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Apply for the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express with a 75,000-mile welcome bonus here after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

Premium airline credit cards can be a much tougher sell than premium bank cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Airline cards generally offer fewer perks and weaker bonus categories, yet carry the same sky-high annual fees. The Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express might be one of the few exceptions here, as it offers something for everyone.

In exchange for a $450 annual fee (see rates & fees), standard among premium cards, the Delta Reserve is the cheapest way to get Sky Club access when flying Delta. The card also offers the ability to earn bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) both as part of the welcome bonus and by spending on the card each year. Add in an elevated welcome bonus, and the Delta Reserve really starts to stand out.

Illustration by The Points Guy.

Who Is This Card For?

The Delta Reserve is meant for serious Delta flyers. Those looking to qualify for Delta elite status or boost themselves up to the next tier will love the opportunity to earn bonus MQMs from the credit card, and Delta frequent flyers will get a better value out of the complimentary Sky Club access. This card is not the fastest way to rack up Delta miles even when flying on the carrier. It’s really all about the perks here.

Current Bonus

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 through Apr. 3, 2019. New applicants can earn 75,000 Delta SkyMiles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.

TPG values Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, making these bonus miles worth $900. 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.

Even if you’ve never held the Delta Reserve card before, Amex may still deny you the bonus. Thankfully, in most cases, you’ll be warned of your ineligibility before you complete your application by Amex’s new pop-up tool. Let this serve as a reminder to go slowly when filling out your application so you don’t miss the warning that you won’t be able to earn a bonus.

A Delta Airbus A350 at ATL (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)
A Delta Airbus A350 at ATL (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

Earning

Cobranded airline credit cards, whether you opt for the premium or entry-level ones, are not competitive when it comes to earning rates. In fact, all three of Delta’s cobranded Amex credit cards have the exact same earning rate: 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x everywhere else.

There are only a few scenarios where it actually makes sense to spend on a cobranded credit card after you’ve earned the welcome bonus. Even if you’re a frequent Delta flyer, you would come out ahead charging your airfare to an Amex Platinum (5x points, 1:1 transfer to Delta) or Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x points) instead of the Delta Reserve.

Redeeming

Delta’s decision to pull its award chart a few years back and switch to variable pricing has made it a little more frustrating to redeem Delta SkyMiles. At 1.2 cents each, SkyMiles are the lowest-valued of the three US legacy carrier program currencies (American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus miles are both valued at 1.4 cents each) according to TPG’s valuations.

The effects of this 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 6,000 miles in this example, but on some dates you might end up paying two to three 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 London cost at least 5x what 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. In 2019 we’ve seen sales for round-trip domestic flights starting at 10,000 miles, 30,000 miles round-trip to Europe and flights to Asia from 30,000 miles round-trip in economy or 50,000 miles in premium select. In many cases these sales are 50% off the standard saver award rate, and scoring one or two of these deals can help you balance out the worst of Delta’s variable pricing.

Perks

When you’re shelling out $450 a year for the privilege of holding a credit card, you expect to get good value in return. The Delta Reserve comes with no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees) and offers a few valuable perks to help offset its annual fee:

  • Delta Sky Club Access — Complimentary access when traveling on flights marketed or operated by Delta (up to two guests at a discounted rate of $29 per person).
  • Miles Boost — Earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 redeemable miles (worth $180 based on TPG’s valuations) after spending $30,000 on your card each calendar year, and an additional 15,000 MQMs and redeemable miles after spending $60,000 a year.
  • Annual Companion Certificate — Receive a domestic first class, Comfort+ or economy round-trip companion certificate each year upon account renewal.
  • First Checked Bag Free — First checked bag free on Delta flights when you book your ticket with the Reserve.
  • Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) Waiver — Receive an MQD waiver for Delta Silver, Gold and Platinum Medallion status by spending $25,000 in a calendar year. Receive a Diamond Medallion MQD waiver by spending $250,000.
  • Priority Boarding
  • 20% Rebate on Inflight Purchases

In addition to priority boarding and a free checked bag, the combination of an MQD waiver and bonus MQMs makes the Delta Reserve especially attractive for current or aspiring elites.

In your first year, spending $30,000 on the card would earn you 20,000 MQMs (5k from the welcome bonus and 15k from Miles Boost) and waive your MQD requirement, meaning you would only need to accumulate 5,000 more MQMs from actual flying to earn Delta Silver Medallion status. If you have your eyes set on Gold, spending $60,000 on the Reserve in your first year would leave you with 35,000 of the 50,000 MQMs you need and an MQD waiver.

The Delta Sky Club access is a nice benefit, but if that’s the only reason you’re choosing the Delta Reserve there are better options for you to consider.

delta Seattle skyclub
A view from the Delta Sky Club Upper Deck at Seattle Airport. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

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 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 premium card.

The Amex Platinum wins on bonus categories, offering 5x Membership Rewards points (a 10% return based on TPG’s valuations) on airfare purchased directly with the airline, vs. the Delta Reserve’s 2x Delta SkyMiles (2.4% return) on Delta purchases. The Platinum card also offers Sky Club access when flying Delta, in addition to a Priority Pass select membership and access to Amex’s growing collection of Centurion lounges.

The Platinum card has a higher annual fee of $550 (see rates & fees), but it comes with a number of other luxury travel perks including complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit and more. It’s currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, and those points can be transferred to airlines spanning all three major alliances giving you much more flexibility when it comes time to redeem.

If you decide that a Delta card is the way to go, especially to chase elite status, you might be better off sticking to the more moderately priced Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. As part of the current limited-time offer (available until Apr. 3), the Platinum card is actually offering a better welcome bonus than the premium Delta Reserve.

New applicants to the Platinum card can earn the same 75,000 Delta Miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending only $3,000 in the first 3 months, in addition to a $100 statement credit for a Delta purchase in that time frame. The Delta Platinum card offers a similar Miles Boost offer: Earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 MQMs and bonus miles after spending $50,000. It has an annual fee of $195 (see rates & fees), less than half that of the Reserve, so many people might prefer this option.

The Delta Platinum card is actually offering a better welcome bonus than the premium Delta Reserve. Photo by The Points Guy.

Bottom Line

The Delta Reserve credit card represents a strong commitment to a single airline, and as such isn’t right for everybody. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to gain Delta Sky Club access or a serious boost to your 2019 elite qualifying plans, this card can be a great addition to your wallet. Now is the best time to apply, as the Delta Reserve is currently offering a limited-time elevated welcome bonus of 75,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. A $900 bonus (or more, depending on how much you value the MQMs) is pretty hard to pass up.

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

Know before you go.

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Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 75,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Enjoy in-flight savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your Delta Reserve Credit Card to make an eligible purchase, on board your next Delta flight.
  • Enter Delta Sky Club® at no cost and bring up to two guests for an exclusive rate of $29 per person per visit.
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights; board early, stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights -that's a savings of up to $240 per round trip for a family of four.
  • $450 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.99%-26.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
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.

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