The Amex Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas is easily the best lounge in the airport.
American Express
The Amex Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas is easily the best lounge in the airport.

Story highlights

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers extensive perks for elite Delta flyers

Card members get access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta.

Other perks include a free checked bag, priority boarding and more.

CNN —  

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value, but does not review all financial companies or all available financial offers. We may receive compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as CreditCards.com, and this compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Our quick take: If you want access to Delta’s global network of Sky Club airline lounges along with American Express Centurion lounges, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is your ticket. Plus, you’ll earn a welcome bonus, gain priority boarding and enjoy a slew of Delta-centric perks.

Pros:

  • Earn 3 miles for every dollar you spend on eligible Delta purchases.
  • Complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges.
  • Complimentary access to Amex Centurion Lounges.
  • Access to complimentary upgrades on Delta flights.
  • First checked bag is free on Delta flights for you and up to eight companions.
  • Up to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • Annual companion certificate after your first card member anniversary.
  • No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
  • Terms apply.

Cons:

  • Lofty $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
  • No opportunity for bonus categories beyond Delta purchases.
  • Delta SkyMiles aren’t the most valuable frequent flyer miles.

Current welcome bonus: For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your card within the same three month time period. Offer expires 7/28/2021.

Best for: Devoted Delta flyers who desire access to high-end Delta perks to make their travels calmer and more productive.

Digging into the Delta Reserve card

You probably haven’t been thinking much about travel for the last year, and that’s certainly understandable. But travel has now returned, and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve credit card is in a class of its own when it comes to benefits that frequent Delta flyers will enjoy.

There’s one primary reason you’d want to pay $550 annually to hold this card: airline lounge access. The Delta Reserve card grants complimentary access to Delta’s global network of Sky Club lounges, as well as American Express’ growing network of Centurion Lounges.

Given that an individual Sky Club membership costs $495 annually from Delta, you’re essentially paying $55 more to also receive Centurion Lounge access and all the other perks of the card, which include a free checked bag for you and up to eight companions booked on the same reservation, along with a host of other perks.

In other words, once travel resumes and Delta is fully flying again, if you’re toying with the idea of ponying up for a Sky Club membership, holding the Delta Reserve card instead probably makes more sense.

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card also earns 3 miles for every dollar you spend on eligible Delta purchases — these miles are Delta SkyMiles, deposited directly to your Delta frequent flyer account. It earns 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

For a limited time, new card members can earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account. You’ll also be able to recoup some of the annual fee, as the welcome bonus also comes with a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your card within the same three month time period. (Offer expires 7/28/2021.)

The miles earned are worth at least $800 in travel just by using them on Delta flights with Delta’s Pay With Miles program. But if you’re able to plan a bit, you can cash in on Delta’s frequent SkyMiles award sales to extract even more value (and even more free flights).

Advantages of the Delta Reserve card

Use the Delta Reserve credit card to gain entry to the Amex Centurion Lounge at LAX.
Julian Kheel
Use the Delta Reserve credit card to gain entry to the Amex Centurion Lounge at LAX.

Avid flyers understand how precious a lounge can be. Many have showers — a godsend between long flights or after a turbulent redeye — and the ability to grab a bite, freshen up or find a workspace during a layover becomes more important if you travel more frequently. Plus, lounge access makes life a little less hectic if you’re stuck in an airport during bad weather that triggers delays and cancellations.

Both Delta and Amex are expanding their lounge networks globally while improving food options, seating and Wi-Fi speeds. Amex recently opened a new Centurion Lounge in Denver, with two other new lounges on the way and four existing lounges currently being enlarged.

Related: CNN Underscored’s review of New York JFK’s new Amex Centurion Lounge.

Delta elite flyers who’d rather not fuss with worrying over earning Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) for elite status will appreciate that the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card waives the MQDs requirement for Delta Platinum, Gold or Silver elite status if you make at least $25,000 in purchases on the card in that calendar year.

Those same big spenders will also appreciate that in a normal year, every time you spend $30,000 in purchases on the card, you’ll earn 15,000 bonus MQMs, and you can grab that big spending bonus up to four times per calendar year. But for 2021, you’ll earn an additional 25% bonus MQMs for a total of 18,750 MQMs with each boost, pushing you even closer to the next Delta elite status tier.

Other advantages of the Delta Reserve card include 20% back on eligible Delta in-flight purchases (which include food, beverages, audio headsets and more), Main Cabin 1 priority boarding, no foreign transaction fees, trip delay/cancellation coverage, and car rental loss and damage insurance.

Better still, the free checked bag perk isn’t tied directly to the card. Instead, it’s associated with your Delta SkyMiles number, which means that even flights booked with a different credit card are eligible.

Finally, if you haven’t signed up for Global Entry yet, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve credit card will cover up to $100 of the fee. It’ll also cover TSA PreCheck, but here’s a tip: Sign up for Global Entry if you can, as that membership includes TSA PreCheck.

Related: 4 ways to get through the airport faster even if you can’t get Global Entry.

Disadvantages of the Delta Reserve card

The Delta Reserve card has great perks, but its earning rates aren't as competitive.
iStock
The Delta Reserve card has great perks, but its earning rates aren't as competitive.

