Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card review: Premium value for Delta loyalists
The annual fee may be worth it if you’re looking for elite perks that can make your Delta travel experience more pleasant
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Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Overview
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is the top-of-the-line Delta Air Lines card, made specifically for frequent Delta flyers who want an elevated travel experience. That includes SkyMiles Loyalty Members and Delta business flyers who spend significant time and money with the airline.
The card has a hefty $550 annual fee but comes with plenty of perks including lounge access, priority boarding and a chance to reach one of the best airline elite status programs — Delta’s Medallion status. This fee will be worth the price of admission for many, and there are plenty of short- and long-term opportunities to offset it thanks to valuable perks like a free first checked bag and annual companion certificate.
But for occasional flyers or anyone who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles when traveling, there are other travel credit cards that may carry more value for a lower annual fee.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
- $550 annual fee: Some of the card’s cost-saving perks will sink into offsetting this heavy fee, which decreases the card’s value
- Users must spend large sums of money each year for the Status Boost and MQD waiver
- This card offers limited lounge access compared to other premium travel cards
- Limited reward-earning categories compared to less-premium SkyMiles cards
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: 3X miles per dollar on eligible Delta flights and Delta Vacations® with 1X miles on all other purchases
- Welcome offer: 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in your first 6 months.
- Annual fee: $550
- Purchase intro APR: N/A
- Balance transfer intro APR: N/A
- Regular APR: 19.49 percent to 28.49 percent variable
- Additional user: $175 annual fee for each additional card
Current welcome offer
New Delta SkyMiles Reserve cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $5,000 in their first six months of card membership. This is a steep drop from the card’s previous offer of 95,000 bonus miles after a $6,000 spending in your first six months, but it also includes MQMs, which were missing from the last offer. If you value elite status, the new bonus could be a great way to speed up the qualification process.
According to our latest point valuations, Delta miles are worth around 1.3 cents apiece on average, so this intro offer would be worth around $650 — decent value, but not the most impressive given the card’s annual fee. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred only carries a $95, but offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in your first three months — worth $750 when you redeem for travel with Chase.
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card earns unlimited 3X miles on Delta purchases and 1X mile on all other purchases, so it isn’t very rewarding outside the airport.
If your chances to travel are limited, there are other Delta SkyMiles cards that earn miles on non-Delta purchases like restaurants, supermarkets and hotels at a higher rate and come with a lower annual fee. Occasional travelers who are loyal to Delta will likely get better value out of one of these cards.
You can earn 3X miles on eligible Delta purchases like travel — including airfare, vacation packages and car rentals — a Delta Sky Club membership and in-flight products and services.
Meanwhile, the Delta Reserve’s Status Boost and the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver benefits could open up opportunities for you to earn loads of extra Delta miles. Depending on your Medallion Status, you can net another seven to 11 miles per dollar on a range of purchases.
Besides covering airfare with no blackout dates, you can redeem your miles to book hotels, rental cars and vacations with Delta. There is also a fairly robust list of over 20 Delta partner airlines you can use miles with.
Outside flexible travel redemptions and transfers, other redemption options like merchandise, gift cards and cardholder experiences are par for the course in the travel card world.
How much are miles worth?
On paper, your miles are worth 1 cent when you use “Pay with Miles” toward airfare since Delta allows you to redeem rewards in 5,000-mile intervals: 5,000 miles for a $50 flight discount, 10,000 miles for a $100 discount, etc. However, Delta doesn’t have a fixed redemption value for airfare. Instead, they use a dynamic pricing model that accounts for the destination, airfare class, time of year and other factors to determine how far your miles will get you.
Bankrate’s latest point valuation estimates Delta SkyMiles are worth about 1.3 cents each on average, which is a bit on the low side compared to other travel cards’ rewards. But when it comes to pricey, co-branded cards like the Delta SkyMiles Reserve, the true value lies with the card’s additional benefits like Medallion Status upgrades and lounge access. Whether these benefits recoup the annual fee is entirely up to you, but you can easily find similar benefits and higher non-travel reward rates with other non-branded American Express credit cards.
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve’s main draw is its catalog of valuable benefits, especially the boosts it provides toward Delta elite status and luxury perks.
Status Boost and MQD waiver
Big Delta spenders can expedite their journey to Medallion Status with Status Boost, which can earn you up to 60,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs). After you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 15,000 MQMs up to four times per year, getting you closer to your next Medallion® Status.
