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Points, Miles & Credit Cards

How to Book Award Flights Through Delta SkyMiles

Matt Ortile

Matt Ortile

September 6, 2023

12 min read

Table of Contents

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

This guide has the information you need to book flights with points and miles through Delta SkyMiles, Delta’s airline loyalty program. 

What is Delta SkyMiles?

Delta SkyMiles is the frequent flyer program of Delta Airlines. You can use SkyMiles miles (or, well, just “SkyMiles”) to book award flights on Delta or on its partners—that includes other SkyTeam airlines like Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic.

To earn Delta SkyMiles, you can fly with Delta and/or SkyTeam airlines, then credit those flights to your SkyMiles account. Additionally, you can transfer credit card points from American Express to Delta SkyMiles at a one-to-one (1:1) ratio. That means 1,000 Amex points transferred to Delta become 1,000 SkyMiles.

How to book flights through Delta SkyMiles

Step 1: Go to the Delta website and log in with your Delta SkyMiles account number.

If you don’t have a Delta SkyMiles account, get one by clicking “Sign up” in the upper-right corner of the screen.

Step 2: Go to the flight search engine and tick the “Shop with Miles” box.

I also like to open up the “Advanced Search” option and search by class, e.g. Basic Economy, Main Cabin, Delta One/business class, etc. It gives you a bit more control over your results. 

Step 3: Enter your departure airport and your arrival airport, and pick your departure date.

Depending on your itinerary, you might have better luck finding award availability by searching for one-way flights and one seat at a time. 

Once you find available flights for your desired departure and return, you can then try booking the flights as a roundtrip—or even as a multi-city trip—on one reservation. (Write down flight numbers and other details as you come across available flights, then use that info to make your complete booking.) The same goes for the number of seats you need; when you search for multiple seats at once and go to check out, Delta will present you with the total cost in miles for all passengers.

When you search, I suggest ticking the box that says “My dates are flexible” because then you’ll be presented with an array of dates and booking options (and their costs), like so:

On that results page, you can also click on “Price Calendar” for a monthly view, as seen below:

From there, you can click on a day that looks good to you, then browse the options available on that day.

Step 4: Browse through the flight options.

In the Delta SkyMiles award search tool, you can filter by maximum price, number of stops, airlines, class of service, and more.

If you can’t find a flight routing you like, or if the points costs are too high, click the “Modify” button at the top. You might try a different date, or a different departure or arrival airport.

Pro-tip: Compare the points cost of a flight against the cash price (and even the miles-and-cash price) to determine how much value you’re getting out of your points.

With Delta SkyMiles, you also have the option to compare the cost of each ticket against the cash price by going to the “Show Price In” feature and clicking on “$ USD” (or whichever currency you’re using on the site). 

Additionally, Delta provides the option to book with a combination of SkyMiles and cash, but these generally will not maximize the value of your points.

In this example, a seat in the Main Cabin of Delta flight 520, from JFK to LAX, on August 17, costs 26,000 SkyMiles and $6 in fees. In cash, the price is $299.

If you click the “Miles + Cash” option, you’ll see that the price for that seat becomes 21,000 SkyMiles and $96 in fees.

To determine which booking would be a better value, you can calculate the cents per point (CPP)—the value of a point when I use it to book a flight instead of paying for the flight in cash—in each scenario. Take the full cash price of the ticket and subtract from it the amount you have to pay in fees for the award booking; then divide that difference by the number of miles you have to pay. That yields a decimal, which you multiply by 100 to get a cent value. 

Put more simply, here’s that math as a formula: 

Cost per point in cents = ((Cash price of the flight - the taxes and fees to be paid in cash for an award booking) / the cost in miles) x 100 

So for the original SkyMiles award, the math looks like this: 

((299 - 6) / 26,000) x 100 = 1.13

And for the Miles + Cash award: 

((299 - 96) / 21,000) x 100 = 0.97

In this example, you come out ahead with a value of about 1.1 cents per point for the regular SkyMiles award, compared to 0.97 cents per point for the Miles + Cash award. (The math shakes out similarly for premium cabin awards and for seats like Delta One.)

