Review of SkyMiles, the loyalty program of Delta Air Lines

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststipsseries, or news.

Today (July 12, 2019): Delta Air Lines’ loyalty program (SkyMiles) explained.

Launched in 1981, Delta Air Lines’ loyalty program is called SkyMiles. The program is convenient for frequent flyers that live close to Delta’s hubs of Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York City. Although Delta offers one of the best and most consistent inflight products of all USA airlines, its frequent flyer program is not in the same league as the carrier continuously introduces surprise changes and unannounced devaluations that leave its loyal frequent flyers baffled. Delta was also the first airline in the world to introduce a revenue based program in 2015 (although others quickly followed). Delta is a founding member of SkyTeam, the world’s third largest airline alliance.

What is your opinion about SkyMiles? Leave a comment below.

In this overview, I explain the SkyMiles program and how to benefit from it:

  1. SkyMiles elite levels
  2. How to earn SkyMiles in the air
  3. How the earn SkyMiles on the ground
  4. How to spend SkyMiles (and travel for free)
  5. Best SkyMiles redemptions
  6. Pros & things I like about SkyMiles
  7. Cons & things I don’t like about SkyMiles
  8. Poll: what’s the world’s best frequent flyer program?


1. SKYMILES ELITE LEVELS

Delta’s Skymiles program has four membership tiers that you can work your way up as you collect more miles. Silver Medallion is the entry-level; Gold Medallion the second level; Platinum Medallion the third level; and Diamond  Medallion is the top-level. Each level has benefits and as you move from Silver to Gold then Plantinum and finally Diamond Medallion, these benefits become more valuable. Status is earned for USA based members through a combination of the number of miles flown and the fare class of your ticket (Medallion Qualifying Miles or MQMs), the number of flight you take (Medallion Qualifying Segments or MQSs) and the money spent with Delta and its many partners (Medallion Qualifying Dollars or MQDs). MQD requirements are waived if spending $25,000 USD per year on a Delta-branded American Express card.

  • Silver Medallion status is reached after 25,000 MQMs or 30 Medallion Qualifying Segments MQSs and $3,000 MQDs in a calendar year, and comes with the following benefits:
    • Earn 7 miles per USD spent
    • Complimentary upgrades for Silver member and one companion on paid flights (not award flights), up to 24 hours before departure if available
    • One free checked bag for Silver member and up to 8 traveling companions on the same reservation
    • Priority check-in and boarding
    • Virgin Atlantic flights: priority check-in, priority boarding, and one additional checked bag (in addition to standard Virgin Atlantic allowance)
    • Luggage tags to show off your status
  • Gold Medallion status is reached after 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs in a calendar year, and comes with all the Silver benefits plus:
    • Earn 8 miles per USD spent
    • Complimentary upgrades for Gold member and one companion, up to 72 hours before departure if available
    • Complimentary upgrades on award tickets
    • Two free checked bags for Gold member and up to 8 traveling companions on the same reservation
    • Complimentary same-day changes and same-day standby
    • Award booking fee waived
    • SkyPriority check-in, security, and boarding on Delta and partners
    • Access to airline lounges on international itineraries
    • Hertz 5-Star status
    • Virgin Atlantic flights: Premium Economy Class check-in and fast track security
  • Platinum Medallion status is reached after 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs in a calendar year, and comes with all the Gold benefits plus:
    • Earn 9 miles per USD spent
    • Complimentary upgrades for Platinum member and one companion, available up to 5 days before departure
    • Three free checked bags for Platinum member and up to 8 traveling companions on the same reservation
    • Award change and cancellation fees are waived
    • One annual present (called Choice Benefit) with a pick from:
      • Four regional upgrade certificates
      • 20,000 bonus SkyMiles
      • Gift Silver Medallion status to a friend or family member
      • $200 USD Delta travel voucher
      • $200 Tiffany & Co. USD gift card
    • Hertz President’s Circle Status
    • Virgin Atlantic flights: Upper Class check-in, Upper Class security, Upper Class priority baggage handling, and lounge access.
  • Diamond Medallion status is reached after 125,000 MQMs or 140 segments and $15,000 MQDs in a calendar year, and comes with all the Platinum benefits plus:
    • Earn 11 miles per USD spent
    • Complimentary CLEAR membership to ease through airport security
    • Three Choice Benefits with a pick from:
      • Delta Sky Club Membership options
      • Global & regional upgrade certificates
      • Gift Gold Medallion status to a friend or family member
      • 25,000 bonus miles for yourself, someone else, or a SkyWish charity of your choice
      • $200 USD Delta travel voucher
      • $200 USD Tiffany & Co. gift card


2. HOW TO EARN SKYMILES IN THE AIR

You earn two types of miles within the SkyMiles program: Medallion Qualifying Miles and award redeemable miles.

Medallion Qualifying Miles or MQMs are used only to determine Medallion status and are earned based on distance flown and fare class. MQMs reset each calendar year as you track toward a new year of status. The charts below shows how many Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) you earn on Delta flights to qualify for Medallion status.

In addition to MQMs, you also earn award redeemable miles every time you fly with Delta. The amount of miles you earn is based on your status within the SkyMiles program at the time of travel:

  • General SkyMiles Members: 5 miles for every $1 USD
  • Silver Medallion Members: 7 miles for every $1 USD
  • Gold Medallion Members: 8 miles for every $1 USD
  • Platinum Medallion Members: 9 miles for every $1 USD
  • Diamond Medallion Members: 11 miles for every $1 USD

MQMs and award redeemable miles are also earned when flying one of Delta’s more than 20 airline partners, including all airlines of the SkyTeam alliance (world’s third largest airline alliance):

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Air
  • GOL (not a member of SkyTeam)
  • Hawaiian Airlines (not a member of SkyTeam)
  • WestJet (not a member of SkyTeam)
  • Virgin Atlantic (not a member of SkyTeam)
  • Virgin Australia (not a member of SkyTeam)

The number of MQMs and award redeemable miles you earn within the SkyMiles program can be checked here and depends on the marketing and ticketing carrier. Certain airline partner flights still earn miles based on distance instead of price. For example, this is the mileage you earn when flying Korean Air, a Delta SkyTeam partner:


3. HOW TO EARN SKYMILES ON THE GROUND

The possibilities to earn award redeemable miles and boost your account are endless within the SkyMiles program, even when not flying, by making use of the more than 1,000 additional SkyMiles partners.

  • Each time you stay in a hotel which partners with SkyMiles, you can earn miles. This will mostly be around 500 to 1000 miles per hotel stay. All you need to do is present your SkyMiles card number at check-in. This includes large hotel brands, such as Marriott, InterContinental, Hilton, Radisson, AccorHotels, Hyatt, Langham, Millennium Hotels, Shangri-La, and Worldhotels.
  • Several hotel loyalty programs allow you to convert your hotel points into SkyMiles. These programs include Marriott, InterContinental, Hilton, Radisson, and AccorHotels (you can read my reviews with pros and cons of most of these hotel loyalty programs here). Marriott Bonvoy – the loyalty program of Marriott Hotels – has the best conversion program as it allows you to convert Mariott points to SkyMiles frequent-flyer miles on a 3:1 basis, including a 15,000 conversion bonus when you convert 60,000 points, for a total of 25,000 miles.
  • SkyMiles also partners with Airbnb, which offers over 5 million unique homes to choose from for your next stay. You earn miles when staying (1 mile per $1 USD spent) or hosting with Airbnb worldwide. More information can be found on deltaairbnb.com.
  • SkyMiles members earn award redeemable miles every time they rent a car with one of the major car rental companies, including Herz, Alamo, National, Dollar, Thrifty, and Enterprise. The exact number of miles you earn for a car rental depends on the company and ranges from 50 to 500 miles per day.
  • Delta Air Lines not only offers flights, but also holiday packages (flights + hotels) as well as cruise holidays (in collaboration with major cruise companies such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival). Every time you book a holiday or a cruise via the dedicated Delta website, you will earn miles.
  • Members earn SkyMiles by shopping online on skymilesshopping.com, a collection hundreds of leading retailers, including Apple, Macy’s, Nike, and more.
  • SkyMiles also offer the possibility to directly purchase tens of thousands of miles without flying, which can be an interesting option to explore if your mileage account is just short off an award ticket.  The minimum mileage purchased per transaction is 2,000 with a maximum mileage of 60,000 deposited to a SkyMiles account per year.

4. HOW TO SPEND SKYMILES ON FREE TRAVEL

The best way to spend your SkyMiles is to redeem them for free flights on Delta. Unfortunately though, Delta does not publish an award chart, so there’s no reference to what an award should cost. To make things worse, Delta regularly introduces changes to its award pricing, with little or no advance notice. That said, the blog ‘Travel Is Free‘ has published an award chart that Delta (more or less) sticks to, which is included here for reference (although several  award prices have increased or decreased since this chart was last published).

You can also spend your SkyMiles on a free ticket with one of Delta’s partner airlines to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide. This includes all SkyTeam members, but also several non-SkyTeam members, such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, GOL, Air Tahiti Nui, Thai Air Asia, Jetstar, and Skymark. Again, Delta does not publish a chart with how many miles you need for a redemption on a partner airline; the only way to find out is to search for it on Delta’s website or to call the Delta Reservations Department. Unfortunately, it costs more SkyMiles to fly partner carriers rather than Delta on routes originating from the US.

