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Gold Delta SkyMiles AmEx vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
Gold Delta SkyMiles AmEx vs. Chase Sapphire Preferred
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For frequent flyers on Delta Air Lines, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card both offer value, but in vastly different ways.

On traditional credit card features, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card edges the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. It offers better ongoing rewards for the same annual fee.

But the analysis doesn’t stop there for regular Delta flyers. Co-branded airline cards like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express have an ace in the hole: free checked bags and other goodies that general travel cards can’t offer.

At a high level, the choice here is between a co-branded airline card and a general travel card. In that analysis, the answer remains the same: If you fly primarily with one airline, you might get more value from that carrier’s card, especially if it lets you avoid checked-bag fees, which Delta’s does. If you appreciate flexibility in your airline choices, a general travel card with better rewards for everyday spending is the way to go.

The net result is that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is likely to be the better choice for most. But details matter. Here’s how the cards stack up side by side.

 Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressChase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Sign-up bonusEarn 30,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the first 3 months with your new Card. Terms Apply..Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Rewards1 mile per dollar spent on all purchases except with Delta, which earn 2 miles.2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining.
Annual fee$0 for the first year, then $95$0 for the first year, then $95
Foreign transaction feesNoneNone
Other benefitsFree first checked bag, priority boarding and other perks.You can transfer points on a 1:1 basis to several airline and hotel partners.

Why Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card wins for most

BETTER REDEMPTION OPTIONS

If you’re comparing these two cards, you probably want to book Delta flights with your rewards at least occasionally. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can’t do that directly with the airline, as you can with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. But there are two good ways to book Delta flights with Chase points.

  • Chase Travel Center: You can use your points to book Delta flights, or any other travel, through Chase’s online portal, which is similar to travel aggregators like Kayak and Orbitz. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders get a value of 1.25 cents per point when they redeem for travel through the portal. (You also can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points for cash back, gift cards or Amazon purchases, at a decent rate of a penny a point.)
  • Transfer points to a partner: You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to several airline and hotel partners on a 1:1 basis. Partners include Southwest, United, British Airways, Air France/KLM, Marriott and Hyatt. Although Delta isn’t a partner, there’s a workaround: You can transfer points to a Delta partner airline, such as Air France or Korean Airlines, and book the Delta flight through that carrier.

» MORE: Make the most of Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Delta SkyMiles earned with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express are more restrictive. They are best used for one purpose: buying flights on Delta and its partner airlines, especially on business-class international flights.

Both of these cards have premium versions that charge higher annual fees but offer more perks and rewards. They include the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Delta Reserve Credit Card.

MORE REWARDS FOR SPENDING

You’re likely to earn spending rewards faster on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because it gives you 2 points per $1 spent on all travel, not just Delta purchases, which is the case with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card also pays 2 points per dollar for restaurant purchases.

Both cards earn 1 mile or point per dollar on all other purchases.

Nerd tip

If you’re not a regular traveler, cash-back cards are often a better deal than travel cards in the long run.

Where Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has an edge

FREE CHECKED BAGS

Cardholders get their first checked bag free if they use the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express to pay for the flight — as do up to nine companions on the same reservation. Bag fees normally cost $25 each way, so free checked bags for a family of four saves $200 on each round trip. That perk alone generates tremendous value that keeps giving year after year — if you’re the type to check bags.

OTHER AIRLINE PERKS

Cardholders and companions on the same reservation also get Zone 1 priority boarding, allowing them on the plane earlier than most. That means if you have just a carry-on bag, you’re more likely to find room in the overhead. You have to decide what value that holds.

The card also gets you a discount on a day pass to Delta Sky Club lounges, costing $29 instead of $59, as well as 20% off some in-flight purchases.

Nerd tip

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is typically issued as a Visa, which merchants accept more widely in the U.S. and abroad than American Express, the network for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.

How to decide

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express could be the right choice if you regularly fly from airports where Delta has a near monopoly and you have little choice in airlines — and if you value a free checked bags, priority boarding and an occasional trip to the airport lounge.

But for most people, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, with its superior flexibility and ongoing rewards, will be the best choice in the long run.

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart