Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Delta

Best Uses of Delta Miles – the U.S. West

Delta SkyMiles have lately been derided as one of the poorer currencies to collect. They’ve even been given the moniker “SkyPesos” in reference to their lack of value in comparison to other currencies. Finding the best uses of Delta miles can be a bit tough.

At least if your MO is using miles for international premium cabin redemptions. There really aren’t many great sweet spots on the Delta award “chart” for these. Most awards require 10,000-30,000 miles more than other currencies, and you really can’t fly across an ocean for less than 70,000 miles one-way. And Delta often tacks on fuel surcharges.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Delta doesn’t even publish an award chart (but try this one). You just need to know what the lowest level prices are. But there is one use for which I find Delta miles to be a great currency.

Delta shines domestically

Compared to other U.S. carriers, Delta is one best programs for redeeming miles on domestic flights. The only one I may consider better is Southwest, and possibly Alaska. It depends where you live.

Most Delta awards cost the same as awards with any of the other big airlines: 12,500 miles one-way. But there are many awards over shorter distances that Delta prices at substantially lower rates. Unlike United or American, these aren’t stratified by distance (although longer routes will often be more). They are just an artifact of the arcane way Delta prices awards.

The floor for Delta awards appears to be 5,500 miles one-way, which is an amazing deal. There are several routes that price at this level, and many more where the price is not much more, often 8,000 miles.

best uses of Delta miles

Last time we were at PDX, we were flying Delta

Best uses of Delta miles in the U.S. West

I’ve found that the best “territory” for finding these lower-level awards is on the West Coast of the U.S. Here are a bunch of one-way options and their associated prices:

  • Sacramento, CA to Victoria, BC for 5,500 miles
  • Denver, CO to Tucson, AZ for 5,500 miles
  • San Jose, CA to Cedar City, UT for 5,500 miles
  • Fresno, CA to Colorado Springs, CO for 5,500 miles
  • Salt Lake City, UT to Reno, NV for 5,500 miles
  • San Francisco, CA to Kalispell, MT for 8,000 miles
  • Las Vegas, NV to Casper, WY for 8,000 miles
  • Medford to Idaho Falls for 8,000 miles
  • Reno to Bozeman for 8,000 miles
  • Albuquerque to Billings for 11,000 miles

And many more. Search at delta.com for routes your interested in flying.

Will prices remain at these levels?

Probably not forever, but hopefully for a while. I’ve already noticed a small increase in prices since the last time I ran a bunch of searches several months ago. The floor used to be 5,000 miles, and the next “tier” was apparently 7,000 miles. Now the floor seems to be 5,500/6,000 miles, with the second tier at 8,000 miles.

As long as Delta doesn’t devalue these awards much, they will definitely outcompete most other carriers when it comes to domestic awards (except for Alaska short-haul – SEE: West Coast Magic with Alaska Miles: A Primer).


While there may be other decent uses, I’ll still posit that one of the best uses of Delta miles is flying short-haul in the western United States. When you can fly a family of 5 round-trip for 55,000 miles, that’s value.

Today is the very last day to get a Delta American Express card with an increased bonus. The Gold card is offering 60,000 miles after $4,000 in purchases, and the Platinum card is offering 70,000 miles (annual fee of $195). Consider applying for one if it makes sense to you. These are the highest bonuses that we’ve seen on these cards.


Delta Portland To Amsterdam In Economy: A Review

As part of a trip to Europe this summer, I made my first Delta SkyMiles redemption ever for two one-way tickets from San Francisco, California to Nice, France. The trip was a three leg journey, with stops in Portland and Amsterdam. Because it was my first Delta flight in four years, and the first long-haul international flight I have taken in quite a while, I figured I should write a review.

First off, this flight is a really odd routing. When I booked the tickets back in March, I was quite surprised that a Portland-Amsterdam Delta route exists. My understanding was that Delta has West Coast hubs in Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles (to an extent), but not Portland. For a saver award to Europe, I completely expected the booking engine to route us through one of Delta’s eastern hubs, such as Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Atlanta, or JFK.

Amazingly, the Portland routing wound up as the only saver level option over the dates I wanted! It was a three-leg flight, but it honestly didn’t seem that bad. At least on paper. We would have a short hop from SFO to Portland, then the long leg to Amsterdam on Delta flight 178. A final hop of a couple more hours on a KLM flight would take us to Nice. The tickets cost 30,000 Delta SkyMiles and $19.60 each. Flights were pricing out at over a grand for a round trip, so this was a great deal, in my opinion.

