Which credit card to use to maximize American and Delta miles?

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Update: This offer for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is expired. Learn more about the current offer here.

Update: This offer for The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN is expired, but there’s currently an opportunity to earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Learn more about the special offer here.

Update: This offer is expired. You can find the current offer details here.

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Reader Tiffani asks the following question on the Ask Lucky page of the blog:

Hi to my fellow Tampa Bay area person. I’m interested in the Sapphire Preferred card and I can’t find anywhere if I can transfer miles to either American or Delta.

If I can’t do it with that card, which card is the best one for me for each airline?

I have Delta status, someone else in my family has American status so we are looking at two different cards.

For a long time now the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been my go to credit card for everyday spend, as I outlined here. Unfortunately in the process I somewhat neglected other credit cards, like the ones that would suit Tiffani’s travel patterns and elite status better. Admittedly the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is pretty Star Alliance centric on the airline front, since the best transfer partners are Continental and United. While they’re also transfer partners with British Airways (One World) and Korean Air (SkyTeam), their award charts aren’t as lucrative as their US alliance counterparts for the most part, so I wouldn’t suggest using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as a means for earning One World or SkyTeam miles.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the best cards to earn American and Delta miles:

Best card for earning Delta SkyMiles:

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is by far the best card for accruing Delta SkyMiles. The card accrues Membership Rewards points at the rate of three points per dollar spent on airfare, two points per dollar spent on gas and groceries, and one point per dollar spent on everything else. Also keep in mind that Membership Rewards points are much more valuable than Delta SkyMiles, since they can typically be transferred to Delta at a premium.

I’m not a huge fan of Delta miles, though if your goal is to earn them, this is the card to use to earn an insane number of Delta miles per dollar spent. When you factor in the category points bonuses, the annual bonus for spending $30,000, and the transfer bonuses, you can earn an average of close to 3-5 Delta SkyMiles per dollar spent.

If you’re looking for a business credit card to earn Delta miles, I recommend the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, which allows you to choose a category to accrue 3x Membership Rewards points (airfare is an option), two points per dollar spent on the other categories, and one point per dollar spent on everything else.  Since the card also earns Membership Rewards points, you can earn huge bonuses when transferring those points to Delta.

The only other card worth considering is the Delta Reserve American Express. The key benefits are that the card comes with SkyClub access and earns you 15,000 bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles if you spend $30,000 on the card annually, and 30,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles when you spend $60,000 on the card annually. That being said, the card comes with a $450 annual fee, and if it’s redeemable miles you’re after, the card is less than stellar since they don’t have many category bonuses.

Best card for earning American AAdvantage miles:

I hate to say it, but American’s credit cards are downright boring, especially now that miles earned through them no longer count towards million miler status.

The only one of their co-branded credit cards that you should even be considering is the Citi Executive® / AAdvantage® World Elite Mastercard®. The card comes with an Admirals Club membership, 10,000 elite qualifying miles when you make $40,000 worth of purchases in a calendar year, priority check-in/security/boarding, and a free checked bag. That being said, the card comes with a $450 annual fee, so is only worth considering if you value each of the above benefits.

For the rest of us, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is the way to go. The card offers one Starwood point per dollar spent, and those points can be converted 1:1 to American. Best of all, when you transfer in increments of 20,000 points, you earn a 5,000 point bonus, meaning you’re essentially earning 1.25 American miles per dollar spent. Beyond that, there are occasionally transfer bonuses from Starwood to American. In the past couple of years they have offered 25%-35% bonuses on top of the 1.25 miles per dollar, meaning you can earn close to 1.7 American miles per dollar spent if transferring while they’re running one of those promotions.

Starwood also offers the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card, for those with a small business, which has the same benefits. Of course you also have added flexibility by using the Starwood card, since you can instead use those points on hotels, or if you prefer, transfer them to other airlines. Both of the Starwood cards come with a 25,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 on the card within six months.

Given that none of American’s co-branded credit cards offer bonus miles on spend categories other than American Airlines purchases, using the Starwood American Express is a no brainer.

