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Your airline of choice can play a huge role in determining your travel award credit card strategy. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr continues his series breaking down the best cards for each carrier with a look at Delta.
With the seemingly nonstop devaluations and a lack of transparency when it comes to award travel costs — not to mention limited flights out of my current home city of Tokyo — I’ve pretty much avoided Delta’s SkyMiles program for the past several years. As I begin preparation to move back to the States this winter, though, I’ve been turning my attention back to US programs and, much to my surprise, am finding some good value in SkyMiles.
For example, I was able to find one-way flights from Atlanta to Charleston, SC for the dates my family needed around Christmas. Revenue fares for the flight were at $342 — a tough pill to swallow for a 45-minute trip — but booking with SkyMiles only required 10,000 miles per ticket. I’ll take a 3.42 cent-per-mile redemption value any day of the week!
Once I saw this example, along with a few others where SkyMiles came in handy, I began to think about which credit cards would earn me the most SkyMiles. Today, I’ll carry on from a post I did on the best credit cards for American Airlines customers and discuss which cards should be in your wallet if you’re an avid Delta flyer.
The road to choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers may not be as straightforward as you think. For instance, due to its branding, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express may seem like the obvious choice. But when you break it down, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is a better deal, earning 3x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchases (which can be transferred to Delta at a 1:1 ratio) compared with 2x SkyMiles for Delta purchases on the Gold Delta card.
American Express Co-Branded Cards
Delta partners solely with American Express for its co-branded cards and, in my opinion, these options offer nice-to-have but not essential benefits. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express all offer Zone 1 priority boarding, a first checked-bag free for you and up to nine traveling companions on the same reservation, no foreign transaction fees. Keep in mind there are also business versions of all three co-branded cards.
|Card||Annual Fee||Sign-Up Bonus||Sky Club Access||MQM Earnings|
|Gold||$95 (Waived the first year)||30,000 SkyMiles after spending $1,000 in three months, $50 Delta credit||$29 per person||None|
|Platinum||$195||5,000 MQMs and 35,000 SkyMiles after spending $1,000 in three months, $100 Delta Credit, companion ticket||$29 per person||10,000 MQMs with $25,000 in annual spending, max 20,000 MQMs|
|Reserve||$450||10,000 MQMs and 10,000 SkyMiles with first purchase, companion ticket||Complimentary for cardholder||15,000 MQMs with $30,000 in annual spending, max 30,000 MQMs|
Overall, I think the co-branded cards offer a fair value based on their respective annual fees. If you can nab the limited-time Gold SkyMiles card offer of 50,000 miles after $1,000 in spending in the first three months (I was able to find this using Incognito Mode on Google Chrome), I’d sign up for the bonus alone — especially considering there’s no annual fee the first year. The ability to earn MQMs on the Platinum and Reserve cards may make them worth the annual fees to some Delta loyalists, especially if they’re big credit card spenders and fall short on paid flights for the year.
When it comes to the Delta Reserve, I personally don’t think Sky Club access justifies the $450 annual fee. In my experience, the lounges are always packed and offer little in the way of complimentary refreshments. That said, the airline continues to charge higher and higher prices to enter its lounges, so if you fly Delta frequently and don’t have any lounge access through another card, this benefit could appeal to you. My recommendation is to only go after the Reserve card if you can put $60,000 on the card in a year to capture 40,000 MQMs, including the sign-up bonus.
Additional American Express Options
As previously mentioned, Membership Rewards transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio, opening up another avenue in your SkyMiles-earning strategy. However, MR-earning cards aren’t the only Amex options for racking up significant SkyMiles. Let’s take a look at other cards from the issuer that can be very beneficial to the Delta flyer:
American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card — The lure here is earning 3x points per dollar on all airfare purchased directly from the airline. This allows you to effectively earn 3 SkyMiles per dollar instead of the 2x earning rate of the co-branded cards. In addition, the card offers spending bonus categories of 2x points at US gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants. Overall, you can earn more SkyMiles on everyday spending with this card than on the co-branded options.
You also get a $100 airline fee credit, which you can use to cover checked baggage, seat assignments, airport lounge access and more. There’s currently an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening, though this offer is targeted and not available to all applicants. The annual fee is $195, and it’s waived the first year.
The Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express — If you’re a big spender and don’t need MQMs, this card could help you earn a lot of redeemable SkyMiles. For every billing period in which you use the card for 30 or more transactions, you’ll earn 50% extra Membership Rewards on your purchases. You’ll also earn 3x points on the first $6,000 of annual spending at supermarkets and 2x points on gas. Those bonuses are before the 50% monthly billing period bonus, effectively turning the earn rates into 4.5 and 3 points per dollar. The standard sign-up bonus is for 15,000 points after $1,000 in spend in the first three months of account opening, though there are reports of a 30,000-point offer through the CardMatch Tool. The card carries a $95 annual fee.
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express — Why should you use a hotel credit card to earn airline miles? SPG offers a lucrative 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer to any of its 32 airline partners. Delta transfers at a 1:1 ratio, meaning 20,000 Starpoints become 25,000 SkyMiles. SPG also offers Crossover Rewards, which lets Delta flyers earn Starpoints and SPG loyalists earn SkyMiles, and awards reciprocal benefits at Starwood properties for Delta Platinum and Diamond Elites. The normal sign-up bonus is 25,000 Starpoints after $3,000 spent on the card in the first three months. Occasionally the bonus increases to 30,000 points, but that offer isn’t currently available.
The little-known Diners Club Rewards transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio, but the two consumer cards offered don’t have a spending bonus category for airfare, leaving you with just one point per dollar for spending on Delta. Given the high annual fees and limited benefits of the Diners Club Premier and Diners Club Elite cards, along with the fact that there are no advertised sign-up bonuses, I wouldn’t recommend this program to an avid Delta flyer. There have been bonuses for Diners Club airline transfer partners in the past. If you do have Diners Club Rewards, keep an eye on your email and the Diners Club Rewards promotions page. Ultimately, though, it’s a bit of a moot point for now, and Diners Club isn’t accepting applications for either card at the moment.
If you’re serious about award travel, you need to maximize every tool in your arsenal to ensure your rewards account balance is as high as possible. One of the first steps is calibrating the credit cards in your wallet. If you don’t have a good credit card strategy, you could lose out on a ton of extra miles through bonus spending categories, ultimately hindering you in the quest to meet your award-travel goals.
Unless you’re the most die-hard Delta flyer alive and refuse to fly other airlines, I don’t see the co-branded cards as being your best option unless you’re after the sign-up bonus or are in desperate need of some last-minute MQMs. The ancillary benefits the co-branded cards offer are nice, but they’re not game-changer. The flexibility offered by the other American Express cards, along with bonus categories that earn you more SkyMiles makes much more sense for the average Delta flyer.
Which cards do you use to earn SkyMiles?
- Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Use your Card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and earn 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits. Terms and limitations apply.
- 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x); 2x points at US gas stations; 1x points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
- You can use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points to pay for all or part of your flight, hotel booked and paid in advance, vacation or cruise booking through amextravel.com.
- 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, then a variable rate, currently 13.49% to 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
- Terms and Conditions apply.
- See Rates & Fees