Loaded with perks for Delta loyalists: Delta Reserve American Express credit card review

CreditCards Delta DeltaReserveCreditCardFromAmericanExpress DeltaSkyMiles S

The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express provides complimentary Sky Club access when flying on Delta, as well as the ability to earn Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and a Medallion® Qualifying Dollars (MQD) waiver through spending on the card. The Delta Reserve is best suited for frequent Delta flyers, especially those that can benefit from lounge access, a boost toward elite status and a domestic companion certificate that’s provided after each account anniversary. Card Rating*:½
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
Lounge access is critical to maintaining my productivity in airports. If you travel frequently and mainly fly with Delta, you’ll want access to Delta Sky Club lounges. Luckily, one of the benefits of the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express is complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta.

Despite the Delta Reserve’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) that will rise to $550 (see rates and fees) for renewals or new applications on or after Jan. 30, 2020, having the Delta Reserve is still one of the cheapest ways to get Sky Club access when flying Delta.

The card also offers the ability to earn bonus MQMs, both as part of the welcome bonus and by spending on the card each year, as well as the ability to earn a MQD waiver. Add in an elevated welcome bonus and domestic companion certificate after each account anniversary, and the Delta Reserve can really start to look appealing to frequent Delta flyers.
In This Post Who is this card for?
The Delta Reserve is meant for serious Delta flyers. Those looking to qualify for Delta elite status or boost themselves up to the next tier will love the opportunity to earn bonus MQMs and an MQD waiver from spending on the card. If you’re considering purchasing a Delta Sky Club membership, you may find that applying for the Delta Reserve is a better use of your money.

However, it’s important to realize that the Delta Reserve isn’t the fastest way to rack up Delta miles, even when flying frequently on the carrier. Instead, the Delta Reserve is best suited for travelers who can get significant value from the card’s perks.

Further reading: Choosing the best credit card for Delta flyers
Welcome bonus: As much as $900 in value
American Express only allows you to earn the welcome bonus on each of its credit cards once in your lifetime, which is why it’s important to time your application carefully and wait for elevated bonuses. Thankfully, the Delta Reserve is currently offering an elevated welcome bonus through Oct. 30, 2019. If you apply by Oct. 30, you can earn 75,000 Delta SkyMiles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your card during your first three months.
The Delta Reserve currently offers an elevated welcome offer. (Photo by TPG staff)
TPG values Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents each, making these bonus miles worth $900. The value of the bonus MQMs depends entirely on what tier of Delta status they help you unlock, with middle- or top-tier elites getting a greater return.

Note that even if you’ve never held the Delta Reserve card before, you may not be eligible for a welcome bonus. Thankfully, you’ll be warned about your status before you complete your application through Amex’s new pop-up tool. So if you’re hoping to snag the welcome bonus, don’t ignore any messages or warnings that show up when you apply.

Further reading: Earn up to 75,000 SkyMiles with new Delta Amex welcome offers
Main benefits and perks
Lounge access is the main reason to have the Delta Reserve instead of another cobranded Delta credit card. With the Delta Reserve, cardholders get complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges when traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight. And starting Jan. 30, 2020, cardholders will be able to pay a per-visit fee of $39 per person, per location for Sky Club access when traveling on a Delta partner airline flight that is not marketed or operated by Delta.
Whether you need a snack or simply a place to work, Delta’s Sky Club can help. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
Cardholders can currently bring up to two guests into the Sky Club for $29 per person, per location, but that fee will increase to $39 on Jan. 30, 2020. The positive is that cardholders will also get two, one-time Sky Club guest passes on Jan. 30, 2020.

Another perk starting on Jan. 30, 2020: complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges when flying Delta with a ticket purchased on the Delta Reserve. You can bring up to two guests into the Centurion Lounge with you for a fee of $50 each.
Starting on Jan. 30, 2020 you’ll be able to access Centurion Lounges when traveling on a Delta flight purchased with your Delta Reserve. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
Another benefit of the Delta Reserve for some cardholders is the companion certificate that’s provided each year after your account anniversary. The companion certificate is valid for one round-trip first class, Delta Comfort+ or main cabin companion ticket when you pay taxes and fees on the award ticket and purchase an adult round-trip at an I, Z, W, L, U, T, X or V fare.
Bring a companion with you on one round trip with your companion certificate. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
Delta Reserve cardholders can also spend to earn MQMs through the Miles Boost benefit. Before Jan. 30, 2020 you’ll earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 redeemable miles after you spend $30,000 on your card each calendar year, and an additional 15,000 MQMs and redeemable miles after you spend $60,000 in a calendar year.

