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Which Delta American Express Card Is The Best?

by on November 2, 2011 · 60 comments

in American Express, Credit Cards, Delta

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Update: Some of the offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Gold Delta SkyMilesPlatinum Delta SkyMilesDelta Reserve Credit Card.

If you don’t fly Delta, you can skip this post. However, if you are a Delta flyer, it may make sense for you to have one of the three premier co-branded American Express cards: the Gold, Platinum and Reserve cards. I do not recommend having these cards as your sole credit card, because only collecting one type of miles/points is not a smart strategy – you never want to put all of your eggs in one basket (especially not SkyMiles because they are among the least valuable miles). I personally recommend leveraging a transferable points program, like Chase Ultimate Rewards which gives you a ton of flexibility in terms of transfer partners to airlines, hotels and even Amtrak when it comes time to redeem – and it doesn’t hurt they are running a 40,000 point sign-up bonus for their Sapphire Preferred (personal) and 50,000 point bonus for the Ink Bold (business) cards.

So why would someone want an airline-branded credit card? It’s all about the perks. Transferable points cards are great, but they won’t get you free bags (well, except the Amex Platinum which refunds $200 a year in airline fees) or priority boarding. In general, airline co-branded credit cards can enhance your flying experience and save you time and/or money.

Three Options with Delta

1) Gold Skymiles card: Amex just today increased the sign-up bonus by 50% – you now get 30,000 miles when you spend $500 within the first three months (used to be 20,000). $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Pros: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta, free checked bag for up to 9 people on the same reservation, zone 2 priority boarding (meaning you can get on the plane before all of the overhead bin space is full – avoiding gate checked bags will save you time), 20% off in-flight food and entertainment and the ability to Pay With Miles (meaning you have the option of redeeming Skymiles for 1 cents towards airfare – a $300 Delta flight can be purchased for 30,000 points, whereas you might have needed 60,000 Skymiles to redeem for it as a normal award), a $99 coach companion ticket and the ability to buy discounted $25 SkyClub passes.
Cons: No elite mile benefit, Pay With Miles flights do not earn miles/elite status and Delta recently slashed value of its gift card program, which used to be a big benefit of having a co-branded card.
Verdict: This card is good for the casual traveler who flies Delta, but doesn’t have elite status. With the first checked bag costing $25, this benefit can pay for the annual fee if you check bags on 2 roundtrips a year or more.

2) Platinum Skymiles card: Not to be confused with the American Express Platinum card, this card is a nice mix of benefits without a huge annual fee. Receive 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first three months.
Pros: All Gold Card benefits, plus 10,000 MQMs when you reach $25,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year and an additional 10,000 MQMs with $50,000 in spend within the same calendar year. Also an annual companion ticket for coach domestic travel in the cheapest fare classes – this can easily save you a couple hundred dollars and the main ticket still earns miles/upgrades (the companion does not).
Cons: Companion tickets aren’t eligible for upgrades (and only the paid ticket gets miles), high spend requirements for the MQMs
Verdict: This card is for Medallions who value MQMs, but may already have Skyclub access through the Amex Platinum card or Diamond status. Also, the companion ticket is free vs. $99 with the Gold, so generally I think the Platinum card is a better bet if you can use the certificate.

3) Delta Reserve card: This card offers 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 SkyMiles after your first purchase.
Pros: Receive 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 10,000 bonus miles after making a first purchase on your new Card. 15,000 MQMs if you hit $30,000 within a calendar year and then an additional 15,000 when you hit $60,000, Delta SkyClub access with 2 guests, domestic first class companion ticket (this works for coach and discounted first class so it’s actually pretty valuable) and elevated upgrade status – you outrank someone at your same Medallion level and fare class if they don’t have the card.
Cons: $450 annual fee isn’t bad if you value the SkyClub access, but it’s hefty if you already have it as a Diamond Medallion or Amex Platinum cardholder.
Verdict: A good fit for the Silver-Platinum flyer who values SkyClub access and needs the MQMs to retain status. Or for Diamond Medallions who value the MQMs and the companion certificate.

