Delta American Express Card Has Drawbacks, But Still Worth It

Due to limited reward space on airlines, flexible travel cards (such as the Capital One Venture and Chase Sapphire Preferred) have become a popular option for travelers. With these cards, you can use your points against a variety of travel expenses, so, if there’s a seat on the plane, you can pay for it with rewards.

So where does that leave co-branded airline cards?

In this review we will examine one of the longest-standing suites of airline rewards cards — the Delta Skymiles Cards from American Express. American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner.

Is it still worth getting a co-branded airline credit card, such as a Delta Airlines American Express?

Despite some drawbacks, the suite of Delta SkyMiles credit cards has a lot of benefits for certain travelers:

Advantage #1: The first checked bag is free

Perhaps the most popular feature of the Delta American Express cards (and most airline cards) is the benefit of checking a bag for free. Eight other passengers traveling on your reservation get the first bag free as well. Here’s how much you can save, assuming each passenger has one checked bag (which would normally cost $25 each):

  • Scenario #1: You take three round-trip flights per year by yourself. Your savings would be $150.
  • Scenario #2: You take only one round-trip flight per year, but your two kids and spouse come along with you (it’s a family vacation). Your savings would be $200.
  • Scenario #3: You take four round-trip flights per year with your spouse. Your savings would be $400.

You won’t get this perk from any of the generic non-branded travel credit cards because they’re not officially affiliated with any airline. So if you often travel with a group, and often fly Delta, this benefit could make the Delta SkyMiles cards worth getting. Even occasional travelers will benefit.

You can use the free checked luggage perk an unlimited number of times, so for the frequent Delta flier, the card is a must-have.

Advantage #2: Priority boarding

Getting on the plane first won’t get you to the destination any faster or save you money, but it will get you overhead bin space, which has become harder to get, thanks to all the travelers trying to avoid checked-bag fees. With all tiers of the AmEx Delta Airlines cards (Gold, Platinum and Reserve), you get Zone 1 priority boarding. And just like the checked bag benefit, this applies to you and up to eight other people under your reservation.

Once again, this is another benefit the generic travel cards can’t offer, since they aren’t affiliated with a specific carrier.

Advantage #3: SkyMiles can fetch a good value if you use them strategically

With the non-branded travel cards, each point or “mile” you earn is typically worth exactly 1 cent when redeemed. For example, a $587 flight would cost you 58,700 points or “miles.” Meanwhile with SkyMiles, you can redeem for flights at pre-set increments, regardless of how much the cash price is for the ticket. Delta stirred up controversy by removing its redemption charts from its website last year (Feb. 2015), requiring consumers to search for rewards by travel date. For reference purposes only, here’s the economy-class redemption chart as of January 2015:

Delta airlines redemption chart 2015

Although this chart is more than a year old, the relevant message is that the value of your points will depend on how you redeem them. It’s possible to snag a ticket for a good redemption value (more than 1 cent each). Unfortunately, the flip side may also be true: Finding a flight for the lowest redemption tier can be difficult, especially if you have inflexible travel dates or are traveling during peak times. In such cases, your SkyMiles can be worth much less than 1 cent each.

Advantage #4: Savings of 20 percent on eligible in-flight purchases

One of the drags of flying nowadays is that you have to pay for almost everything during the flight. Complimentary food service on domestic flights is all but extinct, you have to pay for alcoholic beverages, and you’ll be charged if you want to enjoy the in-flight entertainment.

Being a cardholder can take some of the sting out of this charge-for-everything business model, as you get an automatic 20 percent discount (in the form of a statement credit) on food purchases, alcoholic beverages and in-flight entertainment (TV, movies, video games). Unfortunately, the discount doesn’t apply to in-flight Wi-Fi because that service offered through a third party, Gogo (not Delta).

Advantage #5: Discounted or complimentary access to Sky Club

With the Delta Gold and Delta Platinum, you get Sky Club access at a reduced rate. Normally the cost for a pay-as-you-go pass (one-day pass) is $59. But if you have either of these cards, your price is only $29. Up to two guests can get in with you at the discounted rate.

Delta Reserve cardmembers, meanwhile, always get complimentary Sky Club access when flying with the airline. Guests can enter at a discounted rate of $29 per person.

What are the drawbacks?

While the Delta SkyMiles American Express cards make sense for many fliers, there are some drawbacks to consider:

Disadvantage #1: Benefits/award flights are only for Delta

No surprise here – you can redeem only for flights on Delta and its partner airlines. Obviously this is to be expected with an airline-branded card. But, if you’re looking for maximum flexibility (or don’t live in a Delta hub), it can be a disadvantage.

