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Is the American Express Delta Reserve Card Right For You?

I’ve long debated picking up the American Express Delta Reserve card. It sounds like it’s got tons of great benefits – and comes with a premium price tag. Is it worth it?

 

For any Delta Medallion, the American Express Delta Reserve credit card is certainly one you should consider applying for. For new card members, the card has several perks:

  • 10k bonus MQMs and 10k bonus miles after your first purchase.
  • One companion certificate for use on any domestic (48 contiguous states) round trip First Class or Main Cabin ticket
  • 2 points per dollar spent on Delta purchases
  • 15k bonus MQMs and 15k bonus miles after spending $30,000 per calendar year
  • 20% off in-cabin purchases like meals, snacks, and beverages
  • Check your first bag free (up to 9 people per reservation)

All this for an annual fee of $450. The annual fee could be covered entirely by the companion certificate. Sounds great right? But is this card right for you?

 

Simply put: it depends what you’re looking for.

To start, the most obvious would be the American Express Platinum card. While it has an annual fee of $550 (the value of which is a whole other conversation), this card is currently offering 5 points per dollar spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline or with American Express Travel. While this incentive could change over time, it’s worth noting that Delta is a Membership Rewards transfer partner, with a transfer rate of 1:1 – so every point earned with your Platinum card could easily be transferred over to Delta with no loss in earnings. American Express Membership Rewards Delta

Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns you 3 points per dollar spent on travel, including tickets booked with Delta. While Delta is not a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner (though airline partners KLM and Air France’s Flying Blue loyalty program is), you can redeem points earned on Chase’s travel portal, with a redemption value of 1.5x per point.

 

Point Value

To put things in perspective, if you spend $20,000 per year on Delta airline tickets, you might expect to see a range in returns across the three credit cards:

Annual Spend $20,000
Credit Card Delta Reserve American Express American Express Platinum Chase Sapphire Reserve
Points Earned per Dollar Spent 2 5 3
Total Points Earned 40,000 100,000 60,000
Approximate Value (at 1 cent per point) $400 $1,000 $900*
Credit Card Fees -$450 -$550 -$450
Travel Reimbursement     $300
Total Value Earned -$50 $450 $450

*This value calculated at a rate of 1.5x per point redeemed on Chase’s travel portal

 

Once the annual credit card fees are subtracted, the Platinum Card and the Reserve card easily come out as winners here. Note that with the Reserve Card, the travel reimbursement of $300 is added back, since any travel purchase is eligible for this credit, however the Amex Platinum Card travel incidentals reimbursement of $200 was not added back in due to the more restrictive nature of this benefit.

While you’ll earn more with the American Express Platinum card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has more earning potential in other categories (dining and other travel expenses such as car rentals and hotels), so there is more opportunity to earn points with the Reserve card. The “right” card for you between these two will come down to your lifestyle and preference.

 

Earning Options

Another thing to note between the Delta Platinum card when compared against the other two is – the Delta card allows you only to earn Delta miles, period. The Reserve and the Platinum card offer more flexibility in terms of redeeming for cash or other airline (revenue) tickets – which could in turn earn you more Delta miles. So if you took $250 value that you earned with a travel card and booked a round trip main cabin Delta ticket from JFK to ATL, you could potentially earn even more points.

Delta Ticket Cost $250
Credit Card Delta Platinum American Express American Express Platinum Card Chase Sapphire Reserve
Points Earned per Dollar Spent 2 5 3
Total Points Earned -** 1,250 750
Additional DL Miles Earned -** 1,000*** 1,000***

**No additional points or miles earned since ticket purchased is an award ticket. Additional miles are not earned on award tickets. 
***Points are calculated assuming no Medallion status is held.

 

In the end you, you’ll come out on top earning a few additional redeemable miles (about 1,000 – possibly more depending on your status), plus about 1,500 MQMs, when booking a revenue ticket using points earned on the Platinum or Reserve card.

 

Lounges

The Chase Sapphire and the Platinum Card both offer access to Priority Pass, which the Reserve card does not. However, the Reserve card does get you access to the Delta Sky Club – which the Platinum card also does. The Platinum card wins here, in terms of lounge access.

 

Companion Certificate

Without taking into consideration the value of other cards out there, as mentioned above, you could easily earn back the annual fee (and more) of the Delta Reserve  credit card with the companion certificate. I don’t factor this in above for one reason: the companion certificate has a few restrictions.

  • Must book a L, U, T, X, V fare – if these fares are not available on the flight you’d like, then you won’t be able to use the certificate
  • If the original flight purchased must be cancelled, the certificate becomes invalid – it is not re-issued for later use
  • Only eligible for use with Delta First or Main Cabin purchases – meaning you won’t be able to use this on any routes that fly the Delta One product. 

It’s not terribly great that you can’t use this on Delta One flights. Even so, you can easily earn the value back on a long haul flight like JFK-PDX, which operates the Delta First cabin. There’s still plenty of value in the certificate, restrictive as it is.

 

The Takeaway

So – who might benefit from this card?

  • New card members looking to earn additional MQMs without stepping on a plane (perfect for those who need less than 10k MQMs to qualify for the next elite tier)
  • People who frequently purchase food on-board and can benefit from the 20% credit
  • Passengers who would benefit from having a companion pass
  • Passengers with firm travel plans (no likelihood of cancellation)
  • People who spend $30,000 annually and can benefit from a MQM and bonus mile top up
  • People who check luggage frequently on domestic flights – especially those who travel in groups!

 

Who this card probably won’t provide much value to:

  • Legacy card members (outside of first year of membership) who don’t spend $30,000 on this card per year
  • Those who already carry the American Express Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve card

 

While I won’t be getting the card (I have the Platinum and Sapphire Reserve card) I certainly can see how this would be a valuable card for others. Don’t get me wrong – the First Class companion ticket is tempting, but just not enough for me to give in.

 

Do you have the American Express Delta Reserve card? What’s your favorite benefit of the card?

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