accidentally clicked the regular miles option which appears to the left of the cash and miles option?

      Probably worth a call to Delta. Though $190 to save 10,000 miles isn’t a great deal – using 25,000 miles sounds like it was actually a better deal in terms of value you get per mile.

      If they also charged you the $190 then definitely raise the issue loud and clear.

      1. Asuka

        Thank you for your advice.
        I know the deal I got was not really good. But I purchased the ticket very last minutes. So the listed price was over $950. So over all it wasn’t so bad.
        I will call Delta since they charge me $190 and took 25,000 miles as well!

  4. Gowri kailas

    I need 450,000 miles to travel in business class for two people.
    If I buy cash for 2 ticket it is $8,400
    I have 250,00 miles , and I need to buy 200,000 miles.
    how i can buy the miles.
    Buying from Delta is high

  5. Lee

    Hi MileCards,
    I am planning a trip to South Africa and trying to get the best bang for the buck on airfare. The airfare is about $7500 round trip (Delta One/Business) per person. I have over 195,000 awards miles and was wondering if part of this can be used. At one time I asked a Delta agent about upgrading to Business by purchasing a full fare main cabin ticket but was told the upgrade can not be guaranteed. Do you think I can get a guaranteed ticket by using my miles?
    Thank you for any advice and prompt reply.


      @Lee – Best bet is to be flexible and try to use your miles outright. If you’re lucky you’ll find options for about 95,000 miles each way per person (190,000 miles roundtrip).

      For example in November there are several dates from New York to JNB at that price using Virgin Atlantic and Air France flights in Business Class.

      You’ll increase your odds if you search from cities those airlines serve like New York, Boston, Chicago, or Washington D.C.

      1. Lee

        Thank you. I’ll look through NYC to JNB. I was just on Delta’s website and it appears to put a limit on how much you can redeem. Do you know if there’s a limitation?


          @Lee – You’re probably using the cash and miles feature. A regular award search for a trip booked with miles should just show the straight up award prices.

          1. Lee

            Thanks again. I think I know what it is. As I don’t have all of my miles in the Delta account it is limiting me to what available.

  6. Bev Taylor

    I’m trying to book 2 tickets on line to Ireland. I only have enough miles for one ticket, so I want to use cash for the other ticket. I would like to book at the same time, since we are traveling together. I can’t see anywhere to do that, it keeps telling me I don’t have enough miles. I chose, miles and cash, but it won’t allow it.

    I have been on hold for Delta forever. Do you know the best way to accomplish this?

    Thank you


      @Bev Taylor – They should have been able to do it over the phone. Otherwise you can book the tickets separately online, and call to have the reservations linked together.

  7. paul pearce

    my skymile number is 9007579668 and I cannot get anyone to tell me how many flyer miles I have up to date can you please check for me?

  8. Charlotte

    I currently have 40,000 sky miles and want to book a flight to Sydney price is 1300$ or 90,000miles +100$. I will be getting bonus miles soon plus a friend is transferring 30,000 (which delta charges so it’ll cost me 330$ for the miles) is it worth using all my miles for this trip? Thanks in advance!


      @Charlotte – Sounds like you’re spending 90,000 miles to save $1300 – $430 = $870. That’s not a great conversion rate – you should hope for 1 cent per mile or better (so 90,000 miles = $900 or more in value), but if you don’t have any other use for the miles, then it’s fine.

  9. Sonia

    Do you think it is good idea to purchase miles + cash option that costs 60,000 miles + $394 to fly from St.Louis to Nice? The ticket price is $1570

  10. Candice

    Hi! I’m looking to purchase two tickets from JFK to PAR then BCN to JFK. I want to pay one with miles (122,500 plus $49 in taxes) and the other cash. Can I do this on the same trip order? It is $1126 for each ticket.


      @Candice – Give them a call and see if they can put you in the same record. The website won’t do that, though no real harm in booking two separate tickets.

  11. Harriette

    I am planning a trip to Sydney, Australia and am wondering what the best way to purchase the trip would be. I am hoping to go in February, am a frequent flyer but not AmEx card member. Suggestions?

  12. Sarah

    I had to cancel a flight to canada (within the 24 hours) that I bought using cash + miles. Will I have to pay to have the miles redeposited?


      @Sarah – Give them a call – if it’s within 24 hours of when you purchased yes it’s eligible for a risk free cancellation.

  13. valerie riha

    i want to go to aruba from jfk how many miles +cash do i need for business class i have 30.000miles


      @Valerie – You can check by logging into your account and doing a flight search. Select ‘miles’ when you do the search.

      If you’re flexible though the best deal would be to use miles to get a one way ticket to Aruba (they’re available for as few as 17,500 miles one way). Then buy a one way ticket back home in cash. On that route the one way ticket is half the price of the cheapest coach ticket so it’s a good deal.

  14. John

    Is there a set amount of miles you need in your skymiles account for the miles+cash option to show up when booking a flight?


      @John – Not that we’re aware of other than enough for the minimum for the flights you’re looking for. They don’t offer it on all flights / routes, and it’s for round trip searches only.

  15. Tim Murray

    Is there a minimum of sky miles that can be applied toward a miles + cash flight purchase?

    I have 7100 sky miles that are due to expire in April 2015


      @Tim – Fortunately Delta SkyMiles never expire. Pay with miles and miles + cash options start at around 10,000 miles.


      @Sansa – It’s not a terrible deal. You’re getting 1.4 cents per mile in value. 1 cent per mile is the baseline, and 2 cents or better is considered a ‘good’ deal.

      If you aren’t saving the miles for a big international trip this is just fine.


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