However, starting Jan. 30, 2020 you’ll still receive 15,000 MQMs for reaching $30,000 and $60,000 in calendar-year spending, but the bonus redeemable miles at those spending tiers are being eliminated and the benefit will be renamed Status Boost. You’ll be able to earn an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending both $90,000 and $120,000 in a calendar year.

Plus, Delta Reserve cardholders can spend to earn an MQD waiver. This waiver means that if you don’t meet the MQD thresholds for a qualification year, you can still qualify for Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion Status if you’ve earned the required MQMs or MQSs and make at least $25,000 in eligible purchases within that qualification year on your card. You can qualify for Diamond Medallion Status if you have earned the required MQMs or MQSs and make at least $250,000 in eligible purchases on your card.
If you’re pushing for Delta elite status, being able to earn MQMs and a MQD waiver through spending on the Delta Reserve can really help. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)
The Delta Reserve card has many other perks including:
First checked bag free: First checked bag free on Delta flights for you and up to eight companions traveling with you on your reservation Priority boarding: Main Cabin 1 priority boarding for you and up to eight companions traveling with you on your reservation Discount on in-flight purchases: 20% savings in the form of a statement credit for eligible pre-purchased meals and in-flight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets on Delta-operated flights Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit (starting Jan. 30, 2020, every four years for Global Entry, every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck) Access to complimentary upgrades for non-Medallions (starting Jan. 30, 2020) No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees) Travel protections: Baggage insurance plan and secondary car rental loss and damage insurance. And, you’ll get trip cancellation and interruption insurance and trip delay insurance for round-trip flights purchased on or after Jan. 1, 2020. Shopping protections: Extended warranty protection, return protection and purchase protection
The combination of an MQD waiver and bonus MQMs makes the Delta Reserve especially attractive for current or aspiring elites. Spending $30,000 on your card in your first year could earn you 25,000 MQMs (10,000 from the welcome bonus and 15,000 from Miles Boost) and waive your MQD requirement for all but Diamond status. So you could get Silver status through Jan. 31, 2021, if you spend $30,000 on your new card before the end of the year. Likewise, if you have your eyes set on Gold, spending $60,000 on the Reserve in your first year would leave you with 40,000 of the 50,000 MQMs you need and a MQD waiver. Even if you’re working toward a higher levels of status, the Delta Reserve can jump-start your progress.

Further reading: Delta Amex cards adding major new benefits, changing others in 2020
How to earn miles A Delta One seat in Delta’s Flagship interior. (Photo by Benji Stawski/TPG)
Currently, the Delta Reserve earns 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else. This isn’t impressive, especially when you realize that the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express — both of which have lower annual fees than the Delta Reserve — have the same earning rates.

The Delta Reserve will see slightly improved earnings from Jan. 30, 2020 onward in the form of 3 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases. But even with 3x points on airfare, you likely won’t want to spend much on the Delta Reserve after you’ve earned the welcome bonus unless you’re trying to hit a MQM-earning threshold or a MQD waiver threshold. Based on TPG’s valuation of Delta miles at 1.2 cents each, you’ll get about a 3.6% return on airfare.

In short, the Delta Reserve is not a card that you get for its earning potential. Even if you’re a frequent Delta flyer, you’ll come out ahead charging your airfare to a card that offers better earning on airfare such as The Platinum Card® from American Express (5x points on airfare booked directly with the airlines or through Amex Travel for a 10% return, 1:1 transfer to Delta), Citi Prestige® Card (5x points for a 8.5% return) or the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x points for a 6% return) instead of the Delta Reserve.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Further reading: How to earn miles in the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program
How to redeem miles
Delta’s decision to pull its award chart a few years back and switch to variable pricing can make it frustrating to redeem Delta SkyMiles. At 1.2 cents each, SkyMiles are the lowest-valued of the three US legacy carrier program currencies according to TPG’s valuations.