Overall, whether you love it or hate it, Delta gives a ton of benefits to their co-branded credit card holders. In fact, Delta was ahead of the pack and others are catching up – with American even adding an EQM earning premium credit card this year. While I will reiterate that you shouldn’t just accumulate SkyMiles – having one of these cards can easily pay for itself as long as you choose the best card to align with your needs.

See also: Sunday Reader Question: How Can You Spend Your Way to Airline and Hotel Elite Status?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Anonymous

    Good post. You might want to point out that the fee for the Amex Delta Plat is $150 (vs. $95 for the Delta Gold), but the coach companion ticket is free (vs. $99 for the Delta Gold). If you do the math, this makes the Delta Plat card a better value if you have it for a few years.

  • http://twitter.com/jamucsb Jamison

    i know some hardcore delta diamonds who swear by the Delta Reserve card…it can make or break you on the *tiebreaker* with other diamonds in terms of being on the upgrade/standby list

  • Anonymous

    That is right! The part is that you do have to keep it for a couple/few years for the benefit to show as you rarely get the first year fee waived like you do with the Gold, so technically, you are paying $300 for the first companion ticket.

  • Maestrohsu

    TPS,

    Just stumbled across your blog yesterday and I’m addicted. Trying to build up Delta status so I got the Delta Platinum Skymiles Amex and received my signup bonuses (and silver status).

    Would it make sense to also get the Amex Platinum or just keep one of them? If the former, I assume I would put Delta flight purchases on Skymiles Amex and all other purchases on Amex Platinum. If latter, I assume to cancel Skymiles and keep just Amex Platinum due to your manifesto of diversification/flexibility.

    Would love any input.

  • Maestrohsu

    TPS=TPG….just watched Office Space last night.

  • Byroshi

    you can also shop flights through Amex travel with your Amex Platinum and get 2x pts.

  • Andrew L

    My wife upgraded from the DL Gold to Platinum card last year. She already had the gold for a few years so the upgrade meant instant free yearly companion tickets. We currently only use the card for DL tickets to get free luggage and zone 2 boarding. Now that she is about to hit silver medallion, I don’t think we will need the card for anything other than the yearly free companion ticket.

  • Infinion

    I’ve been asking around…no answers for sure yet. Do you know if you can churn the AMEX Delta gold cards? I know there has been some guidance on it in the past, but I can’t find any recent info. One suggestions states to make AMEX create a new DL FF# for you, and never merge account, so that you get the full bonus, not the difference. I can do that, and because of my location, I value Delta miles, especially for quick domestic flights.

    I pulled 30k personal and business cards for myself in 07/11. Spends complete, cards in the sock drawer, all that. Spent the miles. Can I get them again, using a new FF account? If so, what is the current advise for when to cancel the original two?

    Wife is also holding the same two cards (personal and business) and is currently completing her spend. Would love to get her another 60k also.

    Any current guidance would be greatly appreciated!

  • gt5309a

    I believe the free checked bag applies to up to 9 people in the same reservation. So that could really add up…If I’m reading the T&Cs correctly.

  • gt5309a

    If you add the extra 10,000 miles you get for the sign-up bonus for the Gold (~$100), then the break-even point is closer to 6 years. (If you’re just considering the benefit of the companion ticket).

  • Bill Silverstein

    There is a mistake in the article.
    It says that “Companion tickets aren’t eligible for miles or upgrades,” which is not entirely
    accurate, as it goes further than that. If you are on the paid ticket
    and both you and the companion is not upgradable.

    I am traveling later this month, to Boston with my wife and 5 year old daughter from LAX to
    Boston. I am gold and my wife is silver. I booked my daughter as the companion with me. I was hoping that we would both get the upgrades, and then my wife and daughter can stay in first class, while I stay in coach.

    I was told by Delta that since I the companion ticket is booked with my paid ticket, I was not eligible for upgrade.

