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The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express is an airline credit card with an incredibly generous rewards program that favors frequent Delta flyers seeking to earn Medallion status and travel in luxury while doing it. Like American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles (and the comparable Gold Delta SkyMiles for Business), Delta Reserve earns Delta SkyMiles on all purchases, with accelerated earnings on Delta purchases. Like American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles and Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business, it also earns loyalty currency – Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) – when cardholders reach certain spending thresholds. This makes it ideal for travelers looking to earn Medallion status faster.
Delta Reserve is a great travel rewards credit card, but it doesn’t come cheap. It has an annual fee of $450, charged from the first year onward. If you’re interested in this card, you need to make sure you use it and its perks often enough – and take to their air with Delta frequently enough – to offset its hefty cost.
Earn 40,000 bonus SkyMiles and 10,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles when you spend at least $3,000 in new purchases on your card in the first 3 months.
Delta Medallion Program
American Express Delta Reserve’s most generous benefits revolve around the Delta Medallion status program, which has four tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Medallion perks are designed to increase comfort and convenience for frequent Delta flyers: complimentary preferred seating and class upgrades, accelerated MQM and SkyMiles earnings, priority boarding, and waived fees (baggage, standby, and others). Unsurprisingly, benefits become more lavish as tier status increases – for instance, Diamond status comes with 2 Global Entry application vouchers, complimentary Sky Club membership, and Medallion status gifting privileges.
To reach Medallion status levels, you need to combine MQMs (distance miles calculated as a multiple of total flight distance, usually 200% of first class flight distance and 100% of economy flight distance) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs – basically, any Delta flight segment, with each connection leg counted as a separate segment) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs – certain fare dollars spent with Delta: base fares, surcharges, and certain upgrades) within a single calendar year.
Once you reach a Medallion status threshold, you earn Medallion status for the remainder of the current year and the entire year following. Medallion status thresholds are as follows: Silver Medallion status, 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MQDs; Gold Medallion status, 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs; Platinum Medallion status, 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs; Diamond Medallion status, 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $15,000 MQDs.
SkyMiles Rewards and Redemption
This card earns unlimited 2 Delta SkyMiles for every $1 spent on Delta purchases (including airfare, lounge passes, in-flight purchases, and other incidental expenditures). All other purchases earn an unlimited 1 SkyMile per $1 spent. You can redeem your SkyMiles for Delta airfare at variable redemption thresholds. Domestic economy one-ways typically require 10,000 SkyMiles, though 12,500 SkyMiles per one-way buys a broader range of flights and more flexible travel dates.
Delta’s redemption tables are subject to change over time, and certain travel times, dates, and destinations (such as high-season flights to popular vacation destinations) can demand additional SkyMiles. Perhaps more importantly, SkyMiles’ per-point values fluctuate considerably, as the general range is between $0.005 to $0.02 at redemption, but values can be higher or lower on certain routes.
Delta’s Pay With Miles feature (an exclusive benefit for Amex Delta Reserve, Gold Delta SkyMiles, and Platinum Delta SkyMiles cardholders) lets you redeem SkyMiles for part of a flight at a flat $0.01-per-point ratio, and then cover the rest of the published fare with cash. For instance, a 10,000-SkyMile Pay With Miles redemption equates to a $100 fare reduction, regardless of route or published fare price.
You can also redeem SkyMiles at the Delta SkyMiles MarketPlace for gift cards, merchandise, and special experiences (such as concerts). However, as MarketPlace redemptions usually value miles at well under $0.01 apiece, MarketPlace redemptions rarely offer good value relative to airfare redemptions. Then again, MarketPlace redemption thresholds are lower than regular award fares or Pay With Miles thresholders – sometimes as low as 2,000 SkyMiles.
Companion Certificate Benefit
When you renew your card at your annual renewal date, you get 1 companion certificate that can be redeemed for 1 domestic first class or economy round-trip flight. The designated companion using the certificate needs to be traveling with the primary cardholder. The cardholder is required to purchase his or her ticket, as well as pay any government taxes and fees on the companion fare, with his or her Delta Reserve credit card.
Complimentary Sky Club Access for Primary Cardholder
As a Delta Reserve cardholder, you enjoy complimentary Delta Sky Club (airport lounge) access for as long as your account remains open and in good standing, provided you’re ticketed for a Delta flight when you access the lounge. You also get discounted Sky Club access ($29 per person, versus $59 normally) for up to 2 ticketed companions.
Annual SkyMiles and MQMs Bonus
When you spend at least $30,000 on your card (in total purchases) in a calendar year, you receive 15,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles and 15,000 bonus SkyMiles. When you clear the $60,000 annual spending threshold within a calendar year, you earn an additional 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 SkyMiles, for a total potential spending bonus of 30,000 MQMs and 30,000 SkyMiles. Basically, if you spend $60,000 in a calendar year, you automatically achieve a Medallion level upgrade (Diamond excepted) and earn enough SkyMiles to pay for 3 one-way award flights.
MQD Waiver With Sufficient Spending
When you spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year with your Delta Reserve card, you no longer have to worry about earning enough MQDs to qualify for a given Medallion status level. Instead, MQMs or MQSs are sufficient. For instance, if you accumulate the 75,000 MQMs necessary for Platinum status, you don’t need the $9,000 MQDs that are normally also required.
Delta Travel Benefits
In addition to generous perks such as complimentary Sky Club access and companion certificates, Delta Reserve has some useful fringe benefits for Delta travelers: 20% off all in-flight purchases, priority boarding, and 1 free checked bag for the cardholder.
