Beat Credit Cards for Flying Delta

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Flying may be the furthest thing from the minds of many Americans right now, even if the price of airline tickets is rising again. (Which is why we have tips on saving on your future flights.) 

But if you know that you’re going to fly in the year ahead, then one way to make the travel experience better and possibly save money on flying is by holding an airline’s co-branded credit card. Besides accumulating points or miles, the right card in your wallet can unlock benefits like free checked luggage, bonus miles, and even companion certificates.

When it comes to Delta Air Lines, there’s one added twist to consider before getting one of its co-branded cards. Delta recently announced it is extending the current status of all its elite frequent flyers until January 2023 due to the pandemic. This means that those already with elite status on Delta can preserve that status for another year, with no need to spend on flights — or Delta cards. Unless you know you’ll be flying Delta a lot in 2022, you may be better off with a general travel rewards card.  

That said, there’s one co-branded Delta card that stands above the rest: the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (see rates and fees).

There are four co-branded Delta cards to choose from, and choosing one depends on a number of factors, including your spending — and in this case traveling — habits.     

But the Amex Delta SlyMiles Platinum offers a lot to Delta flyers; there’s a reason it’s among our favorite travel credit cards for 2021. 

While it carries a $250 annual fee, it comes with notable perks some of which are geared specifically towards Delta flyers, including one that can more than offset the cost of the annual fee all by itself: a companion certificate that lets you take another person on a domestic Delta flight in coach, every year, for the price of one ticket. 

Benefits of the Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum Credit Card   

This premium travel rewards credit card has a suite of benefits that can help loyal Delta Air Lines flyers enhance their travel experience.

“There are a ton of perks” with the card, says Diamond Hawkins, a project manager at Microsoft who’s also the founder and CEO of Pothos Beauty, an online marketplace for beauty and wellness. 

Hawkins has had the card for two years and has put it through a workout, paying for work travel expenses that her company then refunded.   

The card earns 3 SkyMiles per dollar when used to pay for Delta Air Lines purchases; people who are on the road often also benefit from the 3x earning rate on purchases made directly with hotels. According to our valuations, Delta SkyMiles are worth 1.2 cents each.

Pro Tip

Be sure to use your Delta Amex Platinum when purchasing Delta Air Lines flights so that you’ll earn 3 miles per dollar on those purchases — you can later redeem these miles for flights.

The card also earns 2 miles per dollar at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. If you fly Delta frequently, and if you spend in those categories, you should see miles add up quickly. Hawkins says she’s amassed about 100,000 SkyMiles to date, which is enough for several domestic round trips or at least one across the Atlantic.  

Delta-specific benefits include a first checked bag free for you and up to nine companions on the same flight reservation and that annual companion certificate. (Delta has extended the validity of all those annual companion certificates from its co-branded credit cards, to allow for the fact that people may not want to fly right now.)    

In addition, cardholders can earn 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles — Delta’s name for the miles that count toward earning elite frequent-flyer status with the airline —after they spend $25,000 with their card in a calendar year, up to two times. This can be very valuable for people looking to earn elite status with Delta, which can result in perks like upgrades and lounge access. Hawkins says she’s planning to go for Delta status after the pandemic subsides.

Spending at least $25,000 in a calendar year also exempts you from the spending on Delta flights required to reach elite flyer status (except for the highest level, Diamond Medallion.) Otherwise, you’d have to spend a hefty amount on flights with Delta or partner airlines to qualify. For example, reaching Gold Medallion status requires spending $6,000 on flights in a year, but if you spend $25,000 on the card — on any type of purchase — you’ll be exempt.      

A benefit not specific to Delta but very useful for frequent flyers is a credit of up to $100 for an application for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years. Between the two, we recommend applying for Global Entry, since it includes TSA PreCheck.    

The card is also offering a pretty enticing welcome bonus: 50,000 SkyMiles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs), which count towards earning elite status, after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months. You’ll also get up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first three months.

This is a valuable welcome offer that flyers can later use to redeem for free flights on Delta or any of its partners, such as Air France-KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and Aeromexico — paying only taxes and fees.

As may be expected for a card with an $250 annual fee, the Delta American Express Platinum also comes with standard travel protections like trip delay insurance, secondary auto rental coverage, a baggage insurance plan, and a global assistance hotline.

Being able to call Amex for that assistance is something Hawkins, who says she did not learn financial literacy growing up, appreciates. When she has questions about the card, for example about how travel insurance works, she calls Amex:  “Not only will they answer them, they help me learn and understand.”

Alternatives to the Amex Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card

While cardholders like Hawkins love the card for all of its benefits and perks, a $250 annual fee might be a lot to swallow. If you’d prefer to spend less on a credit card annual fee, you might be better off with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: it has a $99 annual fee, which is waived for the first year. (See rates & fees).

There is no companion certificate with the Gold card, but cardholders still receive a free first checked bag on Delta flights and a 20% discount on in-flight purchases aboard flights operated by Delta. It also earns 2 miles per dollar on eligible Delta purchases, as well as on restaurants and groceries at U.S. supermarkets. It earns 1 mile per dollar on everything else. It’s offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 bonus miles and up to a $50 statement credit at U.S. restaurants within the first three months of membership. You also get an annual $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Editor’s Score: (4.15/5)

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Editor’s Score: (3.85/5)

  • Intro bonus:
  • Annual fee:

    $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99

  • Regular APR:

    15.74% to 24.74% Variable

  • Recommended credit:

    670-850 (Good to Excellent)

  • Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)

If you find yourself among Delta flyers who had their elite status extended and don’t need to spend to meet status requirements, it might be worth considering tweaking your credit card spending strategy away from using a co-branded Delta card, at least for the remainder of 2021.  A general travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the American Express® Gold Card may be a better choice. The Preferred is our pick for best credit card with an annual fee under $100, while the Amex Gold (which is different from the co-branded Amex Delta Gold) earns 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar on airfare booked directly with airlines or at It also earns a very high reward rate of 4x points at U.S. restaurants. And unlike with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer American Express points directly to Delta in the form of SkyMiles.

But if you fly Delta frequently or plan to, the card that takes the top spot is the Delta Amex Platinum. With its elevated earning rate on Delta purchases and hotels, plus the companion certificate and free checked luggage, it can pay for itself every year. 

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here