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

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The American Express Gold Card on top of a passport

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

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Delta flyers immediately focus on credit cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, or even the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. But for even the most diehard Delta fan, there may be a much better option.

Those Delta cards (and most other airline credit 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 flight once a year. 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.

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 than turning to your co-branded Delta credit card, earning more points on every purchase that you can put towards Delta flights or more than a dozen other airlines.

It's by opening a (non-Delta) American Express Membership Rewards card like the the American Express® Gold Card, which will allow you rack up points even faster. Delta is an Amex transfer partner, which means you can send your points to Delta if an amazing SkyMiles flash sale pops up … or send them to nearly 20 other airlines, if not.

At a time when SkyMiles' value seems to be sinking, rethinking your credit card strategy – keeping your SkyMiles card in a drawer at home and one of these other Amex cards at the front of your wallet instead – is crucial. Keep reading to see why you need to mix things up even if flying Delta is your priority.

Read more: Want to Fly Delta? Skip SkyMiles, Use This Workaround for Huge Savings


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 SkyMiles 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 transfer 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 10 Best Ways to Redeem Membership Rewards Points


ProgramTypeTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Aer LingusAirline1:1Instant
AeroMexicoAirline1:1.63-5 days
Air Canada AeroplanAirline1:1Instant
Air France/KLMAirline1:1Instant
ANAAirline1:11-2 days
British AirwaysAirline1:1Instant
Cathay PacificAirline1:1Instant
IberiaAirline1:1Up to 24 hours
Qatar AirwaysAirline1:1Instant
Virgin AtlanticAirline1:1Instant


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 through 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


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.

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 and the SkyMiles Reserve card only earns 1x point per dollar spent in this category.


amex gold cards with a passport


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) The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card earns 2x SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta flights, while the Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Reserve Cards earn 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
  • 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, The Cheesecake Factory, Milk Bar,, Goldbelly & Participating Shake Shack locations
  • Up to $120 in Annual Uber Cash split up into $10 monthly amounts. These can be used for Uber rides or for Uber Eats food delivery in the U.S.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • $250 annual fee (see rates & fees)


american express gold card


Click Here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card


Spending in Action

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 supermarket and restaurant spending as opposed 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).


american express gold card with a cutting board


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


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® 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


How to Rethink Your Card Strategy

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. 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 earn Delta Medallion status. Think of it this way: You could keep a Delta credit card open to get those benefits … but actually use a non-Delta Amex Gold Card to earn points – and more of them.

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, pairing the Gold Card with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card might make the most sense for you.

No matter which airline you're flying, it's important to diversify your points and miles. But with Delta, it's critical – especially lately.


delta one suite a330900
Photo courtesy of Delta


While airline devaluations are inevitable, SkyMiles have hit a new low in 2023. Once-reliable SkyMiles flash sales have largely disappeared, business class redemptions rates seem to soar higher and higher, and basic economy awards have spread worldwide. That all means your SkyMiles don't go nearly as far as they once did, so putting all your eggs into Delta's basket isn't a wise move.

Read more: The Sad State of Delta SkyMiles in 2023

Fortunately, we've seen a resurgence of great SkyMiles flash sales recently like an unbelievable 37,400 SkyMiles to New Zealand and back, a deal to Santiago (SCL) in Chile for 44,000 SkyMiles, Hawaii for 13,600 SkyMiles roundtrip, and more.

A handful of deals over the last few weeks isn't enough to change the bigger story with SkyMiles – and that means earning Membership Rewards (and more of them) is a great way to hedge your bets instead of focusing only on earning SkyMiles outright.

That way, if another great Delta deal pops up, you can transfer some points to your SkyMiles account and book! And if it doesn't, you've got plenty of other Amex transfer partners to make better use of those points.


skymiles sale santiago


Just remember 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 2023


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.

And considering SkyMiles don't go nearly as far as they once did, earning these points that you can transfer to Delta (or more than a dozen different airlines) is a great way to hedge your bets.


american express gold card


Click Here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card


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.

10 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.

  • I just did an incognito search and got an offer of 90k MR points for the Gold card. Don’t sign up for a 60k offer.

  • Nice article. I have the platinum delta Amex card and I’m thinking about combining the 2 because of the points you mentioned above

  • Hi Nick,
    Enjoyed your thorough comparison of Delta Reserve Card vs American Express Gold card.
    I must tell you we have had a Delta Reserve Card for 1 1/2 years and we have been upgraded on every trip we have flown. I am Platinum Medallion. We flew roundtrip to Sydney and were upgraded to Economy Comfort. I just returned from Paris and was upgraded from Economy comfort which I had purchased with miles to Premium. I am not sure this would have happened with the AMX gold card.
    For me, this perk has been very valuable. Just a thought!

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