Delta SkyMiles Amex Cards | Airline Credit Cards 1/4 | Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 99

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Will airline credit cards give you the best benefits and point value? In this episode, Spencer and Jamie begin their Airline Credit Card Series with a review of the Delta SkyMiles American Express Card.

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode #99 Links

Outline of Episode:

  • Current offers and benefits (at the time of this recording)
  • Spencer and Jamie’s ranking of this card
  • Other cards that could be more beneficial

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode #99

[00:00:00] Jamie: The Delta SkyMiles American Express card is one of our favorite airline cards for military service members, and it's the best one for Delta, I think. With lounge access and a round trip first class companion pass and a waived annual fee for military members and their spouse, anyone who flies Delta once a year or more should be looking at the Delta Reserve card.

[00:00:18] Spencer: Hey, listener, welcome to another episode of the Military Money Manual podcast. Spencer Reese here from MilitaryMoneyManual.com joined in person by my co host, Jamie. 

Hey, Jamie. In this next four part series, we're going to be going over the best airline credit cards for military service members.

And we're going to be looking at the big four US airlines of American airlines, Delta, Southwest, and United airlines. 

Military service members, and military spouses have a unique benefit on credit cards for most of the airline credit cards we're going to talk about and in fact most credit cards your annual fees on the cards are waived down to zero dollars. So if you are active duty if you're a guard in reserve on 30 plus day active orders or if you're a military spouse married to any of the previous people I listed and you're properly listed in the Military Lending Act or MLA database, then you're going to get your annual fees waived on your Citi cards, your Chase cards, and your American Express cards.

So that's a fantastic military benefit and it allows you to access some of the benefits when we talk about today with airline credit cards like companion passes, miles, upgraded seats, lounge access, and you can access all these benefits through these credit cards and you don't have to pay any annual fees, unlike everybody else.

So fantastic military benefits that not a lot of people talk about. 

So Jamie, which airline are we addressing on this inaugural first episode?

[00:02:03] Jamie: So we're going to start with Delta, which has a very powerful series of cards through American Express. They have four levels, but before we get into the specifics, remember that all of the benefits and offers we're talking about on this episode are current as of the time of the recording.

So to make sure you get the most current offer and terms and conditions, check out the militarymoneymanual.com for the latest.

[00:02:23] Spencer: And for example, Delta just updated their policies on lounge access and they put some really big changes into their SkyMiles program, which after a lot of people were very upset about it, they're now going to retract and some of it, some of the changes and have even more changes.

So anything we talk about today, make sure you go and Google, do your own research and make sure that it's current as of this recording. But it might not be current in the future. 

[00:02:48] Jamie: Delta has four levels. All of these cards are with American Express, which like you said, Spencer, waives the annual fee for military service members and their spouses under the Military Lending Act. So all of these are free to you. 

From the top tier to the lowest tier, it goes to the Delta Reserve, the Platinum, Gold, and Blue levels. So Spencer, let's start off by talking about the Delta Reserve card, the top tier card that they offer from their co-branded partnership.

[00:03:12] Spencer: Yeah, so if you're going to get one Delta card, and you're in the military or your military spouse eligible for Military Lending Act benefits, it should be the Delta Reserve card from American Express. It has a $550 annual fee, which like we talked about is fully waived.

If you're covered by the MLA, you can go listen to episode 19 and we covered Military Lending Act benefits in depth on that episode of the podcast. 

On the Delta Reserve card, you're typically going to see a Delta SkyMiles bonus offer of somewhere between 50,000 all the way up to maybe 100,000 or 120,000 SkyMiles after you meet the minimum spend.

Typically, you'll have four, maybe six months to meet the minimum spend. At the time of this recording, we're looking at 60,000 Delta SkyMiles after spending 5,000 in the first six months. I don't think that's a great offer. I think if you're listening to this episode, and that's the current offer, just wait a little bit.

Delta tends to do limited time offers every three to six months or so, and they do a lot of targeted mailing offers, too. So if you get an offer in the mail, just Google real quick Hey, is this a good, is this a good offer? And remember that SkyMiles never expire, but that doesn't make them any more valuable, right?

It's not like you can invest your SkyMiles and get a rate of return on them. SkyMiles are definitely one of those points of currency that you want to earn and then burn. You want to use them quickly. Because Delta has a history of devaluing the program and making your SkyMiles worth less and less. In fact, going all the way back to 2010, when I first dove into the SkyMiles program, I encountered the term SkyPesos that some people in the travel hacking community use because SkyMiles are so worthless. 

