Delta SkyMiles Rewards Program: Your Complete Guide

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••• Photo by Benet J. Wilson

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If you’re a frequent Delta Air Lines flyer or Delta credit card holder, here’s what you should know about earning and redeeming SkyMiles, the rewards miles you can get for your airline loyalty:

What Is the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Program?

SkyMiles is the frequent flyer program for Delta Air Lines. SkyMiles members earn miles with each airline purchase and can then use those rewards for flights, seat upgrades, and more. Delta launched the SkyMiles program in 1981.

Delta Air Lines is the largest commercial airline in the world based on revenue, operating 5,500 daily flights—or more than 15,000 if you count partner airline flights. The airline’s reach extends to 300 cities in more than 50 countries. 

Delta Air Lines actually got its start back in 1925 as an aerial crop dusting company that was called Huff Daland Dusters. An early version of the commercial airline we’re now familiar with was founded in 1928 and called Delta Air Service because flights primarily served the Mississippi delta region. 

How Can You Enroll in the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Program?

You can sign up for a free SkyMiles membership online, through the Fly Delta mobile app, or by opening a Delta-branded credit card. Delta will assign you a membership number (also called your SkyMiles number), which you’ll need to add to all travel reservations and other Delta purchases to earn miles.

What Are the Delta Air Lines Hubs? 

The Delta Air Lines corporate headquarters is in Atlanta, Georgia. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is also the world’s largest airline hub with more than 1,000 departures to 225 destinations every day. Eight other U.S. airports are considered Delta hubs, along with seven international airports:

Pros
  • SkyMiles are worth more when used for international travel

  • Pricing calendars can help you find award flight deals if travel dates are flexible

  • SkyMiles don’t expire

  • No blackout dates on Delta award flights

Cons
  • Few domestic airline partners

  • You have to fly and spend a lot to reach Medallion Member status

How to Earn Delta SkyMiles

Once you’re officially a SkyMiles program member, you can earn rewards in a multitude of ways. 

COVID-19 has seriously impacted travel, which also makes it hard to earn miles and maintain elite status within the Delta SkyMiles program. To help out, Delta is offering extra SkyMiles benefits that will benefit frequent flyers when it's safe to travel again later. To learn more about what the airline is doing, see the latest Delta announcement.

Fly Delta Air Lines

When you book a Delta-marketed flight and add your SkyMiles number to the reservation, you’ll earn 5 miles per $1 spent on the base cost of your fare, plus any airline-imposed charges. You can’t earn miles on government taxes and fees, which is typical in the airline industry. You can earn up to 11 miles per $1 spent once you’re a Medallion Member, but we’ll dig into Delta’s elite status benefits more down below. 

SkyMiles are earned by the person whose name and SkyMiles number are listed on the ticket. That means you won’t earn miles if you purchased a ticket for someone else, unless you did so with a Delta credit card. In that case, you’d just earn miles based on card spending. 

Earning SkyMiles on Delta flights gets a bit more complicated if you book what Delta calls an “exception fare.” Exception fares are tickets booked through a travel agent, vacation package, or other third party. If you book a Delta flight that way, you’ll earn SkyMiles based on a percentage of the distance flown and the class of the ticket you bought (e.g. first or main cain). Overall, the better the fare class of your ticket, the more miles you’ll earn on an Exception Fare flight. For more information about how to earn SkyMiles this way, visit Delta’s Exception Fare FAQs

Fly Partner Airlines Such as Virgin Atlantic or Air France

You can earn SkyMiles by flying one of Delta’s 24 partner airlines, too. Most of Delta’s partners are members of the SkyTeam Airline Alliance.

If you book a Delta-marketed partner flight, you’ll earn SkyMiles at the standard 5 miles per $1 spent on the base fare earning rate (unless you have a Medallion Member status). Delta-marketed flights are those that have “DL” in front of the flight number. All flights sold directly by Delta online and through the Fly Delta app are Delta-marketed flights. 

