Delta Credit Cards: Which One Should You Pick?

Susan Shain

Susan Shain | Blog

Sep 12, 2018 | Updated Oct 31, 2018

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Earlier this week, I flew Delta Airlines to Puerto Rico — and somehow ended up with Zone 1 boarding. I felt like a total superstar since I didn’t have to fight for overhead bin space or get jostled on the way to my seat.

Wondering what it’d be like to get Zone 1 treatment all the time, I decided to compare four Delta credit cards I might qualify for. Here’s what I discovered.

Understanding Delta’s Rewards and Elite Statuses

Before diving into Delta’s credit cards and their benefits, you’ll need to get familiar with the airline’s rewards and status program.

In addition to earning Delta SkyMiles, Delta’s cards can help you attain Medallion status.

When you achieve this elite status, you’ll get benefits like complimentary upgrades, waived change fees, and priority check-in and boarding.

To get there, you’ll need to earn a combination of the following:

  • Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), which are based on how far you fly, and in which class
  • Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs), which are based on the number of flights you take
  • Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs), which are based on how much money you spend on flights with Delta and its partners

Here are the four tiers of Medallion status, along with their requirements:

SILVER GOLD PLATINUM DIAMOND
25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs
AND AND AND AND
$3,000 MQDs or MQD Waiver $6,000 MQDs or MQD Waiver $9,000 MQDs or MQD Waiver $15,000 MQDs or MQD Waiver

While you can earn MQMs, MQMs, and MQDs by flying with Delta, you can also earn MQMs and MQDs by spending money on your co-branded Delta credit card.

Depending on which Delta card you get, you could earn 10,000 MQMs for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, and 10,000 to 30,000 more for meeting certain spending thresholds over the following year.

As for MQDs, Delta will waive the requirement (listed in the table above) if you spend $25,000 or more on your Delta card during a calendar year. That is, if you’re trying to get Silver, Gold, or Platinum status; for a Diamond status waiver, you must spend a whopping $250,000.

4 Delta Credit Cards: A Breakdown

Now that you’ve got your head around Delta’s elite statuses, you’re ready to explore the range of Delta credit cards — all issued by American Express.

Here’s what the three most popular options (the Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cards) have in common:

  • 2X miles/dollar on Delta purchases; 1X on everything else
  • One free checked bag (for up to nine people under the same reservation)
  • Priority boarding (Zone 1)
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 17.74%–26.74% Variable APR

The differences you’ll have to look out for? Annual fees, introductory bonuses, MQMs, and Delta Sky Club (airport lounge) access. Here’s a breakdown.

  • $95 annual fee (waived the first year)
  • 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 4 months (offer expires 9/19)
  • Discounted Sky Club access ($29 per person)

 

  • $195 annual fee
  • 70,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (offer ends 9/19)
  • 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, plus an additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000
  • Annual companion ticket for one domestic roundtrip flight
  • Discounted Sky Club access ($29 per person)

 

  • $450 annual fee
  • 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, plus an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after spending $60,000
  • Annual companion ticket for one roundtrip first class or economy flight
  • Complimentary Sky Club access, plus a discounted guest rate of $29 per person (for up to two guests)

 

  • No annual fee
  • 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • 2X miles per dollar at U.S. restaurants and on Delta purchases; 1X on everything else
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee
  • 17.74%–26.74% Variable APR

Until 10/18/18, this card is also offering up to $50 in statement credits for Lyft purchases in the first 6 months, plus 2X miles per dollar when you use the ridesharing service.

Three of the cards above have business versions: Read about the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card (Review), and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card® from American Express here. If you’re wondering how to qualify for a business card, it’s not as hard as you might think.

Which of the Delta Credit Cards Should You Get?

If you fly Delta occasionally, and want to snag a big introductory bonus, consider applying for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card. 

Since the annual fee is waived for the first year, you can get the introductory bonus, plus free bags and priority boarding.

After that, you’d need to take at least two Delta flights — with checked bags — per year to make up for the annual fee.

But even if you don’t think the card’s worth it after the first year, you can cancel it and keep the miles. Or you could downgrade to the no-annual-fee Blue card, and keep the line of credit open, too.

If you’ll make good use of the MQMs, companion certificate, and free checked bags, then consider the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card (Review).

With the companion certificate, you could take a friend or family member on a domestic roundtrip flight for just the price of taxes and fees (a maximum of $75).

So, if you’re planning to head anywhere on a ticket that’s more than a couple hundred bucks, this card will certainly cover its annual fee.

For people who are not hardcore Delta loyalists — and who want a premium card — we’d recommend the The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) instead of the Delta Reserve.

This card earns Membership Rewards points, which you can convert to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. You won’t get a free bag or priority boarding, but you will have more flexibility when deciding where to spend your rewards.

Here are the details:

  • $550 annual fee
  • 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X points per dollar on:
    • Flights booked directly with airlines
    • Prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel
  • 2X points per dollar on other eligible purchases from American Express Travel
  • 1X point on everything else
  • Annual $200 fee credit with an airline of your choice
  • Annual $200 Uber credit ($15 per month, plus an extra $20 in December)
  • Access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which includes Delta Sky Clubs

The Amex Platinum is an excellent general travel card for flying Delta, particularly because of its wide-ranging lounge access and ability to transfer points to Delta SkyMiles. You won’t find those features on other high-end travel cards.

Plus, you’ll get 5X points per dollar when you book flights directly with Delta (or a multitude of other airlines), and if you make use of the airline fee and Uber credits, the effective annual fee will actually be lower than that of the Delta Reserve.

For another high-end general travel card, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve (Review). There are also more premium airline cards to consider — if you fly American Airlines, check out the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, and if you fly United Airlines, the United MileagePlus® Club Card (Review).

Lastly, if you want to earn points on dining (as with the Blue card), you could also check out these other card offers:

  • No annual fee
  • 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
  • 2X points at U.S. supermarkets and Amex Travel; 1X everywhere else
  • 20% point bonus for making 20 purchases per billing period
  • $0 balance transfer fee for transfers made during the first 60 days

 

  • No annual fee
  • $100 cash bonus after spending $500 in the first 90 days
  • 4% cash back on dining
  • 3% cash back on airfare, and at hotels and travel agencies
  • 2% cash back for online purchases
  • 1% cash back everywhere else
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 16.99%, 22.74%, or 25.74% Variable APR

Overall, Delta credit cards — while designed for different levels of commitment and annual spending — make the most sense for people who fly the airline frequently. If you’re a casual Delta flyer, or would prefer to earn broader rewards, we’d recommend scoping out all the best travel credit cards before making your decision.

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