Overview of the Delta SkyMiles Program

by James Andrew Scott on April 29, 2012

in Delta, SkyMiles

Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Frequent Flyer / Loyalty Program

Delta SkyMiles Frequent Flyer Program Logo

Membership in Delta’s SkyMiles program is free.  Delta Air Lines is part of the SkyTeam alliance which allows Delta SkyMiles members to earn and redeem miles on Air France, KLM, AeroMexico, Korean Air, Alitalia, and several other airlines.

Delta SkyMiles Basics

Status Levels. Delta has four elite (called Medallion) status levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond.

Earning Status. Delta Air Lines allows SkyMiles members to earn elite status based on miles or segments flown and dollars spent (beginning in 2014) as follows:

  • Silver: 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments plus $2,500 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs).
  • Gold: 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs plus $5,000 MQDs.
  • Platinum: 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs plus $7,500 MQDs.
  • Diamond: 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs plus $12,500 MQDs.

The Medallion Qualification Dollars requirement will begin on January 1, 2014 in order to earn status through 2015.  Customers with a U.S. Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express will have the new MQDs requirement waived each year they make $25,000 in eligible purchases using their card.

You can also earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) by reaching various purchase thresholds with the Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express Card and the Delta Reserve American Express.  In fact, with both of these cards you can earn Silver status without even stepping on a plane.

Advantages:

  • Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) Rollover.  MQMs earned above your Medallion qualification level at the end of the year automatically roll over to your MQM balance for status qualification the following year.  This is a nice perk that makes it easier to keep your status; if you fly more than usual one year, the ability to roll-over MQMs above the qualification threshold can provide a nice “insurance” margin for the next year.
  • Free Delta Sky Club membership for Diamond members; Delta and US Airways are the only domestic carriers to offer free access to its clubs for its highest level elites.
  • Miles do not expire.
  • No blackout dates on award travel, but hard to redeem at Low miles level.
  • No last minute award booking fee (unlike American, United, and US Airways).

Disadvantages:

  • Booking award tickets can be difficult, particularly for “Low” awards.  Delta ranked dead last in a recent study comparing award seat availability on major airlines. Of the long and short-haul flights surveyed, only 27% of Delta flights had “Low” award seats available. By comparison, basic award seats (25,000 miles round-trip) were available on 87% of United flights and 100% of Southwest flights.
  • Because low-tier awards can be so difficult to book, Delta has essentially devalued the value of miles in the program.  On average, it simply takes more miles to book  award tickets.  Because of this, Delta miles are generally perceived as less valuable than United or American miles.
  • Delta’s online awards booking engine is buggy. Often seemingly available Low miles awards disappear when you actually select the Low Award.  See this Youtube video making light of this.

delta ailines SkyMiles frequent Flyer Program

Delta SkyMiles Program Details

Elite Status Benefits (apply to all Medallion status levels, except where specified otherwise):

  • First and second bag checked free within the U.S. and Canada (except only 1 free for Silver).  More bags free for other destinations.
  • Priority boarding (higher priority with higher status level).
  • Designated check-in at BusinessElite®/Business Class or First Class check-in at most airports where available.
  • Special security checkpoints (except Silver).
  • Free Economy Comfort seats for Diamond and Platinum members and those traveling on Y, B, and M fares at booking, if available.  Discounted Economy Comfort seats for Gold (50% off) and Silver (25% off).  Economy Comfort seats have 4 more inches of legroom and 50% more recline (on international flights).  Read a review of Economy Comfort seats here.
  • Discounted Sky Club membership (free club membership for Diamond).
  • Choice Benefits for Platinum and Diamond only.  Upon qualification for Platinum status, members may choose 1 item from the following list of benefits; Diamond members may choose 2:

Mileage Bonuses. Based on your status, your will earn bonus miles as follows:

Upgrades. Delta offers unlimited complimentary upgrades within North America (and Canada, Bermuda, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico) subject to availability.

Upgrade window. Upgrades are subject to availability.  The upgrade request is automatic.  Upgrades are automatically processed based on the upgrade (or “clearance”) window, availability, Fare class, and time of request (in that order).  The upgrade window is as follows:

  • Diamond:                                  5 days prior to departure.
  • Platinum:                                  5 days prior.
  • Gold:                                           3 days prior.
  • Silver                                          1 day prior.

Members are notified of upgrades by email. If your upgrade is still not confirmed when you check in, your pending upgrade request will be automatically added to the airport standby list.  You are eligible for a free upgrade when traveling on an award ticket.

Companion Upgrades:  Companions are eligible for complimentary upgrades.  The companion must be a SkyMiles member and traveling on the same flight as the member. Companions are cleared no sooner than 24 hours in advance of departure.  Medallion members and their companions must be booked in a revenue class of service: Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, or T.  No companion upgrades on award tickets or “Pay with Miles” tickets.

System-wide Upgrades (for Platinum and Diamond only):  Diamond and Platinum members must choose this option as part of the Choice Benefits options.

Same Day Changes:  Delta allows same-day changes for a $50 fee.  There is no fee for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members if the changed flight is within 3 hours before or after the originally scheduled departure time.

Other Changes: a $200 fee applies plus any difference in fare within the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  A fee of up to $250 will apply to changes made to flights outside the U.S.

Awards: Miles can be redeemed for award travel at Low, Medium, and High levels (which will vary based on flight time, demand, availability, etc.)

  • One-way awards are permitted, but they cost the same amount as a round-trip, so really not worth ticketing.
  • You can have a stop-over and an open-jaw in an award ticket.

When searching Delta.com, always use the “View Award Calendar” option (left hand side) to try to find days on which the low miles award options are available.  When you find the Low or Mid-Tier dates, search with those dates, but when your results are returned, then ”Sort by Miles Per Passenger” (upper right) to find the low miles awards that day.  Delta often returns the higher miles awards first.  See screen shot below.

  • U.S.-49 award chart (based on one-way):
Delta Airlines mileage chart for award miles redemptions

 SkyTeam Awards

  • SkyTeam Airline Partners list.
  • You can search for partner award flights using Delta.com here.

Share your thoughts or reviews on the Delta SkyMiles program with our readers below.

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