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With the seemingly nonstop devaluations and a lack of transparency when it comes to award travel costs, many award travelers have avoided Delta’s SkyMiles program for the past several years. Still, that’s not to say you can’t find some good value in SkyMiles, such as short-haul flights for just 10,000 miles per ticket.
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 Platinum Card® from American Express is a better option, earning 5x 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 priority boarding, a first checked bag free for you and companions (for a total of up to nine traveling on the same reservation) and no foreign transaction fees. Keep in mind there are also business versions of all three co-branded cards.
|Card||Annual Fee||Welcome Bonus||Sky Club Access||MQM Earnings|
|Gold Delta Amex||$95 (waived 1st year)||60,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 in four months. Offer ends 9/19/18. Terms Apply.||$29 per person||None|
|Platinum Delta Amex||$195||10,000 MQMs and 70,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 in three months. Offer ends 9/19/18. Companion ticket. Terms Apply.||$29 per person||10,000 MQMs with $25,000 in annual spending, max 20,000 MQMs|
|Delta Reserve Amex||$450||10,000 MQMs and 40,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 in three months, companion ticket Terms Apply.||Complimentary for cardholder||15,000 MQMs with $30,000 in annual spending, max 30,000 MQMs|
There’s also a more recently introduced no-fee card, the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. With this card, you can get 2x miles on Delta purchases, 2x miles and up to $50 in statement credits on eligible US Lyft purchases within the first six months of card membership, as well as on spending at US restaurants, 1 mile per dollar on everything else and 20% off eligible in-flight purchases when you travel with Delta. It’s currently offering a bonus of 10,000 SkyMiles after you spend $500 in the first three months. Unlike the other Delta Amex cards, it does charge a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions.
When These Cards Make Sense
Overall, I think the co-branded cards offer a fair value based on their respective annual fees. 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.
Plus, with the Platinum and Reserve cards, you’ll receive a companion certificate for travel on Delta each year after your account anniversary. With the Platinum Delta Amex, you get a domestic main cabin companion certificate (with a max of $75 in taxes and fees required), and with the Delta Reserve Amex, you get a domestic companion certificate good for first class, Delta Comfort+ or the main cabin (also with a max of $75 in taxes and fees). Just keep in mind the restrictions, such as that the ticket is only eligible for travel within the 48 contiguous United States (though those who live in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands can originate from their home to a destination in the 48 contiguous states).
Additionally, you can use Delta co-branded cards to waive the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirement for Delta elite status. If you spend $25,000 on Delta SkyMiles Amex cards in a calendar year, you’ll get an MQD waiver for status levels up to Platinum, but to get the MQD requirement waived for Diamond Medallion status, you now have to spend an outrageous $250,000 on co-branded cards in a calendar year. Needless to say, we don’t recommend going this route — especially since you can meet the MQD requirement for Diamond status by spending a much lower amount on Delta and partner flights in a calendar 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 introductory 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, and you can actually get a much higher return on spending with some non-Delta-branded options from Amex.
Let’s take a look at other cards from the issuer that can be very beneficial to the Delta flyer.
Benefits: Since late 2016, the Amex Platinum has been offering 5x points on all airfare booked directly with airlines. This allows you to effectively earn a very healthy 5 SkyMiles per dollar instead of the 2x earning rate of the co-branded cards. There’s a $550 annual fee (offset by premium benefits like a $200 annual air travel credit, $200 in annual Uber credits and a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit) and no foreign transaction fee.
Bonus: The card’s currently offering a bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: Not quite as impressive as the Amex Platinum now that it offers 5x points on airfare, but this card will net you 3 points per dollar on all airfare purchased directly from the airline. In addition, it 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. The annual fee is $195, and it’s waived the first year.
Bonus: The card’s currently offering a welcome bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of account opening.
The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
Benefits: If you’re a big spender and don’t need MQMs, this card could be a good choice for earning 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 card carries a $95 annual fee.
Bonus: The standard welcome bonus is for 15,000 points after $1,000 in spend in the first three months of account opening.
Benefits: 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.
Bonus: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
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 introductory 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.
Featured photo by @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best current cards for Delta flyers, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That's up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees