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American Express issues four very different Delta SkyMiles co-branded cards and if you’re not really sure what each cost offers it can be incredibly difficult which of the four cards will work best in your wallet. This post compares what all four Delta Sky Miles American Express cards offer and will hopefully guide you to the right card for you.
In the table below I’ve done my best to summarise the earning rates and the key benefits that all four of the Delta SkyMiles American Express cards offer and while the table won’t answer every question you may have (it’s not meant as a definitive guide so please make sure you read all terms and conditions carefully), it’s a good starting point from which to consider what Delta’s consumer American Express Cards look like (terms apply to all earnings and benefits listed out below).
*Throughout 2021, holders of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card can earn an additional 2,500 MQMs after making $25,000 in purchases (up to 2 times) and holders of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card can earn an additional 3,750 MQMs after making $30,000 in purchases (up to 4 times).
For someone only looking to dip a toe into the world of Delta’s American Express cards to see how well one may work for them, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is probably going to be a good place to start because it offers a few key benefits (terms apply)…
- A free checked bag for up to 9 people traveling on the same reservation
- 20% back on select in-flight purchases
- Priority boarding
- $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000
…and a nice welcome bonus (expires 10 November 2021)…
- Earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
…all while not charging an annual fee in the first year (a $99 annual fee will apply from the second year of card membership – rates & fees).
However, for someone who travels more than once or twice a year with Delta, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, probably won’t cut it. There are just too many useful benefits offered by both of the remaining SkyMiles cards that cannot be ignored even though they both come with higher annual fees.
- Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
…and comes with a host of benefits not offered by the cheaper Gold card (terms apply):
- Better earning rate on Delta spending
- Better earning rate at hotels
- An annual companion certificate (Main Cabin only)
- A Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
- Delta SkyClub access (for a fee)
- The opportunity to earn up to 20,000 MQM
- The opportunity to earn an MQD waiver
- Trip Delay insurance
In the first year of card membership, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is a more solid choice for a frequent Delta flyer than the Gold SkyMiles card as the annual companion certificate alone will make up for most of the $250 difference in annual fees.
From year 2 onwards (where the difference in annual fees between the Platinum and Gold cards drops to $151) it’s even easier to see why the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is a better choice than the Gold card for anyone who travels with Delta a few times a year.
For hardened Delta loyalists however, neither of the cards that I have mentioned above will be probably enough.
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express card may not be the best card to which Delta bookings should be charged but it offers a significant number of excellent benefits that can make a frequent Delta flyer’s life a lot more comfortable.
This card may come with a scary-looking $550 annual fee (rates & fees) but it also comes with a list of benefits that, for a frequent Delta flyer, should far outweigh the yearly outlay.
Firstly, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card comes with a great welcome offer that can make earning or retaining status a lot easier (expires 10 November 2021):
- Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
Secondly, outside of the Platinum Card® from American Express and the Business Platinum Card® from American Express (both of which can effectively earn 5 SkyMiles/dollar thanks to how Membership Rewards points convert to SkyMiles – terms apply), this card matches the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card in offering the best SkyMiles earnings rate for spending made direct with Delta (3 miles/dollar).
Thirdly, it’s important to realize that the fact that the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card offers better earnings than the Reserve card at restaurants, US supermarkets, and at hotels, is totally irrelevant – there are numerous other credit cards that offer vastly better returns for spending in those categories so no one should be using a Delta co-branded American Express card when they dine, do their grocery shopping or book hotels. Doing so just leaves points (money) on the table.
With the differences in earning rates now established as irrelevant, the only question really left to ask is this:
Do the benefits offered by the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express card justify the $300/year higher fee if you’re flying with Delta on a frequent basis?
For most people, the answer will be a resounding yes.
For $300 more per year than the Delta Platinum card, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express card offers all of these added benefits:
A Better Annual Companion Certificate (terms apply)
Both the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card offer a companion certificate when the card is renewed each year, but the Reserve card’s certificate is a lot more valuable.
- The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card’s certificate will pay for a round-trip Main Cabin seat (in select fare buckets excluding taxes and fees) for someone traveling with the cardholder within the 48 contiguous United States.
- The certificate issued by the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card will pay for a round-trip companion fare (in select fare buckets excluding taxes and fees) in all domestic classes of service within the 48 contiguous United States.
On its own, this could easily cover the difference in annual fees.
Delta Sky Club Access (terms apply)
Holders of the SkyMiles Platinum Card can only access SkyClubs by paying a $39 entrance fee while SkyMiles Reserve cardholders get unlimited free access throughout the year.