Any questions? Anyone have different opinions on which cards are best for an American or Delta flyer?

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  1. “This card also comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $10,000 on the card within five months.”

    I no longer see the 50k signup bonus offer, assumed it was no longer available, do you have experience otherwise?

  2. Thanks for the help! I have a question, with Delta’s push with their own Amex card, (which I have now)do you think they will stay with the regular Amex rewards program?

    It’s really a shame that American doesn’t partner with more programs.

  3. @ Gary — Hmmm, if it changed I don’t think I was ever alerted of it. Do you know what the offer is now, if that’s the case?

    @ Tiffani — Happy to help! Delta will *DEFINITELY* not be leaving Membership Rewards. American Express has full power over Delta, and they want both their co-branded credit card to do well in addition to their Membership Rewards cards. Eliminating Delta as a Membership Rewards partner would more or less kill the program. There’s no way they would allow that to happen, so that’s not something to even worry about.

  4. I agree that AA MC is boring, but they have targeted quarterly bonuses, one was a $5k spend in 6 months, get 10,000 miles, so that equals 3miles/$, then they had a 25% promo, so that is 1.25miles/$, and now they have a 50% promo, 1.5miles/$, plus they had a 2x during thanksgiving week, and it is for all spend, no special categories. AA IMO still has the best redemption availability, though the airline is lacking in many other areas.

  5. are there any bonus offers for the Amex card? Do you think there will be in Q1 2012? I have a couple months before annual fee time on my other card.

  6. Thanks for the run down. I have the same issue as Tiffani and wasn’t sure what was the best way to go. I was considering the Starwood Amex because it seemed like it has many more transfer partners. I thought Delta was one of them. Are you saying that they’re not?

  7. @ IntheD — Starwood is a transfer partner with Delta so that’s one of the reasons the Starwood American Express is so flexible. That being said, if your goal is to maximize the number of Delta miles you can earn, you’re much better off with the Premier Rewards Gold card, due to the category bonuses, transfer bonuses, and annual spend bonuses. Furthermore, Membership Rewards points transfer instantly to Delta, while Starwood points can take a few days.

  8. Lucky- Hoping you can clarify something for me. I never considered transferring the points to UA or CO but was thinking of booking a flight through the UR site. In my mind, any trip would be essentially free while earning EQMs. Is this not a good approach and transferring miels better? I have 1.3million rdm, so not sure what transferring does for me. Thoughts?

  9. @ Paul — It certainly depends how many points you have the potential of earning and what your redemption goals are. Booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards site, you’re getting a maximum of 1.25 cents of value per point.

    I don’t think that’s an especially good value, since if you’re essentially looking for “cash” towards travel, you’re probably best off using a card that offers cashback.

    For me, the benefit of miles is being able to redeem them for international first and business class. For example, a business class award from the US to Europe through Continental costs 100,000 miles.

    If that ticket costs $5,000 in cash, that would cost you 400,000 Ultimate Rewards points, meaning you’d be spending four times as many points in order to earn those tickets.

    So I guess to answer your question, if you’re looking to use the points you earn everyday towards flights you would book with cash, you’re better off with a cashback credit card. I would instead suggest earning those points and transferring them to Continental for international first and business class redemptions that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

    Does that make any sense?

  10. Lucky, what do you think of the JP Morgan Select card? There’s no sign-up bonus & it’s not as lucrative points-wise, but it has an EMV chip in it. I’m not sure I would be able to meet the minimum spending requirement for the Sapphire Preferred or the BA Visa, at least not without going above my budget for a while, which I would rather not do.

    Speaking of the EMV chip, have you ever encountered any porblems using non-chipped cards overseas?

    Thanks and Merry Xmas!

  11. The BofA Alaska card also give 3x miles on AS purchases, which is a nice benefit in addition to their annual $99 companion ticket, which I use for first class.

  12. what if the goal isn’t maximizing AAdvantage miles, but simply having the ability to earn and transfer to the program?

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