Key takeaways

  • The Delta SkyMiles program has been massively devalued over the last few years, but there are still good deals to be had if you're flexible with your travel destination and dates.
  • Having a Delta credit card makes this program considerably more valuable due to the frequent flyer perks and elite status benefits you can access.
  • The best Delta credit card benefits include the potential to earn a MQD waiver, the Status Boost program and TakeOff 15, which is a newer incentive that gives eligible Delta cardmembers 15 percent off award flights.

The Delta SkyMiles program has gotten a bad rap over the last few years especially, and there are several valid reasons why. First off, award rates for domestic and international flights can be downright exorbitant — especially in business class. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find international business class awards on Delta Air Lines for 200,000 to 300,000 miles or more, plus airline taxes and fees.

Not only that, but Delta’s most affordable awards rates are for Basic Economy, which doesn’t come with seat selection and leaves you boarding the plane dead last. This part is notable since the American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus programs don’t even offer flight awards in their Basic Economy cabin, opting to start awards in the Main Cabin instead.

Still, I have had several Delta credit cards over the years and I currently have the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. I applied for this card late last year because it comes with automatic Delta Sky Club access when I fly with Delta, plus priority boarding and other perks.

I really can’t see myself not having at least one Delta credit card in the future either, and it has nothing to do with the sign-up bonuses these cards dole out. There are actually five main reasons I will never give up on co-branded Delta credit cards, including the following:

1. Earning the MQD waiver toward elite status

The first reason I like having certain Delta credit cards is the ability to earn the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver toward Delta Medallion status. This waiver lets you skip the spending requirements to earn any level of status with the airline, which lets you focus on reaching the Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) threshold for the level of status you want.

Both the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card offer the MQD waiver when you spend $25,000 on eligible purchases within a calendar year, and this is a benefit I prioritize within my household’s rewards strategy.

2. Status Boost

Both the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card also offer a perk called Status Boost, albeit at different levels. This benefit lets users earn a certain number of bonus MQMs with credit card spending, thus making it easier to reach the next elite status tier.

For example, with the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card, the Status Boost offer allows you to earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 on your card within a calendar year through 12/31/23. You can even do this up to four times per year to earn a total of 60,000 MQMs toward elite status (if you spend that much on a credit card). With the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card, you can earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 on your card (up to two times in a calendar year through 12/31/23).

3. Frequent flyer perks

I fly with Delta Air Lines several times per year, but I fly with partners like Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic just as often. While my Delta Gold Medallion elite status affords me several frequent flyer perks I really love, I would get many of the same benefits without elite status just by having the right Delta credit card.

For example, I mentioned how my Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card lets me enter Delta Sky Clubs when I fly with Delta. However, this card also unlocks complimentary access to Amex Centurion lounges when I fly with the airline and pay with my card. The card also comes with perks like upgrade priority, complimentary upgrades, the first checked bag free, 20 percent off eligible in-flight purchases (in the form of a statement credit) and several travel insurance benefits. (Terms and conditions apply.)

Getting a leg up toward Delta Gold status also gets me reciprocal benefits with Delta SkyTeam airline members. For example, Delta Gold turns into SkyTeam Elite Plus, which comes with partner benefits like priority security, priority check-in, extra checked baggage allowance, priority boarding and even airport lounge access in partner lounges.

4. 15% off flight awards

Next up, you should know Delta unveiled a new benefit early in 2023 called TakeOff 15. This perk lets eligible cardmembers get 15 percent off all award rates (when booking with miles) regardless of the itinerary or travel dates. Note, however, that the discount doesn’t apply to flight awards with partner airlines or to taxes and fees.

While Delta’s flight awards may not always be a steal, being able to book flights for 15 percent fewer miles never hurts. This benefit makes it so a flight that normally costs 50,000 miles only costs 42,500 and a flight that normally costs 70,000 miles only costs 59,500 miles (and so on).

5. Good deals (if you’re flexible)

Finally, I don’t mind having a stash of Delta SkyMiles since the program does occasionally offer some good deals. For example, my partner and I are attending a music festival in Cancun, Mexico later this year and we found round-trip flight awards for 39,000 miles (plus airline taxes and fees) each.

To score decent rates for Delta SkyMiles awards, you really just need to be as flexible as you can with your travel destinations and dates. It also helps to have other rewards currencies and frequent flyer miles you can use. That way, you can compare options across all your favorite programs, including Delta, to find the best deal.

You can also check out Delta SkyMiles Deals, which feature an array of “on sale” flight awards to destinations around the globe. These deals change all the time, but you can filter deals based on your departure airport and often find one-way awards for less than 10,000 miles.

The bottom line

While the Delta SkyMiles program may not offer the best rates all the time, there are reasons to pick up a Delta credit card anyway. For me, it’s all about getting a leg up toward Delta elite status so I can enjoy more perks when I fly with Delta and SkyTeam partners like Air France and Virgin Atlantic. And since Delta credit cards come with frequent flyer benefits and let users score a 15 percent discount off award flights, they can make sense for anyone who flies with Delta several times per year.