8 visits to Delta Sky Clubs in a single year will more than cover the difference in the annual fee between the SkyMiles Platinum card and the SkyMiles Reserve card.
Additionally, while holders of both cards have to pay for guests to access the clubs (maximum of 2 guests per visit at $39 each), holders of the SkyMiles Reserve card get two complimentary Sky Club passes (worth $78) per year.
Status Boost (terms apply)
Delta’s status boost benefit is exactly what it sounds like – it allows cardholders to boost their way to higher Medallion status simply by putting spend on their co-branded card.
- Holders of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card can boost their Medallion Qualification Miles by up to 20,000 MQM per year (10,000 MQM after $25,000 and a further 10,000 MQM after spending $50,000)*
- Holders of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card can boost their Medallion Qualification Miles by up to 60,000 MQM per year (15,000 MQM after $30,000 and a further 15,000 MQM after spending $60,000, $90,000, and $120,000)*
*As noted earlier, both cards offer additional bonuses for 2021.
Essentially, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card will allow cardholders to earn 100% of the MQM needed for Silver and Gold status, 80% of the MQM need for Platinum status, and 48% of the MQM needed for top-tier Diamond status without the need to set foot in an aircraft.
Upgrade Priority (terms apply)
This is a benefit that only the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers and it could be invaluable to frequent Delta flyers. Here’s how Amex describes the benefit:
Eligible Card Members who are SkyMiles Medallion Members have priority over other passengers within the same Medallion tier and fare class grouping.
Essentially, holders of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card will be upgraded ahead of all other flyers who have the same (or lower) Medallion status and who have purchased the same (or cheaper) fare.
In a world where complimentary upgrades are getting harder and harder to get any help is greatly appreciated, so this is a benefit that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Access To Complimentary Upgrades (terms apply)
This is really only a benefit that is of any use to non-medallion cardholders, but it’s still worth mentioning.
If you’re only just embarking on your relationship with Delta there’s a strong chance that you don’t have status with the airline (unless you managed to status match from another airline’s loyalty program). If that’s the case, as an entry-level member, you won’t have access to Delta’s complimentary upgrades unless you have the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.
Here’s how American Express describes the benefit:
Eligible Card Members will be eligible to receive complimentary upgrades for Delta One® (within the 50 United States), First Class, and Delta Comfort+® after Medallion Members.
Of course, you’ll still be behind all the Delta elite’s who are in line for complimentary upgrades, but at least you’ll be in the game.
Centurion Lounge Access (terms apply)
In years gone by, only holders of Amex Platinum and Centurion cards were able to access Centurion Lounges in the US and in select worldwide locations but that changed when the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card was refreshed in 2019.
Reserve cardholders now get complimentary access to all Amex Centurion Lounges and, for a fee of $50 per person, they can also bring two guests with them into the lounge.
Trip Delay & Trip Cancellation Insurance (terms apply)
Since 1 January 2020, American Express has offered trip delay and trip cancellation insurances on select credit cards and no Amex card offers better protections than the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.
- The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card offers trip delay cover of up to $300/trip for delays of over 12 hours with up to 2 claims per 12-month consecutive period allowed (more details)
- The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card card offers trip delay cover of up to $500/trip for delays of over 6 hours with up to 2 claims per 12-month consecutive period (more details) AND it offers trip cancellation insurance of up to $10,000/covered trip and $20,000 per eligible card per 12-month consecutive period.
A single delay of over 6 hours can see the SkyMiles Reserve Card pay back ~67% of the difference in the annual fee between the two cards while a single delay of over 6 hours (but under 12 hours) can see the SkyMiles Reserve card pay back 100% of the annual fee difference and add a further $200 back into the cardholder’s pocket too.
Clearly, the value that each of the Delta SkyMiles American Express cards can offer will vary from person to person depending on their travel patterns but, essentially, this is what things look like:
If you’re just trying out the world of Delta’s American Express co-branded cards and don’t yet fly with Delta very often, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is probably the best SkyMiles card for you.
If you travel with Delta more than a couple of times a year but not often enough to be able to make use of all the great benefits that the Reserve Card offers, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card will probably cover most of your Delta-related needs.
For frequent Delta flyers, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is almost certainly going to be the clear winner. It offers a better companion certificate, a better status boost option, and better trip delay protection than the SkyMiles Platinum card and, on top of all of that, it also offers free entry to Delta Sky Clubs, two SkyClub guest passes, free entry to Centurion Lounges and trip cancellation insurance too.
If you’re a serious Delta flyer you probably can’t afford not to have the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express card.