The Best Credit Card for Earning Delta SkyMiles is...Not a Delta Card?!
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The Best Credit Card for Earning Delta SkyMiles is…Not a Delta Card?!

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Delta credit cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card are a great option for aspiring travelers.

These cards (and most other airline cards) offer some good value with benefits like free checked luggage, priority boarding, and – depending on the version you hold – a companion ticket for a buy one get one free (plus taxes and fees) flight each year of card membership.

But here’s the thing: The average traveler shouldn’t be swiping one of these co-branded airline credit cards for each and every purchase after they meet the welcome bonus spending requirement.

It seems like a no-brainer, right? Keep earning Delta SkyMiles, pay off your card immediately, and travel more? The thing is, you can do much better. The Delta cards won’t get you as many miles on everyday purchases as you can get with other cards.

If your end goal is to earn more miles through your everyday spending, there are better options than the co-branded Delta airlines credit cards (or any airline card for that matter). And there is no better card to maximize your everyday spending in the form of Delta SkyMiles than the American Express® Gold Card (the non-Delta version).

 

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Not only does the card provide a better return on your everyday spending, but you can transfer these points directly into your Delta SkyMiles account. But more importantly, there are hundreds of other ways to use these points beyond booking Delta flights.

Keep reading to see why you need to change up your credit card strategy to fly Delta more, for less.

 

Membership Rewards Points vs Delta SkyMiles

Before we look at why the American Express Gold Card is a great option for Delta travelers, we first need to understand the differences in the points it earns versus the Delta Sky Miles credit cards.

 

Membership Rewards Points

The American Express Gold Card earns American Express Membership Rewards points. These are credit card points that are issued directly from American Express and can be used in hundreds of different ways. One of the big reasons we think they are so valuable is because of their flexibility and versatility.

Of the many ways to use the points, one that is most relevant for Delta flyers is that they can be transferred on a 1:1 basis directly into your Delta SkyMiles account. That means one Membership Rewards point will be equal to one Delta SkyMile.

Just remember, transfers to any of the Amex airline or hotel partners are one-way. That means once you send them to Delta, you won’t be able to get them back into your Membership Rewards account. Make sure you are ready to use them before you transfer, as the transfer should hit your Delta SkyMiles account instantly.

Read More: The 8 Best Ways to Redeem Membership Rewards Points

 

American Express Transfer Partners

ProgramTypeTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Aer LingusAirline1:1N/A
AeroMexicoAirline1:1.62-12 days
Air Canada AeroplanAirline1:1Instant
Air France/KLMAirline1:1Instant
AlitaliaAirline1:1Instant
ANAAirline1:11-2 days
AviancaAirline1:1Instant
British AirwaysAirline1:1Instant
Cathay PacificAirline1:11-7 days
DeltaAirline1:1Instant
El AlAirline50:1Instant
EmiratesAirline1:1Instant
EtihadAirline1:1Instant
HawaiianAirline1:1Instant
IberiaAirline1:11-3 days
JetBlueAirline1.25:1Instant
QantasAirline1:1Instant
SingaporeAirline1:112-48 hours
Virgin AtlanticAirline1:1Instant
Choice PrivilegesHotel1:1Instant
Hilton HonorsHotel1:2Instant
Marriott BonvoyHotel1:1Instant

 

The one downside of transferring Amex points to Delta – or any U.S. airline – is that American Express tacks on a small fee of .06 cents per point, up to a maximum of $99. A transfer of 20,000 Membership Rewards points will cost you $12. While it can be frustrating, don’t let that stop you – it’s a small price to pay.

 

Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles on the other hand can only be used to book travel with Delta. When you earn SkyMiles, they are stuck in that account with the airline until you decide to use them. So in that sense, they provide much less flexibility than Membership Rewards points.

Related Reading: How Delta SkyMiles Work and How to Make Them Work for You

In practice, American Express Membership Rewards points should be worth much more than Delta SkyMiles because of their flexibility and the multitude of ways in which they can be used. But for the sake of this comparison, let’s assume that both points are worth one cent each when you go to redeem them.

 

Earning Delta SkyMiles with the Amex Gold Card

Let’s get this out of the way. The American Express Gold Card has an annual fee of $250 (see rates & fees). While that might sound scary, you should easily be able to come out way ahead on that investment by taking advantage of the benefits it provides. It’s why we always encourage readers to do the math before ruling out credit cards with higher annual fees. Rewire your brain to think about those fees as investments in your future travels.

And when it comes to the American Express Gold Card, the spending categories in which you can earn bonus points can get you a long way to recouping your annual fee investment.

To start with, you’ll earn 4x Membership Rewards points for every dollar you spend at restaurants. You’ll also earn 4x points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 of spending each calendar year (then 1x point). Both the Delta SkyMiles Gold and Platinum Cards earn only 2x Delta SkyMiles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets.

 

cardmatch tool

 

That means, just by using the Amex Gold Card for these purchases instead of your co-branded Delta American Express Card, you’ll earn twice as many points for the same amount of spending. 

Next, the American Express Gold Card earns 3x Membership Rewards points on all flights booked directly with any airline or through the Amex online travel agency (OTA) amextravel.com. The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card earns 2x SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta flights, while the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card earns 3x SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta flights. Critically, you’ll only earn a bonus if you are booking travel with Delta on these cards.

