Why you should use your miles now, even as a Delta frequent flyer.

This post was inspired by a thread on Twitter with Jaime Primak that made me realize that there are many of you out there sitting on a ton of SkyMiles wondering, “What do I do with these?”

Maybe you’ve been a road-warrior business traveler for the past two decades and have millions of miles in the bank. Or maybe you’ve just signed up for a Delta SkyMiles credit card recently and have 90,000 SkyMiles to spend. Either way, now is a great time to start spending down some of those miles.

The rules have changed

For Delta SkyMiles members sitting on a large pool of miles, now is probably the ideal time to start cashing some of those in. Since 2020, most airlines, including Delta have done away with many change fees and made improvements to their frequent flyer programs like making award tickets freely redepositable. If you’ve been a long-time frequent flyer who has struggled to use your miles in the past, it’s time to give that pile of miles a second look, as many of the old rules that applied to tickets booked with miles no longer apply.

Miles tickets help you toward your elite status qualification

In 2021, Delta Air Lines announced Status Accelerators. As part of that program, they increased the number of status-earning miles, segments, and dollars awarded on most tickets and announced that award tickets would also earn MQMs, MQSs, and MQDs. In 2022, Delta will continue to award status miles, segments, and dollars on award travel. This means that you will get closer to frequent flyer status with Delta, even on award tickets.

Award tickets earn miles, segments, and dollars toward Delta elite status similar to tickets booked with cash:

  • Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) – Award travel earns MQMs based on the distance flown.
  • Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) – You earn MQSs on award travel like you normally would on retail tickets, 1 MQS for each segment of your journey.
  • Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) – Award tickets earns MQDs based on the number of miles redeemed for a ticket, divided by 100. (A 10,000 ticket would earn $100 MQDs)

Basic Economy tickets booked with SkyMiles will not earn MQMs, MQSs or MQDs.

Tickets booked with miles are more flexible than cash tickets

Previously, only Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion SkyMiles members could cancel Delta award tickets and redeposit their frequent flyer miles with no fee, and then only up to 72 hours prior to departure. In September 2020, Delta changed this for all travel originating in North America to anywhere in the world, including on flights operated by joint venture and codeshare partners, up to the time of departure.

This means that if you need to cancel an award ticket, you can get all of the SkyMiles you spent redeposited to your account. For free. And your taxes/fees will be refunded to your credit card.

In contrast, most tickets you book with cash don’t get refunded if you cancel them; you will receive a Delta eCredit that expires, often within one year from the date your ticket was issued. (Delta is currently extending the validity of eCredits until the end of 2023.)

Basic Economy airfares booked with miles cannot be refunded and redeposited without a fee.

Delta frequently runs flash sales on award tickets

In the past few years, Delta has frequently run unannounced, limited-time “flash sales” where they massively discount the prices of award tickets for a few days. Sometimes these discounts apply to only a handful of destinations. Sometimes they are widely available. I’ve seen (and booked) airfares as low as 4,500 SkyMiles each way during Delta’s flash sales.

For any current flash sales, take a peek at Delta’s flash sale deals page.

Your miles can displace cash you would otherwise spend today

Like many of the domestic U.S. airlines, Delta moved to dynamic award pricing several years ago. This means that, unlike traditional award-chart-based frequent flyer programs that charged 25,000 miles for a domestic round trip ticket when they decided to open up award space, Delta’s award ticket prices float with the retail price of the ticket and are available on every flight.

For people who were saving their SkyMiles hoping to get outsized value from an international business class award to Europe for 100,000 SkyMiles, outside of sales and some bookings on partners, you’re mostly out of luck.

But most people probably just want to take a trip within the U.S. and for them this is a good deal. SkyMiles can be used on any Delta flight where you can book a ticket with cash. And since the price in miles is tied to the price in cash, you are always assured that you’ll get a reasonable valuation for your miles when you book with SkyMiles

Since the pricing structure of SkyMiles is dynamic, you don’t have to hunt around and decide whether you should pay cash or miles for a ticket. If you find a ticket at a price that you would otherwise pay in cash and you have enough SkyMiles, you can feel good simply booking the ticket and knowing that you’re getting a reasonable value for your miles.

Summary

The rules have changed. Booking an award ticket with miles often meant hunting for availability and settling for a suboptimal schedule. Once you booked an award, changes meant paying a large fee or losing your miles, and no award ticket helped you earn frequent flyer status.

With the recent changes to SkyMiles and other programs, your miles are now an easy-to-use tool that can give you additional flexibility while helping you earn status. If you are holding onto a mountain of Delta SkyMiles, now might be a great time to consider spending them on your next trip.

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