Additional Travel Benefits
Delta Reserve also includes travel benefits not specific to Delta flights. These include a “lowest hotel rate guarantee” for hotel stays booked through American Express’s proprietary travel portal; complimentary baggage insurance for lost, stolen, or damaged luggage; complimentary loss and damage insurance for rental cars paid in full with the Reserve card; 24/7 global assistance for travelers more than 100 miles from home; accidental death and dismemberment travel insurance; and 24/7 roadside assistance.
Delta Reserve’s shopping benefits, underwritten by American Express, include purchase protection (reimbursement) for broken or stolen items within 3 months (90 days) of purchase and extended warranties (up to 1 year) on items with original warranties of 5 years or less.
There is a $450 annual fee, starting in the first year. Additional cards (for authorized users) cost $175 each. There is no foreign transaction fee. Balance transfers and cash advances both cost the greater of $5 or 3%, while late and returned payments both cost $37.
This card requires excellent credit.
- MQM Bonuses and MQD Waivers Mean Rapid Progress Toward Higher Medallion Statuses. Delta Reserve’s crowning benefits are the $30,000 and $60,000 MQM bonuses – 15,000 each, for a total of 30,000 MQMs when you spend $60,000 per year – and the MQD waiver at $25,000 in annual spending. 30,000 MQMs is more than enough to earn Silver Medallion status, or upgrades from Silver to Gold or from Gold to Platinum. Meanwhile, the MQD waiver simplifies the Medallion qualification process by eliminating spending worries. Basically, if you’re a heavy spender and use Delta Reserve as your primary credit card, you’re guaranteed to earn Medallion status (and probably upper-echelon status, if you fly Delta a lot) as long as your account remains open and active.
- Complimentary Sky Club Access for Primary Cardholder. As long as your Delta Reserve account remains open and in good standing, you enjoy complimentary Delta Sky Club lounge access as the primary cardholder. Though Sky Clubs aren’t as common as some other airport lounge brands, they’re present in many major U.S. airports, so there’s a good chance you’ll encounter one (or more) in your travels. If you visit Sky Clubs often, this benefit alone is worth the annual fee. The discounted passes ($30 off face value) for up to 2 ticketed companions is great too.
- Companion Certificate Every Year With First-Class Privileges. Delta Reserve’s companion certificate can be redeemed for round-trip domestic economy or domestic first class airfare. Depending on the route on which it’s redeemed, this benefit’s value can approach (and may exceed) $1,000, more than covering Reserve’s annual fee. Fellow Amex Delta cards offer 1 free economy companion certificate, but draw the line at first class.
- Annual SkyMiles Boost Good for 3 Domestic One-Ways. If you spent at least $60,000 in a calendar year with this card, you earn 30,000 bonus SkyMiles (15,000 at $30,000 and another 15,000 at $60,000). While spending $60,000 certainly isn’t the most efficient way to get 3 domestic one-way flights, it’s a nice bonus, especially considering you’re guaranteed to have Silver Medallion status (and probably a higher status level) by the time you earn this bonus.
- Solid Welcome Offer. This card’s welcome offer is more than enough to earn a free round-trip ticket anywhere in the continental United States and get about 40% of the way to Silver Medallion status. Not bad.
- No Foreign Transaction Fee. Delta Reserve never charges foreign transaction fees. That’s great news for travelers who regularly fly overseas for business or pleasure.
- Hefty Annual Fee and Authorized User Fee. Delta Reserve’s $450 annual fee and $175-per-card authorized user fee is among the highest in the travel credit card realm. If you’re in a position to meet its annual MQM bonuses and take advantage of its most generous benefits, you’ll more than earn your money’s worth. If not, stay away from this card.
- SkyMiles Accumulate Slowly on Non-Delta Spending. Delta Reserve earns a paltry 1 SkyMile per $1 spent on non-Delta purchases. This mediocre rate is exceeded by several general purpose cards, including Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® (2 points per $1 spent on everything) and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2 points per $1 spent on restaurant dining and travel purchases) – both of which cost less than $100 per year. SkyMiles can be worth more than points earned with those two cards, but they’re nowhere near valuable enough to make up the difference after accounting for Reserve’s annual fee.
- Airfare Rewards and Redemption Limited to Delta. SkyMiles earned with Delta Reserve aren’t super versatile. If you want to redeem them for airfare, you need to do so on routes served by Delta. If you don’t live near a Delta-served airport, or want the flexibility to redeem on another airline (or for hotels, rental cars, and other travel expenses, for that matter), consider a more versatile card such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi ThankYou Premier.
- MarketPlace Redemptions Undervalue SkyMiles. SkyMiles’ earn their keep when redeemed for airfare – they can be worth as much as $0.02 per point, and occasionally even more. By contrast, non-airfare redemptions at the SkyMiles MarketPlace usually value points well under $0.01 apiece. The only reason to redeem for merchandise, gift cards, or experiences at the SkyMiles MarketPlace is to use SkyMiles that you don’t ever plan to redeem for airfare – and if you find yourself earning SkyMiles faster than you can redeem them, it’s probably time to switch cards. For a more versatile rewards program, look to cards that earn American Express’s Membership Rewards currency: Amex Platinum (the closest analogue to Delta Reserve), Amex Premier Rewards Gold, and Amex EveryDay Preferred, among others.
Delta is a huge airline that serves virtually every major U.S. city and (either directly or through affiliates) dozens of international destinations. It’s likely that you live within easy driving distance of a Delta airport, even if you don’t consider your hometown a Delta hub. If you do, you’re part of Delta Reserve’s target audience – at least in theory.
In practice, however, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express is only appropriate for a small sliver of U.S. consumers: Frequent travelers who can (and wish to) remain loyal to Delta, and who have the ample means and stellar credit to handle this beast of a credit card. If you do not fit the bill, don’t fret – many travel credit cards are less lavish and less expensive, but still plenty generous.