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Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card: Delta's Most Valuable Airline Card

With this airline card you can fly first class, enjoy Delta Sky Clubs and get priority boarding.

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is the premium option in the Delta line of co-branded airline cards. Of the four cards, the Reserve's $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) is the highest, and the rewards represent the most potential value for consumers. 

The Reserve is best if you can take advantage of the annual companion certificate, which includes a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+ or Main Cabin flight for a friend each year upon renewal (taxes and fees of no more than $75 required), or if you're a traveler who uses Delta Sky Club lounges often. 

If you want to earn Delta Medallion status, the Reserve also offers an extra leg-up with its welcome offer and additional bonus miles after spending $30,000 on your card in a year. Still, the main draw in our view is the annual companion certificate and the lounge access.

Overall, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve is a pricey card with lots of punch. But before you apply, make sure you understand where the real value lies and how best to access it.

In this article

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

See Rates and Fees Terms Apply
Card Highlights
Intro OfferLimited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
APR17.24%-26.24% Variable
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good
Reward Rates
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Annual Fee$550
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee Up to $40
Foreign Transaction Fees None
Penalty APR 29.99% Variable
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

Rewards and welcome offer

Airline credit cards are unique because their rewards are brand-specific and much of the value comes from perks like companion certificates, lounge access, free checked bags and in-flight discounts. The Reserve is no different.

With the Reserve, you'll earn 3x miles on Delta purchases made directly with Delta and 1x miles on all other eligible purchases. Other airline cards -- including the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card -- often include additional spending categories, but we don't generally recommend using an airline co-branded credit card as your go-to for daily or regular spending. A general travel card, rewards card or cash-back card will likely be able to offer better rewards rates for everyday expenses.

The current welcome offer for the Reserve is 100,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. This is one of the best welcome bonuses of airline credit cards, but it also has a relatively high spending threshold to unlock it.

Redemption details

As with many airline co-branded credit cards, the rewards currency is the frequent flyer mile currency used by the airline. In this case, that means you'll earn Delta SkyMiles on your spending with the Reserve. These miles are nontransferable (except to other SkyMiles members), so you're constrained to using them with Delta, as opposed to other credit card rewards like Chase's Ultimate Rewards points or AmEx's Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to a list of affiliate partners. 

You can also book flights through Delta with other members of the SkyTeam airline alliance, stretching their usefulness beyond just Delta flights. SkyTeam member airlines include Air France, Korean Air, KLM and more spread across the globe.

The value of Delta SkyMiles will depend on how you use them, and generally speaking you can get better value for longer flights and business and first class. You can also occasionally find "sweet spots" where they're worth more than usual. In my own experience, I usually get around 1 to 1.2 cents per mile when booking Delta flights with SkyMiles.

You can also redeem SkyMiles to upgrade your seat, purchase Delta gift cards, and subscribe to magazines, but we don't recommend those options as you'll often get less value than when redeeming them for Delta or SkyTeam Alliance flights.

Companion certificate and Sky Club access

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The largest recurring value offered by the Delta SkyMiles Reserve is the annual companion certificate, which you'll receive each year when you renew your card (note: you won't receive your first certificate until your first renewal). The Reserve's companion certificate is valid for one domestic (the 48 contiguous states) round-trip First Class, Delta Comfort+ or Main Cabin companion ticket on a flight you are also flying on. You may need to pay applicable taxes and fees, but they're capped at $75.

The value of the companion certificate depends on your route, fare class and travel time, and can vary a lot based on those factors. Keep in mind that especially in the last few years, plane tickets can vary significantly in price, and it depends a lot on when you book and the type of plane and fare class.

The complimentary Delta Sky Club access is a little bit easier to value. With the Delta SkyMiles Platinum, you pay $39 for each visit (and $39 for each of up to two guests), while with the Reserve the primary cardholder's access is included when traveling on a Delta flight. You also get two Delta Sky Club One-Time Guest Passes each year so if you travel with friends or family, you don't have to pay an extra $39 for each person.

When looking at the Companion Certificate and lounge access alone, you should be able to get a good sense for whether the $250 Delta SkyMiles Platinum or $550 Delta SkyMiles Reserve makes more sense for your situation. 

Medallion Qualification Miles and MQD Waiver 

With your Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card, you can earn Medallion Qualification Miles, or MQMs, that help you earn Delta Medallion Status -- this is in addition to the regular rewards program. There are four Delta Medallion Status tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. 

With each tier, you earn increasing benefits, and higher tiers earn you more rewards miles on your Delta SkyMiles account and a greater chance of seat upgrades. You can also build up your account to earn perks like waived baggage fees, Sky Club membership, gift cards and more.

You'll reach different status levels by earning various combinations of the below:

Medallion Qualification Miles: Distance flown and your fare class. You earn 15,000 bonus MQMs for spending $30,000 in a calendar year on your card, up to four times. So if you spend $60,000 or more in a calendar year, you'll earn 30,000 bonus MQMs.

Medallion Qualification Segments: The number of flights you take, excluding Basic Economy. 

