When it comes to caring for its passengers, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines consistently get high marks. Case and point, Delta and Alaska ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively on NerdWallet's best airlines to fly during COVID-19. As travel resumes, you might want to prioritize flying these customer-friendly airlines. If so, you may be wondering if you should get a Delta or Alaska credit card.
Both airlines offer valuable perks to their credit cardholders — from free checked bags to lounge access. But, it's important to consider all aspects of a credit card before you sign up. So, let's dive into the best airline cards for those considering a Delta or Alaska credit card.
Delta and Alaska credit cards overview
Delta credit cards
Delta offers an expansive portfolio of four personal credit card options and three business credit cards through its partnership with American Express:
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card: $0 annual fee.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: $0 intro for the first year, then $99 annual fee.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: $250 annual fee.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: $550 annual fee.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card: $0 intro for the first year, then $99 annual fee.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card: $250 annual fee.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: $550 annual fee.
» Learn more: Which Delta Air Lines credit card should you get?
Alaska Airlines credit cards
Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines offers just two credit cards through Bank of America®:
Notable differences in these offerings
Only Delta offers a premium card option
Alaska doesn't offer a direct comparison for Delta's premium cards. If you're looking for high-end perks, you want to get one of Delta's higher-end cards.
For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card offers a Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit, an annual companion certificate on Delta and the opportunity to earn toward elite status through Delta's Status Boost, all for a reasonable $250 annual fee. Terms apply.
To score lounge access, you'll want the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. This $550-annual-fee card offers complimentary Delta Sky Club access and complimentary access to AmEx's Centurion Lounge when you fly Delta. You'll also get an annual companion certificate on Delta, Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit, and upgrade priority over other Medallion members — including access to the upgrade list even if you don't have Medallion elite status. Terms apply.
» Learn more: How to pick a premium travel credit card
Only Delta offers a card without an annual fee
Alaska doesn't offer a no-annual-fee card. So, if you're looking for a no-annual-fee airline card from either Delta or Alaska, you'll have just one option: the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card.
This card earns 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and on Delta purchases, and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, you can earn a welcome bonus: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply. Terms apply.
Comparing a Delta credit card vs. an Alaska credit card
When comparing Delta and Alaska credit cards, the only fair head-to-head comparison is between the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card and the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. So, let's compare these two cards directly.
Key factors at play
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card charges a $0 intro for the first year, then $99 annual fee. Meanwhile, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card charges a $75 annual fee. Terms apply.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is currently offering: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and up to $50 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership. Terms Apply.
Comparatively, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card offers: Get 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) with this online offer. To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
» Learn more: How much are my airline miles worth?
Miles earning rates
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card earns 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants (including takeout and delivery), U.S. supermarkets and on Delta purchases. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar spent. Terms apply.
Meanwhile, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card only offers a bonus on Alaska purchases: 3 miles per dollar spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Other travel perks
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card cardmembers get a first free checked bag on Delta flights and Main Cabin 1 priority boarding. You can also earn a $100 Delta flight credit toward future travel after spending $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year. That's like earning an additional 1 cent per dollar spent on your first $10,000 in purchases. Terms apply.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card customers also get a first checked bag free, both for the cardholder and up to six guests on the same reservation. You'll get 20% back on Alaska Airlines in-flight purchases and 50% off day passes to the Alaska Lounge. But perhaps best of all, you'll get Alaska's Famous Companion Fare each year. You can use this to score a round-trip flight for a companion starting at just $99 plus taxes and fees.
So, which one?
If you're debating between these two mid-tier cards, it really comes down to if you value the increased miles earning rate on the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card or the value of the Alaska Companion Fare, which could be worth a lot if you use it on an expensive round-trip flight.
We'd also take into account which airline offers more flights from your most frequently traveled airports. It will rarely be better to have an Alaska credit card if you live in a Delta hub.
Alaska Airlines miles vs. Delta miles
Value per point
A key decision when choosing either a Delta or Alaska credit card is the value of the miles you earn and the ways that you can use those miles.
NerdWallet recently analyzed the economy awards versus cash fares on Delta and Alaska. Based on this analysis, Alaska Mileage Plan miles are slightly less valuable at 1.1 cents per mile. However, Delta is right ahead of Alaska with a value of 1.3 cents per mile. But that's just the baseline value for these programs and your redemptions may vary.
Premium cabin award availability
If you want to fly up front in first or business class, Alaska Mileage Plan comes out far ahead of Delta — particularly after Delta's recent partner award chart devaluation.
Alaska's Mileage Plan offers some spectacular partner awards. For example, you can fly from the U.S. to Asia in Cathay Pacific business class for 50,000 miles each way. Even better, Alaska allows you to stopover in Hong Kong before continuing on to India, South Asia, the Middle East or even South Africa for just 62,500 miles.
Comparatively, the cheapest Delta business class partner awards to Hong Kong cost 120,000 miles each way. And Delta now charges even higher rates within 60 days of departure.
Partner award opportunities
Alaska just joined the Oneworld alliance on March 31, 2021, and it will expand its award redemptions to include all Oneworld airlines in summer 2021.
Delta is a founding member of the SkyTeam alliance, so you can redeem SkyMiles on any of the 19 SkyTeam member airlines — including Air France, KLM and Korean Air.
Either way, you’ll have access to an alliance full of partner airlines.
» Learn more: Guide to the Alaska Airlines award chart
Choose the right airline credit card for you
If you're looking for the best airline card for your situation, you can't go wrong with either a Delta or Alaska credit card. Both airlines offer credit cards with compelling benefits that can easily justify the annual fee. The best airline card is going to depend on what perks you most value, your tolerance for an annual fee and your travel habits.
To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, see this page.
To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, see this page.
To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card