The effects of variable pricing can be mild in some cases, like this week of flights between Chicago (ORD) and New York (JFK). Delta highlights the lowest fare of 6,500 miles in this example, but on some dates you’ll end up paying more than three times that.

The price fluctuation gets a little more intense when you start to look at international flights, like these one-way economy awards between Los Angeles (LAX) and London (LHR).

And when you start talking about international premium-cabin awards, prices can skyrocket. These one-way business-class awards between LAX and LHR cost at least 5x what most other carriers would charge on the same route.

If you have the flexibility to do so, you’d be best off saving your Delta miles for one of the carrier’s frequent flash award sales. Recently we’ve seen sales for round-trip domestic flights starting at 9,000 miles, 22,000 miles round-trip to Europe and flights to Asia from 30,000 miles round-trip in economy or 50,000 miles in premium select. You can also use your Sky Miles to fly on international Sky Team partner airlines such as Air France and Korean Air, as well as select non-alliance partners like Virgin Atlantic and WestJet.

SkyMiles can also be redeemed for many things other than flights, including gift cards, merchandise, cruises, car rentals and hotel rooms. Although these redemptions typically yield a lower return than when redeeming for flights, SkyMiles Experiences have become more compelling over the years — especially for Delta loyalists with miles to spare.

Further reading: How to redeem miles with the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles program and The advanced guide to maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets
Which cards compete with the Delta Reserve?
In the same way that Chase and United have a very close relationship (issuing cobranded cards and offering instantaneous transfers from Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus), Amex and Delta have the same. This means that many Delta flyers might be better off sticking to The Platinum Card from American Express instead of getting a Delta cobranded premium card.

Related: Why the Amex Platinum Might Just Be the Best Card for Delta Flyers

The Amex Platinum wins on bonus categories, offering 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare purchased directly with the airline (a 10% return based on TPG’s valuations) versus the Delta Reserve’s 2x Delta SkyMiles (2.4% return) on Delta purchases.

Even once the Delta Reserve starts earning 3x miles on Delta purchases on Jan. 30, 2020, that’s still only a 3.6% return. The Platinum Card also offers Sky Club access when flying Delta, in addition to a Priority Pass select membership, access to Amex’s growing collection of Centurion lounges and access to the entire American Express Global Lounge Collection.
You’ll get access to Escape Lounges as an Amex Platinum cardholder. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Although the Amex Platinum has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees), it comes with a number of luxury travel perks including complimentary Hilton and Marriott Gold elite status and access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts program. Plus, the Amex Platinum provides an up to $200 annual Uber credit, up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit.

It’s currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months, and those points can be transferred to airlines spanning all three major alliances, giving you much more flexibility when it comes time to redeem. For more details, check out our full card review for the Amex Platinum.

Related: Who should (and who shouldn’t) get the Amex Platinum?

If you’re still in the market for a cobranded Delta card, but don’t think you’d get enough value from the Delta Reserve’s perks, then you might want to consider the more moderately priced Platinum Delta Amex. As part of the current limited-time offer (available through Oct. 30, 2019), the Platinum Delta Amex is offering 75,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 in three months, plus a $100 statement credit for a Delta purchase in that time frame.

The Platinum Delta Amex currently offers a similar, though slightly less lucrative, Miles Boost offer: Earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 MQMs and bonus miles after spending $50,000. As of Jan. 30, 2020 the Miles Boost will be renamed Status Boost and only MQMs will be earned.

And the Platinum Delta Amex offers the same MQD waiver options as the Delta Reserve. The Platinum Delta Amex has an annual fee of $195, but this annual fee will increase to $250 on Jan. 30, 2020 (see rates and fees). Even so, the annual fee will remain less than half that of the Delta Reserve. For more information, see our full card review of the Platinum Delta Amex.

Further reading: Choosing the best American Express card for you
Bottom line
The Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express represents a strong commitment to a single airline, and as such, it isn’t right for everybody. If you’re looking for Delta Sky Club access or a serious boost to your elite qualifying plans, this card can be a solid addition to your wallet.

Now is a great time to apply, since the Delta Reserve is currently offering a limited-time elevated welcome bonus. So, if you can take advantage of the Delta Reserve’s perks and benefits, be sure to apply by Oct. 30 and snag the elevated bonus.

Apply here for the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express with a 75,000 mile and 10,000 MQM welcome bonus

For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Delta Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.
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