We arrived at the Portland airport via an Alaska flight from San Francisco, leaving us a few hours to kill. Our flight was Delta 178, departing at 1:30. The gate was easy to find, and we ate lunch and talked while we waited. We were early, and the gate was at the very end of the terminal, so it was nice and quiet.

delta pdx_ams pdx

Portland International Airport, Concourse D.

As an aside, I really liked this part of the Portland airport. My wife and I traveled through PDX Concourse C a few months earlier, home to Alaska and Southwest flights, and it was packed! Concourse D was a nice change.

While we waited, I pulled out our tickets to look them over yet again. Due to some complication with Alaska’s online check-in system, we had been given a terrible seating assignment. My wife and I were placed in seats across the cabin from each other, completely separated by the middle section of the Airbus 330. Not exactly what we wanted for a 10 hour flight.

Luckily, this was easily fixed by checking in online again, this time through Delta’s website, and I moved our seats to 17D and 17F. They were middle seats in a center row of 4, but it was the only option I was being given to sit together. Per the seat map, the flight looked extremely full.

When the gate agents arrived, I kindly asked if there were any pairs of open window seats available. After a moment of searching, she said yes, but for a fee. Figuring these were Delta Comfort+, I turned the offer down. We had seats together, and that is what really mattered to us. We could manage in the middle for the 10 hours.

delta pdx_amx onboard

Somehow we were boarding group 2, even though I canceled my Gold Delta SkyMiles Amex.

We boarded about 15 minutes late, and Kels and I settled into our seats. I expected people to sit on either side of us per the slim pickings, but the doors closed, and no one had. Looking around me, I saw far more open seats than I had expected. Researching online later, I realized that Delta offers ‘preferred seats’ to its elites and higher fare classes. This annoyed me. I thought economy was economy, at least on the legacy carriers. I understand if Frontier tried to charge me more for a bulkhead seat. The ‘preferred’ seats weren’t even Comfort+ with extra legroom! The fact that roughly half of the economy seats were designated ‘preferred’ meant a saver award simply cannot get you any two seat window/aisle combo. Arg.

The plane took off just a few minutes late. We had a good amount of time to make our Amsterdam connection, so I wasn’t worried at all. Each seat a blanket, a tiny pillows, ear buds, and a ‘sleep kit’. Very thoughtful, but we didn’t end up sleeping much.

Each seat also had a seat-back entertainment system. We first watched a movie together on my wife’s iPad, but later used the entertainment systems to each watch one separately. The movie selection was decent. When not using the system for a movie, we would keep the map on.

delta pdx_ams flight_map

During the middle of the flight, each of us tried to lay down for a while. Sleep was pretty futile. There were a couple center rows that people had entirely to themselves, and they were able to lay down completely. At first I envied them, but I quickly realized that even without having to prop my feet on my wife’s lap, I still was unlikely to really fall asleep.

The main meal service was actually better than I expected. It consisted of a chicken and rice dish, a salad, a roll, and a small, dense dessert cake. It was typical packaged airplane food, but honestly not that bad. I would show you a picture, if I had not forgotten to take one.

At some point the crew dimmed the lights. It was before I was really that tired, but I am guessing it was to help ease the transition to Amsterdam time. After our first movie, I was still doing pretty well, and I decided to watch Jurassic Park on the in-flight entertainment system. From there it was downhill. Since the row was only occupied by the two of us, we took turns trying to get a little sleep. Neither of us really succeeded beyond a short nap.

The lights came back on and breakfast was served as we neared Europe. Breakfast was on the light side for me, consisting of yogurt, a croissant, jelly, Tillamook cheese, orange juice, and mentos. There was also a fresh nap, which didn’t taste very good. Alright, I didn’t eat it.

delta pdx_ams breakfast

Breakfast aboard Delta flight 178.

As we descended over the Netherlands, I really, REALLY wished I had a window seat. The countryside looked magnificent, and I took in as much as I could from my seat in the center section. I always love landing…nearly as much as take off!

delta pdx_ams AMS

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

We touched down in Amsterdam right on schedule, leaving us plenty of time to find our way to the gate for our fight to Nice, France. In our sleep-deprived stupor, we needed all the time we could get. We were starting a new day with maybe an hour of sleep, and it would be a long one.

Now you are probably thinking, “this isn’t much of a review.” Which is fine. It’s basically just a confirmation that international economy flights are long and exhausting, but at least you know that Delta will feed you acceptable food, give you something to watch for ten hours, and provide you with thin blankets and tiny pillows to trick you into thinking that you will sleep. Don’t be fooled, you probably won’t.