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Making the Most of the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express Card

Nov. 16, 2016
Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards
Making the Most of the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express Card
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If you’re a frequent Delta Air Lines flier, you can use the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express daily as your primary credit card to quickly accumulate reward miles for free flights. Or you can tuck it in the back of your wallet and consider it more of a membership card that provides valuable airport perks, including free checked bags.

Both methods can help you wring value from the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. Here’s how.

Basics of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • Rewards: 2 miles per $1 spent on qualifying purchases made directly with Delta and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
  • Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95.
  • Welcome bonus: Earn 30,000 Bonus Miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • Interest rate: The ongoing APR is 17.74% - 26.74% Variable APR.
  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

Use built-in airport perks

As an everyday rewards card, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has modest earning potential relative to general travel credit cards. But its built-in perks provide value you won’t find in those cards.

Free checked bag

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 companions on the same reservation, up to nine people. Bag fees normally cost $30 each way. If you and a partner check bags on one roundtrip per year, you’ll more than make up for the annual fee. One roundtrip with checked bags for a family of four puts you $145 ahead, without even considering the frequent-flier miles you earn with the purchase. And taken to the limit, nine free checked bags on a roundtrip is worth $540.

Priority boarding

If you don’t frequently check bags, the card still helps by offering Main Cabin 1 priority boarding, which allows you and those on your itinerary to board the plane earlier than most. That means if you have a carry-on bag, you’re more likely to find room in the overhead bin. You have to decide what value that holds. To get priority boarding, just pay for your airfare with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.

Discounted lounge access

With the card, day passes to Delta Sky Club lounges are discounted from $59 to $29. That can spare you from paying for overpriced airport snacks, drinks and Wi-Fi, which are free in the lounge. And you might find it’s a peaceful oasis amid the usual airport hubbub. You can also bring two traveling companions.

Discounted purchases

Use the card in flight to get 20% off many onboard purchases such as meals, movies and audio headsets.

Use as a perks-only card

Because of its built-in airline perks, you may prefer to earn everyday spending rewards in a different currency than SkyMiles — say, cash back, which may be preferable.

If so, use the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express as a membership card. That means using it only when doing so unlocks goodies, such as purchasing airfare to get a free checked bag.

True, you won’t earn free flights as quickly this way, but the card can still offer value year after year. The key is using its perks often enough that the annual fee is worth it.

Rack up miles

Free flights

Making the most of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is also about accumulating SkyMiles, Delta’s reward currency.

If your goal is to build up miles to buy a free flight, use your card for as many purchases as you can, and always for Delta purchases, which earn double the miles.

Even if you’re not a big spender or frequent traveler, it can be worth accumulating SkyMiles because they don’t expire. On the other hand, if you’re not locked in to taking mostly Delta flights, a good general travel card might provide greater flexibility, which can lead to a free flight more quickly.

Elite status

The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express can also help you achieve elite Delta frequent-flier status. You can earn that status by traveling a certain number of miles or flight segments and spending a certain amount of money on flights. But Delta waives the spending requirement for cardholders who charge a robust $25,000 per year on their card. They must still meet the travel requirement, though. So, for example, the card might benefit a customer who flies a lot of miles but doesn’t spend much money doing it.

Elite status, which Delta calls Medallion levels, can qualify you for seat upgrades, accelerated SkyMiles awards and a host of other benefits.

Redeem miles wisely

NerdWallet values SkyMiles at an average of 1.8 cents each, far higher than the traditional penny-per-point value of many reward programs. But value can vary widely depending on how you redeem miles. See our review of the SkyMiles program for in-depth strategies for using rewards.

In short, you would ideally use SkyMiles for international business-class flights. NerdWallet values miles redeemed for international business seats at 2.8 cents each and miles redeemed for international economy seats at 1.1 cents each — a big difference. You’ll spend more miles on a business-class flight, but you’ll also get the most value from each reward mile.

The opposite is true for flying domestic. For domestic travel, NerdWallet values miles redeemed for economy trips at 1 cent each and miles redeemed for business class at 0.8 cents each.

How to redeem rewards on the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Redeeming miles for Delta flights is fairly straightforward. Log in to your Delta account and select the flight you want. Delta has no blackout dates. You can stretch your miles if you travel on Saver days, noted on the online portal calendar.

Typically, using rewards to buy merchandise, gift cards and other goods and services is an unwise use of frequent-flier miles or rewards currencies in general. Still, Delta does offer those options if you have SkyMiles burning a hole in your pocket.

Making the most of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express depends on how you use it, as a top-of-wallet travel card to accumulate SkyMiles and earn free flights, or as an occasionally used membership card that saves you money on checked bags and other airline perks.

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