Step 5: Select the award flight you want to book. 

When you click on the available flight you want to book, you’ll be taken immediately to an Express Checkout page. Here, you can select your seat, review your baggage allowance, your cost totals, enter your passenger info and payment method, and more. 

Step 6: Finalize your booking.

Proceed with your booking as you normally would. Enter your passenger details and payment information, and complete your purchase. The points you selected to pay will be deducted from your account, and you’ll get a booking confirmation email in your inbox.

Why should I (or shouldn’t I) book award flights via Delta SkyMiles?

There are a handful of times where booking travel with Delta SkyMiles will represent a good value for your points and miles. For example, Going recently alerted Elite members to this flight deal bookable with points for travel in Delta economy class from the United States to Auckland, New Zealand, that cost 44,000 to 50,000 points, depending on date and departure city. Delta occasionally has these economy flash sales that are worth jumping on.

But more often than not, you’ll get better value out of your points by booking Delta flights with their airline partners like Air France-KLM.

For example, a one-way flight in economy on Delta from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow, booked through Delta SkyMiles could cost 66,000 miles and $6 in taxes and fees.

That same one-way flight—Delta 001 on March 12—booked through Flying Blue, Air France-KLM’s airline loyalty program, costs only 24,000 miles and about $10 in taxes and fees. That’s a third of the points cost.

Of course, all that doesn’t matter if you only have miles with one airline and not another. But in this example, both Air France-KLM and Delta miles can be transferred from American Express. So if you had 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards points ready to go, you could get a single one-way flight to London if you booked through Delta SkyMiles at the cost of 66,000 miles, or three one-way flights to London if you booked through Air-France KLM Flying Blue at the cost of 72,000 miles. 

As always, your mileage may vary in these situations. Both Flying Blue and Delta SkyMiles implement what’s called “dynamic award pricing,” which means that the cost in miles when booking award flights through both Air France-KLM and Delta varies from day to day, route to route.

Pro-tip: Maximize the value of your points by booking in business class and first class.

The savings could be even greater if you’re trying to book a flight in a premium cabin. Let’s say you wanted to travel from New York to London on an overnight flight, and wanted to sleep comfortably on the plane. You could get a one-way flight in Delta One from JFK to LHR, booked through Delta SkyMiles, and it will cost you 375,000 miles. 

But if you search for a flight on that same route for that same day via Flying Blue, you have many options to fly with Virgin Atlantic, a partner of both Delta and Air France-KLM. Booking any of these flights in the Upper Class cabin—that’s Virgin Atlantic’s business class—will cost you only 74,000 miles. You even have an option that has a similar departure time to the Delta flight above.

You do pay more in taxes and fees, but you can do the math and see how much more value you’ll get out of your points and miles by shopping around among the airlines and their loyalty programs. 

For what it’s worth, Amex points transfer directly to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club too. Booking the Virgin Atlantic flight above directly through Flying Club costs even fewer miles, but way more in fees.

It’s up to you to determine which way to book is better suited to the points and miles you have, your cash budget, your schedule, and your interest in each airline’s onboard offerings.

What else should I know about Delta SkyMiles?

If you’re keen on flying with with Delta, check out our guides to what it’s like when you’re one the plane:

Debating whether to book in business class or to splurge on first class? We’ll tell you the difference between business and first on most airlines in this guide.

Though finding award flights via airline loyalty programs can take some patience and practice, you’ll eventually get the hang of it. But if you want someone else to do the hard search work for you, we’ve got you covered. Sign up for an Elite membership today and we’ll alert you to the best deals on flights you can book with points and miles.

Going has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Going and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

Matt Ortile

Matt Ortile


Matt Ortile writes the Going With Points newsletter at Going. He is the author of the essay collection The Groom Will Keep His Name, a columnist at Condé Nast Traveler, and working on a novel about a flight attendant. He lives in Brooklyn.

Published September 6, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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