  • MHessler

    I just today received in the mail an application for AMEX Business Platinum card with 100,000 bonus points if spend $10,000 by March 16, 2012. This is a targeted promotion. When I input the RSVP code online my business name and address were already in the form, however, in the fine print it mentions the bonus is Bonus ID 7589. The points alone are worth the $450 annual fee charged the first year, plus all the other platinum benefits like Lounge access, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Agree thats an AMAZING deal!

  • Anonymous

    I will clarify the statement. In general, the purchased tickets earns miles but neither ticket is upgradeable (though people have gotten around that by asking gate agents- myself included)

  • Anonymous

    9 is correct- I’ll add that!

  • David

    when booking a delta flight online with Delta is it more advantageous to use my An Ex Premier gold card and get triple MR or to use my Delta Am Ex Platinum card and get double Skymiles and MQM miles?

  • Anonymous

    Generally I’d recommend using Premier Rewards because you get at least 3 per dollar and then can transfer into Delta- sometimes at up to 50%. 4.5 miles per dollar sure beats just getting 2x!

    That being said, if you need to hit a spend threshold to get you to the next Medallion Level, it may make sense to put it on the Delta card. Depends on your situation and how much you value getting to the next Medallion level.

  • sergey

    In reality, you and your companion will be on upgrade list, and if space allows, you will be the last who upgraded. It happened to me earlier this year, I was flying DCA-TPA, my daughter was on companion ticket. Since the flight was half-empty in F, we both were upgraded in our upgrade window time. My daughter didn’t get miles for trip, by the way (year ago, my wife was on companion ticket with me and got miles for trip).

  • Bill Silverstein

    It does not show me or my daughter as having a “upgrade requested” status on the flights. Did you see that on the web site for the ticket?

  • Alanc2k2

    Hi Brian — great post, as always. Just FYI: Your link for the Ink Bold card, above, is bad. Links to some expired Citi offers.

  • Eriktnelson

    I flew on the Delta Platinum companion pass in Aug. (i had the paid ticket, my son was the companion). When I checked in, the system asked if I wanted to go on the upgrade list. I don’t believe I had the option to ask for upgrade prior to check in (and the T&C are pretty clear they are not eligible to upgrade). I did not ask for upgrade, so I don’t know what would have happened if I did.

  • Bill Silverstein

    It is not clear that the paying passenger is not eligible for upgrade, only clear that the non-paying passenger is not eligible for upgrade.

  • Anonymous

    Since both passengers are on same record locator the paid passenger gets dragged down and won’t be automatically on the list

  • bl

    Hi Brian, thanks for the post, got my 5,000 miles:
    I got my Gold skymiles in August with the lower bonus. As soon as I saw your post, I sent a message asking to get an additional 5,000 miles. The 5,000 were posted to my account 4 hours later!

  • Anonymous

    5-6 years ago I had the regular low-end DL Amex. I cancelled it. A year ago I was chatting with an Amex rep who recommended I get it again. He flat-out told me that since it had been 2+ years since I had it, I’d get the bonus again.

    Not certain if that was true, or true any more, but that is what I was told.

    Did not get it, as have been concentrating on other cards.

  • Gregillinois

    If wife applied at 20,000 app for gold card and started using this week will she get 30,000 after $500 spend? Suggestions? Thanks

  • Valerie G

    I just upgraded my Amex Gold to Platinum after recognizing that the new higher annual fee plus the free companion flight was a better deal than the Gold annual fee with the $99 companion ticket.

  • Anonymous

    N0- she will only get the bonus she applied for. I’d recommend sending Amex a message and asking them to give you this offer- it never hurts to ask!

  • EdDoc99

    I just got an offer from Delta for the Delta Am Ex Gold card with 45,000 bonus miles. 25,000 for sign up and first purchase and 20,000 for $1,000 spend in first 3 months. $95 fee waived for the first year. I’m not sure if this is just a targeted offer or not.