 

Full Benefits of the American Express Gold Card

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $4,000 within the first six months of card membership.
  • But first, see if you qualify for a 75,000- point offer via CardMatch with the same spending requirement.
  • Earn 3x points for flights booked directly with airlines and at amextravel.com.
  • Earn 4x points at restaurants on an unlimited amount of spending.
  • Earn 4x points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 of spending per calendar year. 1x points per dollar spent after that
  • Earn 1x points on other purchases
  • Up to a $120 annual dining credit split up monthly in $10 increments for charges at GrubHub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Boxed & Participating Shake Shack locations
  • Up to $120 in Annual Uber Credits split up into $10 monthly amounts. These can be used for Uber rides or for Uber Eats food delivery.
  •  Amex Gold cardholders get a free year of Uber Eats Pass – Uber Eats’ paid membership with unlimited $0 delivery fees, 5% off all food deliveries over $15 at eligible restaurants or on eligible restaurant purchases. Offer ends 12/31/2021.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • $250 annual fee (see rates & fees)

 

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Example Spending

Let me give you a quick example of just how many more points you can earn by using the American Express® Gold Card for your everyday grocery store and restaurant spending as opposes to a co-branded Delta SkyMiles Card.

Let’s say you average spending $150 a week total at both U.S. supermarkets and at restaurants. Because you’ll earn 4x points for every dollar you spend in both categories with the Amex Gold Card, you’ll earn 600 Membership Rewards points each week ($150 x 4 points).

That means you would earn 2,400 Membership Rewards points every month just from those two categories (600 x 4 weeks in a month). Over the course of a year, spending $150 a week on groceries and at restaurants would net you 28,800 Membership Rewards points from just two different spending categories (2,400 x 12 months).

 

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American Express Gold Card by the Numbers:

  • Weekly restaurant & grocery spending: $150
  • X 4x Membership Rewards Points = 600 points
  • X 4 Weeks in a month =  2,400 points
  • X 12 Months in a year = 28,800 points
  • X .01 (Membership Rewards Point Valuation) = $288

 

Now let’s compare that same amount of spending to the co-branded Delta American Express Cards. Since both the Gold and Platinum Delta Cards earn 2x SkyMiles per dollar spent in both categories, if we spent $150 a week total, we would earn 300 Delta SkyMiles each week ($150 x 2 SkyMiles).

That means you would earn 1,200 SkyMiles every month just from those two categories (300 x 4 weeks in a month). Over the course of a year, spending $150 a week on groceries and at restaurants would net you 14,400 SkyMiles from the two different spending categories.

 

Delta SkyMiles® Gold & Platinum Cards by the Numbers:

  • Weekly restaurant & grocery spending: $150
  • X 2x Delta SkyMiles = 300 miles
  • X 4 Weeks in a month =  1,200 miles
  • X 12 Months in a year = 14,400 miles
  • X .01 (Membership Rewards Point Valuation) = $144

 

Our Analysis

As you can see, the Delta co-branded credit cards are far from the best everyday spending credit cards for earning Delta SkyMiles. But that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. In fact, pairing the American Express Gold Card with one of the Delta cards can make a ton of sense. First and foremost, while the American Express Gold Card is really lucrative for everyday spending, it won’t provide you with free checked luggage or any path to Delta’s elite status.

If you often check a bag when you fly with Delta, it might make sense to pair the American Express® Gold Card with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. You’ll get free baggage (even if you pay for the flight with a non-Delta card).

If you want those same benefits plus an annual companion ticket and a pathway to Delta Medallion status, paring the Gold Card with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card might make the most sense for you.

Just remember it is important to do the math and make sure you understand what exactly you are getting for the fees you are paying. Play it right and the Amex Gold and Delta co-branded cards can be a great 1-2 punch.

Related Reading: The 7 Best Delta Credit Cards for Travelers in 2021

 

Bottom Line

If you are a frequent Delta Air Lines flyer, the non-Delta American Express Gold Card is a fantastic option to maximize your everyday spending. You can earn far more points than you would with the Delta cards alone, which will help offset some of the annual fee cost.

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: 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.

3 Responses

  • But MQMs are top priority when you fly Delta all the time which means Delta Amex, correct? I have platinum and think of upgrading even for more MQMs. Especially with less travel I’m recent past.

    • If earning delta status is your goal, and you need the MQD waiver from the cards, then yes, that will involve a different strategy. But even still, it’s a great card once you meet your required annual waiver spending.

  • Being I won’t consider flying any other domestic airline other than Delta (no other airline comes close to their superior service) hands down the benefits of the Delta AMEX cards are far superior for me. I just upgraded to the Reserve card this past July and it has exceeded my expectations. Well worth the $550 for the club access, and upgrade list boost alone. I’ve been fortunate to receive several First/Comfort complimentary upgrades…as a Gold Medallion no less. Skyclubs are phenomenal, putting the AMEX Centurion to shame, Denver Centurion was particularly disappointing. Nice space but awful food.
    If you’re loyal to Delta, stick with their cards.

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