[00:04:45] Jamie: We'll talk more in a few minutes about why earning SkyMiles might not be the best primary goal for your travel hacking game. It is nice to know that they never expire so you don't have to feel the pressure to fly again with them. But one of my favorite benefits is the SkyClub lounge access that comes with it.

So right now, pending changes, you have as a card member, you get into the Delta Sky Club Lounge. You also get access as an American Express Platinum cardholder flying on a Delta flight that day. It sounds like they're going to limit it to a certain number of visits per year, but they're still refining exactly what those changes are, like you said, but complimentary access to the lounge when you're flying Delta, as well as complimentary access to the American Express Centurion Lounge when you're flying Delta through this card.

[00:05:30] Spencer: Yeah, and then I think the best benefit of this card, if you're a serious Delta flyer, is the annual round trip companion pass. So after your first card anniversary year, so after you've had the card for one year, you can go first class, Delta Comfort, or domestic main cabin, and it's basically a buy one get one offer.

So you pay the taxes and mandatory fees, which is usually about 10, 15, 20 bucks, whatever it is, and you can get a round trip ticket only in the lower 48 states unless your SkyMiles profile address is Hawaii or Alaska. So if you're stationed in Hawaii or Alaska in the military, this can be an excellent way to use that round trip companion pass and get you and your partner, you and your spouse, you and a kid, you and whoever you designated as your companion back to your home state or just on vacation on Delta.

[00:06:17] Jamie: Yeah, we talked on the episode where I took my son to Orlando and we talked about the travel hacking of that a few weeks ago. We used our companion pass on that trip and saved $360, I think, dollars was the fare. It's not a huge savings, but it's free money with the buy one get one. One other thing I'll note on redeeming SkyMiles award flights with Delta is when you have this card, you'll get a 15% discount basically on your redemption cost on award travel.

So if you're going to use SkyMiles Redemption through Delta, which may or may not be the best option for you. We'll talk more about that in a second. Then you get a little bit of a discount just from being a card holder on that redemption.

[00:06:53] Spencer: Yeah, the card also has Global Entry or TSA pre-check credit. So you can sign up for either of those programs and then get reimbursed.

Military service members are probably better served signing up for Global Entry, because it comes with TSA PreCheck, and you already get free TSA PreCheck, and same thing for military spouses as well. And it's a program that's good for five years, and you can just use the credit again in five years. We talked in detail about Global Entry and TSA PreCheck in episode 85, both great programs.

I used it recently, and it probably saved me at least 45 minutes, if not an hour, of going through US Customs in Dublin.

[00:08:26] Jamie: So a lot of times when people see cards that offer free check bags, they scoff at it like, oh, no big deal. I don't really need that. A lot of times, unless you're traveling on orders, your spouse or your children are not going to be covered by a waived baggage policy, or you as a service member might have only two bags for free if you're on leisure travel.

So a card like this that comes with free checked bags, you can help out with your kid or your spouse that doesn't get the military benefit like you do unless you're traveling on orders together.

[00:08:53] Spencer: Yeah, and like most American Express cards, you're not going to pay foreign transaction fees when you use this card outside the United States.

But also, like most American Express cards, you're going to get much less acceptance, especially in Europe, Africa, Asia, than you would with a Visa or MasterCard. Another thing I'll note, Jamie, is that there are other tiers of Delta cards, so there's a Delta Platinum card from American Express, a Delta Gold card, and a Delta Blue card.

The Blue card has no annual fee, so if you have a Delta Reserve card, you leave active duty, and you want to downgrade your card and not pay the annual fee, you can downgrade it to a Delta Blue card. None of these other cards really have any great benefits. The Platinum card does have a domestic main cabin round trip companion certificate.

But the real trick is upgrading these cards to more reserve cards and unlocking more companion passes. Again, if you're a frequent Delta flyer, maybe you're Atlanta based or near Atlanta or near Delta hub, then you could really get a lot of value out of this card. I would tend to go to other American Express cards.

Like the Hilton card, the Marriott card, and I think you can get a lot more value out of those hotel cards than Delta Amex airline cards.

[00:10:05] Jamie: Yeah, one of the reasons this isn't our top overall recommended card, although it has some decent benefits, is one, you don't really earn much. You get three SkyMiles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and then only one SkyMile on everything else.

You can always earn Amex or Chase points on a better earning card. Like the American Express Gold for dining and eating out and groceries or the American Express Platinum for travel purchases and then transfer your points to Delta if you were to redeem through Delta. You can also redeem through travel partners.