The biggest downside of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve is its limited earning rates. The card’s only bonus category is 3x on eligible Delta purchases, while everything else earns just 1x. It’s also worth noting that the 3x earning bonus only applies to purchases made directly with Delta. If you prefer to use an online travel agency like Expedia or Orbitz — or your company requires the use of a platform such as Concur — you won’t earn that bonus when paying with the Delta Reserve card.

(If this scenario describes your reality, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earn 2x or 3x points respectively on all travel regardless of who you book with.)

Related: 6 reasons you should consider getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.

Delta SkyMiles are also less flexible and valuable than points like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or Capital One miles. While there are ways to transfer Delta SkyMiles into other programs, the transfer ratios are unattractive.

Unfortunately, the annual domestic first class companion certificate that comes with the Delta Reserve card doesn’t appear until the start of your second year of card membership. In other words, it’s not until you pay your annual fee for the second time that you’ll receive this perk. Also, “domestic” has a major caveat: The certificate only applies to flights in the lower 48, which excludes jaunts to Alaska and Hawaii.

You’ll also need to be flying on a same-day Delta flight in order to access either Sky Clubs or Centurion Lounges with this card, and you can’t bring guests in with you without paying a guest fee of $39 per person for Sky Clubs or $50 for Centurion Lounges.

Finally, this is not a card you’ll want to carry a balance due to the high APR fees. With the Delta SkyMiles Reserve, you’ll pay a variable 15.74% to 24.74% APR, based on your creditworthiness (see rates and fees).

Stacking up the Delta Reserve card against our benchmark

CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi® Double Cash Card as our “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.

Here’s how the Delta Reserve card scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that is better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

KEY DETAILS
Citi Double Cash Card Delta Reserve Card
Card type Mastercard American Express
Sign-up bonus None For a limited time until July 28, 2021, earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 bonus MQMs after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your card within the same three month time period.
REWARDS
Earning rate 2% on all purchases (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay it off) 3 miles per dollar on eligible Delta purchases, 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
Redemption value 1 cent (cash back) 1.1 cents per mile* or 1 cent per mile for Pay With Miles
Ease of basic redemptions Easy Easy
Advanced redemption options Can convert cash back to ThankYou points that transfer to 16 airline partners if you also have the Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige® Can utilize Delta’s membership in the SkyTeam alliance to redeem SkyMiles on 18 other airline partners
Quality of advanced redemptions Good Fair
FEES
Annual fee $0 $550
Foreign transaction fee 3% 0%
BENEFITS AND PROTECTIONS
Travel perks None Access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying on a same-day Delta flight, Complimentary upgrades on Delta flights when available, First checked bag free on Delta flights for you and up to 8 companions, 20% savings on inflight Delta purchases, Priority boarding on Delta flights, Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit, Annual companion certificate starting with your second year of card membership
Purchase protections None Purchase Protection, Extended Warranty
Travel protections None Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance, Trip Delay Insurance, Secondary Auto Coverage
Other perks None None
INTEREST RATES ON PURCHASES AND BALANCE TRANSFERS
Introductory APR on purchases None None
Length of introductory APR on purchases N/A N/A
Introductory APR on balance transfers 0% None
Length of Introductory APR on balance transfers 18 months N/A
Introductory balance transfer fee 3% or $5, whichever is greater N/A
APR after intro period ends/standard APR 13.99%-23.99% variable 15.74%-24.74% variable
* Based on point valuations calculated by frequent flyer website The Points Guy.

When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.

Other credit cards similar to the Delta Reserve card

For those seriously considering the Delta SkyMiles Reserve, there’s one other top-tier travel card to ponder: The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Not to be confused with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, the Amex Platinum carries a higher $695 annual fee (see rates and fees) but grants complimentary individual access to Delta Sky Club, Centurion Lounges and hundreds of other lounges around the world.

For those who don’t need the MQD waiver or the MQM boosts available on the Delta Reserve, the Amex Platinum arguably offers a more robust set of perks. This includes annual fee credits at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Uber, complimentary elite status at major hotel and car rental brands, and a host of transfer partners that make earned points easier to exchange for free travel.

Related: Travel with luxury perks using the American Express Platinum card.

Plus, if you have the Amex Platinum, you don’t need to be flying on a Delta flight to access the Centurion Lounges as you do with the Delta Reserve card (though you do need to be on a same-day Delta flight to access Delta Sky Clubs with either card).

Should you get the Delta Reserve card?

The Delta Reserve credit card from American Express.
The Delta Reserve credit card from American Express.

As the nation’s skies return to normal, if you plan to fly on Delta on a regular basis — or through airports with Amex Centurion Lounges — the Delta SkyMiles Reserve credit card will improve your quality of life at the airport. Lounge access is a luxury, sure, but for busy professionals, it’s also a place where you can get work done while in transit, freeing up precious time at your destination.

The current welcome bonus is the highest we’ve ever seen publicly available on this card, so if you’re looking to increase your stash of Delta SkyMiles and MQMs, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve could be a card to consider.

Learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.