Delta Airlines and American Express partner to offer a wide selection of rewards cards, and at the top of the pile is the Delta Reserve Card. It leads their other cards in many ways, from the perks to the annual fee, which stands at a whopping $450.
With a fee that high, the card does offer significant benefits if you’re a frequent flyer and you pay your bills on time, but will you take enough advantage to justify spending $450 a year?
- Earn Regular Miles and Medallion Qualifying Miles. Like most airline-affiliated credit cards, the Delta Reserve Card lets you earn one mile per dollar on all purchases and two miles per dollar on all transactions with Delta and its partners. But if you’re a frequent flyer with Delta, you’re really looking for the valuable Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) to help you reach the next level in Delta’s SkyMiles program. You’ll earn a 10,000 MQM bonus for your first purchase. And after that, you’ll get 15,000 MQMs once you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, and another 15,000 MQMs when you hit $60,000 in annual spending. Just those bonuses alone are enough to grant you Silver Medallion status before you ever set foot on an airplane.
- Free SkyClub Membership. When you hold this card, you and two guests will get access any Delta lounge. Normally this membership costs $450, and Elite SkyMiles members get discounts up to $150.
- Free Checked Bag. You and up to nine other passengers traveling together will not have to pay for your first checked bag when you pay for your tickets with this card.
- Domestic First- or Economy Class Companion Certificate. You’ll get a certificate for a free companion ticket every year when you renew your card. These certificates are fully transferable and you can redeem them when you book online.
- Upgrade Priority. Holding the Reserve Card will put you on the top of the upgrade list, even above non-cardholders within your same Medallion level.
- Variable APR of 14.5%. This rate will vary based on the prime rate, and you’ll also get a 9.99% introductory APR on balance transfers for the first year you have the card.
- Innovative Perks. Unique among airline credit cards, the Delta Reserve Card can make or break your chances of getting an upgrade. Holding the card puts you ahead of flyers who share your status, and if that means you can score just one or two additional upgrades on long flights, you might be able to justify the annual fee on this basis alone. If you’re carrying this card, chances are you’re already a Medallion member, so you’re already checking your bag for free. But being able to apply that benefit to nine other travelers is a huge advantage for families or if you organize group travel for friends.
- Lots of MQMs. Other than Delta-affiliated credit cards, the only way to earn MQMs is to personally fly Delta on a paid ticket. For those who travel frequently, but usually for short shuttle trips, it can become frustrating to spend thousands but only get very few qualifying miles. If you’re one of those travelers, by purchasing tickets with your Delta Reserve Card, this card can act as your ticket to more upgrades on those short-but-frequent trips.
- SkyClub Membership. If you travel on Delta, but don’t live in a hub city, you’ll almost always find yourself connecting in Atlanta or another Delta hub. Even if you only have a short delay, access to the airport lounge and its free drinks, Internet access, and priority customer service desk is incredibly valuable. Purchasing SkyClub membership costs about half of the annual fee of the card, so if you have a SkyClub at your home airport, this privilege may be worth the annual fee. Keep in mind that some airports like Denver International, which is the fifth busiest airport in the country, do not have a SkyClub.
- Valuable Companion Certificate. Unlike other companion certificates that are managed by third parties, Delta handles companion certificate redemption, so you really are getting two tickets for the price of one. This difference means your companion ticket is valid for first-class bookings, so you may even be guaranteed two luxury seats for the price of one.
- Massive Annual Fee. The perks listed above come at a cost. For the price of this card, you could pay for the American Express Platinum Card. Unless you are an extreme Delta customer, you may be better off with the Gold Delta SkyMiles card or the Delta Platinum Card. These cards earn SkyMiles at the same rate while enjoying some of the smaller perks of the Reserve Card, like companion certificates and bag fee waivers. The Gold Card is the only other option that allows you to earn MQMs, although not as many as the Reserve Card.
- Poor SkyMiles Award Availability. Among people who collect frequent flyer miles to travel the world for free, Delta is infamous for offering extremely few award seats at the lowest mileage levels. Being a Medallion member helps somewhat, but most people still value their SkyMiles below miles earned from other cards such as the American Airlines AAdvantage Card.
- High Spending Requirements. After the signup bonus of 10,000 MQMs, you’ll have to start spending a lot in a year to earn more MQMs. If you spend over $30,000 in a year and plan to use this card as your primary plastic for day-to-day spending, you’ll realize some big benefits. But if you rely on another card for better rewards or a lower APR, then you’re not going to hit the high levels of spending to get more MQMs. If you’re spending unnecessarily to get MQMs, they’re not valuable anymore. This card is best for people who travel on business, especially if your company will reimburse you for expenses charged to your personal credit card.
- High APR. Although 14.5% is lower than many other rewards cards, it is still not as low as you can find in a non-rewards credit card. If you are carrying a balance, you should be focused on finding the lowest APR, not receiving the highest rewards.
If you travel with Delta very frequently, and if you’re based in or often fly to a hub city, there’s no better way to improve your traveling experience than becoming a SkyMiles Medallion member. You’ve earned a little bit of luxury with your amount of flight time you’ve racked up, and the amenities of this card will be worth the high annual fee. Whether or not you travel the necessary miles to reach your desired status level, this card gives you another chance to get there.
If free first-class upgrades and lounge access are very important to you, this is the card you need. But if you only travel for a few leisure trips a year and you just want to shoot for a few more upgrades, try one of the lower-level Delta cards first, before you commit to the fee on the Delta Reserve Card.
Do you carry a Delta-affiliated credit card? What’s the best benefit you’ve received? Have you ever been blocked from getting the rewards you wanted?
Editorial Disclosure: This content is not provided or commissioned by any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, or airline. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.