How to use Delta SkyMiles®: A guide to Delta rewards

Smiling couple on an airplane looks out the window, happy that they maximized their Delta Air Line rewardsImage: Smiling couple on an airplane looks out the window, happy that they maximized their Delta Air Line rewards
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

This offer is no longer available on our site: Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® is a popular airline rewards program that’s great for frequent flyers. But what’s the best way to use your Delta SkyMiles rewards?

If you fly Delta often, using your Delta SkyMiles to book flights is arguably the best way to get the most value from this airline rewards program. There are no blackout dates and you can choose from more than 1,000 destinations.

Let’s take a closer look at the best types of flights to book, where to go and when to travel in order to maximize your Delta SkyMiles rewards.


How to earn Delta SkyMiles rewards

It’s free to sign up for an account with the Delta SkyMiles program. And as a SkyMiles member, you’ll earn five miles for every $1 you spend on Delta flights. Plus, if you have Delta Medallion elite status, you could earn even more miles every time you fly.

But on top of the Delta SkyMiles you can earn from flying, the fastest way to accumulate rewards is with a Delta credit card.

Here are a few of our favorites.

  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Best for budget travelers

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card gives you the opportunity to earn more rewards with a reasonable annual fee. New cardholders can jump start their SkyMiles balance with 65,000 bonus miles earned after spending $2,000 on purchases during the first 6 months from account opening.

Plus, you’ll get …

  • 2 miles for every $1 you spend on Delta purchases
  • 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants around the world (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.)
  • 2 miles per $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

You’ll also score priority boarding, and your first checked bag is free on Delta flights.

The card has a manageable annual fee of $0 intro, $99 after first year. This makes it a great entry-level card for budget travelers who fly with Delta on a regular basis, but don’t want to pony up for an expensive annual fee.

Take a look at our review of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card to learn more.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Best for people who travel together

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card comes with a companion certificate each year after card renewal. When you fly domestically with the companion certificate, you can take a friend or family member along for no more than $80 in taxes and fees. This cool perk has the potential to save you a lot more in airfare than the $250 annual fee this card charges.

You’ll also earn 80,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases during your first 6 months after account opening.

Plus, you’ll get …

  • 3 miles for every $1 you spend on Delta purchases
  • 3 miles per $1 spent directly at hotels
  • 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants around the world, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
  • 2 miles per $1 spent at U.S. supermarkets
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

Check out our review of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card to learn more.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Best for luxury travelers

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card will make your trip more comfortable.

From airport lounge access to complimentary seat upgrades, you’ll travel in style. The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card also comes with a first-class companion certificate each year after card renewal, if you want to share the perks with someone special.

You’ll also earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases during the first three months from account opening.

Plus, you’ll get …

  • 3 miles for every $1 you spend on Delta purchases
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

But the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card also comes with a hefty price tag: a $550 annual fee.

To figure out whether it’s worth it, you might want to read through our review of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

How to use Delta SkyMiles rewards

Delta SkyMiles are worth an estimated 2.07 cents each, based on Credit Karma’s point valuations.

While you can redeem miles for extras like seat upgrades or Delta gift cards, the best value you’ll get will be for booking a Delta flight.

Of course, it all depends on how you redeem your points because some flights offer more value than others. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few different ways to use your Delta SkyMiles, so you can decide what’s best for your situation.

1. Fly first class

If you’re looking to upgrade your flying experience, you might want to use your Delta SkyMiles to treat yourself to a first-class seat. The same goes for the airline’s top-of-the-line Delta One® cabin.

Not only is this a fun way to reward yourself without breaking the bank, but because these tickets tend to be pricey, they might offer more value than you’d get from booking a more affordable main cabin ticket.

2. Fly internationally

Flying internationally often provides more value than traveling short distances.

Delta flies to popular destinations all over the world. Whether you dream of taking a stroll under the Eiffel Tower, trekking to Machu Picchu, exploring the Great Pyramid of Giza or relaxing on a beachfront villa in the Maldives, flying around the world can be expensive. So redeeming your points for flights might prove to be most valuable for you when you book an international flight.

3. Fly during peak season

Maybe you’re planning a summer vacation — or heading home for the holidays. These can be peak times to travel.

Whatever it may be, you’ll likely pay a premium to fly during peak season when airlines are packed with travelers. So if your plans aren’t flexible, it might be a good opportunity to book the flight with your Delta SkyMiles and save some cash.

4. Compare prices to find the best deals

You can use Delta’s fare calendar to search for the best deals and then compare the price in dollars to the number of miles required to book the same flight.

The sweet spot is finding award tickets that cost more — but don’t require as many miles to book. That’s how you can get the best value.


Next steps: Consider Delta Medallion status

If you’re a loyal Delta flyer and looking for more benefits, you might want to work your way up to Medallion status. With Medallion, you’ll have access to perks like complimentary upgraded seats, waived baggage fees and additional extras, depending on your status tier.

Check out our guide to Delta Medallion status to learn more.


About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.