Earn 20,000 MQMs the easy way: Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card review

Feb 1, 2020

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The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card provides complimentary Sky Club access when flying on Delta, as well as the ability to earn Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and a Medallion® Qualifying Dollars (MQD) waiver through spending on the card. The Delta Reserve is best suited for frequent Delta flyers, especially those that can benefit from lounge access, a boost toward elite status and a domestic companion certificate that’s provided after each account anniversary. Card Rating*:⭐⭐⭐½

*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current offers and information. It was originally published on Mar. 8, 2019.

Lounge access is critical to maintaining my productivity in airports. If you travel frequently and mainly fly with Delta, you’ll want access to Delta Sky Club lounges. Luckily, one of the benefits of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card is complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta. So, if you’re thinking about paying for a Delta Sky Club membership, you may be better off paying the Delta Reserve’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

The Delta Reserve also offers the ability to earn bonus MQMs — both as part of the welcome bonus and by spending on the card each year — as well as the ability to earn an MQD waiver. Add in an elevated welcome bonus and domestic companion certificate after each account anniversary, and the Delta Reserve can start to look appealing to frequent Delta flyers.

In This Post

Who is this card for?

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Delta Reserve is meant for frequent Delta flyers. Those looking to qualify for Delta elite status or boost themselves up to the next status tier will love the opportunity to earn bonus MQMs and an MQD waiver from spending on the card. If you’re considering purchasing a Delta Sky Club membership, you may find that applying for the Delta Reserve is a better use of your money.

However, it’s important to realize that the Delta Reserve isn’t the fastest way to rack up rewards, even when flying frequently on the carrier. Instead, the Delta Reserve is best suited for travelers who can get significant value from the card’s perks.

Further reading: Airline credit cards ranked by their return on spending

Welcome bonus: As much as $1,200 in value

American Express only allows you to earn the welcome bonus on each of its credit cards once in your lifetime, which is why it’s important to time your application carefully and wait for elevated bonuses. Thankfully, the Delta Reserve is currently offering an elevated welcome bonus. If you apply before April 1, 2020, you can earn up to 100,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs. Specifically, you can earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months as well as an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership.

TPG values Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, making these 100,000 bonus miles worth $1,200. The value of the bonus MQMs depends entirely on what tier of Delta status they help you unlock, with middle- or top-tier elites getting a greater return.

Note that even if you’ve never held the Delta Reserve card before, you may not be eligible for a welcome bonus. Thankfully, you’ll be warned about your status before you complete your application through Amex’s new pop-up tool. So if you’re hoping to snag the welcome bonus, don’t ignore any messages or warnings that show up when you apply.

Further reading: Choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers

Main benefits and perks

delta-sky-club-rdu-airport-bar
The Delta Reserve provides access to Delta’s growing network of Sky Clubs. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Lounge access is the main reason to have the Delta Reserve instead of another cobranded Delta credit card. With the Delta Reserve, primary and additional cardholders get complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges when traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. Cardholders can also pay a per-visit fee of $39 per person, per location for Sky Club access when traveling on a Delta partner airline flight that is not marketed or operated by Delta.

You’ll get two one-time Sky Club guest passes upon account opening as well as each year upon account renewal. These guest passes will appear in your Wallet in the Fly Delta app. You can also pay $39 per person, per location to bring up to two guests with you into the Sky Club.

Note that the card doesn’t only get you access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta. You’ll also get complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges when flying Delta with a ticket purchased on the Delta Reserve. You can bring up to two guests into the Centurion Lounge with you for a fee of $50 each.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
You can also access Centurion Lounges when traveling on a Delta flight purchased with your Delta Reserve. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Another benefit of the Delta Reserve is the companion certificate that’s provided each year after your account anniversary. The companion certificate is valid for one round-trip first class, Delta Comfort+ or main cabin companion ticket when you pay taxes and fees on the award ticket and purchase an adult round-trip at an I, Z, W, L, U, T, X or V fare.

Delta A220 first class, photo courtesy of Darren Murph
Bring a companion with you on one round trip with your companion certificate. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Delta Reserve cardholders can also spend to earn MQMs through the Status Boost benefit. Through this benefit, you can earn 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 on your card in a calendar year. You’ll be able to earn an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000, $90,000 and $120,000 in a calendar year — giving you the opportunity to take home a total of 60,000 MQMs.

Delta Reserve cardholders can also spend to earn an MQD waiver. This waiver means that if you don’t meet the MQD thresholds for a qualification year, you can still qualify for Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion Status if you’ve earned the required MQMs or MQSs and make at least $25,000 in eligible purchases within that qualification year on your card. You can qualify for Diamond Medallion Status if you have earned the required MQMs or MQSs and make at least $250,000 in eligible purchases on your card.

A Delta Airlines Boeing 737-700 takes off from Atlanta (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)
If you’re pushing for Delta elite status, being able to earn MQMs and an MQD waiver through spending on the Delta Reserve can help. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

The Delta Reserve card has many other perks including:

The combination of an MQD waiver and bonus MQMs makes the Delta Reserve especially attractive for current or aspiring elites. Spending $30,000 on your card in your first year could earn you 35,000 MQMs (20,000 from the welcome bonus and 15,000 from Status Boost) and waive your MQD requirement for all but Diamond status. So you could get Silver status if you earn the welcome bonus and spend $30,000 on your new card in your first year.