Medallion Qualification Dollars: Your annual spending on Delta and partner airline flights. A waiver can take the place of MQD requirements and can be earned with your card. 

Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion Qualification Waivers: Spend $25,000 or more on your eligible Delta SkyMiles American Express Card in the given calendar year. 

Diamond Medallion Qualification Waivers: Spend $250,000 or more on your eligible Delta SkyMiles American Express Card in the given calendar year. 

Remember to always input your Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer number when booking your Delta flights with the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card so that your earnings can be credited to your account.

Additional benefits

In addition to the Delta Sky Club, Reserve cardholders also get complimentary access to Centurion Lounges when you use your Reserve card to book your Delta flight. There are Centurion Lounges in the U.S. and abroad, with the domestic locations in locations like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Dallas, New York and Miami. 

Reserve members get Delta upgrade priority, which means they'll be just ahead of non-Reserve cardholders in the same Medallion level and fare class grouping. 

Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card holders also get their first checked bag free on Delta flights, a fee statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, 20% back (in the form of a statement credit) on in-flight purchases, baggage insurance*, trip delay insurance*, trip cancellation and interruption insurance*, car rental loss and damage insurance*, and no foreign transaction fees.

Learn More

Comparable cards

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The $250 Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is one step below the Reserve, and also offers 3x miles on Delta purchases made directly with Delta. Unlike the Reserve, however, the Platinum also offers 3x miles on hotel purchases made directly with hotels, and 2x miles at restaurants worldwide (including delivery and takeout in the U.S.) and groceries at U.S. supermarkets. Those extra categories are a nice perk, and if you're set on earning your credit card rewards in a specific airline currency, they can be a nice way to generate extra miles. 

While the Delta SkyMiles Platinum also offers an annual companion certificate good for one round-trip domestic ticket, it won't earn you a first class or business class ticket like the Reserve (taxes and fees of no more than $75 required). And while Platinum cardholders can access Delta Sky Club lounges, it's for a reduced fee of $39 per visit when traveling on a Delta flight, rather than included with your card membership.

If you don't visit Delta Sky Club lounges often and prefer to fly economy, the Platinum is a great alternative to the Reserve.

See more details in our full review of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

The $695 Platinum Card is one of the priciest travel rewards cards on the market and most of its value comes from a long list of perks and credits, like up to a $200 annual hotel statement credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection (minimum two-night stay required) and up to $200 in Uber Cash each year for rides and eats in the U.S.

The Platinum Card also earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked through American Express Travel or directly through the airline (on up to $500,000 of these purchases per calendar year) and prepaid hotels. It applies to any airline or hotel booked through American Express Travel, and the points you earn can be transferred to a number of travel partners. That makes the Platinum a much more flexible travel rewards card for those not tied to Delta.

See our full review of The Platinum Card from American Express for more information.

FAQs

How do airline credit cards work?

Airline credit cards reward users with points or miles from an airline's frequent flyer program, which can be redeemed for flights with that airline. Sometimes you can transfer those points to one of the airline's travel partners, though this option varies from airline to airline. 

Airline credit cards operate like loyalty programs in that you stay in a closed-loop rewards system. You earn rewards when you purchase flights on the airline, and you can use those points for future bookings. Some airline credit cards also reward cardholders for making purchases at restaurants, grocery stores or other categories, but given the average reward rate of airline credit cards for those categories, we generally advise paying for those purchases with a cash-back credit card or general travel rewards credit card.

What are the benefits of an airline credit card?

Some common benefits of an airline credit card include:

  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Priority boarding
  • Lounge access (during some, not all, itineraries) 
  • Accelerated airline status qualification
  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits
  • Generous sign-on bonuses

How do airline cards compare with travel rewards cards?

While airline credit cards offer rewards in the form of an airline's miles or points, many general travel rewards credit cards have their own systems, like American Express' Membership Rewards points or Chase's Ultimate Rewards points. General travel credit card points can be used to redeem travel (with any available airline) through the card issuer's travel portal, or for a potentially higher value, transferred to an airline partner. You also earn extra points on any travel purchase, regardless of the airline.

Though they may charge higher annual fees, the general travel rewards credit cards tend to offer superior return rates and, since they cover a much greater range of purchases, they are often the better option. Even the best airline credit card is typically less flexible than general travel cards. Given their relative inflexibility, airline credit cards are best for travelers who want to take advantage of airline-specific perks. If you often spend on upgraded boardings or checked bags and you always fly with the same airline, these cards can save you money. 

If you're not loyal to one airline, rarely check bags and don't care about your frequent flyer status, a general travel credit card is a better choice.

Our approach

We review the cards that are in the highest demand and offer the best benefits. We scour the fine print so there aren't any surprises when you open an account. We find the key factors that make a card stand out and compare them with other top cards. That way, readers can opt for a different card with similar features if our pick isn't right for them. Our reviews are regularly checked and updated to incorporate new recommendations, as well as to reflect changes in offers and the market.

*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.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card, click here.

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