Choosing the Best Credit Card for Delta Flyers

Jan 28, 2019

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With the seemingly nonstop devaluations and a lack of transparency when it comes to award travel costs, many award travelers have avoided Delta’s SkyMiles program for the past several years. Still, that’s not to say you can’t find some good value in SkyMiles, such as short-haul flights for just 10,000 miles per ticket.

The road to choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers may not be as straightforward as you think. For instance, due to its branding, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express may seem like the obvious choice. But when you break it down, The Platinum Card® from American Express is a better option, earning 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchases (which can be transferred to Delta at a 1:1 ratio) compared with 2x SkyMiles for Delta purchases on the Gold Delta card.

American Express Cobranded Cards

Delta partners solely with American Express for its cobranded cards and, in my opinion, these options offer nice-to-have but not essential benefits. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express all offer priority boarding and a first checked bag free for you and companions (for a total of up to nine traveling on the same reservation). Keep in mind there are also business versions of all three cobranded cards.

Card Annual Fee Welcome Bonus Sky Club Access MQM Earnings
Gold Delta Amex $95, waived 1st year (See Rates & Fees) 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

Terms Apply.

$29 per person None
Platinum Delta Amex $195(See Rates & Fees) 35,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Terms Apply. $29 per person 10,000 MQMs with $25,000 in annual spending, max 20,000 MQMs
Delta Reserve Amex $450 (See Rates & Fees) 10,000 MQMs and 40,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, companion ticket. Terms Apply. Complimentary for card holder 15,000 MQMs with $30,000 in annual spending, max 30,000 MQMs


There’s also a more recently introduced no-fee card, the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. With this card, you can get 2x miles on Delta purchases, as well as on spending at US restaurants, 1 mile per dollar on everything else and 20% off eligible inflight purchases when you travel with Delta. It’s currently offering a bonus of 10,000 SkyMiles after you spend $500 in the first three months. Unlike the other Delta Amex cards, it does charge a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions (See Rates & Fees).

When These Cards Make Sense

Overall, I think the cobranded cards offer a fair value based on their respective annual fees. The ability to earn MQMs on the Platinum and Reserve cards may make them worth the annual fees to some Delta loyalists, especially if they’re big credit card spenders and fall short on paid flights for the year.

Plus, with the Platinum and Reserve cards, you’ll receive a companion certificate for travel on Delta each year after your account anniversary. With the Platinum, you get a domestic companion certificate good for the main cabin, but with the Reserve it’s good for first class, Delta Comfort+ or the main cabin (also with a max of $75 in taxes and fees). Just keep in mind the restrictions, such as that the ticket is only eligible for travel within the 48 contiguous United States (though those who live in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands can originate from their home to a destination in the 48 contiguous states).

Additionally, you can use Delta cobranded cards to waive the Medallion® Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirement for Delta elite status. If you spend $25,000 on Delta SkyMiles Amex cards in a calendar year, you’ll get an MQD waiver for status levels up to Platinum, but to get the MQD requirement waived for Diamond Medallion status, you now have to spend an outrageous $250,000 on cobranded cards in a calendar year. Needless to say, we don’t recommend going this route — especially since you can meet the MQD requirement for Diamond status by spending a much lower amount on Delta and partner flights in a calendar year.

When it comes to the Delta Reserve, I personally don’t think Sky Club access justifies the $450 annual fee. In my experience, the lounges are always packed and offer little in the way of complimentary refreshments. That said, the airline continues to charge higher and higher prices to enter its lounges, so if you fly Delta frequently and don’t have any lounge access through another card, this benefit could appeal to you. My recommendation is to only go after the Reserve card if you can put $60,000 on the card in a year to capture 40,000 MQMs, including the introductory bonus.

Additional American Express Options

As previously mentioned, Membership Rewards transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio, opening up another avenue in your SkyMiles-earning strategy. However, MR-earning cards aren’t the only Amex options for racking up significant SkyMiles, and you can actually get a much higher return on spending with some non-Delta-branded options from Amex.

Let’s take a look at other cards from the issuer that can be very beneficial to the Delta flyer.

Platinum Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Benefits: Since late 2016, the Amex Platinum has been offering 5x points on all airfare booked directly with airlines. This allows you to effectively earn a very healthy 5 SkyMiles per dollar instead of the 2x earning rate of the cobranded cards. There’s a $550 annual fee (See Rates & Fees)(offset by premium benefits like a $200 annual air travel credit, $200 in annual Uber credits and a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit) and no foreign-transaction fee (See Rates & Fees).

Bonus: The card’s currently offering a bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.

American Express® Gold Card

Benefits: Not quite as impressive as the Amex Platinum now that it offers 5x points on airfare, but this card will net you 3 points per dollar on all airfare purchased directly from the airline. In addition, it offers spending bonus categories of 4x points at restaurants. Overall, you can earn more SkyMiles on everyday spending with this card than on the cobranded options. The annual fee is $250 (See Rates & Fees).

Bonus: The card’s currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of account opening.

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express

Benefits: If you’re a big spender and don’t need MQMs, this card could be a good choice for earning a lot of redeemable SkyMiles. For every billing period in which you use the card for 30 or more transactions, you’ll earn 50% extra Membership Rewards on your purchases. You’ll also earn 3x points on the first $6,000 of annual spending at supermarkets and 2x points on gas. Those bonuses are before the 50% monthly billing period bonus, effectively turning the earn rates into 4.5 and 3 points per dollar. The card carries a $95 annual fee.

Bonus: The standard welcome bonus is for 15,000 points after $1,000 in spend in the first three months of account opening.

Bottom Line

If you’re serious about award travel, you need to maximize every tool in your arsenal to ensure your rewards account balance is as high as possible. One of the first steps is calibrating the credit cards in your wallet. If you don’t have a good credit card strategy, you could lose out on a ton of extra miles through bonus spending categories, ultimately hindering you in the quest to meet your award-travel goals.

Unless you’re the most die-hard Delta flyer alive and refuse to fly other airlines, I don’t see the cobranded cards as being your best option unless you’re after the introductory bonus or are in desperate need of some last-minute MQMs. The ancillary benefits the cobranded cards offer are nice, but they’re not game-changer. The flexibility offered by the other American Express cards, along with bonus categories that earn you more SkyMiles, makes much more sense for the average Delta flyer.

Featured photo by @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20

This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best current cards for Delta flyers, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.

For rates and fees of the American Express Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express, please click here.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.