When a Delta Skymile is Worth Exactly One Cent

Have you ever been frustrated when trying to book an award ticket using frequent flyer miles?

I was arranging a trip home for our daughter on short notice. We were bound by school schedules and had very little leeway in terms of flight choices.  Delta Airlines offered a nonstop flight with departures and arrivals within our time constraints.

Delta Air Lines Sign
Delta Air Lines Sign at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Photo by Mav via Wikimedia Commons

The flights we wanted to book were showing availability on Delta, but there were no award seats available.  Sound familiar?

The award seats that were showing up for connecting flights would entail adding several hours of travel time; in other words, the more attractive routings were not offered  as award seats.

For some unknown reason, the nonstop flights on this route are less expensive than the flights involving plane changes.  The flight in question was priced at $653 roundtrip.  My husband had 60,000 miles in his Skymiles account, which he had obtained by opening an Amex Skymiles Credit Card through a targeted offer.

 What to do?  

We noticed an interesting feature on the Delta reservations website:  Pay with Miles.  Pay with Miles is a feature available only to Delta Skymile credit card holders.

Pay with Miles can be used to redeem your Skymiles towards all or part of the price of a Delta tickets.  This can be useful if you do not have enough points in your account to pay for an award ticket; or, as in our case, if award bookings are not available for the flight you want.

As you’d expect there’s a catch — Pay with Miles is only offered on “eligible” flights.  There are no blackout dates, and the option is available for any open seat.  Pay with Miles not not a bargain, either.  For fares less than $100, you have to redeem 25,000 miles to cover the total fare.

For fares between $250 and $1,000, the rules require you to:

  • Redeem 10,000 miles for $100 off the total fare ; or
  • Increase the redemption in increments of 5,000 miles ($50 off) to cover all or part of the total fare (15,000 miles for $150 off, 20,000 miles for $200 off, etc.)

The only form of payment accepted for partial redemptions is a Delta SkyMiles credit card, and the option to pay with miles is only available to people with 10,000 or more miles in their frequent flyer account.  The rules for flight cancellations are complicated.  In general, refunds are not made in Skymiles, but rather as e-credit toward a future flight.  

In our case, we were able to get our daughter home for 60,000 miles and $53.  Not exactly free, but not too bad for a cross-country flight!

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6 thoughts on “When a Delta Skymile is Worth Exactly One Cent

  1. Helpful post, thanks. My husband has some Delta miles and with all the bad press about Skypesos, I have been reluctant to apply for a card to get us any more. But this offers a good way to get some use from them. I am in total agreement – sometimes we do not need to get the absolute top value of an aspirational trip and a use like this is just fine and very wise! I always enjoy your approach because it reflects how “real” people often need to travel.

    • Thank you for your comment! My daughter is home again this week on another free Delta ticket — this one booked for 40,000 Skymiles. We have now zeroed out our Delta miles balance and will be looking at other opportunities for award travel. If you are interested in a Delta credit card, you may find that “targeted” offers that come in the mail give a lot more bonus points than the public offers. I used to get offers from American Express all the time, but not recently, since I opened three of their credit cards. I think there may be a way of signing up with AMEX to receive offers.

  2. We are planning on following the same strategy with Delta. But I may get a card from them at some point, to top off one account, after which we’ll be done with them. We did use Delta miles two years ago to go from TLV to Milan and although I was not yet playing this game, I do remember being delighted to get two “free” tickets to help us celebrate our 35th anniversary. And yes, we also get lots of targeted snail mail offers which are better than what I see elsewhere. I just toss ’em in my Future AOR folder and evaluate when the time comes. I have also successfully gotten AMEX to match a snail mail offer to our household when another household member had recently applied for the same card but at a lower bonus. Happy Father’s Day to your household!

    • Thanks, that is a good tip about the “household” offers as these days my underage daughter gets more mail from Amex than I do. I also wanted to mention that we were able to use SPG (Starwood) points to top off the Delta points for this last plane ticket. I’m not sure what I will do with the leftover Starwood points (about 14K). I may transfer them to Amtrak points, or possibly to USAIR, or maybe even at an Aloft hotel, depending upon our needs this fall.

  3. Hmm. I actually have getting an SPG card on my list. You’ve decided not to accumulate more? Any reason why? Some see them as good to get because they are so convertible.

    • I am considering enhancing my allegiance to Chase Ultimate Rewards because they transfer to United (for my dream trip to Japan) and Amtrak (for my daughter’s trips home from school next year). Beyond the opening bonus on Starwood, I find it is too much to spend say $30,000 for a free night at a hotel. For people who say try “points and cash,” I say that you can get the same hotel room on Priceline for just the cash. Nevertheless, I may be singing a different tune if another attractive bonus offer comes along. What do you use your Starpoints for?

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