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With the seemingly nonstop devaluations and a lack of transparency when it comes to award travel costs, I’ve pretty much 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.

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 Platinum Card from American Express is a better deal, 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 Zone 1 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 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 statement credit $29 per person None
Platinum $195 5,000 MQMs and 35,000 SkyMiles after spending $1,000 in three months, $100 statement 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 40,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 in three months, companion ticket 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. This doesn’t offer much in the way of extras; you simply get 2x miles on Delta purchases, 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 sign-up 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.

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.

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:

Planning a long hotel stay? Focus on low-level properties, like the Le Meridien Angkor, to maximize free nights.
How are staying at the Le Meridien Angkor and Delta credit card strategy connected, you ask?

Platinum Card from American Express — 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. The card’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. 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.

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express — Not quite as impressive as the Amex Platinum now that it offers 5x points on airfare, but this card will net you 3x 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.

There’s currently an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 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. 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.

Delta and SPG make a strong hotel, airline, and credit card combination.
Delta and SPG make a strong team — especially when you have the right credit card.

Diners Club

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 have a stash of Diners Club points, you can easily transfer them to Delta.
If you have a stash of Diners Club points, you can easily transfer them to Delta.

Bottom Line

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?

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and discounted Delta  Sky Club access.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
16.99%-25.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.