Choosing the Right Delta American Express Card
March 1, 2012

If you are a Delta flyer, it may make sense for you to have one of the three premier co-branded American Express cards: the Gold, Platinum and Reserve cards. I do not recommend having these cards as your sole credit card, because only collecting one type of miles/points is not a smart strategy – you never want to put all of your eggs in one basket (especially not SkyMiles because they are among the least valuable miles). I personally recommend leveraging a transferable points program, like Chase Ultimate Rewards which gives you a ton of flexibility in terms of transfer partners to airlines, hotels and even Amtrak when it comes time to redeem – and it doesn’t hurt they are running 50,000 point sign-up bonuses for their Sapphire Preferred (personal) and Ink Bold (business) cards.

So why would someone want an airline-branded credit card? It’s all about the perks. Transferable points cards are great, but they won’t get you free bags (well, except the Amex Platinum which refunds $200 a year in airline fees) or priority boarding. In general, airline co-branded credit cards can enhance your flying experience and save you time and/or money.

The three main Delta Amex cards: Gold, Platinum and Reserve

1) Gold Skymiles card: You get 30,000 bonus miles when you spend $500 within the first three months (used to be 20,000). $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Pros: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta, free checked bag for up to 9 people on the same reservation, zone 2 priority boarding (meaning you can get on the plane before all of the overhead bin space is full – avoiding gate checked bags will save you time), 20% off in-flight food and entertainment and the ability to Pay With Miles (meaning you have the option of redeeming Skymiles for 1 cents towards airfare – a $300 Delta flight can be purchased for 30,000 points, whereas you might have needed 60,000 Skymiles to redeem for it as a normal award), a $99 coach companion ticket and the ability to buy discounted $25 SkyClub passes.
Cons: No elite mile benefit, Pay With Miles flights do not earn miles/elite status and Delta recently slashed value of its gift card program, which used to be a big benefit of having a co-branded card.
Verdict: This card is good for the casual traveler who flies Delta, but doesn’t have elite status. With the first checked bag costing $25, this benefit can pay for the annual fee if you check bags on 2 roundtrips a year or more.

2) Platinum Skymiles card: Not to be confused with the American Express Platinum card, this card is a nice mix of benefits without a huge annual fee. 20,000 miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles with first purchase.
Pros: All Gold Card benefits, plus 10,000 MQMs when you reach $25,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year and an additional 10,000 MQMs with $50,000 in spend within the same calendar year. Also an annual companion ticket for coach domestic travel in the cheapest fare classes – this can easily save you a couple hundred dollars and the main ticket still earns miles/upgrades (the companion does not).
Cons: Companion tickets aren’t eligible for upgrades (and only the paid ticket gets miles), high spend requirements for the MQMs
Verdict: This card is for Medallions who value MQMs, but may already have Skyclub access through the Amex Platinum card or Diamond status. Also, the companion ticket is free vs. $99 with the Gold, so generally I think the Platinum card is a better bet if you can use the certificate.

3) Delta Reserve card:
Pros: 10,000 MQMs with first purchase, 15,000 MQMs if you hit $30,000 within a calendar year and then an additional 15,000 when you hit $60,000, Delta SkyClub access with 2 guests, domestic first class companion ticket (this works for coach and discounted first class so it’s actually pretty valuable) and elevated upgrade status – you outrank someone at your same Medallion level and fare class if they don’t have the card.
Cons: $450 annual fee isn’t bad if you value the SkyClub access, but it’s hefty if you already have it as a Diamond Medallion or Amex Platinum cardholder.
Verdict: A good fit for the Silver-Platinum flyer who values SkyClub access and needs the MQMs to retain status. Or for Diamond Medallions who value the MQMs and the companion certificate.

Overall, whether you love it or hate it, Delta gives a ton of benefits to their co-branded credit card holders. In fact, Delta was ahead of the pack and others are catching up – with American even adding an EQM earning premium credit card this year. While I will reiterate that you shouldn’t just accumulate SkyMiles – having one of these cards can easily pay for itself as long as you choose the best card to align with your needs.

See also: Sunday Reader Question: How Can You Spend Your Way to Airline and Hotel Elite Status?

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