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Delta SkyMiles are rightly maligned as an extraordinarily devalued frequent flyer program. Still, I’ve found two ways to get decent value from the program.
SkyPesos: why SkyMiles generally suck
Generally, the way to get the most value from a frequent flyer mile is to spend them on business and first class flights. For example, a first class Lufthansa flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt costs an eye-watering $15,000 each way over the next few months. Luckily, you can book the same flight for just 87,500 Avianca LifeMiles, which means you’re getting about 17 cents of value per mile.
Now compare that to Delta. The cheapest award ticket I could find from Atlanta to Amsterdam over the next year costs 370,000 SkyMiles, while the cash cost is $3,731. That amounts to about 1 cent of value per mile. In other words, the value of the Delta SkyMiles redemption is literally 16 times worse value than the LifeMiles award ticket. This Delta ticket is not an outlier. In general, SkyMiles offer terrible redemption value and have rightfully earned their nickname, “SkyPesos.”
The two best ways to redeem SkyMiles
If you’re sitting on a bunch of SkyMiles, don’t despair. There are two good ways to get value from them: 1) last-minute domestic flights and 2) Delta One flights between destinations outside of the US or Canada. And, keep in mind that with Delta’s recently introduced “TakeOff 15” benefit, you can get an extra 15% off award ticket when booking with a Delta SkyMiles Gold, Gold Business, Platinum, Platinum Business, Reserve, or Reserve Business Amex card, as long as all legs are operated by Delta.
Last-minute domestic flights
I’ve found that Delta often has extremely reasonable redemption rates for last-minute domestic economy class tickets. One great recent example is a roundtrip flight from Seattle to Kahului Airport in Maui for just 9,000 miles. If you used your Delta credit card to book this award, you could have it for just over 7,500 miles, which is pretty phenomenal value for a flight between the US and Hawaii.
Delta One between cities outside the US or Canada
As far as I know, booking a Delta One ticket between two places that are both outside of the US or Canada is the single most valuable use for SkyMiles. A one way Delta One flight from Sydney to Mexico City, for example, costs about 95,000 SkyMiles and $177.
While that’s not an incredible redemption compared to what you can get on other programs, it’s pretty much unheard of when it comes to booking Delta One; the exact same flight from Sydney to LA in Delta One 410,000 SkyMiles and $117. In fact, if you lived in LA, you could save over 300,000 SkyMiles (about 40 roundtrips between the US and Hawaii!) by booking the Sydney to Mexico City flight and just getting off in LA. I’ve discussed this trick (known as “hidden city ticketing”) at length here.
While I wouldn’t transfer points to Delta, redeeming last-minute domestic flights and, most of all, Delta One awards between destinations outside of North America are two great ways to get value from SkyMiles you have sitting around.