Rookie Wednesday: Is pay with miles ever “a good deal” on Delta?

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RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.


First off I value my Skymiles at 2-4 cents each. Why this value? Because the main reasons I fly is to go see my family in Sweden; plus, when I go I want to go in business class. But, I cannot afford business class tickets so I need points to travel the way I want. Please know I am not trying to start a argument about just what any point is worth in real market value converted to cash etc. as the value of a point is very subjective from person to person. But, to some extent, this does come into play when talking about using your points directly as cash to buy a Delta ticket.

Let’s start with some background on what the Pay with miles program is. You must have a Delta GOLD or Platinum or Reserve card to be able to Pay with miles. You are going to get 1 cent value per mile, that is it, and you WILL NOT earn any Skymiles for a trip where you use even ONE single Skymile to pay for a ticket! If you are Gold Medallion (GM) or higher you are still eligible for medallion upgrades. However, if you are on a ticket with anyone who is NOT GM+ you will not be upgrade eligible (you could split PNR – i.e. the booking – but that can have negative consequences so understand this before you do this). There are other restrictions and here are the basics from

There is no fee for using your Pay with Miles benefit. Pay with Miles redemption are flexible based on the price of the ticket.

For fares less than $100: Redeem 25,000 miles to cover the total fare. For fares equal to or greater than $100 and less than $250: Redeem 10,000 miles for $100 off the total fare or Increase the redemption to 25,000 miles and increase from that point in increments of 5,000 miles ($50 off) to cover the total fare. For fares equal to or greater than $250 and total fares less than $1,000: Redeem 10,000 miles for $100 off the total fare or Increase the redemption in increments of 5,000 miles ($50 off) to cover all or part of the total fare (15,000 miles for $150 off, 20,000 miles for $200 off, etc.)

For total fares equal to or greater than $1,000: Redeem 10,000 miles for $100 off the total fare or
Increase the redemption in increments of 10,000 miles ($100 off) to cover all or part of the total fare (20,000 miles for $200 off, 30,000 miles for $300 off, etc.). If you choose to pay for a fare with both miles and a credit card, you must use an eligible American Express Credit Card.

So just when would this be a good idea? I have used pay with miles a few times, but not for myself. As you all know I work hard to always find low level Delta seats for Lisa & me. However, there are times when I spring for a ticket for a friend to fly out and say come skiing with us from another city. Once I find the perfect Skymiles tickets for us, I then start working on seats for my friend. Finding low level seats so that they will end up at the same HUB as us so that the last flight we are all together is often VERY hard to do (well most times we are in 1st and my friend is in coach, but at least we’re on the same plane). But why not just book a Skymiles ticket in this case too? Look at some math.

As I search for seats I may only find Mid or High level seats (or a mix of low and high) when I check to see what buying a ticket on the same flights will cost. Check this out: if a ticket is less that $325.00, then spending 32,500 points would cost MORE than paying with miles. So, say it costs $250.00 for the ticket, then, in effect, you ARE getting the seat for 25,000 miles with pay with miles compared to using the points for the higher award ticket! Have you ever thought about getting “low level” seats by buying the ticket with points. This can work for you so always check the real price to buy! You may say I value my points more than that – OK – but then why would you book a 25,000 point ticket ever? (There are some who will argue that since Skymiles are worth much more it would be better to spend cash and save the points for another ticket – but that is an argument for another post – clear?).

Are there times, with the illustration above, this is a bad idea? Sure. Say you can only find 40,000 point seats. To pay with points is $300.00. This is clearly less, right. But, if you are PM+, it may be better to grab the higher point ticket and hope that a 25,000 low level shows up that you can change to. For me, spending the extra 5000 points to just grab the ticket would be well worth the pay with points.

Also, it may be worth checking for business class seats. 45,000 low level business class seat would be a much better choice than say a $400 coach class pay with miles seat to me or even a 40,000 point coach class Skymiles seat. So always check both the coach and business class option.

Another reason would be if you were trying to get a ticket and were a few points short of an award. Let’s say you only have 10,000 Skymiles; this way you could at least get $100 off the ticket you are going to buy. Again, to me, not a great value, but it is a way to use some points that you could not use otherwise.

If all this is making your head spin a bit, good, it should. When it comes to flying and points we must get it. There is great value if we are willing to work. Willing to be travel enthusiasts. While there is no free lunch, there are great deals for those who “clip coupons” as my friend Jen would say! – René

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  1. Thanks for the post. My biggest complaint about the “Pay with Miles” benefit is that you don’t earn ANY Skymiles for the trip, even if you only use the miles to pay for part of the ticket. I like the feature, but you definitely have to do your homework when considering various flight options.