You can still earn Delta SkyMiles on partner flights not sold directly through Delta, but earning rates will vary among airlines. Delta’s partner airlines typically award miles based on a percentage of the distance flown and the fare class of your ticket. Earning rates may vary based on the partner flight route, too. For example, Air France awards SkyMiles differently for flights within France (and Europe) compared to other international flights, and you can only earn SkyMiles on Hawaiian Airlines flights within the state of Hawaii.

Fortunately, Delta Air Lines has earning tables published for each of its partner airlines to give you an idea of how much you’ll earn if you’re booking flights outside of the Delta website. However, to simplify the SkyMiles earning process, we recommend booking all partner airline flights directly through Delta (on delta.com or through the Fly Delta app), if possible. 

Use Delta Air Lines Credit Cards

Open and use a Delta-branded credit card from American Express to earn more miles on flights, and a few extra miles on non-travel expenses, depending on the card. 

Credit cards are the best way for many people to earn miles on Delta in their everyday lives. Even if you fly Delta often, you’ll significantly boost your earnings by using a Delta card to pay for those flights and for other expenses.

There are several Delta cards to choose from:

  • Delta SkyMiles Blue Card: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and at restaurants worldwide, then 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. 
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold Card: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases with Delta, with restaurants worldwide, and U.S. supermarkets, plus 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. 
  • Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card: Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and directly at hotels, 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets, and then 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. 
  • Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card: Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and then 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. 
  • Delta SkyMiles Business Gold Card: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases at Delta, at restaurants worldwide, and on U.S. shipping and select media advertising. Plus earn 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
  • Delta SkyMiles Business Platinum Card: Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and directly at hotels, 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases of $5,000 or more, and then 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
  • Delta SkyMiles Business Reserve Card: Earn 3 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else (1.5 miles per $1 spent after you spend $150,000 in a calendar year).

These earning rates are on top of what you earn as a SkyMiles member. So for example, if you book a flight with a Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, you’ll earn 5 miles per $1 spent on the base cost of your flight as a standard SkyMiles member, and then 3 miles per $1 spent on the total purchase because you paid with that credit card. 

As most airline credit cards do, these Delta American Express cards offer bonus SkyMiles to cardholders who can spend a certain amount shortly after opening a new account. There’s no limit to the number of SkyMiles you can earn with a Delta credit card, either. 

Many Delta credit cards also offer loyalty perks (such as free checked bags and in-flight purchase discounts) that you’d otherwise only get by earning Medallion status with Delta. To enjoy those types of travel benefits now instead of spending the time (and money) to reach elite status, open one of these airline cards. 

The American Express Delta credit card program was just revamped in a number of positive ways. If you’re an existing cardholder or thinking about becoming one, read our analysis of the latest card offers

Stay at Marriott, Sheraton, or Other Partner Hotels

Provide your SkyMiles number when booking a stay at a partner hotel on Delta.com or directly with participating hotels within these eight hotel brands: 

  • AccorHotels
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Langham Hospitality Group (such as Chelsea Hotel)
  • Marriott
  • Radisson
  • Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts
  • WorldHotels

You’ll earn at 2 SkyMiles per $1 spent on hotel stays (excluding taxes and fees) booked via hotels-delta.com. When you’re searching for a hotel on the Delta website, the search results will clearly display how much each stay will earn based on your selected number of nights and the price of the hotel: 

If you make a reservation directly with a partner hotel instead of through Delta, SkyMiles-earning rates vary among hotel chains and even among properties that are part of the same chain. For example, you can earn 2 miles per $1 spent at some IHG hotels, but only 1 mile per $1 spent with others. For more partner hotel earning rate details, see the terms on the Delta website

Transfer Hotel, Hertz, or American Express Membership Rewards Points 

If you have unused points in a Radisson, Marriott, Hilton, IHG, or AccorHotels loyalty program account, you can turn those rewards into SkyMiles. Hertz rental car points can also be transferred to your SkyMiles account. Conversion rates vary depending on the program, but Delta has outlined the transfer rates on its website

Converting American Express Membership Rewards points to SkyMiles is one of the most valuable ways to use them. Membership Rewards permits 1-to-1 point transfers to the Delta SkyMiles program, which increases their value from 1 cent each when used to book travel through American Express to 1.54 cents apiece, on average, according to The Balance’s analysis of Amex and Delta rewards values.  

