I’ve recently received a couple targeted mailings from Delta/American Express announcing that the initial spend bonus on the Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express credit card (“Delta Platinum Amex”) has been increased to 70,000 Delta miles until February 1.The Delta Platinum Amex is not a card I use everyday, but it does have some useful features that can make it well worth the annual fee even if you only fly Delta a few times a year. If you’re interested in this offer, shoot me an email at dillon [at] yourtwocentsblog.com, and I’ll send you the referral!
Overview of Delta-branded Credit Cards
The universe of travel-focused credit cards can be divided into two buckets: 1) bank-branded credit cards (e.g., Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, American Express’s Platinum Card, or Capital One’s Venture) and 2) co-branded credit cards (e.g., credit cards offered by Delta, United, American, Amtrak, or any of a host of hotel chains). Whereas bank-branded cards allow you to earn convertible points that can usually be redeemed against a broad array of travel expenses, co-branded credit cards only let you earn in the co-brand sponsor’s currency (to be fair, some co-brand currencies, like Starwood Points, allow you to transfer to other loyalty currencies, but this is the exception). So when we talk about a co-branded Delta credit card, we’re talking about a card where all your earnings are exclusively in Delta miles.
As noted above, the Delta Platinum Amex has a $195 annual fee that is not waived the first year, though there’s a $100 credit if you make a Delta purchase within your first three months, making it effectively $95 for the first year and $195 thereafter. Here are the benefits it shares with the Gold and Reserve cards:
Free First Checked Bag for you and up to 8 people booked on the same Delta reservation when you book the trip with your Delta card. I always try travel with just a carry-on, so this isn’t a very valuable benefit to me, but may be if you find yourself spending a lot to check bags.
Priority Boarding for you and up to 8 people booked on the same Delta reservation when you book the trip with your Delta card, which allows you to board in Zone 1 (which is really Zone 3/4 after all the unnumbered zones have boarded). Again, I don’t place much value on getting to sit on the plane longer than my fellow passengers. We’re still taking off and landing at the same time, though if you have overhead bin anxiety or really want to grab that extra 10 minutes of shuteye during boarding, this may matter more.
2x Delta miles on Delta purchases; 1x Delta miles on everything else. This is a pedestrian earning rate compared to many bank-branded travel cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x convertible Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining purchases (which then can either be transferred to various travel partners, including Delta alliance partners Korean Air and Air France/KLM, or redeemed against Chase Portal travel purchases at a rate of 1.5x, so effectively 4.5x+ on travel and restaurants), and 1x (effectively 1.5x+) on everything else.
No Foreign Transaction Fees. Though this should be a given for a travel-focused credit card.
Insurance through Amex Assurance. The cards also come with a variety of insurance benefits, such as car rental, baggage, purchase protection, extended warranty, and travel accident.
Compared to its Gold and Reserve cousins, the Delta Platinum Amex strikes a nice balance between a marginally higher annual fee and additional benefits.
70,000 SkyMile Signup Bonus after $3,000 spend in first 3 months. Amex’s website lists the standard Delta Platinum Amex signup bonus as 35,000, and I generally wouldn’t open an airline co-branded card for under 50,000 miles, so this is a pretty good opportunity if you have a need for Delta miles. Delta infamously no longer publishes an award chart, so it may be worth doing a dummy search for the particular itinerary you’re interested in, but generally domestic round-trips in economy run about 25,000 miles, so this signup bonus would get you most of the way to 3 U.S. round-trips.
**Note that if you’ve ever held the Delta Platinum Amex before, you’re ineligible for the signup bonus. Amex has a lifetime signup bonus rule designed to prevent credit card churning.
Annual Companion Certificate. On your first cardmember anniversary, you’ll find a certificate for one free domestic economy round-trip companion fare in your Delta account. You do have to pay taxes and fees when you redeem the certificate, but from my limited research, these appear to be in the $30 range. Recently I was able to buy a round-trip for two from Boston to Bemidji, Minnesota– a $410 fare per person, for $443. Given that the first year I paid $95 (after $100 Delta purchase credit) and the second year I paid $195, I’ve already gotten $377 benefit ($410 x 2 – $443) for $290 in fees. Since you only get the companion certificate after your first year with the card, that math only gets better the longer you hold the card. There are some restrictions that I’ll detail in a subsequent post along with the redemption process, but if you ever fly Delta with a companion, especially on higher cost fares (e.g., sparsely served regional airports), this is an excellent benefit. Plus they make a great gift!
20% Savings on In-Flight Purchases. I try to pack ahead and avoid making purchases in airports or on planes, but if you like to indulge with an adult beverage mid-flight, this will save you a buck or two. Plus that over-priced craft beer counts as a “Delta purchase” for purposes of earning your $100 statement credit.
10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs). If you’re chasing Delta elite status, the Delta Platinum Amex gets you 40% of the way to Delta’s bottom-tier Gold status when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. You also get 10,000 additional MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year on your Delta Platinum Amex, plus an additional 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 Delta miles after spending $50,000. As noted above, the Delta Platinum Amex’s redeemable points earning is paltry compared to other travel cards out there, but if you’re a Delta loyalist looking to only earn SkyMiles and boost your status, this may be valuable to you.
Working the Math
So how do you decide if the Delta Platinum Amex is worth it? I’ve included the handy calculator below for you to play around with different assumptions and figure out how expensive your Companion Certificate fares would have to be for you to break-even. To estimate how much you’d pay in taxes/fees to redeem the Companion Certificate, set up a dummy itinerary on ITA Matrix, go to the fare breakdown, and add up the components labeled US September 11th Security Fee (AY), US Passenger Facility Charge (XF), and US Flight Segment Tax (ZP) (using this method estimated my fees within 20 cents of the $32.70 I actually paid).
Even if you never use (maybe you always fly solo or on relatively cheap routes) and can’t gift the Companion Certificate and only hold the Delta Platinum Amex for one year, you’re still getting 70,000 Delta miles (a far cry from the normal 35,000-mile offer, and still better than the promotional 50,000 or 60,000 that occasionally pops up) for a $95 first-year fee. If you already hold the Delta Gold Amex and derive enough value from the free checked bag, priority boarding, and low Delta-restricted earning to justify its $95/year annual fee (or conversely, hold the Delta Reserve Amex and don’t get much out of the premium benefits), unless you’re very credit score-sensitive, I would suggest 1) opening the Delta Platinum Amex and 2) canceling your existing Delta Amex. While upgrading/downgrading may be tempting, the impact of an additional credit inquiry is negligible and you miss out on the 70,000-mile signup bonus by not opening a new account.
If you fly Delta with a companion once per year, especially if it’s on a more expensive, noncompetitive route with round-trip fares north of $325 per person, then the companion certificate alone should justify the Delta Platinum Amex’s annual fee. The 70,000 Delta miles, good for almost three domestic economy round-trips, are a solid added bonus on this card, that while not that useful for everyday spend, has some useful perks for even the occasional Delta flier. If you’re interested in getting the referral for this 70,000-mile bonus offer, just email me at dillon [at] yourtwocentsblog.com!