Just like every other frequent flyer program, Delta SkyMiles may be the perfect program for you, or may not suit you at all. If you are someone who likes to fly long-haul flights, but can only afford flying with cheap economy class tickets, then there probably isn’t a more ideal program for you than Delta SkyMiles! Getting 100% of the distance, even in the lowest fare classes on a very big variety of airlines, and so relatively quickly getting a free piece of luggage on absolutely ALL SkyTeam flights are just some of the highlights you can expect from this program. If you usually travel in business class or premium economy, however, Delta SkyMiles may not be the best option for you.
Table of contents
First, let’s look at the four tiers that Delta SkyMiles has, and what the most useful benefits of each tier are.
- 7 award miles for each USD you spend on Delta flights (40% bonus on partner flights)
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades (see below)
- 23 kg of luggage on absolutely all SkyTeam flights, no matter what fare you booked. When flying Delta, this benefit will also apply for up to 8(!) passengers traveling with you (except from Paris and Amsterdam).
- Priority check-in
- Priority boarding
To reach the silver status, which is equivalent to SkyTeam’s Elite status, you’ll need 25,000 status miles (MQMs) in a year. The highlight of this tier is undoubtedly the baggage allowance that you will get on every SkyTeam flight. That alone will save you €25-100 per flight, as luggage is barely ever included anymore on flights with Delta, KLM, Air France, etc.
- All Silver benefits
- 8 award miles for each USD you spend on Delta flights (60% bonus on partner flights)
- Lounge access for all SkyTeam international flights
- Waived same-day fees
- Airport security fast lane
- Priority baggage handling
- 5 Star Hertz status
From here on, you’ll have the equivalent of SkyTeam’s highest status, the Elite Plus status. You’ll need 50,000 MQMs for this status. The biggest highlight is naturally the worldwide lounge access.
- All previous benefits
- 9 award miles for each USD you spend on Delta flights (80% bonus on partner flights)
- 1 Choice Benefit (see below)
- Waived change fees for award flights
- President’s Circle Hertz status
This status, which requires 75,000 miles, doesn’t offer that much more than the Gold status. The choice benefit, however, can be a nice reward for having reached the 75,000 miles. Also, you’ll obviously be much higher on the list for the complimentary upgrades.
- All previous benefits
- 11 award miles for each USD you spend on Delta flights (120% bonus on partner flights)
- 3 Choice Benefits (see below)
- Complimentary CLEAR membership (only for U.S.-based members)
This is Delta’s highest status, which requires you to fly 125,000 miles. The complimentary CLEAR membership is definitely useful if you travel a lot to the USA. The 3 Choice Benefits are also a highlight.
While some status benefits are very common among all airlines worldwide, such as lounge access or priority boarding, Delta has some benefits which need a bit of explaining:
Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades
While this sounds absolutely fantastic, please don’t start dreaming about flying everywhere in business class while paying economy class tickets. This is not the case! That being said, this really is a nice benefit. As long as you’re not flying on a basic economy fare, on long-haul flights with Delta, you’ll be seated (as long as there is availability) in their Comfort+ cabin, which is a bit like economy class, but with a bit more legroom. On domestic Delta flights, you can even be seated in business class (they call it First Class). The higher your status, the more likely it is that you’ll get an upgrade. From experience, as a Gold member, you’ll almost always be upgraded.
Once you’ve reached one of the two highest tiers, you’ll be able to select 1 or 3 Choice Benefits. This is what you can choose from:
- Upgrade vouchers: 4 regional upgrades for Platinum. Diamond members would get 4 global upgrades, or 8 regional upgrades, or 2 global and 4 regional upgrades. These upgrade vouchers can be used on all Delta flights (and some partner airlines) as long as you’re not flying on a basic economy fare ticket.
- Delta Sky Club membership: Only available for Diamond members. This lets you go to Delta’s lounges in the USA, even when flying domestically.
- Delta Sky Club membership + 2 guests: Diamond members can use another Choice Benefit, to not only have the Delta Sky Club membership but also to be allowed to bring 2 guests.
- Bonus miles: You could simply add 20,000 (for Platinum) or 25,000 (for Diamond) award miles to your account.
- USD 200 gift card: Either for Delta or Tiffany’s
- Gift a status: Platinum members can gift a Silver status, Diamond members can gift a Gold status.
While this benefit doesn’t usually get much attention, it is one of the highlights of this program. It is rare to collect the exact number of miles needed for a status. Almost always, you’ll have more miles than needed, but not enough to reach the next tier, and with most other programs, those miles will be lost. Here, those miles roll over to the next year. This means, that if you collected 70,000 miles, you’ll get the Gold status (50,000 miles required), and the other 20,000 miles will count for next year, meaning that you’d only need 5,000 next year for Silver, 30,000 for Gold, or could even use the head start to reach the next tier!
Here’s where it gets interesting. On flights with Delta, Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, Alitalia, LATAM, Korean Air, China Eastern, GOL, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia, you’ll receive 100% of the flown distance as MQMs, even in the absolutely lowest fare classes! For example, a London – Singapore roundtrip in Air France’s X category, which gives 0 miles in all programs other than FlyingBlue, you’d be earning 14,330 MQMs. Two of those flights, which can often be found for less than €500, and you’d already get the Silver status, which, as stated above, grants you free luggage on all SkyTeam flights. So, as a long-haul economy passenger, you’ll have a hard time finding a better program.
Things change if you usually fly business class. In Air France’s cheapest business class fare, O, you’ll get the exact same amount of miles: 100%. In general, all airlines and alliances considered, there are more rewarding programs for business class flights than this one. If you want to experiment a bit, how many miles your flights would get you, this Unofficial SkyMiles calculator is an excellent tool, that is regularly updated and very precise for MQMs.
Here comes one of the program’s weaknesses. On Delta flights, you’ll earn miles according to what you spend. While this is a fair way to do things, it’s not particularly rewarding, unless you’re paying high prices (e.g. for a business class ticket). On flights with other SkyTeam airlines, you’ll receive a percentage of the distance, according to the booking class. Here it’s best to check Delta’s website to see how much each fare will get you. The lowest fares on KLM and Air France, for instance, will get you 25% of the distance.
Luckily, Delta’s award miles never expire. What’s more important, though, is how many miles you need for an award flight, which brings us to:
Delta has been one of the first airlines to introduce dynamic award prices. This means that the miles required to book a flight depend on the availability.
While this dynamic system doesn’t quite allow us to give you exact numbers of how much an award flight costs, here is an overview of what you’d usually pay (for a direct roundtrip):
|New York – Los Angeles||18,500||24,000||314,000||USD 11,20|
|Detroit – Boston||9,000||15,000||37,000||USD 11,20|
|Paris – Seattle||68,000||340,000||Eco: €332 Biz: €479|
|KLM: Amsterdam – Bangkok||100,000||190,000||Eco: €161 Biz: €211|
|Alitalia: Rome – Madrid||20,000||50,000||€140|
As you can see, business class awards are often extremely expensive! As Delta has long-haul business class seats on its New York – Los Angeles route, they’ve set the number of required miles extremely high. The best option is probably using the miles for mid-range US-domestic flights in basic economy. Let’s assume that you have the Silver status: then you’d still get your piece of luggage on that basic economy flight. So you could fly to the cheapest US destination that you found from Europe, and once you’re there, you only spend 9,000 miles + only USD 11,20 for a roundtrip to the US destination you’d most like to see. Not a bad option!
If you currently have a status at another alliance and would like to switch to Delta SkyMiles, as you’ve maybe now found out that it suits your travel habits more, then you should definitely use the Delta Status Match Challenge! You’d get your current status at SkyMiles for three months, and can (quite easily) then extend its validity by flying a certain number of miles. You can read all about it here:
While Delta SkyMiles may not be the best frequent flyer program for business class travelers, there’s almost no program that will give you so many miles for the cheapest economy fare on so many airlines. Also, getting a 23 kg baggage allowance on all SkyTeam flights with the Silver status is a great benefit that will literally save you a lot of money on every economy flight you fly. Sadly, the award miles are not worth as much as they used to be.
Cover Picture: (© Delta Airlines)