When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Collect Delta Miles

Delta miles really are among the least valuable of any airline currency, certainly any major North American airline currency.

My feelings about Delta are well-known, I’m the guy who coined the term ‘Skypesos.’ At one point I was told that Delta was ‘building a dossier’ on me.

Still, sometimes Delta miles are exceptionally easy to earn, and that can make them attractive (if you can earn twice as many miles per dollar with Delta, it doesn’t matter all that much that it costs twice as many miles to redeem).

Sadly there haven’t been any American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonuses to Delta this year, 40% – 67% were common in recent times.

In response to a suggestion by the Delta Points Blog that it made sense to credit Rewards Network dining miles to the Delta Skymiles program, I offered this comment:

So I get folks who live in Delta hubs and fly enough to earn status, that the inflight experience/upgrades is more important than redemption or at least important enough that it’s worth the workarounds for redemption (or redemption is aimed primarily at, say, Australia and French Polynesia).

I get crediting miles to Skymiles to earn status. Or even to top off a Skymiles account, once you’re crediting miles to Skymiles for status purposes anyway, in order to reach a balance sufficient for a particular award.

What I have a harder time with is willy nilly collecting Skymiles for non-flight activities when those activities aren’t contributing towards status and would earn just as many points in another program like United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage, or Greyhound Road Rewards.

Seems to me that it makes the most sense to credit Delta flights to a Delta account to earn status, enjoy the benefits of that status, and accrue non-flight activity to a different program in order to build up miles elsewhere for redemption.

For folks flying Delta who won’t be earning elite status with them, I recommend crediting those flight miles to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Mileage Plan miles are more valuable, and the ability to credit miles from both Delta and American flying there means it’s easy for the infrequent flyer to accumulate miles towards rewards.

Delta stopped allowing accounts to be tracked via Award Wallet. They recently made some changes to their award redemption chart with no notice whatsoever, and then disrespected members with the bogus excuse that to have done otherwise would have been illegal. (Of course they didn’t even bother publishing an award chart for flights that don’t involve North America until February 2011.)

I still expect Delta to convert Skymiles to a revenue-based program, but despite their willingness to make changes with no notice at all, now that we’re in September already I do not expect them to implement the changes for 2013.

Personally I’d be burning rather than accumulating Skypesos in most instances, here’s my guide from last year to help you do that.

Delta’s miles remain the best for travel to Australia (due to their partnership with Virgin Australia which offers good business class availability and is bookable on the Delta website) and to French Polynesia (since they partner with Air Tahiti Nui and Air France, both of which fly Los Angeles – Papeete). Those are among the two toughest awards there are.

Skyteam member China Southern’s Los Angeles – Guangzhou flight is a great way to get to Asia with their new business class on the Airbus A380, and even from Guangzhou on to Sydney.

And availability on Saudia is out of this world good. It’s an antiquated business class product, they only fly from DC and New York as US gateways. There’s no transit visa required if connecting for less than 18 hours (don’t expect to leave the airport). You can get to Central Asia fairly easily this way.

So there are clearly strategic uses, the classic being Air France business class as well (which also offers an antiquated product) though on the whole availability isn’t as good as it was six months ago.

All in all, Delta miles have uses. They’re just less useful than most other currencies for most purposes. Go ahead and accumulate with Delta if you are hub-captive and going to make elite status. And even credit miles from non-flight activities to top off a Delta account, or when the offer is much better than that available with other programs. But on the whole, when offers are even close to similar, I’d recommend accumulating miles in other programs before accumulating with Delta.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. I’m not a fan either, but I got on board during the NWA days. Living in PDX, they do have a decent 65k redemption to Amsterdam, direct from PDX, too. I’ll add Australia to my list for miles redemption.

  2. For Delta’s actions alone re AwardWallet, they can go take a hike. Happy to re-direct my flights to other airlines. They are a pos. Screw em. Yea, I feel strongly about it.

  3. I completely agree with you on this. I was a hub-captive for several years when I was a mostly-DL flyer, and got elite status out of that. Being elite is good, and if Delta is an MQM-earning partner of a program (like AMEX) I’ll gladly take the elite miles to keep my status.