So earning SkyMiles, one, we already mentioned they're not very valuable and two, this card is not going to earn you a lot of points anyway. So you're better off getting an American Express or Chase card that's going to earn you American Express membership reward points or Ultimate Reward points.

Because you will have more flexible points that are worth more compared to just earning a bunch of SkyMiles that you can only use with Delta.

[00:11:00] Spencer: Yeah, I find that Delta SkyMiles redemptions are usually not a great value. I'm almost never transferring American Express points to Delta to make a booking.

And in fact, I've had, I don't know, a couple, maybe 100,000 Delta points, SkyMiles locked up in my, not locked up, but sitting in my Delta account and I just can't find a redemption to use them on. And you'll find, especially for the business class, or like the Delta One fares, sometimes you'll be like 600,000 SkyMiles.

That is insane. And they've really devalued the program. I just Googled I think The Points Guy and a couple other sites value Delta SkyMiles at one cent per point. I think that's 0.7 is probably… I think that's very generous. I think it's probably like a 0.7, maybe even a 0.5. I think these Delta SkyMiles are not, they're certainly not flexible and unless you have a very specific redemption that you're going for on Delta, I would tend to skip these cards for earning SkyMiles, but you might want to look at the Delta Reserve card for the Companion Pass.

[00:11:57] Jamie: Yeah. One other downside I want to mention is that with the Companion Pass, it does not cover Delta One, so like the lie flat kind of first class ticket, it does not cover the buy one get one fare for that, only traditional first class.

And also, in my experience, when I've tried to book a companion pass, the search tool is very restrictive on what it actually allows you to book once you say that you want to use a companion pass. It's convenient that you can do it online, but you're going to look at the flight, and you're going to want this 9 a.m. flight, and then you go to add your companion pass, and then it'll say, oh, sorry, that's only available if you book the 5:30 a.m. flight. Or it'll say there's no options available out of that airport when you know they have nine flights out of that airport with space that day, but it won't let you use it a lot of times with a companion pass.

[00:12:39] Spencer: Yeah, that can be really frustrating, and it's one of the reasons that I don't really rate this card that highly, the Delta Reserve card. I would say it's a pretty low tier priority card. I usually recommend people work through a lot more cards before they go to this card. It does have that brand name, right?

A lot of people are like, Oh, Delta. I've flown Delta before or I like Delta or like Delta. And it's like have you flown anybody else? Because I just don't find a lot of value out of this card and I don't recommend it to people. I think it should be a low priority card. There's much higher value cards.

Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Freedom, even obviously the American Express Platinum card, the American Express Gold card that I would go after before I would go after a Delta Reserve card.

[00:13:20] Jamie: A lot of times people just ask, they'll send us a question either podcast@militarymoneymanual.com or via DM on Instagram @militarymoneymanual and they'll talk about airline credit cards and which one's the best and it's almost like really none of them. What other cards do you have? Let's talk about the other ones that you just said. 

But if you're really dead set on getting an airline card and you're really dead set on it being Delta Then this is probably one to consider, but we would recommend that you look at other ones before you start playing the airline card game unless you just really like Delta for some reason.

[00:13:53] Spencer: Yeah, you can get a lot more value out of, let's say, a Chase Sapphire Reserve paired with a Chase Freedom card, throw a Chase Ink Card in there, and then you have complete flexibility, you can just book through the Chase Travel Portal at 1.5 cents each, you're still not paying annual fees, you get the $300 annual travel credit, if you're looking at getting a credit card, and you're thinking, the Delta Reserve card, but you don't have a Chase Sapphire Reserve yet, just, stop the episode and go get a Chase Sapphire Reserve.

[00:14:16] Jamie: I will say, my wife and I each have two of these cards. So there is value to us there. It's just not at the top of our priority list of which ones we got first. So we have, each year we get four companion passes between us. Now we haven't really been able to use them every year, so they're going to waste.

But it's part of our strategy overall, but not a cornerstone, bedrock, start off here kind of card.

[00:14:39] Spencer: All right, Jamie, that covers the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card and the first part of our series on the best airline credit cards for military service members. The next episode, we'll be talking about the United card, the United Airlines credit cards, American Airlines credit cards, and Southwest credit cards.

So stay tuned for those episodes. We'll catch you in the next episode of the Military Money Manual podcast. 

[00:15:25] Jamie: The views and opinions presented here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of the DoD or its components. Reference to any commercial products or services does not constitute DoD endorsement of those products or services.

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