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More often than not, I find myself trying to book a Delta flight whenever I travel, both to continue to rack up SkyMiles since I’m a member of the airline’s loyalty program but also because I’ve found it to just offer a better overall experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for those sweet low fares offered by Southwest, another airline I’ll jump at the chance to fly with. But because it’s a smaller airline and tends to fly to fewer destinations, I don’t always have the opportunity to book with Southwest (and do the awkward pre-flight lineup, a gripe for another day). All that said, for a Delta loyalist like me, it’s a small step from there to looking around for a solid co-branded card that can give me extra value for this relationship I’ve voluntarily entered into. There are certainly plenty out there, and if you’ve never dipped a toe into the world of rewards-based credit cards before, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s the difference between a piece of plastic that you use to make purchases and hits you with interest for carrying a balance, versus a card that offsets all that with a grab bag of perks and rewards, from free checked bags to priority boarding, bonus points that can be exchanged for miles and so much more.
What I’d like to zero in on in this post is a look at two cards that Delta loyalists like myself often find themselves weighing against each other when they’re researching all the various cards that are out there. One of them is the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, regarded as the premiere co-branded Delta consumer card. However, you’ll often hear other people insist that The Platinum Card® from American Express is actually the better card for Delta flyers. Today, we’ll dive in to see which of these two cards is the best card for you.
Welcome bonus: Let’s start with the welcome bonus that both cards are currently offering. Right now, the Amex Platinum offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months. Based on this valuation of Membership Rewards points at two cents each courtesy of The Points Guy, the welcome bonus is worth about $1,200. Meanwhile, the Delta Reserve is offering an elevated welcome bonus of up to 100,000 Delta miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) at the moment. You’ll earn that bonus by hitting two spending two tiers. New cardholders can score 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 in purchases on the new card in the first three months, and an additional 20,000 bonus miles after the first anniversary of card membership (It’s important to note — this elevated offer expires on April 1, 2020).
The Points Guy’s valuations peg the value of Delta miles at 1.2 cents each, so this welcome bonus is also worth about $1,200. Delta’s bonus even comes with MQMs, so in a direct comparison of the two welcome offers, we’d have to give the Delta Reserve the win here, just barely.
The welcome offer tends to be one of the first things the average person zeroes in on when considering a credit card offer, and this next one is probably the second — let’s move on to earnings now.
Earnings: The Amex Platinum earns its cardholders five Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines, flights booked with American Express Travel and prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. That’s an impressive 10% return on this spending, per The Points Guy. Meantime, cardholders get one Membership Rewards point for every dollar spent on everything else — a 2% return. The earnings rate with the Delta Reserve is not as strong. Cardholders earn three Delta miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, which equates to a 3.6% return, per TPG. On all other purchases, you’ll earn one mile for every dollar spent, for a mere 1.2% return.
Obviously, the Amex Platinum easily wins this category.
Delta-specific benefits: We’re addressing this by and large to Delta fans, so it’s worth it to now stop and take a moment to walk through the benefits included with each card specifically geared toward Delta flyers.
Unfortunately, the only Delta-specific benefit you get with the Amex Platinum is access to Delta SkyClub lounges. That access is free for Amex Platinum cardholders traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. Cardholders are also allowed to bring up to two guests at a per-visit rate of $39 per person, per location.
The winner in this category is the Delta Reserve, though, and it’s not even close. Its Delta-specific perks include complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges when traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. Cardholders can also pay a per-visit fee of $39 per person, per location, for Sky Club access when traveling on a Delta partner airline flight that’s not marketed or operated by Delta. Additionally, cardholders can get two one-time Sky Club guest passes after opening their account as well as each year upon account renewal.
As if all that wasn’t enough, cardholders can also get complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges when flying Delta with a ticket purchased on the Delta Reserve. You can bring up to two guests into the Centurion Lounge with you for a fee of $50 each.
There’s a long list of other Delta-specific benefits associated with this card, and they include:
- First checked bag free: First checked bag free on Delta flights for the cardholder and up to eight companions traveling on their reservation
- Priority boarding: Main Cabin 1 priority boarding for the cardholder and up to eight companions on the cardholder’s reservation
- Companion certificate each year after account anniversary: Valid for one round-trip first class, Delta Comfort+ or main cabin companion ticket when the cardholder pays taxes and fees on the award ticket and purchases an adult round-trip at an I, Z, W, L, U, T, X or V fare
- Discount on in-flight purchases: 20% savings in the form of a statement credit for eligible pre-purchased meals and in-flight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets on Delta-operated flights
- Spend to earn MQMs through Status Boost: Earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, and an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000, $90,000 and $120,000 in a calendar year.
While the Amex Platinum doesn’t have even a fraction of the same number of Delta-specific benefits, we’d nevertheless be remiss if we didn’t include some of its primary benefits, regardless, to help you make a decision about which of these two cards is right for you. They include:
- Up to $200 in statement credits annually on incidental fees charged by one airline you select
- Up to $200 in Uber credits, split into monthly $15 credits for US rides plus a bonus $20 in December
- Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (every four years for Global Entry and every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck)
- Up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credit, split into two $50 statement credits for the two halves of the year
- Access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which includes Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges, Airspace lounges, and Escapes lounges, regardless of what airline or class you’re flying
- Hotel elite status: Hilton Gold and Marriott Gold
- Car rental elite status: Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred, and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive
- Access to book Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts hotel stays
- No foreign transaction fees
- And myriad travel protections: Baggage insurance plan, secondary car rental loss and damage insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance and trip delay insurance
- Shopping protections: Extended warranty protection, return protection and purchase protection.
The final word
The choice seems to be pretty clear here. If you want the best overall card and are leaning more toward lots of general perks and benefits, the Amex Platinum is the one for you. Even if you don’t use it extensively for spending, it’s likely the card’s benefits will provide value if you travel at least semi-frequently.
The Delta Reserve, on the other hand, will be a better choice for select Delta flyers. You should consider the Delta Reserve if you’ll benefit significantly from the companion certificate each year after your account anniversary and other Delta-specific benefits.