One year of earning and burning with the Delta SkyMiles Reserve

Mar 25, 2022

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

As a New York City-based flyer, I’m lucky to have multiple airlines (and airports) at my disposal. Still, even with the privilege of choice, I find myself flying Delta Air Lines more often than any other domestic carrier.

That’s why in 2021, I decided to pursue Delta Medallion status for the first time.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how far I could make it up the ranks of the Delta elite status ladder. But, thanks to my Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, this premium airline card has helped me achieve Delta Platinum status in no time, which has helped elevate my flying experience tenfold.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Now, it has been a year since I’ve opened the Delta Reserve — which means it’s time to look back and see if the card is worth renewing with its $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Let’s take a look at a year in review with my Delta Reserve and analyze how this card has helped me achieve my travel goals.

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In This Post

Welcome offer

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

With year one of any card, the most gratifying feature is, of course, the welcome offer.

Currently, new applicants can earn 100,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership. TPG values Delta SkyMiles at 1.41 cents each, so this introductory offer is worth around $1,410.

When I applied last year, the welcome offer was lower but offered a headstart on elite-qualifying miles. Rather, I earned 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after the same amount of spend ($5,000) in three months — more on elite status in the next section.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll merely calculate the 80,000 bonus miles I earned from the welcome offer as part of my year 1 valuations.

Value: $1,128. 

Related: 13 cards currently offering sign-up bonuses of 100,000 points or more

Medallion status

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Delta makes it incredibly easy to earn Medallion status by opening one of its premium cards. By hitting certain spending thresholds, you can enjoy bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) along with a waiver of the carrier’s Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirements.

First, let’s review the elite qualifications you’ll need to earn to achieve each level of status.

Silver Medallion
Gold Medallion
Platinum Medallion
Diamond Medallion
25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs

AND

$3,000 MQDs or a MQD waiver

50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs

AND

$6,000 MQDs or a MQD waiver

75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs

AND

$9,000 MQDs or a MQD waiver

125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs

AND

$15,000 MQDs or MQD waiver

Next, here’s how the Delta Reserve can help you achieve those elite status goals from card spend alone:

  • Status boost: Earn 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, up to four times per year.
  • MQD waiver: Waive the MQDs requirement towards Silver, Gold or Platinum Medallion status after you make at least $25,000 in purchases in that calendar year with your card. To achieve Diamond status, you will need to make at least $250,000 or more in eligible purchases during a calendar year with your card.

In more layman’s terms, Delta Reserve cardholders should aim to spend $30,000 or more within the calendar year to earn 15,000 MQMs and the MQD waiver. By combining card spend with flying on Delta, Medallion status will be easy in reach.

As a result of my spending and flight activity, I achieved Platinum Medallion status, which TPG values at $3,660 annually. That’s in part due to the complimentary first-class upgrades (that start to clear five days before departure), complimentary Comfort+ upgrades (that clear shortly after booking), annual Choice benefits and so much more.

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Now you may wonder, how often did these upgrades really clear? Here are some of the flights I took in the last year and how my Platinum Medallion status helped me upgrade my journey:

  • New York (JFK) to Reykjavík (KEF): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.
  • New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.
  • New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.
  • Phoenix (PHX) to New York (JFK): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Delta One.
  • New York (JFK) to Charlotte (CLT): Upgrade from Main Cabin to First Class.
  • New York (JFK) to Raleigh-Durham (RDU): Upgrade from Main Cabin to First Class.
  • Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to New York (LGA): Upgrade from Main Cabin to First Class.
  • New York (LGA) to Denver (DEN): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.
  • Denver (DEN) to New York (JFK): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.
  • Newark (EWR) to Raleigh-Durham (RDU): Upgrade from Main Cabin to First Class.
  • Phoenix (PHX) to New York (JFK): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Premium Select.
  • New York (LGA) to Raleigh-Durham (RDU): Upgrade from Main Cabin to First Class.
  • New York (JFK) to Punta Cana (PUJ): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.
  • Dulles (IAD) to New York (JFK): Upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+.

If the above flights are any indication, I’m very thankful to have Platinum Medallion status, even for the upgrades alone.

