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Yes, You Can Earn Miles When Paying with Points! A Rookie Wednesday Post

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Rene's Points Rookie travel post.

“You don’t earn airline miles when you use points to pay for tickets!”

I hear this all the time.

It’s true that award redemptions won’t earn you miles. But paying with points is different — and can help you earn status and rack up redeemable miles.

Delta Air Lines first class seats.

More and more, airlines and credit cards are treating their loyalty programs’ points as currency. This permits members/cardholders to literally cash them in — and offset some or all of a trip’s cost.

Let’s check out a couple of examples.

Paying Through a Credit Card’s Travel Site

When you book travel through a credit card’s travel website (i.e. Amex Travel), that bank pays the airline for your fare.

Your ticket codes as a cash fare, even if you use points (e.g. American Express Membership Rewards points) to pay for some (or all) of a flight’s itinerary.

Here’s an example:

I booked my Chicago Seminars trip this year through Amex Travel. I redeemed Membership Rewards points at a rate of 1 point = 1 cent.

The itinerary’s first class ticket price was about 30% more than a coach fare. Because my Business Platinum Card from American Express gives a 35% points rebate on first class trips paid with Membership Rewards points, I treated myself to the cushy seats.

American Express Business Platinum 35% rebate example

Ultimately, the trip ended up costing just over 54,000 Membership Rewards points and a little bit of cash!

Here’s how my SkyMiles account credited after the trip:

Delta SkyMiles receipt reflecting Pay with Points airfare booked through American Express.

I earned 7,654 MQM, 5 MQS, and $824 MQD. Plus, I was awarded 7,416 redeemable SkyMiles (which I value at a minimum of $74.16 worth of travel). All for paying with points!

While this example uses American Express, the same practice holds for travel booked through Chase‘s Ultimate Rewards travel site, Capital One travel, etc.

Worth noting: Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can redeem their Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1.50 cents each through Chase. Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Preferred cardholders may redeem URs at a rate of 1.25 cents each when booking travel through Chase. Those are definitely great perks — especially for the Preferred cards, which are significantly cheaper than the Reserve, annual fee-wise.

Delta Pay with Miles (PWM)

Delta Air Lines allows cardholders of select co-branded American Express cards the option to Pay with Miles. Members may apply SkyMiles to offset some or all of an eligible itinerary’s cost.

Pay with Miles tickets earn MQMs (elite Medallion Qualifying Miles) and MQSs (elite Medallion Qualifying Segments). MQDs (elite Medallion Qualifying Dollars) and SkyMiles are earned only for any outstanding cash balance of the fare itself. (Read Rene’s post about PWM)

Eligible Delta Amex cards are:

The Delta Reserve Card from American ExpressDelta Reserve Card 

Delta Reserve Business Card from American Express.Delta Reserve Business Card 

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express.Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

Delta Gold American Express CardDelta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles Gold Business American Express Card 

Delta SkyMiles Blue American Express Card

In March 2019, I took a trip from LAX to Tokyo Haneda. The total fare (including taxes) was $524.83.

I applied 50,000 SkyMiles, which knocked $500 off the price. The remaining balance was $24.83 (which I paid with my Platinum Card from American Express.)

Delta Air Lines Pay with Miles receipt for mileage run from Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda.

SkyMiles-wise, I earned 10,976 MQM and 2 MQS. My base fare was only $170 thus my outstanding cash balance was for various taxes not eligible for MQD or redeemable SkyMiles; I didn’t lose sleep over it. 🙂

MQM earned on a Delta Air Lines Pay with Miles ticket for LAX to HND.

Not to mention, there was Global Upgrade Certificate inventory available. So my wife and I rode Delta One roundtrip (note: I earned points on the base fare class not the upgraded Delta One seats we flew).

Randee and Chris Carley seated in Delta One from LAX to Tokyo HND on an Airbus 330.

Not bad for $24.83.

Do be aware, though, that you probably don’t want to use SkyMiles miles to pay for your entire trip.

Delta redeems SkyMiles in multiples of 5,000 miles only. For example, Delta was more than happy to accept 55,000 SkyMiles to completely pay for my $524.80 ticket to Tokyo.

But 55,000 SkyMiles is worth at least $550.

So I was fine with applying 50,000 miles and spending $24.80 out of pocket.

Make sense?

What Isn’t “Paying” with Miles or Points

Here’s where people can get confused. They might book the wrong ticket or assume they’ll earn miles because they used points to pay for a trip.

Delta Miles + Cash

This is completely different from Pay with Miles and doesn’t earn you any MQMs, MQSs, MQDs, or SkyMiles. Miles + Cash is considered by Delta the same as a SkyMiles award so you don’t earn any points and you can not apply regional or global upgrade certs either. A friend of mine learned this one the hard way. He understandably thought he was paying with miles. Which he sort of was — not in the Pay with Miles fashion.

