American Express Overhauls Benefits for Delta Cards

The competition among banks in the points and miles space continues to intensify, which is a boon for consumers. For banks, the challenge is simple: How do you appear to constantly rachet up rewards, benefits and signup bonuses without giving away the store? The answer appears to lie in creating a set of complex and nuanced changes, which have positive effects for cardholders without destroying the bottom line.

American Express is introducing sweeping changes in benefits for its exclusive line of co-branded Delta cards. If you’re an existing cardholder, there’s no need to do anything: these changes will officially take place on January 30, 2020. If you’re thinking about applying for any of the cards, there are limited-time offers in place until September 30 (more on this in a moment).

Here’s how the personal cards are affected:

Delta SkyMiles Blue: No changes.

Delta SkyMiles Gold: Positive: double miles at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (currently one mile per dollar); $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year. Negative: annual fee goes from $95 to $99; discounted Sky Club access goes away (currently $29); loss of MQD waiver (Medallion Qualification Dollars), making it harder to earn elite status.

Delta SkyMiles Platinum: Positive: triple miles on Delta purchases (currently double), and double miles at hotels, restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (currently one mile per dollar); credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee. Negative: annual fee goes from $195 to $250; Sky Club access goes from $29 to $39; cardholders still receive 10,000 MQMs after $25,000 and $50,000 in calendar-year spending, but the regular bonus miles are going away.

Delta SkyMiles Reserve: Positive: triple miles on Delta purchases (currently double); two one-time guest passes to Sky Club, on top of existing individual membership; access to Centurion lounges when flying on same-day Delta ticket purchased on the card; Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit; access to upgrades for non-Medallions; additional 15,000 MQMs after spending $90,000 and $120,000 in a calendar year. Negative: annual fee goes from $450 to $550; Sky Priority security access goes away; you still earn 15,000 MQMs for spending $30,000 and $60,000 in a calendar year, but the regular bonus miles go away.

What does it all mean? On the Gold and Platinum levels, the big news is the increased earning rates, since folks who hold those cards are likely to use them for everyday spending. The annual fee increase for Gold is negligible, but the Platinum hike from $195 to $250 might make some people stop and think. If you hold the gold card and relied on it to help you reach elite status, the loss of the MQD waiver is definitely a blow.

For the Delta Reserve, the increased earning on Delta purchases won’t move the needle for most, but the biggest perk is the increased ability for big spenders to earn MQMs—and thus enhance their elite status. Access to the Centurion lounges is a very nice benefit; however, those lounges already tend to be overcrowded, so holders of the Amex Platinum and Centurion cards aren’t likely to be thrilled. Is it worth the extra $100? If you’re cold-blooded and do the math, maybe not.

Between now and September 30, American Express is offering incentives for new applicants:

  • Gold: 70,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in the first three months; $50 statement credit after using the card to make a Delta purchase in the first three months.
  • Platinum: 80,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after spending $6,000 in the first three months; $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase with the card in the first three months.
  • Reserve: 80,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $6,000 in the first three months.

If you’ve tried to redeem miles for a Delta flight recently, all these mileage incentives might not strike you as too enticing. However, don’t forget that Delta is a member of the Skyteam alliance, so you have the ability to use your miles on 18 partner airlines including Air France/KLM, Aeromexico, Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air, and others.

Bottom Line: Those who use the Gold card for everyday spending come out ahead; it’s harder to obtain elite status with the card, but you receive many of the benefits anyway (priority boarding and first checked bag free). The Platinum card increases by $55, which may be offset by the enhanced earning rates and other benefits such as the companion certificate. Big spenders get the most out of the Reserve card changes, and they also receive access to the American Express Centurion lounges.

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