Note that even before you achieve Delta elite status, the Delta Reserve offers free upgrades to Delta One (within the 50 states), first class and Delta Comfort+. Though you’ll be considered after Medallion members, it’s nevertheless a tremendous perk that may be worth paying the $550 annual fee while you’re working up to reach Delta status.

Value: $3,660.

Related: How to earn Delta Medallion elite status without flying

Delta Sky Club membership

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Another important perk of the Delta Reserve is the unlimited access you receive as a cardholder to Delta Sky Clubs and American Express Centurion Lounges on a same-day Delta ticket.

A Delta Sky Club membership starts at $545 per year — so if you were considering purchasing access, it would make much more sense to apply for the Delta Reserve to get this benefit plus all of the other perks mentioned in this post.

In the last year, I flew Delta more than 30 times, and I try to visit a lounge when I can. Of course, some visits are longer (or shorter) than others. But when I experienced long delays, I appreciated having somewhere to sit and replenish on free food and coffee.

Value: $545. 

Related: The best Delta Sky Club lounges in the U.S.

Miles earned and redeemed

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Delta Reserve cardholders earn 3 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases. On top of that, Platinum Medallion elite members earn 9 miles per dollar spent on Delta flights.

So while you’ll want to use another card for non-Delta purchases, I earned an additional 60,000 SkyMiles from my card spend and elite status bonus alone.

Delta SkyMiles aren’t the best for international redemptions, but I routinely redeemed my stash of miles some fantastic deals on my hops from New York to my hometown airport of Raleigh-Durham (RDU) — I’m talking 4,500 SkyMiles and $5.60 in taxes and fees one-way. And as I noted earlier, these flights frequently cleared into first class thanks to my Platinum Medallion status.

Value: $846.

Related: How to redeem Delta SkyMiles for maximum value

Other benefits

delta-tsa-precheck-security-lga-laguardia-nyc-new-york-city
Get your Global Entry enrollment reimbursed, and enjoy included TSA PreCheck (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Beyond the heavy-hitting perks, Delta Reserve is a solid card for travel and purchase protection benefits.

*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details.

Also, cardholders get a first free checked bag — but that perk did not sway me since Platinum Medallion members already get two free checked bags with every Delta flight.

While I did not use any of the above benefits in the last year, it was nice to know that I had these protection plans in case they were needed.

Finally, Delta Reserve cardholders also receive a statement credit every four years after you apply for Global Entry ($100) or a statement credit every 4.5 years after you apply for TSA PreCheck (up to $85) when you pay the application fee with your card. Since I already had Global Entry, I paid for my mom’s application with the Delta Reserve. I’ll peg the per-year value at $25.

Value: $25.

Related: 14 things you should know about Global Entry

Total year one value

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

In year one of card membership with the Delta Reserve, I enjoyed about $6,204 in value.

It thus goes without saying that I can justify renewing the card and paying for the $550 annual fee — even without the prospect of earning a welcome offer in year two.

Of course, the value of the card will depend on how often you fly on Delta. But if my flying patterns give you any indication of how useful this card was for me over the last year, this is a great time to apply if you’re aiming high for Medallion status.

Related: 5 reasons to switch from the Delta SkyMiles Reserve to the Amex Platinum

What’s next?

(Photo courtesy of Delta)

There’s one final benefit I didn’t discuss in this post: the annual roundtrip companion certificate for domestic first class, Delta Comfort+ or Main Cabin. You’ll receive this award upon renewal of your card.

I’m looking forward to receiving this companion certificate, as I can easily stretch the value of this benefit the next time I’m traveling with a friend or family member. This adds yet another reason to keep the card in my wallet.

Related: Best credit cards for flying Delta in 2022

Bottom line

With cards that carry high annual fees, I recommend performing a similar exercise where you reflect on all of the benefits you took advantage of.

In my case, I earned more than $6,000 in value from my Delta Reserve in the first year — or more than 10 times the cost of the $550 annual fee, making this card a no-brainer for a frequent Delta flyer like me.


Official application link: Delta SkyMiles Reserve with a 100,000-mile welcome offer after spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership.


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

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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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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