After news dropped last Friday that Delta again decimated their partner redemptions for business class award trips, some people might wonder if it’s even worth getting a Delta American Express card.
This is not a one-size-fits-all sort of situation — because everyone’s travel goals are different.
But I will say this before we wade a little deeper into the water: if international award trips in business class are something you truly want to pursue, then Delta Amexes might not be worth your time and money.
Delta Amex Cards: Great for North American Travel
Having a Delta American Express card is a must for any regular Delta traveler who flies the mothership a couple of times a year. Some cards (like the Delta Reserve and Delta Platinum) have more bells and whistles than others (like the Delta Gold). But the bread-and-butter benefits across the cards worth having all include:
And Delta SkyMiles redemptions within the United States are generally decent. So if you’re perfectly content saving some money on US 48 travel, then a Delta Amex is fine.
For example, one of my family members was targeted (via US Mail) for a 70,000 bonus point offer on the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card. She plans to visit her daughter and son-in-law a few times a year. She’s fine sitting anywhere in coach, isn’t really interested in lounge access, and doesn’t have any need for a Companion Certificate. She may want to travel internationally in the future but that’s a ways off.
So the Gold (especially at 70,000 bonus points) is perfect for her.
But for folks who want to cash in on a dream vacation to Europe or Asia? Um, probably not so much.
Delta Amex Cards: Meh for Aspirational International Travel
I priced out a sample trip from Los Angeles to London Heathrow. The dates I randomly chose were December 9 through December 13, 2021.
The absolute lowest price is 210,000 SkyMiles roundtrip for one business class ticket. (For what it’s worth, American was charging about 165,000 miles. Even lower for people willing to make a stop.)
But if you want to take a companion with you, you’re looking at 410,000 SkyMiles (plus almost $660 in taxes) for saver prices. I understand that’s peanuts for many weekly road warriors. But for others, that’s a ton of points.
If the Delta Amexes are running a 100,000 bonus point offer (as they do maybe once every year or so) then getting one of those cards will certainly help pay for your award trip. But if you don’t travel much anyway and just want to pay for a bucket list trip, then you’ll need to apply for several Delta Amexes, most likely spaced across a few years. Having a haul of American Express Membership Rewards points can help, too.
But are there other options?
Alternatives to Delta Amex Cards
I know that Delta offers a great product. Their service is generally fantastic. I really like traveling with Delta. I even have several of their credit cards (again, great for domestic US travel).
But there’s a good chance they won’t be my first choice when it comes to booking international award travel.
And that’s why René and I are bullish on cards with transferrable currencies (such as American Express Membership Rewards products and Chase Ultimate Rewards cards). Because if you find a good price on one of those cards’ travel partners, you can easily transfer your points to that carrier.
I know someone (a “free agent” traveler, if you will) who flies business class all the time — and uses a combination of Amex and Chase branded cards to fund his trips. I don’t know if he actively uses any airline co-branded cards. He sticks to the ones earning transferrable points.
So if you find a great deal on, say, British Airways, all you have to do is transfer your Amex or Chase points to BA’s loyalty program. I know many of us feel more comfortable flying Delta or their partners because we’re used to them. They’re familiar.
But being loyal to a fault can cost you — especially when airlines keep hiking their redemption prices.
Just for grins, I also priced out in US dollars that same LAX to LHR roundtrip.
Here’s where a Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve may actually come in handy. If I use the Pay with Miles feature, I could apply about 210,000 miles and pay a couple of hundred bucks out of pocket. That’s actually a better deal than redeeming them for a SkyMiles award trip because Pay with Miles tickets earn MQM. And Delta seems hell-bent on making sure SkyMiles won’t exceed more than 1.5-ish cents per mile in value.
But here’s something real fun — and the big reason I hold a Business Platinum Card from American Express.
Amex Business Platinum cardholders can get a 35% rebate when using Membership Rewards points to pay for all or some of eligible trips booked through AmexTravel.com.
That $2461.95 airfare you see above could be paid with 246,195 Amex Membership Rewards points upfront. But once that 35% rebate kicks in, the trip ultimately costs 160,027 points. And earns MQM, MQD, MQS, and SkyMiles.
Or if you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, buy the same trip though Chase. You can apply Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1.5 cents each. That same trip costing 210,000 SkyMiles would run you about 165,000 UR. (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Preferred cardholders are looking at about 200,000 points at the 1.25 cent redemption rate.) Again, you’d earn MQM, MQD, MQS, and SkyMiles.
I’m no math wiz. But 160,000-ish points plus elite status points sounds a lot better than 210,000 miles with no kickers.
And while the Business Platinum Card from American Express carries a $595 annual fee, the 86,000+ miles our sample trip saved are worth way more than that.
Keep in mind that Juicy Miles can also help with award trip bookings and finding good prices.
Delta’s regular devaluations of SkyMiles are frustrating, at best. Delta Amex cards are great for domestic US travel awards. The more premium Delta Amexes also offer some nice perks.
But Delta’s approach toward award travel may ultimately lead people to stop getting their co-branded Amex cards — which are a big cash cow for the mothership.
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