Plus, the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirement toward your elite status is waived if you make at least $25,000 in purchases with your card in that year. These benefits mean that spending outside Delta flights can more easily qualify you for unlimited complimentary upgrades, priority boarding, waived fees and more.
Complimentary Delta Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access
If you prefer avoiding the crowded terminals, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card offers complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges for the primary cardholder and two free Delta Sky Club one-time guest passes annually.
An individual membership to the Delta Sky Club would normally cost $545 annually, and guest passes normally run for $39 per visit. This complimentary benefit alone helps to justify the annual fee for Delta loyalists who prefer the peace and quiet of a lounge over the hustle and bustle normally found in the airport terminal.
The card also comes with complimentary access to The Centurion Lounges when booking a Delta flight with the SkyMiles Reserve. If you seek luxury and regularly fly in or out of an airport with one of The Centurion Lounges, you’ll gain access to exclusive and one-of-a-kind experiences. The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card is one of only a handful of cards that grant access to these lounges, which come with signature cocktails, concierge services and other unique features depending on the location. This may even include spa services.
The one downside to all this is the limited number of lounges that come with the SkyMiles Reserve. Combined, the card only gives access to just under 100 lounges. This is only a drop in the bucket compared to our top picks for credit cards that provide airport lounge access.
General-purpose travel cards like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve come with complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. These cards give you access to over 1,400 lounges worldwide, which may be a better deal for travelers who don’t have regular access to locations with The Centurion Lounge and who want more options when they travel.
Annual companion certificate
Delta flyers with the SkyMiles Reserve card receive one companion certificate worth one round-trip domestic flight each year upon their renewal month. (Note: it doesn’t cover the cost of taxes and fees and is only good for up to $75.)
This is a long-term perk that requires a little patience, as it doesn’t kick in until your first anniversary. Once you’ve paid the annual fee, it will automatically be issued to your SkyMiles account. And compared to Delta’s basic and midlevel SkyMiles cards, Reserve cardholders get enhanced features that will let them use the companion certificate for premium seats since the pass also covers First Class and Delta Comfort+ along with Main Cabin.
First checked bag free
One of the nice features of any top airline credit card is the ability to get your first checked bag for free. The SkyMiles Reserve offers this for the primary cardholder and up to eight additional passengers per reservation. Not all airline cards offer this perk for so many passengers on one reservation. In fact, cards with smaller annual fees may only give the first checked bag free to the primary cardholder and up to four passengers.
Amex Pay It Plan It
Since the Delta SkyMiles card family is co-branded with the American Express network, you’ll also receive a few Amex benefits like the Pay It Plan It program. You can settle smaller qualifying purchases under $100 immediately with Pay It or contribute fixed monthly payments for larger purchases of $100 or more over a set period with Plan It. It’s worth noting that if you’re considering a plan, you’ll be charged a monthly plan fee (determined by factors including the APR that would otherwise apply) instead of interest charges.
Rates and fees
One of the Delta Reserve card’s biggest drawbacks is its $550 annual fee. It makes the card a hard sell for casual flyers and others who want to earn bonus miles on categories other than Delta purchases. You’ll need to spend about $14,103 per year on Delta purchases to recoup the annual fee in rewards spending alone, so achieving elite status and taking advantage of your travel benefits is key.
Another drawback is that Delta charges an annual fee of $175 for each additional card it issues. For that price, authorized users have lounge access, and their purchases count toward gaining elite status for the primary cardholder.
There are a few other premium rewards cards American Express’ Platinum Card that also charge high annual fees for additional users, but there are also plenty of better options, especially if you look at general travel rewards credit cards. The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $550 annual fee but only charges $75 for each additional cardholder.
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card has plenty of authorized user perks like complimentary lounge access for the user and two guests. But unlike the SkyMiles Reserve card, the Venture X card lets primary cardmembers add up to four authorized users for free.
On the other side of the coin, the Delta Reserve’s rates and fees are pretty standard for a travel card of its caliber. There are no foreign transaction fees, and the ongoing APR is slightly below the average interest rate if you qualify for the low end of its 19.49 percent to 28.49 percent variable range.
How the Delta Reserve Card compares to other travel cards
Despite its decent intro bonus and potential rewards, the Delta Reserve’s equally sizable annual fee means it isn’t a very approachable card for more frugal spenders.