  • Megan Potter

    If I already purchased a flight for Christmas and apply for the card now would I still get free checked bags for that future flight? Or does it have to be purchased with the card?

  • Anonymous

    Your free bags start once you activate your card (your delta account will reflect you are a delta Amex cardholder). So no need to even buy your tickets with the card though you will get bonus miles for future flights

  • Megan Potter

    Thanks Brian!!! :)

  • Mark

    Does anyone know how long it takes the MQMs to post? I just made my first purchase on my plat sky miles card yesterday and I am wondering what the realistic cutoff is for trying to hit the spend for the 10,000 MQMs to squeeze them in for this year. As I understand it, the MQMs have to post at Delta this year, it is not just a matter of spending the amount before Dec 31 (unless they post the same day).

  • Sunil

    With the reserve card, can you check a second bag for free (since the first one is already free on travel to Asia)? Sunil

  • Mark

    to answer my own question, the first purchase MQMs and bonus miles posted to my account in 3 days.

  • Trevinb

    I just got my DL AMEX Platinum card. There is no annual fee the first year. You may have mentioned that but i missed it. If I had known, would have acquired one sooner. Thanks for all the tips.

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  • leila

    Any idea why when I search for certain flights on Delta it offers me the credit card right at check out and says I can save $50, and other flights it doesn’t give me this option? I’d be interested in signing up for it as checkout if I can get a discount on my flight plus all the other benefits.

  • DeltaDan

    TPG, I received a targeted offer from AMEX this week. If I apply for the Delta Platinum card, I am eligible to receive 40,000 miles/15,000 MQMs. Thoughts on this offer?

    Thanks!

  • thepointsguy

    Great offer since you normally only get 5k mqm for platinum signup bonus

  • DeltaDan

    TPG, thanks. I believe you have posted this before, however I could not find it on your site. How are AMEX business cards reported to the credit bureaus on your personal credit report?
    Thanks

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  • Elraush76

    So do you have to purchase your tickets with that card to be eligible for the upgrades?

  • Elraush76

    Also I will be one flight away this year from getting silver is it worth it to take one flight just to get medallion?

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  • Sueshe225

    Is there an option for me? My husband and I are traveling to Hawaii in feb 2014. If I apply for one of these cards would I be able to get companion flights or would have have to wait until ive had the card a year or some sort of time frame?

  • Garrett

    I read on a couple of sites (one being Delta) that carrying the Delta Reserve Card also entitles you to use the Sky Priority security and boarding lanes. How do you make use of this benefit? Do you show the TSA agents your card, or is your boarding pass identified as Sky Priority automatically? I’m guessing that it can’t be left up to the TSA to distinguish the different Amex Delta cards.

    http://news.delta.com/index.php?s=43&item=1422

    (second paragraph “Reserve Delta SkyMiles Credit Cardmembers will continue to use the Sky Priority lane and have access to Premium Security lines where available.”)

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  • charles peachock

    I have silver status on Delta so I already get a free checked bag. With the AMEX Delta Skymiles Gold card get me an additional checked bag for a total of 2 free?

  • charles

    I have gold status with DL, which allows me to check one free bag. I heard this card would get me a second bag. I think this only applies when I use this card to purchase a full ticket. Can anyone confirm this.

  • hesham

    That is correct, if you are gold you would get one free bag for your status, and one free bag with the card if you use your delta co branded card giving you two free bags.

  • hammer martello

    Note that the first bag free benefit does not apply if your flight is with a Delta partner airline, even if you booked thru Delta and have a Delta flight number.

  • Toelleo

    is there a website where you can consolidate or transfer points?

  • deltadog

    u only get one bag per person ( up to 9 people though) on ANY Delta reservation.

  • Hanny

    Delta sky miles reserve the worst card experienced, 10,000 MQM not honored charged $450 have to argued several times, like I owe the card contract, the customer service did not know what is MQD? beginning Jan 1, 2015. The calculating miles from the price ticket NOT from the actual miles flew like it does now, I DON’T LIKE MILES = $$$ price ticket?

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