A big question for many regular Delta Air Lines flyers is whether they should get the carrier's Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card or apply for a general travel credit card that offers more flexibility for redeeming rewards.
So we'll pit the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (see rates and fees) against both the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, two top general travel cards with similar ongoing annual fees.
The quick answer for those deciding between a co-branded airline card like this one for Delta and a general travel card: If you fly frequently with one airline, you might get more value from an airline card, especially if it lets you avoid checked-bag fees. If you want flexibility in your airline choices, though, a general travel card is the way to go.
At a glance
Why general travel cards are better for most people
We’ll approach this seemingly backward because it will make more sense to talk first about how you can redeem rewards, then talk about how you earn those rewards in the first place.
All three cards essentially give you credit toward future travel, either in points or miles. A big differentiator is flexibility.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card really offers only one good redemption option: Delta flights (or seat upgrades) either with Delta or its partners in the SkyTeam alliance. Miles are worth 0.9 cent a piece.
General travel cards, on the other hand, let you redeem rewards for lots of different types of travel, although in different ways.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is simpler. Miles can be redeemed for 1 cent apiece on travel purchases.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers a chance at a higher redemption. In general, this card’s Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are worth 1 cent each. But if you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, the value rises to 1.25 cents apiece.
You acquire points or miles from the credit cards in two primary ways.
Welcome bonus for new cardholders
The potential bonuses for new customers of the cards can change often. But all three cards give you a lucrative cache of rewards to start with if you spend enough to earn the bonus. It’s worthwhile to try.
The value is typically enough to score at least one free domestic airline ticket.
In the chart above, you can see how two of the cards offer extra rewards for certain types of spending. Here’s a quick evaluation.
If you’ll use the card for most purchases, the most valuable rewards rate goes to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. That’s because its rate of 2 miles per dollar spent applies to all categories of spending. This is also the simplest card.
Next most valuable is probably the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It offers the useful bonus categories of restaurants and travel, which earn double points. And if you redeem those points for travel at Chase, that’s a rewards rate of 2.5% in those categories.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card has maybe the most useful bonus categories for everyday spending because it includes U.S. supermarkets, as well as restaurants worldwide and Delta purchases. However, the rate is just 2 Delta Skymiles per dollar spent in those categories. Terms apply. It lags the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which doesn’t restrict double points to certain categories of spending.
The general travel cards are better for rewards than the Delta card. But rewards don’t account for all the value a card can offer.
Who might prefer the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Checked bags make a big difference
If you're a regular flyer and live in a Delta hub city or travel on Delta the vast majority of the time, the decision might flip the other way. That's because of the perks you get with an airline card, especially free checked bags.
Cardholders get a free first checked bag if they use the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card to pay for the flight as do their companions on the same reservation, up to nine people. Bag fees on Delta usually are $30 each way, so checked bags on one round trip with a family member or friend on the same itinerary would cost $120. Getting that for free makes up for the card's annual fee quickly. Multiply that by several flights a year, and it becomes a huge value, potentially outpacing value from the general travel cards.
Cardholders and companions on the same reservation also get early boarding. That means if you have carry-on luggage, you're more likely to find room in the overhead bin. Of course, you have to decide what value that holds.
Additionally, the card gets you 20% off some in-flight purchases, but that is probably of minor value for most people.
Which card should you get?
So the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card could be the right choice if you regularly fly from airports in such cities as Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit and Cincinnati, where you have few choices other than Delta — and if you value free checked bags and priority boarding. But if you fly mostly from places like Chicago or Dallas, where Delta has a minor presence, or if you seldom check bags, the general travel cards become better choices.
To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page.