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It was at the end of September last year that Delta and American Express announced that the co-branded Delta credit cards would be seeing their benefits change and, in some cases, seeing annual fees rise. Now that the refreshed cards are finally with us it’s time to check which of the personal Delta credit cards offers the best value for money and what the new welcome bonuses look like.
The time for debating how good or bad the changes to Delta’s credit card line up is over (I’ve already said my bit here) as the refreshed cards are now live and regardless of our thoughts on the changes this is the reality that we’re now faced with….but what does that reality look like?
In the table below I’ve done my best to summarise the earning rates and the key benefits that all 4 of the Delta American Express cards offer, and while the table doesn’t answer all questions (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 the refreshed Delta American Express Cards look like.
Note: The annual fee on the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card is waived for the first year.
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…
- 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 1 April 2020)…
- Earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
- Earn a further 10,000 bonus miles on the anniversary of card membership
…all while not charging an annual fee in the first year (the $99 annual fee will apply from the second year of card membership so the maximum welcome bonus on offer without having to pay a fee is 60,000 miles).
However, for someone who travels more frequently with Delta, the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card, simply won’t cut it. There are just too many useful benefits offered by the SkyMiles Platinum and Reserve cards that cannot be ignored even though they both come with higher annual fees.
For a $250 annual fee, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Express Card offers an impressive welcome bonus (expires 1 April 2020)…
- Earn 80,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
- Earn a further 20,000 bonus miles on the anniversary of card membership
…and comes with a host of benefits not offered by the cheaper Gold card:
- 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 Express Card is a more solid choice for a frequent Delta flyer as the annual companion certificate alone will make up for the 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) the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Express Card is a clearly better choice.
The Best Personal Delta SkyMiles Card
The best personal Delta American Express card is neither of the cards I’ve mentioned so far. That honor goes to the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card.
This card may come with a scary-looking $550 annual fee 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 the best welcome offer of all the Delta American Express cards (expires 1 April 2020):
- Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
- Earn a further 20,000 bonus miles on the anniversary of card membership
Secondly, outside of the American Express Platinum Card and Business Platinum Card (both of which can effectively earn 5 SkyMiles/dollar thanks to how Membership Rewards points convert to SkyMiles), 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 which 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?
The answer is 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
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 SkyMiles Platinum 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 SkyMiles Reserve 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
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.
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.
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.
- SkyMiles Platinum cardholders 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).
- SkyMiles Reserve cardholders 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).
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.
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
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 the case then, 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
In recent years only holders of Amex Platinum and Centurion cards have been able to access Centurion Lounges in the US and in select worldwide locations but that has now changed with the release of the refreshed Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card.
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
Since 1 January 2020 American Express has started to offer 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 SkyMiles Platinum 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 SkyMiles Reserve 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 for frequent Delta flyers the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card is almost certainly going to be the clear winner.
The SkyMiles Reserve card 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 I’m not sure how you can afford not to have the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card.