Plus, the dynamic award pricing and large travel budget required to make the most of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card’s elite status benefits aren’t the easiest systems for casual flyers — especially since the rewards are limited to one airline. Here is how a few similarly priced premium travel cards compete.
Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card vs. Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
The showdown between Delta’s premium Reserve card and midlevel Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card comes down to the level of benefits that matter most to you. Both cards boast generous welcome offers, 3X miles on Delta purchases and chances to earn a companion certificate and reach elite status faster. But the SkyMiles Reserve adds some enhanced features to help justify its supersized annual fee.
Unlike the SkyMiles Reserve, the SkyMiles Platinum doesn’t grant access to The Centurion Lounges, and cardmembers will have to pay a discounted rate of $39 to get into the Delta SkyClub. With the SkyMiles Reserve, cardmembers will have an easier time reaching elite status. Big spenders can also earn up to 60,000 MQMs per calendar year. On the other hand, the SkyMiles Platinum gives you a chance to earn up to only 20,000 MQMs per year.
Plus, MQMs are more expensive with the mid-level Platinum card. You’ll need to spend an average of $2.50 to earn one MQM compared to the SkyMiles Reserve card which averages $2 in eligible spending per MQM.
The SkyMiles Platinum has a smaller annual fee ($250) and the chance to earn rewards in everyday bonus categories like U.S. supermarkets and restaurants. This will get the job done for Delta loyalists with a smaller budget whose spending fits those additional categories. But you’ll have to be content with the limited perks, which also include a slightly smaller welcome offer and a companion certificate that can only be used for coach.
Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Users who are loyal to Delta will get the greatest value out of the SkyMiles Reserve. But if you prefer having more options with how you fly and where you can redeem your points, a general travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® may be a better fit.
The Sapphire Reserve also has a $550 annual fee but the welcome offer that comes with it isn’t as big as the SkyMiles Reserve. The card also lacks the Delta perks like free first checked bag, the Companion certificate and chance to reach elite status faster.
But the Sapphire Reserve packs in plenty of features to more than make up for the lack of airline-specific perks. It comes with lounge access, annual travel credits and numerous travel and purchase protections.
The card also has broader earning potential, letting users rack up high bonus points in a variety of categories that aren’t tied to one airline:
- 5X points on flights booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after spending $300 in travel purchases each year)
- 10X points on hotels and car rentals purchased through chase ultimate rewards
- 3X points on all other travel (after spending $300 in travel purchases each year)
- 10X points on chase dining purchases
- 3X points on other dining purchases
- 1X points on all other eligible purchases
It’s a complicated rewards system that requires some work on the users part, including logging in and exploring Chase’s dining and travel options to see what qualifies for the supersized rewards. But travel enthusiasts who aren’t loyal to one airline will enjoy having more chances to quickly earn points for their dining and travel purchases.
Plus, the Sapphire Reserve’s redemption options are far more flexible. You’ll get the best value when you redeem your points for travel through the Chase portal, or you can transfer your points. We estimate you can get around 2 cents per point with the right transfer partner.
But you can also redeem your points for a number of other options, including cash back, statement credits and gift cards. And Chase’s Pay Yourself Back Feature lets you pay for past purchases at an increased rate that is similar to travel redemptions. This is a useful perk if you don’t have any travel plans but still want to enjoy your rewards.
Best cards to pair Delta SkyMiles Reserve with
The elite status boost spending requirements mean the Delta Reserve card should be your primary credit card. But pairing it with cards in the same SkyMiles family and other American Express travel cards can extend its reach to earn more rewards outside Delta purchases.
The Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, for instance, provides a great dining companion for unlimited 2X miles on restaurant purchases at no annual fee.
Thanks to the SkyMiles cards’ American Express network, transferring Amex Membership points to a Delta rewards account remains a popular way to earn SkyMiles. Pairing a lower-cost Amex card with the Delta Reserve could earn you tons of miles.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Delta SkyMiles Reserve worth it?
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card’s heavy focus on premier travel benefits like lounge access and reliance on elite status rewards make it a worthwhile investment for fans of Delta Airlines who have big travel budgets.
If you neither spend much with Delta nor prefer it as your primary airline, you might be better off with a general-purpose travel credit card or one of Delta SkyMiles’ lower-cost cards like the Delta Platinum or Delta Gold.
At the end of the day, the Delta Reserve is filled to the brim with luxury perks and reward opportunities for Delta loyalists, especially those who value elite benefits or consistently travel with Delta for business.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card, please click here.
Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.