Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Booking Domestic Flights with Low Mileage Rates
One of the best ways to maximize a small stash of Delta SkyMiles is to use them for booking domestic flights that have low mileage ticket prices. While international business and first class awards can cost hundreds of thousands of miles, you’d be surprised at how far just 5,000 miles can take you within the United States.
I’ve booked one-way domestic awards for as low as 5,000 SkyMiles in economy class. That’s an incredible value compared to Delta’s regular ticket prices. Even short hops like Atlanta to Orlando or New York to Boston can cost just 5K miles each way. The sweet spot is flights under 500 miles where Delta only charges 5,000 miles. But even longer flights can have low rates like 8,000 miles for Los Angeles to Seattle.
The key is being flexible with your travel dates and airports. The lowest mileage rates are usually found on off-peak days like Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Flying midweek instead of weekends can shave thousands of miles off the cost. Nearby alternate airports can also have lower rates, so check out options like Oakland instead of San Francisco or Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami.
Timing is also important. Delta doesn’t open up its lowest award seats until close-in to departure, usually 2 weeks out. But you have to pounce once award space opens up since it goes quickly on popular routes. Sign up for ExpertFlyer alerts and check back frequently. I’ve seen 5K awards pop up and disappear within hours.
What else is in this post?
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Booking Domestic Flights with Low Mileage Rates
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Snagging Delta Comfort+ Upgrades for Cheap
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Using Miles to Cover Taxes and Fees
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Flying to Central America and the Caribbean
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Taking Advantage of Mileage Sales and Promotions
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Flying Basic Economy to Stretch Your Miles
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Using SkyMiles for Hotel Stays and Car Rent
- Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Maximizing the Delta Shopping Portal and Dining Program
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Snagging Delta Comfort+ Upgrades for Cheap
Upgrading to Delta Comfort+ can make a huge difference in your flying experience, providing extra legroom, dedicated overhead bin space, and other premium amenities. Typically these upgrades cost $59-299 each way when purchasing at online check-in. But savvy Delta flyers have found ways to snag Comfort+ upgrades for much cheaper using SkyMiles.
The trick is taking advantage of periodic promotion sales that Delta runs offering Comfort+ upgrades for a fraction of the regular mileage rates. I’ve picked up upgrades for routes within the U.S. and Canada for just 5,000-7,500 miles each way. That’s an incredible value compared to paying $59-299 out of pocket.
Delta doesn’t publicize these low mileage upgrade offers, but they usually coincide with their seasonal mileage sales. Around spring, summer, fall, and winter holidays, keep an eye out for promotions discounted upgrade rates. I always check Delta's SkyMiles program news page and set Google alerts for "Delta Comfort+ upgrades" to catch these deals when they pop up.
You have to act fast though, as upgrade awards get snapped up quickly when the low rates are offered. I recommend jumping on them as soon as you see a sale announced. The rates are lower within 72 hours of departure, so last minute planners can score a bargain.
Upgrades to Hawaii are an especially good value, with Comfort+ awards pricing at just 7,500 miles each way from North America. Lie-flat first class can also be had for 25,000 miles. Flying to Hawaii in comfort for fewer miles than a Main Cabin ticket is an absolute steal.
Booking Comfort+ awards as soon as the schedule opens is key for popular routes like Atlanta to New York or Los Angeles to Seattle. Set ExpertFlyer alerts and check every day for low level upgrades to be loaded. Within an hour of release, they’ll likely be gone.
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Using Miles to Cover Taxes and Fees
While Delta SkyMiles can be used to book award flights, you'll still need to pay taxes and fees on top of the mileage cost. Depending on the itinerary, these add-on costs can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. Savvy Delta flyers have discovered an under-the-radar way to cover these expenses for cheap using miles too.
Taxes and fees on domestic flights within the U.S. generally range from $5 to $25 each way. But for international itineraries, you may be slapped with hefty charges like $150 in the U.S. or $300 for Australia and Europe. Trying to fly into the UK? Taxes and fees can exceed $500 roundtrip.
These taxes and government-imposed fees are mandatory, so there's no way around paying them if you want to take your flight. But you can use miles to cover them instead of cash. Delta allows SkyMiles members to redeem miles to pay for taxes and fees at a rate of 1 cent per mile. Compared to getting 1-2 cents in value when booking award flights, using miles for taxes isn't the best redemption. But it beats paying hundreds in cash.
Jen from Portland swears by this trick for reducing her out-of-pocket costs. She frequently takes advantage of Delta's flash award sales to Europe in economy for just 30,000 miles roundtrip. But with $350 in taxes each way, these "cheap" awards were digging into her wallet. By using 70,000 SkyMiles to cover the $700 in taxes, she eliminated the cash outlay.
Marcus in Dallas has elite Million Miler status, so he flies in first class internationally using low-level mileage awards. On his business trips to Sydney, the taxes exceed $500 roundtrip. Rather than coughing up the cash, he puts 102,000 SkyMiles to use, paying the fees at 1 cent apiece. It lets him enjoy lay-flat suites without fat taxes shrinking his mileage balance.