Award Tickets for Free Flights

Several years ago, my wife and I each redeemed 130,000 SkyMiles for roundtrip business class tickets to Amsterdam. (Gosh, I love Air France business class.) Those were award tickets (or the classic “free trip”). We didn’t earn any miles for that journey (but had a darn good time).

Say for example you convert Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus points for redemption through United. Just because those points originally came from Chase doesn’t mean they’ll earn you United miles.

Questions? Comments?

If something wasn’t clear or you have a data point, please let me know in the below Comments section!

— Chris

This blog 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. Are you an experienced traveler but know someone may benefit from this post? Please share it! 

Featured image: ©

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Tom Hoover Reply

    Hi Chris – I am booking CMH/TPA o round trip on Delta. I am offered upgrade for $210.00 or 21,000 miles. If I upgrade do I get first class MQM or mileage bonus to offset the miles burned? Thanks! Tom

    • @Tom – René jumping in here. As long as before OLCI you should earn biz class points (assuming you paid cash for the ticket or PWM for the ticket to start with).
      @Bruce – You will earn bonus MQMs and SkyMiles but not bonus MQDs. That is still based on the paid price of the ticket.

  2. Bruce Schobel Reply

    I have a one-way award ticket for a flight in April, MCO-LGA, in economy. It cost 8000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes. As a Diamond Medallion flyer, I was moved into Delta Comfort+ for free at the time of purchase.

    Now, when I bring up this itinerary on-line, I get an offer to upgrade to First for $119.00 or 11,100 miles. That’s a pretty good offer, before my question even arises. But here’s the question: If I accept the offer to upgrade for cash — $119.00 — then what do I earn in MQMs, MQDs and RDMs? I really have no idea. I know what the answers would be if I had purchased the ticket with cash and upgraded with miles. Those answers are well-known. But purchasing with miles and upgrading with cash is a bit of a mystery.

    Of course, I called Delta — twice — to ask this question and got inconsistent answers. One guy said that I would get MQDs for the upgrade cost but nothing else. I wasn’t sure that was correct so I called again and was told that I would get MQDs and RDMs based on the MQDs but no MQMs. That seems more reasonable, but I’m still not confident that it’s correct. Has anyone actually done this? What happened?


  3. Bruce Schobel Reply

    Hi Rene,

    I will earn just BONUS MQMs? So because the underlying ticket is an award, I get no MQMs on that, but paying for the upgrade gets me the MQMs associated with first class? That’s very interesting and seems fair.


  4. The Delta Blue card will be eligible for Pay With Miles starting end of January 2020, will it not?


    I printed this out so I can remember it for future reference. I ended up with 28 pages and most of it is garbage. Would you put this into a readable format that can be duped. That way the information is usable.

  6. Have been 1M and DM for several years and have Delta Reserve Card. I believe Delta is still a very good domestic airline, however the SM program has hit rock bottom. Virtually no GUC seats, no domestic upgrade opportunity – which is ok since domestic FC has become EC of year’s past. MQM pathway closed with 250K threshold for DRC. I have found a single SM substantive benefit which you discuss above : Pay with Miles which allows holders of DRC to use bonus miles plus cash to pay for ticket and receive MQM miles on flight including FC bonus. The problem is that MQM’s no longer lead to status that makes any difference. Problem with the program is that it’s easily confused with Miles plus Cash. Even Delta agents confuse these programs. Miles plus cash accrues to MQM or bonus miles of MQD. Am moving away from frequent flyer programs, too bad I really liked Delta and was willing to make a significant effort despite living in a non-Delta hub.

  7. Just a data point I found interesting – SkyMiles award flight DCA-LAX , main cabin, on 11/13/19. I paid $121 cash to upgrade to comfort+ a couple weeks prior. Expected no mileage accrual whatsoever. But low and behold, one day after arrival, my SkyMiles account showed “seat upgrade: mileage and MQD accrual: MQD:$121, base miles 605, bonus miles 363, total miles 968.” This was a nice surprise, and was just wondering if there was some policy change lately that caused this?

    • @Jason: Your $121 purchase for the upgraded seat counted as a cash purchase yielding redeemable SkyMiles (8x, so you must be Gold) and the 121 MQD.

  8. I noticed you said you paid with your Amex Platinum card, not a Delta Amex, so you don’t HAVE to pay with the Delta Amex in order to use “pay with miles,” just have to have it linked to your account? Did the remaining balance ($24.83) get reimbursed by Amex by any chance?

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