Besides redeeming them for free flights on Delta and partner airlines, there are several other ways to redeem your hard-earned SkyMiles:

  • You can use your miles to upgrade to the next cabin on most domestic and international flights marketed and operated by Delta. If you have already purchased a flight, you can use your miles to upgrade your trip on your own on delta.com or the Fly Delta app or via the Delta Reservations Department.
  • When you don’t have enough miles for the flight you want, SkyMiles offers you the option “Miles + Cash” to pay for a flight using a combination of miles and dollars. Remember, tickets purchased using Miles + Cash are award tickets and are subject to all the limitations of an award tickets. They are not eligible to earn miles, Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs), Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).
  • Delta also allows you to pay (part of your) ticket with miles. Exclusively for select Delta SkyMiles Credit Card Members, “Pay with Miles” is a Card benefit that gives you more flexibility by  taking dollars off of Delta tickets or allowing you to use miles when you don’t have quite enough to cover the full ticket.
  • You can also use your miles to fly onboard one of Delta’s Private Jets and travel seamlessly, effortlessly and luxuriously to your destination. Redemptions start at 2.5 million miles for a $25,000 USD Jet Card — enough to take up to four passengers round-trip from Atlanta to South Florida.
  • You can use miles or combine cash and miles for a vacation with packages inspired by hundreds of destinations, thousands of accommodations and endless activities. With the Miles to Go program, you can redeem miles when booking flights, hotel stays, rental cars and activities as part of your vacation package to any of our more than 300 destinations worldwide.
  • You can donate your miles to your favorite charity, to make the world a better place and help people in need.
  • Members can transfer miles to another member’s account in increments of 1,000 miles for 1 cent per mile plus a transaction fee of $30 USD. A maximum of 150,000 miles can be transferred out of a SkyMiles account in a calendar year; no more than 30,000 miles can be transferred per transaction.

5. BEST SKYMILES REDEMPTIONS 
  • IMHO, the best way to spend SkyMiles is on a Business Class award flight on Delta’s own game-changing Business Class product, Delta One Suite. The suite offers passenger a private space accessed by a sliding door with thoughtfully designed personal stowage areas, an advanced in-flight entertainment system, and premium trim and finishes to create a comfortable, residential feel. The Delta One suite is currently only available on Delta’s A350s and some retrofitted B777s, which flies on selected routes such as Los Angeles to Sydney or Tokyo. Make sure your itinerary does not originate in Europe as SkyMiles sneakily adds a huge cash surcharge for these trips.
  • Another great way to spend SkyMiles is on a Business Class award flight on Virgin Atlantic, a non-SkyTeam partner of Delta. A one-way ticket starts at 86,000 miles in Upper Class (that is how Virgin Atlantic calls its Business Class) and gives you an experience in one of the most raved about Business Class experiences across the Atlantic Ocean. You can start your journey in London to get access to one of the best lounges in the world (Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse), but again, that will come with a considerable surcharge because of UK departure taxes (I do not recommend to originate a SkyMiles redemption from Europe).
  • Air France Business Class space is only released to Air France Flying Blue Members 305 days ahead of time, but the same space is generally released to Delta SkyMiles members 331 days before departure date. This is highly unusual, as most airlines offer better availability to their own members than the members of partners. So, if you like to plan your travels long in advance, it’s better to book your award ticket on Air France via Delta than via Air France itself.
  • SkyTeam is the largest airline alliance in China, so when you want to travel to China using your SkyMiles, you have plenty of options: China Airlines (based in Taipei), China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines (based in Shanghai), China Southern (based in Guangzhou), and Xiamen Airlines (based in Xiamen).
  • As a general rule, one-way award flights in the continental USA, Alaska, and Canada start at 10,000 SkyMiles. However, it is possible to find flights as low as 5,000 miles one-way on select domestic routes like San Francisco to Seattle. Sometimes, these are announced as limited-time SkyMiles flash sales; other times, they pop up when cash ticket prices are cheap.