    But I refuse to earn DL miles when I could be earning a similar amount of AA or UA miles. In fact, once I burn through the remainder of my DL vouchers, I’m going to see what the status matches look like. And use my DL status to burn through my miles more easily.

    I’m surprised you haven’t blogged about the 75K Skypeso Amex Gold being talked about on FT … it has a $5K spending threshold. I keep trying to say that it’s not worth it, but not many people are listening 😛

  4. The Mexican Peso is up almost 10% versus the dollar this year. You might have to start calling them SkyDollars.

  5. I for one appreciate yours and Lucky’s lack of promotion of the recent FT thread. Dunno if that’s intentional, but clearly this is one of the ‘Dont call the Airline’ tricks that deserves discretion. As for my Skypesos, I am saving them for an Aeromexico redemption in the future, hopefully they aren’t converted to a revene program before then.

  6. I agree 100% with you Gary!

    If you fly mainly domestic, and have elite status with them, sure they have a fine frequent flyer program, and would make sense to credit your miles/ earn status with them.

    If you fly international – I would strongly urge you to change to a different program.

    As well i agree 100% that if there is a car rental, or hotel promo or whatever that you can put the bonus to somewhere else YES, absolutely put them to a more valuable currency such as UA or AA.

    PS as a side note: being the award booking guru you are, do you think it is ever possible to book a Delta low award in business on the LAX-JFK non-stop?

  7. I was thinking more SkyDong, close enough in sound to what they really are and let’s be honest at 20,000+ to the dollar it’s more representative 🙂

  8. Yes, I realize American and SW did the same thing to AwardWallet. Delta’s actions speak for itself. I AM using up my remaining my Delta miles and WILL re-direct my future mile earnings ELSEWHERE, away from Delta.

  9. I also feel Delta awards are way out of line with the likes of AA.

    However, patience brings rewards, just getting their miles promotion for getting a new card once ( or more a year) has netted me over 140 k miles and only about 22k of that was purchases ( business mostly) with the cards,

    the plan is to use them on Korean air for san/bkk/san business class next year/

  10. Building a dossier on you? I seriously doubt that they really care what you think about the SkyMiles program.

    Why do you think that Delta won’t go revenue-based for 2013 just because it is already September 2012? Based on their prior behavior, I expect them to switch with virtually no advance notice, so 2013 is still a strong possibility in my book.

  11. i dont know why you would want to get in a debate with rene… his blog has more censorship then north korea.

    he’ll let you post a counterpoint to his posts, but if anyone else tries to say something even constructively critical of his posts or crazy ideas (like crediting dining miles to delta), he will block the comment. he’s a shill and a joke

  12. Whether to diversify marginal sources of miles like dining etc. from any program really depends on how many miles you have to diversify.

    Small quantities of miles *in any program* are relatively low-value – maybe get some magazines or some other token redemption. You need a stack of them before there’s any real value. In a large sense, you are *always* saving for the next award threshold, unless you’re flush with miles and earning abilities in many programs. Throwing a few miles here and there to United or AA makes little sense and has little value if you don’t accrue in those programs otherwise.

    AS is a nice alternative, but has a giant hole in its usefulness, right where a lot of people would want to sit. AS is great for domestic redemptions, and great for international premium redemptions, as long as you are willing/able to position (or happen to live in the gateway choice). The cost and hassle of positioning on separate tickets gets swept under the rug a bit more than it warrants.

  13. As an aside, I concur with Jay’s sentiments. Delta Points blog is the epitome of “if I don’t like what you say then it doesn’t get published.” Plus, he pushes credit cards like no other. Just subscribe to his email list and you’ll see what I mean.

  14. Ted/jay: fully agree with you guys. Delta points blog is a disgrace due to all that censorship and I refuse to even read it anymore. I only read it today cuz it was linked to by gleff. I’m surprised DP would pick a blog fight with gleff who is uncensored. Seems like he is just asking for people to come comment over here about how terrible his blog is due to how he won’t approve any comments contrary to his views. Methinks he needs to get a job in the north korean or Chinese govt or something, he’d fit right in!!

