How to redeem Delta miles to get the best price on award flights

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Delta makes it easy for people looking to use up a stash of miles to search for award seats on its website, and you don’t even have to log in to book award flights on most of its partner airlines. But there are a couple of tools and tricks for finding the best deal.

You can earn Delta miles with cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express CardDelta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, or Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, or by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points.

Note that Delta does not publish an award chart. Partner awards always come out at the lowest price, but Delta will pass on fuel surcharges.

Here are some tips for making the most of your miles:

There are a few tricks to getting the best deal for those Delta miles. (Photo by emperorcosar/Shutterstock.)

How to use Delta miles

You need a Delta loyalty account to redeem miles. You can find how to create a Delta account here.

Things to know include:

  • You can book round-trip or one-way flights
  • Delta does not charge last-minute booking fees
  • Delta does not allow stopovers or open jaws on award flights. Connections must be under four hours domestically and under 24 hours internationally
  • Delta does not charge a telephone booking fee,; call 800-221-1212 if you need help booking your flights
  • Delta does not have international first class, so you cannot use Delta miles to book first class on partner airlines

When you have enough miles accumulated, you can use them for award travel. Here’s how:

Delta flights

The most obvious use for Delta miles is for Delta award flights. The airline makes it super simple to find a seat.

To start, navigate to Delta.com. Right at the top, enter where you want to go and when. Click “Advanced Search,” and in the menu that appears, select “Shop with Miles” to see award flights.

You can also choose your cabin. The options are:

  • Basic Economy
  • Main Cabin
  • Delta Comfort+
  • First Class
  • Delta Premium Select
  • Delta One

Not every award flight will have every seat available. If the option you want isn’t there, the search will default to the next closest ticket type. For example, if you pick Delta One but there aren’t any seats on that route, you’ll see first-class awards instead.

Click the arrow to run your search.

On the next screen, you can filter and customize your trip.

You’ll see available awards for the week of your travel date. As you can see, award prices are all over the place in this sample itinerary from Austin, Texas, to New York-LaGuardia. Prices are as low as 9,500 Delta miles each way in basic economy and go up to 22,000 Delta miles.

On this same page, you can modify your search and choose to see only Delta flights, results with partner flights included or prices in a different cabin. If your dates are flexible, you can see award prices across a five-week span with the “Price Calendar.” If you don’t want to connect, you can select nonstop flights only.

It’s a good idea to check award prices over a longer span to get a sense of the best deals.

Folks want to know they’re getting the best price and Delta doesn’t always make it easy. Prices vary wildly by route and date. I recommend running test searches across a few different times of year to see what normal pricing is like.

In our example, it looks like 9,500 Delta miles is as good as it gets from Austin to New York. Click the date you want to fly to see the list of flights.

Here again, you can click “Filters” to add more criteria to the search. You can choose which airport to connect in (helpful if you can’t stand connecting in certain airports, like Atlanta), how many connections you’ll allow and even how long of a connection you want.

 

Finally, you can sort by:

  • Price
  • Number of stops
  • Departure or arrival time
  • Total travel time

You’ll find those options under “Sort By” in a dropdown menu.

When you click “Details,” you’ll see the flight number, connection time and plane type. Plus you can see if there’s Wi-Fi, outlets, and inflight entertainment on your flight(s).

Another cool trick is to click “Seats” to see how many open seats are available on the flight you want. Folks love this because if you’re booking multiple awards, you can book a seat next to your travel partner or family member.

Last, select the flight you want. On the next screen, you’ll review the information. If all looks good, hit “Continue” to book your flight and complete the purchase.

Watch for Delta Flash Sales

Delta has frequent award sales and promotions for deals on its own flights. To see the latest offers, check our updated Delta award sale page here.

In the past, we’ve seen deals that include:

  • Flights domestically as low as 5,000 Delta miles each way
  • Flights to Europe for only 32,000 Delta miles round-trip
  • Promotions to visit China and Japan

Flash sales are updated every Thursday.

Delta partner flights

You’re not limited to flying on Delta. Because they’re part of the SkyTeam alliance, you can book award tickets on:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia Airlines
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines

Delta also has partnerships with airlines that aren’t part of an alliance, including:

  • Air Europa
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • GOL
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • Mandarin Airlines
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia
  • WestJet

That gives you 30+ airlines to choose from.  You can book award flights online for every partner except:

  • Air Europa
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Czech Airlines
  • Kenya Airways

For these, you need to call to book your award seats.

For all others, you can search on the Delta award site. Partner awards are always displayed at the lowest price, so you don’t have to click around to check prices. Note that Delta does not have access to first-class seats for its partners — only business, coach and economy plus, in some cases.