Other Ways to Earn Delta SkyMiles

Book an Airbnb stay: Earn 1 mile per $1 spent (excluding taxes and fees) on reservations made via deltaairbnb.com. Note that you must be the reservation guest to earn the SkyMiles. 

Ride with Lyft: Connect your SkyMiles account to your Lyft account to earn 1 mile per $1 spent on each U.S. ride, and 2 miles per $1 spent on all airport rides. 

Rent a car with Hertz, Enterprise, or another partner agency: Earn 500 miles per qualifying rental with most brands. 

Buy sporting event and concert tickets from Ticketmaster: Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on events in the U.S. and Canada booked through delta.com/ticketmaster, up to 2,500 miles per month. 

Shop online through the SkyMiles Shopping portal: Sign into your SkyMiles account to earn extra miles (typically 2-3 miles per $1 spent) by shopping at more than 800 retailers in the SkyMiles Shopping portal, such as Apple, Macy’s, and Walmart. 

Dine at participating restaurants: Enroll a debit or credit card in SkyMiles Dining, and use that card to pay at participating restaurants, clubs, and bars to earn up to 5 miles per $1 spent.

Buy SkyMiles: You can purchase additional SkyMiles to boost your account balance in 2,000-mile increments, but this isn’t a good idea. Buying extra miles costs more than double what they are worth when used for flights. 

Do Delta SkyMiles Expire?

No, Delta SkyMiles don’t expire as long as your account is open. The same is true for miles earned with a Delta-branded credit card.  

How to use Delta SkyMiles

Just as there are many ways to earn SkyMiles, there are many ways to use them. However, you’ll get more value out of your Delta rewards by using them to book flights. 

Book Delta Flights

The Balance found SkyMiles are worth about 1.54 cents each, on average, when used to book award flights. That’s a pretty average value for airline rewards, but well below the value of the miles you earn on the other two domestic giants, American Airlines (2.32 cents each) and United Airlines (2.28 cents each). However, use SkyMiles to book international flights and their value seriously improves.

If you’ve got a stash of miles saved up, the way to get the most bang from them is to splurge on a premium international ticket, as our valuation research found SkyMiles are worth an outstanding 2.20 cents each when used that way. If you’re traveling within the U.S., fly coach to save miles while still getting decent value from your rewards. 

Delta award flight costs vary based on a number of factors, including ticket availability, departure city, destination, and the type of seat you want to book: Basic Economy, Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, First Class, Delta Premium Select, or Delta One. There aren’t static award charts posted on the Delta website, but you can view a flexible cost calendar for your desired travel dates to see how prices vary day-to-day, and when the cheapest flight may be.

Delta Air Lines flexible flight cost chart

Just note that award flights aren’t free. Each ticket is still subject to government-imposed taxes and fees, which can’t be paid for using SkyMiles. The Delta website has information about the taxes and fees you may pay, which is helpful.

Delta award flights can be booked online or through the Fly Delta mobile app, which you can download for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. 

If your travel plans are flexible and you want to get even more out of your SkyMiles, watch the SkyMiles Deals page for weekly deals on round-trip main cabin award tickets. 

Book Flights With Partner Airlines

Delta Air Lines has 21 partner airlines that you can book award flights with using SkyMiles on delta.com, and five other partners that you can book with by phone. 

If you’re a SkyMiles Medallion Member or have a Delta credit card and live in Japan, you can also book award travel on some Skymark flights throughout Japan. For more information and rules about that partner award flight option, see the Delta Travel with Miles page. 

Blackout travel dates may apply to Delta partner award flights, and vary based on the airline, fare class, and even the year you’re traveling. See the Delta program rules for partner airline blackout date information through 2021.

Just like Delta award flights, travel booked with partner airlines using SkyMiles is subject to taxes and other fees that can’t be paid for with miles. 

