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You may not have thought a lot about flying over the past year. But with vaccination rates rising and airlines inching back to a more normal schedule, now is a good time to plan how to save money on future flights.
That’s where the smart use of credit card perks comes in handy. There are a lot of cards offering benefits and rewards geared toward travel, and some that feature a rare and useful perk for people traveling as a couple: a free companion ticket.
One of the latter, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, is worth considering as travel comes back. Despite its relatively high $250 annual fee, it offers a domestic companion ticket on Delta Air Lines whose value can easily exceed the fee.
Not only is it one of our picks for best travel credit card, but it’s also one of my personal picks. I opened my account in 2014 when the annual fee was $195, and have saved money every year since by using the companion certificate to fly on Delta with my wife.
American Express raised the yearly fee in January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit the United States, but this card proved so valuable that I kept it even through the pandemic, since Delta extended the validity of companion certificates until June 30, 2022. That means cardholders would not lose their companion tickets — or be forced to fly during a pandemic — to use them before they expired.
Why the American Express Delta SkyMiles Card Makes Sense
Among the four Delta co-branded American Express consumer cards, the SkyMiles Platinum sits just below the top. There’s the no-fee Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, the $99 Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (whose fee is waived for the first year), the $250 Platinum, and the $550 Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.
Among these, only the Platinum and the Reserve (and their business credit card equivalents) offer companion tickets, but the Reserve is a pricey proposition, whose steep fee and top Delta perks make it appealing only to people who fly the airline a lot.
The Amex SkyMiles Platinum earns 3x miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and on purchases made directly with hotels. It also earns 2x miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, and at U.S. supermarkets. Everything else earns 1x.
Those elevated earning rates at oft-visited places like supermarkets will let you amass a good amount of Delta SkyMiles to redeem for free travel, but that’s not the main reason you might want this card. Its real selling point is the companion ticket, which you receive each year upon card renewal and is valid for a year. You can redeem it for travel in coach class in the 48 contiguous United States.
How the American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum Saves You Money on Flights
Using American Express companion certificates on Delta is straightforward.
Log into your Delta account and, from the homepage, navigate to “Certificates & eCredits,” indicated by the red arrow in the image, under the “SkyMiles” tab.
There, you will see all the certificates currently usable on your account. (Note that you need to book and complete your travel by the expiration date on your certificate.)
Select the Companion Certificate you want, and proceed to booking in the usual manner. You will be easily able to see whether the airfare displayed is higher than the card’s $250 annual fee; if it is, you’re coming out ahead.
When checking for flights from New York to San Francisco for a long weekend in October 2021, the fare is $351 round trip. That means two people can fly for that amount, instead of $702 — so the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card saves you $351 here, far more than its $250 annual cost. Add $29 in taxes and fees on the ticket, and you’re still ahead.
Looking at the same dates for a getaway from New York to Miami, the fare is $217. With taxes and fees, that comes out to $246, not quite enough value to offset the card’s annual cost.
But another benefit of the Amex SkyMiles Platinum can put you in the black.
The card gives you one free checked bag on every Delta flight, for you and up to nine other passengers, if they share the same reservation. If you were checking just one bag on your Miami flight, the fee for that would be $30 each way. With the card, that’s $60 you would not have to fork out, putting you $56 ahead of the annual fee.
- Intro bonus:
- Annual fee:
- Regular APR:
15.99% – 22.99% Variable
- Recommended credit:
670-850 (Good to Excellent)
- Learn more at our partner’s secure site.
You can read more about the card in our review of the American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum, but the airline companion certificate is not the only way it can save you money in 2021.
Cardholders can get up to $15 back every month in the form of statement credits when spending at restaurants. This includes takeout or delivery, as well as services like Postmates, GrubHub, Seamless, Uber Eats and DoorDash. Another credit for spending with wireless U.S. operators can take an additional $15 off your credit card bill. The offers are valid through December 31, 2021.
Let’s say you apply for this card, begin using this June, and take advantage of both those credits — that’s $30 a month back in your pocket. The card also earns up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first three months of membership.
Those benefits add up to $310 in additional value the card can provide, from June to December. Even if you don’t fly in 2021, it can pay for itself this year.
Deciding to apply for a card that costs $250 a year to hold should not be taken lightly, but the American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum’s companion ticket benefit could actually make it a money saver for you. And that’s without factoring in the additional savings that the card can deliver until the end of the year on dining and phone service. That is, of course, if you pay your bill in full and on time every month, or the interest on the balance you carry could negate the card’s value.
Use the card at restaurants and for cell phone bills to save an additional $30 a month.
If you’re a loyal Delta flyer, this card should be on your radar. If you’re not, but live in a city served by Delta, it could very well be too, because of the potentially outstanding value of its benefits.