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SkyMiles 101: Earning the Obvious Way – Flying!

Welcome to the second post in my SkyMiles 101 series! Today, I’m going to walk you through the most logical way of earning SkyMiles – by flying on Delta and their partners.

In this post:

The Basics: How Miles Are Earned (compared to the past)

Talking with my friends and family, I have noticed some confusion about how miles are earned when flying. Some of this stems from the history of how frequent flyer points used to be earned.

photo of cabin in 1960s
Ah the good old days, well, maybe not this old!

In the ‘good old days,’ how far you flew determined your mileage earnings. I actually remember this from when I was in college flying United. A flight from Boston back to my home in California was 2,611 miles long, and I would earn 2,611 frequent flyer miles. Bonuses were awarded for first class fares, but the formula was all centered on ‘butt in seat miles’ or distance flown.

A few years ago, airlines started to change their formula for awarding miles. Instead of being based on distance, miles would now be earned based on a multiplier applied to the cost of the ticket. This was good for only a very few flyers who bought expensive tickets, and for the rest of us we saw a reduction in earnings. Assuming that Boston to LA flight cost $300, instead of netting 2,611 miles, I would only gain as little as 1,500 miles.

It’s an unfortunate change in policy, but such is life. It’s not all doom and gloom either, as there are a few exceptions to the ticket cost rule to be aware of. But first, let’s explore earnings on Delta:

Earning With Delta

Delta has a simple formula for what you will earn on a Delta purchased and operated flight. Simply multiply the cost of the ticket (minus government imposed taxes) by 5 to know how much your ticket will earn.

What are government imposed taxes and fees? Well, they are all the things that get added on to the base fare that are required by the government. This includes certain excise taxes, security fees, and customs fees.

My preferred way to calculate mileage is to simply look at it when booking the ticket. Delta give a great snapshot of earnings when you are on the purchase page, and it looks something like this:

Screenshot of SkyMiles earnings page from booking delta ticket.
This BOS-LAX round trip would earn me just under2,500 redeemable miles.

A couple of notes on the above. First, you’ll see that the ticket earn 5,222 Medallion Qualification Miles, or MQMs. MQMs are different to SkyMiles, and are what are used to earn Medallion status. I will write a full post on how status works later in this series, but for now know that MQMs are earned based on distance traveled, and SkyMiles are earned based on the cost of the ticket.

Earning More than 5x Miles on a Flight with Delta

5x miles is the base amount earned on Delta ticket, but you can earn as many as 11x miles per dollar spent! The way to increase your mileage earning is by achieving medallion status. With each level of status, the multiplier increases.

I will write a post soon about earning Medallion status, but for now, here are the earnings rates based on status:

  • General member: 5x miles per dollar
  • Silver Medallion: 7x miles per dollar
  • Gold Medallion : 8x miles per dollar
  • Platinum Medallion: 9x miles per dollar
  • Diamond Medallion: 11x miles per dollar

This is a notable benefit towards achieving status, and something to consider. I am a Platinum Medallion, so in the example above, I earn 2,457 miles on the $273 base fare (273 x 9). A general member would earn 1,365 miles on the same ticket!

Earning Flying Delta Partners

If you are downtrodden by the fact miles are earned based on spend, don’t lose hope. Delta still has an exception to this rule when flying their various airline partners.

Delta is part of the SkyTeam alliance, which means you can fly on several other airlines and still earn SkyMiles. Most notable of these airlines are the likes of KLM, Air France and Korean Air. In addition, Delta is partners with several non-alliance airlines such as WestJet and Virgin Atlantic.

Because Delta doesn’t know how much a ticket booked with one of these airlines costs when you purchase it, they award miles based on the good old fashioned ‘butt in seat’ method, albeit with some multipliers applied depending on the type of ticket. Note that for this to apply you must fly on a partner marketed and operated flight, which is typically booked via the partner’s website (e.g. KLM.com or VirginAtlantic.com). 

You can find a chart of earnings for all of Delta’s airline partners here.  Take KLM for example:

Looking at the ‘Base Miles’ column, you can see you would earn 25% of the distance flown on a deep discount economy ticket. If you’re lucky to be flying business class, not only would you earn a 100% of the distance flown, you’d also receive a 100% bonus! In addition, many of Delta’s partners award the Medallion bonuses you see when earning directly with Delta. Finding your ‘purchased fare class’ can be tricky when booking with partners, but you can typically call the airline before or after booking to ask what fare you have.

As you can see, booking and flying with Delta partners can sometimes be a lucrative option for raking in the miles!

Let me know what questions you have about earning miles the ‘obvious’ way! In my next post, we are going to look at some lesser known ways of earning miles, so stay tuned! Be sure to leave a comment below with any questions, and subscribe to my email newsletter for the latest updates. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram!