Comparison of Delta’s American Express Cards

March 25, 2013

Traditionally, banks have offered items as cheap as toasters in order to entice customers to open a new account. But with the advent of reward credit cards, banks found out that offering a free flight was much more attractive to most of their customers. But eventually, earning frequent flier miles became just one of the many benefits offered by these cards. Today, Delta Airlines and American Express offer four versions of their SkyMiles card for consumers and three for businesses. So how do you know which one to get? Let’s compare them and figure it out.

The Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

Delta American Express SkyMilesDelta’s SkyMiles Credit Card is about as basic as it gets. It offers one mile per dollar spent on most purchases, and double miles for purchases from Delta. In addition, new cardholders can earn 5,000 miles as a sign up bonus after their first purchase. Finally, cardholders can save 20% on in-flight food, beverage, and entertainment purchases from Delta. The annual fee for this card is $55.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

Delta American Express SkyMiles GoldThe next level up from the basic card offers a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus to new cardholders after spending $500 within three months. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card cardholders can also receive priority boarding and their first bag checked free for themselves and up to eight others traveling on the same itinerary.

In addition, cardholders can gain access to Delta’s Sky Club business lounges for $25 per visit for themselves and up to two additional guests. The regular price is $50. There is a $95 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year, and this card is also offered in a business version.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

Delta American Express SkyMilesNot to be confused with the (non-Delta) American Express Platinum card, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card offers features that go way beyond the Gold SkyMiles card. For example, new cardholders earn 15,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) with your first purchase. And additional 10,000 MQMs are earned for spending $25,000 within a calendar year and another 10,000 MQMs are granted after reaching $50,000. These MQMs are extremely valuable as they can elevate you to the next level of elite status in Delta’s program, allowing you to be upgraded to first class.

But perhaps its most valuable reward is the companion certificate that is earned each year upon renewal. It can be redeemed to add another person to your reservation on a round-trip domestic economy ticket. The annual fee for this card is $150 and it is also available as a business card.

Delta Reserve Credit Card

Delta ReserveThe Delta Reserve Credit Card offers just about as much as any airline credit card ever has. In addition to all the features of the SkyMiles Platinum card, cardholders receive a membership to Delta’s Sky Club lounges for themselves an two others traveling. Better yet, travelers with this card receive upgrade priority over other elite members who are not Reserve cardholders. This can make the difference between sitting in first class and coach.

New cardmembers earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase, and up to 30,000 MQMs each calendar year. 15,000 MQMs are earned after spending $30,000 and another 15,000 MQMs once you reach $60,000. In fact, cardholders can reach elite status without even purchasing a ticket! Reserve card holders receive a companion pass that is good for both economy and first class flights. There is a $450 annual fee for both the business and consumer versions of this card.

Which card is best for you?

If you are a frequent Delta traveler, you have already seen these cards pitched on their website, at the airport, and in their in-flight magazine. But which one makes the most sense? The basic SkyMiles card seems to be for people who don’t fly much but want the lowest annual fee. On the other hand, I have a different theory. If I worked for a company that paid for me to fly internationally in business class, this is the card I would carry as business class passengers already receive free bags and and priority service. For those who travel with economy tickets, the Gold card can make sense for its checked baggage fee waivers and priority service. It also has the best sign up bonus and it is the only card that waives the annual fee. I recommend this card for occasional leisure travelers.

The real standout in this lineup is the SkyMiles Platinum card. It offers the valuable companion certificate for only a $150 annual fee. This certificate can easily be worth several times that amount. And like the pricey Reserve card, it also offers some MQMs for those who need elite status. Therefore, this is the best card for frequent leisure travelers or occasional business travelers.

The Reserve card is a must for frequent business travelers whose company won’t pay for first class. By utilizing the lounge benefits and the companion certificates, it is easy to see how cardholders can justify the $450 annual fee. And if holding this card makes the difference in getting an upgrade several times a year, all the better.

Delta and American Express have an extremely close relationship that has resulted in so many offspring cards. By understanding the features and benefits of their credit card line, travelers can choose the card that is best for their individual needs.

Which card do you feel is right for you? Leave a comment!


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Jason Steele has been dissecting credit card bonuses and loyalty travel programs for years. Digging into the details of credit card offers has enabled his family to vacation in cool places around the world. Pay attention to the details he digs up about which card is best for you.

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