Disadvantage #2: They all have an annual fee

Fees are never fun. Here are the annual fees that come with these cards:

  • Delta Gold – $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
  • Delta Platinum – $195 (this is NOT waived the first year)
  • Delta Reserve – $450 (this is NOT waived the first year)

The fee on the Delta Gold is on par with cards from other airlines that provide similar perks. Whether the Platinum’s higher fee is worthwhile for you will depend on whether you use its yearly companion ticket benefit. This perk gets you a domestic economy ticket each year upon card renewal — you still have to pay taxes and fees, though, which can be up to $75 per ticket. The Reserve is definitely pricey and will probably make sense only for the hardcore Delta flyers who will use the card full-time and can regularly take advantage of both its companion ticket benefit (which works for first class, too) and the complimentary lounge access.

Verdict for 2016?

After accounting for the advantages and disadvantages, the American Express Delta Gold and Platinum can make a lot of sense for Delta fliers. Even if you don’t want to use it for your everyday card, having one in your wallet for the benefits can save you money every year.

This review was written or last updated July 8, 2016

 
Comments
The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

I love this card ! I got a return ticket for Europe with the welcome bonus + 3 friends referred 🙂

A friend and I will be traveling together but I plan to use miles for my ticket and pay for hers. Since there are 2 different payment modes being used, I have been told that we will need 2 separate reservations. Since we will be traveling together (but not on same reservation), can my friend get the first free bag benefit if I charge her ticket to my Delta Gold American Express? Or would we have to be on the same reservation?

Do I have to pay for the reservation using the Delta American express to get the free bag? What if I book my vacation on another credit card? If I have this card and put my sky miles on the reservation do I still get the free bag?

Nope, all you have to do is show your card and you will still reap the benefits of the the free bag along with up to 8 people in your party.

Being a photographer I trvael with gear. Recently we protested the airline carriers Outrageous bag charge by flying Southwest Airlines.It has become our new favorite carrier! We flew from a major city some 2 1/2 hr drive one way from our home rather than hop a plane in our city ( no Southwest here)and pay for our bags.It was a matter of principal and protest. When are airlines going to stop biting the hand that feeds them?

Can I pay my bills online with this card and get full credit for the transaction? I’ve studied all the materials I can find and don’t see any restrictions against this anywhere. Thanks.

Yeah, you can, but understand how the billing will be handled before hand. If charged as a cash advance, you’ll be penalized with a percentage fee which negates pretty much any type of rewards earned.

My husband will be traveling with me using the companion ticket. Does he get to have a free suitcase/luggage?

Platinum card raised the annual fee to $195 without any notice. Be wary!

Bunnygcrawford

Have an Amex platinum. Flew to and from Costa Rica. Had to pay $25 per bag each way. Why?

I don’t understand the “secondary cardholder” business. My husband and I both have Delta AMEX cards and I don’t get the free bag when traveling without him. How is that different than me applying for another card? I’m still using my AMEX and flying Delta.

By law, carriers on international itineraries must allow 1 checked bag for free. Flew to Puerto Vallarta last October, checked a bag and didn’t pay extra.

I am paying for Delta flights for 4 family members to fly to FL in December. I am not flying with them. If I pay for those flights on my Delta American Express card, will they still receive a free bag for each person?

Jeanette,
I wondered if your family ended up receiving free bags on their December flight?
I have a similar scenario and wondered if my family member will have to pay for their bag at the airport.
Thank you for the information.
Lynne

The answer unfortunately is NO. The primary cardholder must be present at check in. My wife is a secondary cardholder and if she flies without me, she does not receive benefit. Does not make her happy….

No you have to be flying on same flight been there done that

Yes. I travel with my family party of six. I believe it allow up to 6 free luggages.

No – you have to be flying also.

A secret about the Delta AMEX gold card first bag free — I found out the hard way it does not apply for international flights on Delta, only domestic flights. Even the AMEX rep was in disbelief, but found the restriction in some obscure fine print. It is not in any of the publically available literature or terms and conditions.

My dad and I travel frequently outside of the country and have always received our free checked bags. Up to 2 Each. Of course we confirm our flights online and so we check the luggage online as well so I don’t have experience with “at the gate”.

well most international flights regardless of the air lines the first 2 luggage are free provided they are 23kg on each luggage.

Indeed. I too can confirm that 1st checked bag is free for each passenger on a reservation purchased using Delta Amex card. Visited Europe several times, each time first bag checked in at no additional charge.

Dottie Brafford

I am considering the Gold Delta Skymiles because you can earn miles bonus.

I am interested in flying with my husband to visit our daughter who moved recently to Sheridan, WY.

What would the bonus for signing up for the credit card enable us to get? Would we be able to get 1 or 2 Tickets from Knoxville, TN or a nearby TN airport to an airport near Sheridan, WY like Billings, Montana or Casper, Wyoming?

Trying to figure out the value the card would have for us. Thank you!

Are there any airline credit cards for which the companion ticket is good for travel within all 50 states? I live in Hawaii, so a companion ticket only within the continental 48 is no good (that is, I only fly to/from home).

you dont have to worry. there is fine print in there. you can use it if you start in HI, you just cant use it if you want to go to HI. so basically, its an exception for people who live in HI.