Delta will show you other routing options, too and it’s always easy to know which partner airline you’re booking because it’s noted within all the search result boxes. That said, it’s a good idea to check the fuel surcharges. In some cases, they can amount to several hundred dollars in add-on fees, so you want to avoid them if possible.

In general, booking partner award seats is one of the best uses of Delta miles because you can save thousands of miles by looking for partner flights.

It’s almost always a better value to fly a partner airline internationally rather than flying Delta when using miles. I searched business-class tickets from Atlanta to Amsterdam in May and June 2020, and as usual, got prices all over the place. Delta wants 80,000 to 320,000 miles for its own flights. But partner KLM is offering seats for only 75,000 Delta miles each way. Considering these tickets are ~$9,000, that’s a pretty good deal.

Upgrade your seat

When you book a paid or award seat, you’ll sometimes see an option to redeem Delta miles for an upgrade to the next class of service. In general, it’s not the best way to use Delta miles. But if you have lots of miles, you might consider it. Each mile is worth ~1 cent toward an upgraded seat.

Use Pay With Miles to book flights without blackout dates

You can use your miles at a rate of 1 cent each to book paid flights on the Delta website when you have a Delta Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Credit Card from American Express. Only Delta and Delta Connection flights are eligible (not partner flights) and you can redeem in increments of 5,000 miles.

You can use miles to pay for all or part of your ticket, and because these are paid (not award) tickets, you’ll earn Delta miles when you take the flight.

Here’s our guide to Delta Pay With Miles for more information.

Other Delta services or merchandise

Delta makes it easy to use miles to pay for ancillary fees and add-on services, like:

  • Award ticketing
  • Redeposit fees
  • Other Delta fees
  • A Sky Club membership
  • Cocktails in the Sky Club lounge
  • Delta gift cards
I don’t recommend ever using miles for fees or merchandise, as it’s usually a raw deal

You can also use miles to shop for merchandise or magazine subscriptions. Here, your miles are usually worth 1 cent each or less. That’s definitely not a good value, so we recommend saving your miles for award travel instead.

Best way to earn Delta miles

The quickest way to earn Delta miles is through a big welcome offer on one of the cobranded Delta Amex credit cards. Luckily, through April 1, 2020, all three of the personal Amex Delta cards are offering increased welcome bonuses:

Small-business owners can consider the Delta Amex business cards, though they don’t have increased offers at the moment.

Bottom Line

It’s incredibly easy to use Delta miles. The best uses tend to be partner awards for international travel and flash sales for Delta flights. Most other times, award prices fluctuate based on demand and route, and value tends to hover near the 1-cent mark.

If you need help, you can call Delta to search and book your award for free, as there’s no longer an award booking fee by phone.

Although you can use Delta miles for upgrades, Sky Club memberships, merchandise and more, you’ll get the best deal using them for award travel.

With a little finesse, you can unlock the lowest prices and in many cases, save thousands of miles.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets email newsletter.

Meghan Hunter is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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karen wertheimer
5 months ago

please delete my message below, i did NOT realize this was going public!

kay
8 months ago

what I cannot seem to figure out is HOW to actually book a partner flight with my Delta Skymiles. Do I book it on Delta? The partner site? I am flummoxed by the actual process. If I were booking on, say, Virgin Atlantic, how would it know I am using Skymiles? If I am booking on Delta, how do I know which flights are partner flights?

Michael
11 months ago

Also, advice for booking an open jaw. It doesn’t allow the price calendar when booking it. So what I usually do is search for one way award tickets. If I’m targeting a 70k round trip to Europe I would like for a ticket at about 35-40k one way on the price calendar on both segments and see if works when I combine them

Michael
11 months ago

Delta does allow open jaws on award flights. I have done this twice recently on miles. CAE – SEA and PDX – CAE. Also CAE-AMS returning DUB-CAE

Camilla
1 year ago

We booked four economy tickets from Chicago to Dublin for 36,000 miles each in July and Chicago to Kristiansand, Norway for 42,000 miles each in August. Delta is one airline where you always have to keep checking but you might get a great deal.

UAPhil
1 year ago

“Delta does not charge last-minute booking fees” is misleading. They generally charge far more miles for last bookings than for bookings at least 21 days out. The value of the extra miles is usually much greater than the $75 close-in booking fee charged by AA and UA. (AS plays fair – they don’t charge close-in fees, and they don’t charge extra miles for close-in bookings.)

Terry
1 year ago

Cheaper than 32000 miles to Europe. We just got off a return flight SFO to ZRH for which we paid 26000 miles pp. I’m pretty happy with Delta for international flights in Economy. Thank you MMS.