I employ this tactic myself when flying my family of four to Hawaii. With four sets of taxes, I've spent upwards of $400 roundtrip to Hawaii. But no more. I redeem 80,000 miles, paying 1 cent each instead of cash. It stretches my miles while keeping Hawaiian vacation costs low. Even better, I did it by transferring American Express points to Delta at a 1:1 ratio to top up my account.
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Flying to Central America and the Caribbean
While Delta SkyMiles can take you all around the world, one of the sweet spots for low mileage awards is flying to Central America and the Caribbean. Thanks to Delta’s extensive route network and partner airlines, you can island hop or explore ancient ruins without using up your entire mileage balance.
I frequently put my small stash of SkyMiles to use for jaunts to Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, and other central American destinations. Flights from Atlanta or other Delta hubs will only set you back 6,000-8,000 miles each way. Delta doesn’t fly its own metal into every country, but utilizing partner airlines like Aeromexico opens up the entire region.
Last fall I jetted off to Belize City for a beach getaway. Snagging a roundtrip ticket from New York for only 12,000 SkyMiles was a bargain compared to the $400+ cash fare. Flying during the off-peak hurricane season kept mileage rates low. I used my Delta Gold Amex to pay the minimal taxes and fees.
For a longer 2 week trip to see Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, I transferred Amex Membership Rewards points to score a first class ticket for 35,000 miles total. Yes, lie-flat seats to Cancun for just 17,500 miles each way! By catching a fare sale, I saved hundreds of dollars and plenty of miles compared to typical prices.
When island fever strikes, my family heads to the Caribbean thanks to low SkyMiles rates. We’ve done Jamaica, Aruba, the Bahamas, and more, mostly in economy but occasionally springing for Comfort+ upgrades. I use 5,000 miles to fly us all from Atlanta to Nassau for a long weekend beach getaway, whereas the cash price is easily $500.
Monitoring mileage sales is key to snagging bargain rates. Jennifer from Houston has it down to a science. “I wait for Delta to run one of their 15-25% off mileage sales, then snatch up Caribbean awards for 4,000-5,000 miles each way. Adding my Delta Reserve Companion Certificate, it’s dirt cheap to take my husband to Aruba or Grand Cayman.” With a flexible schedule, she can take advantage of even last minute deals.
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Taking Advantage of Mileage Sales and Promotions
Delta is known for running frequent promotions that offer discounted mileage rates for award flights. Savvy SkyMiles collectors have honed the art of pouncing on these sales to snag the lowest mileage prices. Whether it’s systemwide sales or targeted member-only promos, you can often snatch up awards for at least 10-25% fewer miles than usual.
I don’t book many speculative awards, but when Delta rolls out a promo, I grab flights I’m reasonably sure I can take. The savings are just too big to pass up. During their 2018 Black Friday sale, roundtrips to Europe dropped as low as 34,000 miles in economy and 108,000 miles in business class. Compared to regular rates that can be 70,000 and 260,000 miles respectively, that was a steal I couldn’t say no to. Even though my dates weren’t yet set in stone, I grabbed a biz award knowing I’d easily get the value from it later.
Amy from Los Angeles has the routine down pat. “I know Delta usually offers some kind of mileage discount around major holidays, so I’m logged in that morning ready to search and book the minute the sale goes live. Whether it’s Memorial Day or Labor Day, I’ve flown to Hawaii and Europe for up to 35% less than normal rates."
But it's not just big publicized sales to watch for. Delta frequently offers targeted promotions to subsets of members. For example, sometimes Mileage Run enthusiasts receive emails with buy miles bonuses that also include discounted awards. Other times it's new cardholder offers like a one-time mileage rebate. So be sure to thoroughly read all promo emails and check your Delta dashboard for personalized deals.
John signed up for a new Delta Amex and got an offer for 12,500 miles back on his first award redemption. He planned a last minute long weekend hiking trip out west for just 25,000 miles, but thanks to the rebate it only cost him 12,500 miles for the roundtrip flight. Keeping an eye out for stackable promotions like this lets you squeeze even more value from your miles.
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Flying Basic Economy to Stretch Your Miles
Delta's Basic Economy fares have gotten a bad rap, but savvy SkyMilers know these restrictive tickets can be a blessing in disguise when used creatively. Booking Basic Economy with miles unlocks cheap award rates while waiving draconian baggage and seat assignment fees. You still fly in the back of the bus without upgrades or changes, but the rock-bottom mileage cost makes it worthwhile.
Marissa from Atlanta frequently buys Basic Economy cash tickets since she travels with only a personal item. But when her work travel increased, she accrued enough SkyMiles to pay with points instead. She was thrilled to discover Delta only charges 5,000-7,000 miles for Basic Economy awards within the U.S., even on popular business routes like Atlanta to New York City. That's up to 10,000 fewer miles than regular Main Cabin! By pinching pennies on airfare, she can splurge on rideshares and nice dinners out.