6. PROS & THINGS I LIKE ABOUT SKYMILES
  • One of SkyMiles strongest points it that miles can be earned and/or used with more than 20 participating airlines. These include all the SkyTeam carriers (Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, Tarom, Vietnam Airlines, and Xiamen Air) but also several non-SkyTeam carriers (Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, GOL, Hawaiian Airlines, WestJet, Air Tahiti Nui, Thai Air Asia, Jetstar, and Skymark). It means that you can earn and spend your miles to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide.
  • Unlike many airline and hotel programs that require you to earn or redeem at least one mile every year to keep your account in good standing, that’s not the case with Delta Air Lines SkyMiles. In short, Delta SkyMiles do not expire which is very rare among loyalty programs.
  • Each year, the Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) you earn above your Medallion tier will roll over to the next qualification year to give you a jump start on earning status again. Delta is the only airline to offer this benefit.
  • Delta is the only frequent flyer program in the world that allows you to earn elite status without ever flying through credit card spending. If you have all four Delta co-branded cards issued by American Express that earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), you could put enough spend on the four cards to earn Delta Platinum status, as explained by the blog “The Points Guy“.
  • Delta Air Lines has the best Business Class product of all North American airlines (private suites with a sliding door), making the program an excellent choice if you want to earn or redeem miles for flying Delta One Suite.
  • The Delta SkyMiles program is convenient for frequent flyers based in USA cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Seattle, and for passengers who often travel to and from New York City.
  • SkyMiles offers a generous amount of bonus miles to its elite members. Diamond Medallion members earn a 120% bonus, Platinum Medallion members earn an 80% bonus, Medallion Gold members earn a 60% bonus and Medallion Silver members earn a 40% bonus on top of base miles earned traveling with Delta and participating airlines.
  • SkyMiles allows one way award tickets.
  • SkyMiles allows open jaw award tickets. For exemple, you can fly into Amsterdam and out of Paris or fly into Africa and out of Europe.
  • There are no blackout dates or capacity controls within the SkyMiles program.
  • You can achieve status for life within the Delta SkyMiles program. Million Miler status is based on total Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) earned over a Member’s lifetime. Complimentary annual Medallion Status is awarded annually and is valid from beginning to end of the Medallion calendar. Benefits associated with complimentary Status are awarded upon annual renewal of complimentary Status. Silver Million Miles status is reached after collecting 1 million MQMs, Gold Million Miler status after collecting 2 million MQMs, and Platinum Million Miles status after collecting 4 million MQMs.
  • Reclaim My Status is a unique benefit of the SkyMiles program designed to help you return to status if life slows down your travel. This benefit kicks in when something happens that impacts your ability to travel, and you’re unable to reach the tier of Medallion status you previously had. This includes things like becoming a new parent, changing jobs, going back to school, experiencing a medical issue, needing to take care of a friend or family member or another life event. When you’re ready to start traveling again, you can submit a request to Delta get your Medallion status back. If your request is approved, you will return to the Diamond, Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion status based on the Medallion status you enjoyed before. This complimentary status will last for three months beginning on the date your request is approved. To extend your status beyond the complimentary three months, you must meet the minimum travel and spend thresholds for your status tier during this three-month period.

7. CONS & THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT SKYMILES
  • Delta was the first airline to make its frequent flyer program revenue-based, meaning that miles are awarded based on dollars spent rather than number of miles flown. The Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) you earn are based on the price of your ticket excluding taxes and fees. When traveling with SkyTeam partners, you will earn elite qualifying dollars as a percentage of the distance flown and the fare class of your ticket. It means you must fly and spend a lot to reach elite status.
  • As mentioned above, Delta does not publish an award chart, so there’s no reference to what an award should cost and the carrier makes you pay for an award ticket what it wants you to pay.
  • Stopovers are not permitted: layovers are limited to four hours within the USA and to 24 hours in a non-USA destination.
  • There is a possible surcharge on award flights originating in Europe and on some airline partners.
  • Delta is notorious for only releasing limited seating available for award travel. There are other airlines in the SkyTeam alliance though that are far more generous with award availability, such as AeroMexico, Air France and KLM.
  • Delta charges a $150 USD cancellation fee on award tickets (waived for its elite members).
  • The SkyMiles program is prone to frequent and unannounced changes that can drastically alter the value of points – for the better or for the worse – making it difficult to determine what your points are going to be worth in the long run.
  • MQD requirements are waived for Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medillion members if they spend $25,000 USD per year on a Delta-branded American Express card. To reach Diamond Medallion status though, the MQD waiver can only be achieved by making $250,000 USD or more (!!!) in eligible purchases during the calendar year with eligible Delta SkyMiles credit cards from American Express.
  • It costs more SkyMiles to fly partner carriers rather than Delta on routes originating from the US. For example, Delta Business Class from New York to London costs 70,000 miles at its lowest price while the same route costs 86,000 miles on Virgin Atlantic-operated routes.

8. POLL

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3 Comments

  1. One of the best uses of SkyMiles is for partners. Because of dynamic pricing, partners still price less than using the exact same Delta flights. I have not experienced the flights on KLM costing more miles. Now using Flying Blue, one can definitely get an award for less than SkyMiles. One of the things that Delta.com does while searching for European flights is make the partner flights very difficult to find. I use Delta.com to book the KLM and AirFrance nonstops to Europe. Since these are non-stops and nonDelta served, they should appear at the top of a search. Not! They may not even appear at all and you have to call. But all of the programs are making awards harder to get.

  2. If you live outside the US the MQD requirement is eliminated entirely. This makes achieving the elite levels much easier.

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