  2. I have a Delta Amex already. I also have a flight credit from an cancelled flight. Can I combine the credit with pay with miles (for example, use 25,000 miles + $45 credit to pay for $300 ticket).

  3. @TravelBug – no just like with the buy one get on free certs – these are the only perk you can use at a time:
    Not combinable with certificates, eCredits, vouchers, or with any other discounts. Tickets purchased with full or partial Pay with Miles redemptions are not eligible for mileage accrual, mileage upgrades, Platinum Systemwide Upgrade Certificates.

  4. I did this just yesterday. I was trying to fly my mom out to Denver from Minneapolis on a nonstop so I could meet her there to go skiing. The ticket was $210, but award for the same ticket was 32,500. I went back and forth about it a lot knowing it wasn’t the best way to spend miles, but in the end it was $200 not out of my own pocket.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. There is another aspect. I have gotten tickets for family members — they would be upset (or even insulted) if I offered to buy a ticket with cash, but are perfectly happy to take a “free” ticket from me (and don’t get me wrong, I am happy to give it). With it being hard to find low availability on some routes, many of these tickets have been “Pay With Miles” — I’m not earning SkyMiles either way, so I’m just interested in using the least amount of miles to get them where they need to be.

  6. I just used Pay with Miles to book a trip overseas. Tight week – spring break, and the lowest mileage award was 65,000. The ticket was $500, so using 50,000 miles was worth it to me. I don’t fly enough to be in the RDM or MQM game, and although I don’t like NOT earning miles for this flight, it was worth not spending the cash.

  7. Two weeks ago I got the first 25k skymiles ticket I’ve scored in 3 years Detroit to Santa Ana, Cash the ticket would have been $600. I’m in CA now on this score.

  8. Great post, Rene! Pay with Miles is an excellent addition to the SkyMiles toolkit and provides more options that offsets mid to high award redemption. Also, it gives Delta card holders the option to start thinking in terms of $0.01/mile value structure, so we’d be ahead of the game if they ever went “all in”.
    One additional point to add, I think pay with Points is only available on Delta and Delta Connection aircraft, and not so much on partners (like Alaska Airlines).
    In many cases Pay with Miles can be a much better award redemption that the standard award chart, especially for the Delta faithful that do not have status (or Silver Medallion only). More options are always better, and I’d rather use fewer miles via this program for my wife to fly free (who doesn’t care about the airline game) than using them for a standard award.
    Thanks again for a great post.

  9. While I can’t say I’d -never- use pay-with-miles, I’ve never found a case where it was beneficial to me. I just bought a last minute (7 days out) $1147 flight as a low level reward ticket for 25k points. Pay with miles would have been over 100k. 4.5 cents per point is lovely!

  10. I used Pay With Miles to take $100 off of a DTW-BNA ticket for my fiancée just before Christmas, from a ticket worth $138. She was nowhere near any Medallion threshold, so I figured missing out on the 1000 miles and MQM wouldn’t bother her too much.
    I, on the other hand was able to use an eCredit voucher, so with that covering most of my trip I] earned enough miles and MQM to put myself into Silver Medallion status for the first time. 🙂

  11. Can i use pay with miles on delta internatioal flights ? say ATL-DXB. Will apply for AMEX if tht is allowed.Have around 40K miles sitting.

  12. Just FYI – you can earn skymiles if you purchase a First/Business class fare.

  13. Hi Rene, just want to confirm that you can use pay with miles to buy a ticket for someone else, even the yourself (the cardholder) was not included in the reservation? TIA!

  14. @Andy – sure. I have done this many times for friends. This is especially nice if you say have award tickets and want to get them on the same flights as you even meeting at a city along the way.

  15. I was fortunate enough to purchase a r/r first class ticket from SEA-LAX when they were doing a double miles promotion. Not only did I not spend any money out of pocket (I didn’t have extra funds available at the time), but I still reaped the double miles rewards (including MQMs)!!

  16. I have only used the “pay with miles” to use my miles. Can you explain how to search for the reward tickets that get 2-4 cents per mile? Also, do these earn MQMs when flying them?

  17. I can’t find any flights from MSP to CDG that give me the option of “pay with miles”. I’m either missing the spot on the website or the flights aren’t available. Any suggestions?

  18. I have 220,000 miles and I’m trying book a family vacation to Europe.

    Pay with Miles gives me a total cost of $4300, $500 off each ticket, whereas, I can get two free tickets with purchasing another 40,000 miles or so (130,000 miles per ticket) and pay $3500 for the other two. Which would be a better deal, and can I combine the two bookings into a single ticket

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