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There are plenty of great rewards-earning credit cards to choose from, but depending on where you live and which airlines best serve your hub airport, some of them are better choices than others. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at the top options for travelers flying out of Atlanta.
There are many factors that go into deciding which travel rewards credit cards to apply for and utilize on a regular basis. Some may provide valuable benefits you can take advantage of frequently, while others give you lucrative bonus categories for different purchases. It’s also important to take into account where you live, and today I’ll continue my series that identifies the best cards for residents of certain cities. After covering New York, I’ll now head south to answer the question, “Which credit cards are best for an Atlanta-based award traveler?”
To answer this question in today’s post (as well as future posts for other major cities), I’ll be following a straightforward format that looks at the following characteristics of a given card:
- Sign-up bonus
- Earning rates
- Other benefits
- Annual fee
I’ll then detail why that particular card would appeal to Atlantans. Finally, I’ll note another one or two similar options any highlight the key difference(s) you’d notice.
Before getting into the analysis, a few disclaimers. For starters, this list is aimed mainly at leisure travelers who are interested in maximizing their rewards on credit cards. If you regularly travel for business and earn elite status, the calculus may change significantly, as you have additional ways to earn points and miles, and some of the benefits I tout below may be included. Fierce loyalty to a single airline may also lead you away from cards offered by a competitor, though I would strongly encourage you to diversify in the event of a mass-scale devaluation (like we saw with American earlier this year).
In addition, this list represents just one way of looking at the situation and is geared mainly at free flights. You may simply want a card that offers solid everyday value for other rewards (like the Citi Double Cash Card for cash back or the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card for free hotel stays). As always, feel free to adjust the list based on your own situations.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, which cards are best for an Atlanta-based award traveler? In no particular order:
Sign-up bonus: Limited-time offer of 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months, plus a $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase in the first three months
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; first checked bag free; priority boarding; 20% off in-flight purchases; option to Pay with Miles; discounted SkyClub access
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
Analysis: It’s no secret that Atlanta is home to Delta’s largest hub. In fact, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the busiest in the world, and Delta accounts for a large portion of those flights, with nonstop service to nearly 200 destinations around the world (not including service from partners like Virgin Atlantic and Korean Air). It’s hard to live in Atlanta and not fly Delta at least occasionally given the extensive route network it offers.
This is why the Gold Delta Amex can be a great card for the Atlanta-based traveler, since it offers a variety of perks to make your Delta travel a bit easier. For starters, you and up to 8 travel companions on the same reservation can check a bag for free on all Delta flights, saving each passenger up to $50 for round-trip itineraries within the US. You (and the same 8 companions) can also board in Zone 1 to ensure access to overhead space, and if you pay for any food or drinks in-flight with your card, you’ll get 20% back. This card also unlocks Pay with Miles, allowing you to redeem miles to pay for Delta flights, and you can also pay just $29 to access the SkyClub when traveling on any airline.
Other option(s): Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express (same benefits plus Amex OPEN Savings benefits)
Sign-up bonus: Limited-time offer of 60,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $2,000 in the first three months and a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the first three months
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; first checked bag free; priority boarding; 20% off in-flight purchases; option to Pay with Miles; discounted SkyClub access; miles boost of MQMs when spending $25,000 and $50,000; companion ticket at renewal
Annual fee: $195
Analysis: If you’re a more regular Delta flyer out of Atlanta, the Platinum Delta Amex could be a better option. While it does carry a higher annual fee, it also allows you to boost your regular account balance and help you qualify for Delta elite status each year, as you’ll earn 10,000 miles plus 10,000 MQMs when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year and another 10,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs when you spend $50,000 miles in a calendar year. The current sign-up bonus also includes 10,000 MQMs, making the card a great one for earning Medallion status without flying.
The other great benefit on this card (when compared to the Gold Delta Amex) is the annual companion certificate. This allows you to bring a companion on a round-trip domestic flight and just pay the taxes and fees for his/her ticket. This is only applicable to coach tickets and must be booked in L, U, T, X or V fare class. Your companion also isn’t eligible for mileage accrual (though you are). Nevertheless, as long as you utilize the perk each year and the base fare on your ticket is at least $200, this benefit alone will cover the annual fee.
Other option(s): Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express (includes SkyClub access but carries a $450 annual fee)
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months
Earning rates: 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases; 1 point per dollar everywhere else
Other benefits: 6,000 points after your cardmember anniversary; no foreign transaction fees; 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TPQs) for every $10,000 spent in a year (up to 15,000 TQPs)
Annual fee: $99
Analysis: Delta certainly isn’t the only game in town for Atlanta-based travelers, as Southwest also has a decent presence at Hartsfield-Jackson. The carrier provides nonstop service to 39 destinations, including international service to Cancun and Punta Cana. The increased sign-up bonus on this card should get you around $750 worth of free flights, and the carrier’s no-fee change policy applies to award tickets as well.
The card also provides an anniversary bonus of 6,000 points, which covers most of the $99 annual fee, and you won’t pay foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad. In addition, you’ll earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) for every $10,000 you spend on the card (up to 15,000 TQPs per year). Finally, and possibly most importantly, the points you earn on the card (including the sign-up bonus) will count toward the Companion Pass each year. This is one of the most lucrative perks in the frequent flyer world, allowing you to bring a companion along on all paid and award flights. If you can earn this pass living in Atlanta (and the Southwest Premier Card is a great way to start), you can get a ton of value out of it. It’s just a shame that we haven’t seen another offer for Atlanta residents like last year!
Other option(s): Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Visa (same sign-up bonus and lower annual fee but lower anniversary bonus and foreign transaction fees)
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases in your first three months (be sure to check the CardMatch Tool and alternate browsers to see if you get a targeted offer of 75,000 or 100,000 points)
Earning rates: 1 point per dollar spent
Other benefits: $200 airline fee credit; airport lounge access; no foreign transaction fees; Global Entry fee credit; automatic SPG and Hilton Gold status
Annual fee: $450
Analysis: If you value premium travel rewards credit cards with a variety of perks, you should also consider the Amex Platinum as an Atlanta resident. For starters, the card will provide access to SkyClubs in Atlanta when traveling on Delta, and with 10 lounges (at lease one in every terminal), you’re basically guaranteed to find one near your departure gate. In addition, you’ll enjoy lounge access to Centurion Lounges and Priority Pass lounges when traveling in other airports, though keep in mind that SkyClubs and Priority Pass lounges don’t include guest privileges (unless you add authorized users to the card).
You can also transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn on the card to one of 17 airline partners to then redeem your points. Delta is one of these partners, though you can also transfer points to Virgin Atlantic (flights to London-Heathrow and Manchester) and Air France (flights to Paris). Given the array of international service out of the airport, you can hopefully put the $100 Global Entry credit to good use, and it should also be easy to get the $200 fee credit each year.
Other option(s): American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (3x points on airfare but few added travel perks)
There are many things that you should consider when deciding which credit card makes the most sense for your wallet, and the city in which you reside should play a role in this decision. While Delta clearly is the major carrier out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, there are definitely other options that can help you make the most of your award travel. Hopefully this post has given you some guidance on how to approach this decision-making process!
For the Atlanta-based TPG readers out there, what’s your favorite credit card for award travel?
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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