Buy Ticket Upgrades 

SkyMiles can also buy you a better seat on most Delta and Delta connection flights within the U.S. If you want to upgrade your seat while booking a flight, you’ll see an option to “Upgrade with Miles” before checking out if your trip is eligible. You can also upgrade existing trips online or through the Fly Delta app. 

Other Ways to Use Delta SkyMiles

There are several other ways to use Delta SkyMiles, but we don’t advise redeeming your airline rewards in these ways unless you find the per-mile value is greater than what you’d get by booking a flight. 

  • Purchase Delta Sky Club airport lounge membership
  • Cover some flight reservation costs, such as ticket change fees
  • Book a Delta Vacations package, which includes hotel, rental car, and flight reservations
  • Pay for a Delta Private Jets trip
  • Buy Delta gift cards
  • Shop online through the SkyMiles Marketplace
  • Order magazine subscriptions
  • Bid on event tickets through SkyMiles Experiences
  • Make charitable donations 

Delta SkyMiles Elite Status: Medallion Member

Delta Air Lines rewards its most loyal SkyMiles Members with Medallion Member status and additional travel benefits such as complimentary flight upgrades, waived checked bag fees, and higher SkyMiles earning rates. There are four Medallion Member status tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. 

How to Earn Medallion Member Status 

Status is all based on how much you’ve spent and flown with Delta and most of its partner airlines over the past calendar year. While you earn SkyMiles on flights, you’ll also earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs), and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) on most trips. 

Fortunately, Delta keeps track of all those earnings (and you can track your progress in your online SkyMiles account), but if you want a deeper understanding now, here’s what your Medallion earnings are based on: 

  • MQMs: How many miles you’ve flown and the type of ticket you bought to fly them 
  • MQSs: How many flights you’ve flown from takeoff to landing 
  • MQDs: How much you’ve spent on flights, not including government taxes and fees

If you’re determined to earn SkyMiles Medallion status, splurge on premium seats on your Delta flights to earn bonus MQMs.  

There are two main ways to reach a Medallion Member tier: 

  1. Earn the required number of MQMs and MQDs
  2. Earn the required combination of MQSs and MQDs

If you have an eligible Delta credit card and you spend enough on it during a calendar year, you can earn what Delta calls an “MQD waiver” which eliminates the standard MQD earning requirement. (Note: You can’t use the Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card or the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card to earn an MQD waiver unless it’s you also have another Delta card that can be used to earn an MQD waiver.)

Medallion status qualifications are accumulated each year between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, and determine your status for the following year. Keep in mind that while SkyMiles don’t expire, MQMs will if you don’t earn enough to achieve a status. Your MQM tally resets each calendar year except for anything earned above and beyond your current Medallion tier. All of your MQSs and MQDs also expire every calendar year.

Benefits of Medallion Member Status

When you reach Medallion Member status in the SkyMiles program, your Delta loyalty is rewarded with access to travel perks such as priority check-in and boarding, free checked bags, complimentary upgrades, and more, depending on your status tier. 

Your Medallion Member tier status also determines how many SkyMiles you’ll earn on flights (except for taxes and fees): 

  • Silver Medallion: 7 miles per $1 
  • Gold Medallion: 8 miles per $1
  • Platinum Medallion: 9 miles per $1
  • Diamond Medallion: 11 miles per $1

For more information about all the benefits Delta SkyMiles Medallion Members receive, see Delta’s tier benefits page

All in all, the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program gives frequent airline flyers numerous ways to earn rewards for their travels. Thanks to Delta’s partner airlines, international travelers in particular have flexibility when it comes to earning and using SkyMiles. The Balance found SkyMiles have the best value when used to travel abroad, too. 


Delta-branded credit cards now offer several ways to earn miles on non-flight purchases and easy access to additional airline perks. American Express Membership Rewards members can eek a bit more value from their points by converting them to SkyMiles, too. Delta Air Lines rewards its most loyal customers with Medallion Member status, but like other airline elite status programs, you’ll have to fly and spend a lot to earn that title.