Delta Skymiles Gold vs. Delta Skymiles Reserve

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Choosing an airline credit card isn’t always easy, and that’s just as true for people who have a favorite frequent flyer program. After all, most major airlines boast co-branded cards geared to different types of travelers, including premium cards with lounge access and basic airline cards with only a handful of perks.

If you’re a Delta loyalist, you have probably noticed the variety of Delta credit cards, each with different benefits and fees. Two of the most popular Delta cards are also two of the most different: the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

If you’re hoping to fly with Delta Air Lines more often and you want to earn miles while scoring frequent flyer benefits, read on to learn how these two airline credit cards compare.

Card comparison

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
Welcome bonus 70,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 within 3 months of account opening. Offer expires 11/10/2021. 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 within 3 months of account opening. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
Rewards rate
  • 2X miles at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout and delivery)
  • 2X miles on Delta purchases
  • 1X miles on other purchases
  • 3X miles on purchases made with Delta
  • 1X miles on other purchases
Annual fee $0 the first year, then $99 $550
Frequent flyer benefits
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases
  • Main Cabin 1 priority boarding
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases
  • Main Cabin 1 priority boarding
  • Earn MQMs toward elite status
  • MQD waiver
  • Companion certificate upon annual renewal
  • Delta Sky Club membership + two free guest passes
  • Upgrade priority for elite members
  • Complimentary Centurion lounge membership

Delta SkyMiles Gold vs. Delta SkyMiles highlights

As you compare these two airline credit cards, you’ll notice some similarities as well as some significant differences. Each card stands out in the following key categories:

Welcome bonus winner: Delta SkyMiles Reserve

If your goal is starting with as many Delta SkyMiles as you can, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card offers the better welcome bonus overall. Not only do you earn 80,000 bonus miles when you spend $5,000 within three months of account opening, but you also earn 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) toward elite status with Delta.

The 80,000 bonus miles you earn may be enough for several round-trip domestic flights or one round-trip international flight. However, the MQMs can put you on your way to Delta Medallion status or give you a leg up as you work your way up the status ladder with this frequent flyer program.

Rewards rate winner: Delta SkyMiles Gold

The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card stands out in terms of its earning rate since this card gives you 2x miles in everyday spending categories like restaurants and U.S. supermarkets. This earning rate will make it much easier to rack up miles as you use your card on everyday purchases.

In contrast, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card doesn’t have any bonus categories outside of spending with the airline.

Annual Fee winner: Delta SkyMiles Gold

The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card wins in this category due to its $0 annual fee the first year, as well as the fact the card will only set you back $99 annually after year one.

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card charges a $550 annual fee, which is a lot harder to justify if you don’t fly with Delta that often or if you may not use the lounge access benefit that much.

Foreign transaction fee winner: Tie

Neither of these travel credit cards charges foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad, which is standard among cards in this niche. As a result, both the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card are good options if you travel internationally and want a card that won’t tack on extra charges.

Which card earns the most?

If you spend a ton of money on Delta flights each year, earning 3x miles per dollar spent on airfare with the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card could leave you ahead. But if you plan to use your card more for everyday purchases, the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card could leave you with more miles at the end of the year.

The following spending example shows much much the average family could earn in miles with both cards.

Spending example: Delta SkyMiles Gold vs. Delta SkyMiles Reserve

Let’s say you’re a family of four with parents under the age of 50 and two kids ages 12 and 13. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you might spend an average of $14,272.80 per year ($1,189.40 per month) on groceries on a “moderate” budget. For the sake of example, let’s say you also spend $4,800 per year ($400 per month) on dining out (including takeout and delivery), $5,000 on flights with Delta each year and $12,000 per year ($1,000 per month) on miscellaneous purchases.

With the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card, you would earn 60,145 miles in 12 months:

  • 28,545 miles on U.S. supermarket spending
  • 9,600 miles on dining out
  • 10,000 miles on Delta flights
  • 12,000 miles on other spending

With the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card, on the other hand, you would earn 46,072 Delta miles within a year:

  • 14,272 miles on supermarket spending
  • 4,800 miles on dining out
  • 15,000 miles on Delta flights
  • 12,000 miles on other spending

Why should you get the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card?

For the most part, the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card is geared to Delta enthusiasts who want some basic benefits but aren’t willing to pay a premium for lounge access. Here are some of the main factors to consider as you look over this card’s offer.

Additional benefits

The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card doesn’t come with lounge access or help you earn elite status with the airline, but you do get Delta Gold perks like discounts on in-flight purchases, Main Cabin 1 priority boarding and a free checked bag when you fly with Delta.

Since the free checked bag applies to up to eight other guests on the main cardholder’s itinerary, and since Delta checked bags typically cost $30 each, this benefit can be worth up to $240 per round trip flight for a family of four.

Redemption options

You can redeem miles for flights with Delta or its SkyTeam partners to more than 1,000 destinations worldwide. You can also use miles for seat upgrades, Delta gift cards, Delta vacation packages, magazine subscriptions and more.

Recommended credit score

Like most travel credit cards, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is geared to consumers with good or excellent credit. That usually means having a FICO score of 670 or higher, although you’ll have a better chance at approval if your credit score is 700+.

Why should you get the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card?

While the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card charges a $550 annual fee, there are plenty of reasons frequent flyers sign up in droves. Consider the following factors before you sign up for this premium airline credit card.

Additional benefits

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card comes with more perks overall, including complimentary membership with Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges. Considering Delta Sky Club membership can be purchased for a minimum of $545, it’s easy to see where this card’s annual fee makes sense.

Also, note how this card makes it easier to earn elite status with Delta. This starts with the 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) you get in the welcome bonus, which gets you 80 percent of the way toward the MQM requirement for Delta Silver status.

Another perk known as “Status Boost” lets you earn 15,000 MQMs each time you spend $30,000 on your card within a year, up to four times per year. This level of spending would also help you qualify for the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver, which means you could earn elite status with Delta through credit card spending alone.

Here’s how that might work. Let’s say you spend enough to earn the welcome bonus on this card, which includes 20,000 MQMs. However, you ultimately spend $60,000 on your Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card within the first calendar year.

In this case, you would earn 20,000 MQMs in the welcome bonus and another 30,000 MQMs through Status Boost, but you would also earn the MQD waiver since you spent $25,000 on your card. This would get you to Delta Gold status without ever flying a mile.

Also, remember this card comes with all the perks of Delta Gold, such as a free checked bag, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight purchases. Cardholders also get a companion certificate upon card renewal each year, upgrade priority with their elite status and two free guest passes for Delta Sky Clubs.

Redemption options

Miles earned with this card are the same as those you earn with Delta Gold, so you can use them for flights to more than 1,000 destinations around the globe. However, this card does qualify you for upgrade priority if you achieve elite status, meaning you may spend more time in premium cabins as a result of being a cardholder.

Recommended credit score

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card is geared to consumers with good or excellent credit. This means a FICO score of 670 or higher, although you are more likely to be approved if your credit score is 700+.

The bottom line

If you can’t decide between these two airline credit cards, you should remember that you can theoretically have both of them over time. That’s because American Express has a “once per lifetime” rule that lets you earn the bonus once with each of their card products.

First, though, you need to decide which of these two cards would serve you best. In the meantime, you can also consider other travel credit cards, including other airline credit cards that work with different frequent flyer programs like American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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