And, if you have your eyes set on Gold status, earning the welcome bonus and spending $60,000 on the Delta Reserve in your first year would get you the 50,000 MQMs you need (20,000 from the welcome bonus and 30,000 from Status Boost) and an MQD waiver. Even if you’re working toward a higher level of status, the Delta Reserve can jump-start your progress.

Further reading: Delta Platinum vs. Delta Reserve: Which card is right for you?

How to earn miles

The Delta Reserve earns three miles per dollar spent on eligible Delta purchases and one mile per dollar spent on everything else. But even with 3x points on airfare, you may not want to spend much on the Delta Reserve after you’ve earned the welcome bonus unless you’re trying to hit an MQM-earning threshold or an MQD waiver threshold. Based on TPG’s valuation of Delta miles at 1.2 cents each, you’ll get about a 3.6% return on airfare and a 1.2% return on everything else.

In short, the Delta Reserve is not a card that you get for its earning potential. Even if you’re a frequent Delta flyer, you’ll come out ahead charging your airfare to a card that offers better earning on airfare such as The Platinum Card® from American Express (5x points on airfare booked directly with the airlines or through Amex Travel for a 10% return, 1:1 transfer to Delta), Citi Prestige® Card (5x points for a 8.5% return) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x points for a 6% return) instead of the Delta Reserve.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Further reading: How to earn miles in the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program

How to redeem miles

Delta’s decision to pull its award chart a few years back and switch to variable pricing can make it frustrating to redeem Delta SkyMiles. At 1.2 cents each, SkyMiles are the lowest-valued of the three US legacy carrier program currencies according to TPG’s valuations.

The effects of variable pricing can be mild in some cases, like this week of flights between Chicago (ORD) and New York (JFK). Delta highlights the lowest fare of 4,500 miles in this example. But on one day this week, you’ll end up paying more than four times that.

The price fluctuation gets a little more intense when you start to look at international flights, like these one-way economy awards between Los Angeles (LAX) and London (LHR).

And when you start talking about international premium-cabin awards, prices can skyrocket. These one-way business-class awards between LAX and LHR cost significantly more than most other carriers would charge on the same route.

If you have the flexibility to do so, you’d be best off saving your Delta miles for one of the carrier’s frequent flash award sales. Recently we’ve seen sales for round-trip domestic flights starting at 5,000 miles, 16,000 miles round-trip to Europe and flights to Asia from 30,000 miles round-trip in economy or 50,000 miles in premium select. You can also use your Sky Miles to fly on international Sky Team partner airlines such as Air France and Korean Air, as well as select non-alliance partners like Virgin Atlantic and WestJet.

SkyMiles can also be redeemed for many things other than flights, including gift cards, merchandise, cruises, car rentals and hotel rooms. Although these redemptions typically yield a lower return than when redeeming for flights, SkyMiles Experiences have become more compelling over the years — especially for Delta loyalists with miles to spare.

Further reading: How to redeem miles with the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program and The advanced guide to maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets

Which cards compete with the Delta Reserve?

In the same way that Chase and United have a very close relationship (issuing cobranded cards and offering instantaneous transfers from Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus), Amex and Delta have the same. This means that many Delta flyers might be better off sticking to The Platinum Card from American Express instead of getting a Delta cobranded card.

Related: Why the Amex Platinum might just be the best card for Delta flyers

The Amex Platinum wins on bonus categories, offering 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with the airline (a 10% return based on TPG’s valuations) versus the Delta Reserve‘s 3x Delta SkyMiles (3.6% return) on eligible Delta purchases.

The Amex Platinum Card also offers Sky Club access when flying Delta, in addition to a Priority Pass Select membership, access to Amex’s growing collection of Centurion lounges and access to the entire American Express Global Lounge Collection.

(Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
You’ll get access to Escape Lounges as an Amex Platinum cardholder. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Although the Amex Platinum has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), it comes with many luxury travel perks including complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status and access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts program. Plus, the Amex Platinum provides an up to $200 annual Uber credit, up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit.

The Amex Platinum currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months, although you may be able to get a higher offer through the CardMatch Tool. And, Membership Rewards points can be transferred to airlines spanning all three major alliances, giving you much more flexibility when it comes time to redeem. For more details, check out our full card review for the Amex Platinum.

Related: Who should (and who shouldn’t) get the Amex Platinum?

If you’re still in the market for a cobranded Delta card, but don’t think you’d get enough value from the Delta Reserve‘s perks, then you might want to consider the more moderately priced Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card. As part of the current limited-time offer (which expires on April 1, 2020), the Delta Platinum is offering a welcome bonus of up to 100,000 miles: 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months and an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership.

The Delta Platinum also offers a similar, though slightly less lucrative, Status Boost offer: Earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000. And the Delta Platinum offers the same MQD waiver options as the Delta Reserve. The Delta Platinum has an annual fee of $250 (see rates and fees), which is less than half that of the Delta Reserve. For more information, see our full card review of the Delta Platinum.

Further reading: Choosing the best American Express card for you

Bottom line

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card represents a strong commitment to a single airline, and as such, it isn’t right for everybody. If you’re looking for Delta Sky Club access or a serious boost to your elite qualifying plans, the Delta Reserve can be a solid addition to your wallet.

Now is a great time to apply, since the Delta Reserve is currently offering a limited-time elevated welcome bonus. So, if you can take advantage of the Delta Reserve’s perks and benefits, be sure to apply before April 1, 2020 and snag the elevated bonus.

Apply here for the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card with an up to 100,000-mile and 20,000 MQM bonus.

For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Platinum Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the 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.

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