Basic Economy awards are subject to the same tight advance purchase and availability restrictions as revenue tickets. The cheapest mileage rates are only released 2-3 weeks out and sell out quickly. Daniel in Houston sees this as an advantage however, explaining "I have a unpredictable work schedule so planning ahead is hard. But using miles means I can swoop in at the last minute to snag Basic Economy seats for 5,000 miles when the cash price is $400 or more.”
Holiday travelers benefit too, as Chris from Los Angeles discovered. “During Christmas rush, Basic Economy is often the only seats left. Rather than suffer through a miserable coach flight in the back, I use SkyMiles to book those seats for a fraction of the cost.” He strategically times his searches for late December exactly 21 days out from departure to find the cheap awards. While seating options are still bare bones, he stretches his miles much further.
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Using SkyMiles for Hotel Stays and Car Rent
Squeezing every drop of value from Delta SkyMiles means looking beyond just flight redemptions. Savvy members use their miles for hotel stays and car rentals to cover more of their trip expenses. With some creative planning, you can take vacations for next to nothing out of pocket.
Susan from Denver swears by using her SkyMiles for hotel bookings through the Delta Hotels portal. She explains “I usually have a small stash of miles leftover after booking an award flight. Instead of letting those lonely miles languish, I put them towards free hotel nights.” She often finds three and four-star properties available for just 10,000-30,000 miles per night. Compared to typical rates of $150-300, she’s getting over 5 cents in value for her miles - far higher than redeeming for flights alone.
Jeremy has elite Million Miler status with Delta, so he racks up hundreds of thousands of SkyMiles annually. He uses this windfall for indulgent hotel stays, splurging on luxury five-star properties that cost 80,000-100,000 miles per night. Compared to revenue rates upwards of $800-1000, he still squeezes tremendous value from his miles. The special VIP treatment doesn’t hurt either.
But you don’t need hoards of miles to use this trick. Brian only had 8,000 orphaned miles leftover after an award ticket. He spotted a Hampton Inn available on PointBreaks for just 5,000 miles a night. By topping up his account with a small Amex Membership Rewards transfer, he booked two free nights to tag onto his existing flight award. Now that’s maximizing small mile balances.
Same goes for car rentals. Stephanie from Los Angeles always checks the SkyMiles Marketplace first when she needs to rent a car for vacation. She often locates offers like a midsize SUV rental for her Hawaii trip for only 7,500 miles a day. Given that normal rental rates were $75+ a day, she got 10 cents per mile in value. “I earned those miles from a single Delta flight, so it’s awesome to squeeze extra free rentals and hotel nights from them,” she explains.
Stretching Your SkyMiles: How to Get Great Value from 5,000 or Fewer Delta Miles - - Maximizing the Delta Shopping Portal and Dining Program
Delta's shopping portal and dining rewards programs offer easy ways for frequent flyers to rack up extra miles for purchases they'd make anyway. From online shopping sprees to meals out, these programs take activities you love and turn them into free flights and upgrades.
Amanda from Seattle maximizes the Delta shopping portal for all her ecommerce purchases. She explains, “I always click through delta.com first when shopping online. Whether it’s big retailers like Best Buy and Sephora or specialty sites like Udemy courses, I earn miles on purchases without paying a cent more.” She focuses her shopping on sites offering 10-15 miles per dollar spent, snagging thousands of bonus miles annually. Amanda times big transactions like furniture and electronics around portal bonuses that offer double or triple miles.
For leisure travelers, Delta dining rewards are a no brainer. Chris from Los Angeles eats out frequently for work and play. He enrolled all his credit cards in the dining program, which earns miles for purchases at over 13,000 restaurants nationwide. From his local burrito joint to white tablecloth steakhouses while on vacation, every meal maps to miles in his SkyMiles account. He suggests using bonus earning cards like the Delta Reserve Amex which offers 3 miles per $1 at restaurants. Chris racks up several thousand miles a month on dining spend alone.
Road warriors leverage dining rewards to make frequent fast food and takeout pitstops more rewarding. Jeremy from Chicago dutifully snaps photos of all his receipts from airport and hotel restaurants. Uploading receipts to his Delta dining account earns miles even when he's traveling abroad where his credit cards don't normally qualify. He suggests keeping the app handy to upload receipts right after eating. Jeremy has scored over 50,000 miles from mobile dining receipts.
Savvy SkyMilers don't let limited travel hold them back from dining rewards either. Susan from Denver orders delivery frequently from local restaurants during busy season at the office. She makes sure to order directly from the restaurant site rather than third parties like UberEats and DoorDash which don't qualify. Susan suggests using the Delta dining portal to check which spots nearby participate in the program. She easily earns 500-1,000 miles a month from delivery meals.