Get the Most Value from Delta's Pay With Miles Program

As a Delta American Express card holder I have the option to use some of my miles mixed with cash to pay for plane tickets. The basic idea is that if I spend 10,000 miles it will knock off $100 of the ticket price. I can go in increments of 5,000 miles for an additional $50 off up to the total cost of the ticket.

The downside is that if you use this program you cannot earn miles on any portion of the flight. I have a few strategies to reduce this downside as much as possible. It involves some work but most certainly worth it. Here are my tactics:

  • Book two one way tickets: Compare the cost of the round trip and 2 one-way tickets. If they are close enough book one of the legs using pay with miles and the other with cash. This way you earn half of the miles for the trip instead of 0.
  • Compare to award ticket costs. If the lowest level award is available you should compare to buying the ticket. At the rate of 10,000 miles = $100 you have easy math. If the flight is $800 or you can use 25,000 miles to redeem an award ticket you take the award flight. If the flight is $300 and the award ticket is 60,000 miles you pay for it using pay with miles (only costing you 30,000 for the same seat!).
  • Mix Pay with Miles and award flights. This can get complicated. I only use this if I am stuck with my dates and must go no matter what. If the cost is high you can book two one way's using a mix of award tickets and pay with miles. You have to check inventories and compare the total mileage costs. A good time to use this is for a serious illness or death and you must leave on short notice.
As of this writing Pay with Miles is only available to the Delta AmEx Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cardholders. They have announced plans to open this up to all Skymiles members which will make it useful for all of us! This is a great way to be frugal with your travels!