  15. Btw, forgot to add that I fully agree with gleff. Crediting dining to dl is a complete waste. I really like the sky dung term that a previous poster coined, that’s about how I feel about do miles as well. Glad I have been able to burn the majority of my dl miles.

  16. We are in Seattle and even though I am not often a Delta elite, I think it makes sense for us to collect skymiles. They are easy to get and we fly business class on Air France to Europe for 95-100K skymiles with stopovers in Paris. Air France has a non-stop to CDG. Domestic travel with Delta is another story however.

  17. To folks who would talk trash about the Delta Points blog on this one… I don’t censor comments or delete them, but c’mon, not really a fair crack of the whip to him to pile on here.

    Although I do think his response above is about the best possible 🙂

  18. LOL true, probably best to trash talk him where all the trash talk belongs, on the FT Milesbuzz blogger thread that also isn’t censored. 🙂

  19. I get good value with AA miles so I dont sispute they are useable and years ago I got to Australia on Quantas in First for 125K. Most AA awards I have gotton 100K business, 125 First to places like London, Japan, etc. BA costs more in miles and now has the surcharges so that isnt good. I got the Delta reserve card and going to pool from my brother in order to get to get to Diamond level. I am AA plat for life. However getting to Plat on AA was alot of credit card points. Now that I am AA plat there is not huge benefits there IMHO. I wanted to get some Delta status and see how that goes. Being upgraded on many domestic flights has some value to me personally. AA Plat, they will never upgrade you without stickers or miles/cash. Now 15K miles and 75.00 or so to upgrade is not a great value to me. Used to be just 15K each way/ticket. For example I was flying back from Tokyo in First. We were the only 2 people in first. Business was near full. Would AA move a lifetime plat to first? No way. Once I got lifetime Plat I realized that other than earning some stickers and double miles. Everythign else pretty weak. AA EXP is better and probably comparable to Delta Diamond except I can use the MQMs from the credit cards to help me. Rollover MQMs are also a perk. I would like to see somebody like AMEX come up with a big offer for big spenders. Like they tell me if I spend 500K on my Platinum card I will get some major perk.That sort of thing is not out there. There are some spending perks , but I mean big spender perks. Even if I could get Starwood Platinum and some other thigns that would get my interest. My Merril Lynch card does give free Delta or AA club acces for one yr if you meet mins spend (60K a yr I think) Not a bad perk.

  20. And I dont trash any programs per se, although Gary is right that Delta tries to really clean out the miles for the big trips. I think for me the best value to use the delta miles is australia in Virgin Blue Business class. The worst I saw many yrs ago was Continenal Nonepass. The only way to use domestic was going to cleveland in the winter, or they would charge a fortune for simple domestic first. I do trash Chase, but that is another story and I have plenty to document about them. These days nobody can be too loyal to any ONE program, because at any time that can turn the tables and make changes. Customers need to act accordingly. That is why for the most past airline credit cards are helpful for the bonus miles, and some of the other perks. it makes little sense to earn credit card miles in any single program, since the award chart and availability is what matters. Also I apologize for my lousy typing. I am a big fan of Gary and will go to the meet in LA in Nov. He is quite funny and he knows his stuff. I have also met Randy Peterson another great guy and guru of the industry.

  21. FYI – i wasn’t trying to pile on him. i’d gladly disagree with him on his own blog, but any comments that disagree with anything he posts are quickly deleted; something he didn’t disagree with

  22. Here’s my experience redeeming Skypesos:

    Good-Easily found and booked a trip to Australia on V Australia in Business for my wife and myself this coming winter. LAX>MEL,open jaw,SYD>BNE(connect)>LAX (without any YQ $138 ai)

    Bad- Cannot find any seats in low bucket to get to/from LA day before departure, day of,return day, day after return.

    Bad- Availability in business on AF seems to have vanished from YYZ. KLM is the same.

  23. I can’t tell you how much I hate the fact that I haven’t been able to get my Delta miles synced up with my award wallet account. That alone has made the currency pretty much worthless to me…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *