Leveraging The Delta Reserve AmEx For Status And Perks

As Ben/Lucky is shuttling back and forth between China (or as I call it, the spiritual homeland of the Montblanc pen— JUST KIDDING!), posts will be a bit lighter and I’ve volunteered to step in now and then with thoughts on aviation, points and miles from the amateur perspective.


In the interest of full disclosure, I am not getting any commission out of a referral link in this post. I am writing to spread the gospel of the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express to those of you who are looking to attain elite status on a legacy airline, but who might not otherwise qualify based on butt-in-seat miles.

To be up front about things, this card is most valuable if you can put $60,000 of spend on a single card in the course of a calendar year. The card still has some real value if you can put $30,000 of spend on the card in a year, but if you don’t think you can meet those annual spend requirements, this card is not for you.

Used strategically, and with a healthy amount of spend over the course of a year, the Delta Reserve card might be the single most valuable card I can think of for a dedicated Delta flyer. Now, to be clear, it’s not the most lucrative card in terms of earning points. And the annual fee is $450, which is substantial.

But, for various other reasons, it may the best card out there if you value elite status on any legacy airline. That it happens to give you status on the best domestic carrier, hands down, is icing on the cake.

You Earn a Ton of Medallion Qualifying Miles

Just by signing up for the Delta Reserve card, you earn 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and 10,000 bonus redeemable miles on your first purchase.

The card then awards you 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) for the first $30,000 in annual spend, and an additional 15,000 MQMs for the next $30,000 in spend in any calendar year.

Without even setting foot in a plane, that can earn you Silver Medallion status with 15,000 MQMs to spare in your first year (and since they roll over to the next year, that’s not nothing). Not that you’d want to do this, but if you simply charged $60,000 to your Delta Reserve card each year and never set foot on a plane, you’d actually qualify for Gold Medallion by your third year when you take your rollover MQMs into account.

And of course, if you’re a big spender and own your own business, you could get the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card and earn an additional 30,000 MQMs from an additional $60,000 of business spend (on top of the sign-up MQM bonus, to boot).

Where this makes the most sense is for flyers like me, who are infrequent travelers but who value the perks that come with elite status. On an average year, I maybe fly 20,000 or 25,000 miles on Delta. With $60,000 in spend, that puts me over 50,000 MQMs and at the Gold Medallion threshold, which is a huge step up from Silver.

…Redeemable Miles, Too

While the Delta Reserve card doesn’t offer bonus miles on any categories other than purchases made directly with Delta (where you earn double miles), you earn a 15,000 redeemable mile bonus on top of the 15,000 MQM bonus at the $30,000 and $60,000 thresholds. So, roughly speaking, you’ll earn 45,000 redeemable miles for your first $30,000 in spend (potentially more, if some of that spend was on Delta), and an additional 45,000 redeemable miles for the next $30,000.

You Don’t Have to Worry about Medallion Qualifying Dollars

Delta’s Medallion program doesn’t just require that you fly a targeted number of MQMs a year to qualify for a given tier of Medallion status, but also that you spend a targeted amount of money with Delta (what they call “Medallion Qualifying Dollars,” or MQDs).

We can discuss the merits of this another time. No one was thrilled to see MQDs arrive (except for the copycats at United).  But MQDs do succeed in “thinning the herd” a little. And with the Delta Reserve card (or, really, any Delta co-branded credit card), that puts you at an advantage.

The MQD requirement is waived when you spend $25,000 a year or more on your Delta co-branded credit card. That means that if you’re specifically using your Delta Reserve card to hit MQM thresholds, you needn’t even worry about the MQD requirement. It’s waived.

Delta's MQD requirement is waived when you hit $25,000 on any Delta co-branded credit card
Delta’s MQD requirement is waived when you hit $25,000 on any Delta co-branded credit card

You Get a Free Companion Ticket… In Any Class

For me, this is another huge benefit the Delta Reserve card offers which adds value: every anniversary, you get a companion certificate which can be used for domestic economy or domestic first (excluding flights to Hawaii).

There are some restrictions: the ticket has to be roundtrip and all in the same fare class, and few changes are allowed once the tickets are issued; if you have to cancel or change your companion’s ticket later, the companion certificate is voided. And when you search for companion fares, the companion-eligible fare you see is not always going to be the lowest fare.

But.

It’s incredibly valuable when it does work. And it often does work. You may have to search for dates or times that yield the best value, but I’ve seen first class fares from LAX to New Orleans price out lower at $750 (for two tickets, mind you) and fares between Seattle and LAX pricing out well below that.

Los Angeles to New Orleans for 2 passengers in First Class, $736 roundtrip with certificate applied
Los Angeles to New Orleans for 2 passengers in First Class, $736 roundtrip with certificate applied

I’ve seen transcontinental fares between LAX and, say, Boston around the $1,000 mark. Companion fares on Delta One between LAX and SFO and JFK can regularly had between $1,200 and $1,700 total: that’s a screaming deal if you want to buy two tickets on a very premium product between California and New York.

LAX to JFK in Delta One for 2 passengers: $1,276 using the Delta Reserve companion certificate
LAX to JFK in Delta One for 2 passengers: $1,276 using the Delta Reserve companion certificate

Of course, now and then you can do a search and see a companion ticket price out at $11,000 or more.  Don’t be discouraged. Keep searching and look for the sweet spot.

Companion certificates can be used for coach fares, as well, which may not always be the most aspirational redemption but which can sometimes prove useful.

Plus The Usual Roster of AmEx Benefits

A lot of these benefits are redundant with the benefits you’ll get if you already have the American Express Platinum Card, but it’s worth pointing out you get:

  • Access to Delta SkyClubs when you’re flying Delta (note this benefit is for the cardholder only)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Global Assist hotline access
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance
  • Baggage insurance
  • A free checked bag
  • “Priority boarding” (but still behind pre-boards, First Class, and Medallions)
  • 20% savings on inflight purchases

None of these are in and of themselves reasons to sign up for the card (although SkyClub access is valuable, especially as SkyClubs have gotten nicer and the food and beverage selections have expanded), but the added perks are helpful in any event.

SkyDeck at the Delta SkyClub JFK Terminal 4
SkyDeck at the Delta SkyClub JFK Terminal 4

Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m in the minority here for choosing to put the bulk of my annual spending on a card that doesn’t offer me bonus miles for certain categories of spending (other than on Delta, and even then, 2x is not especially eye-popping). But for me, since I don’t personally fly the requisite number of butt-in-seat miles to qualify for high level elite status, the Delta Reserve card is extremely valuable because it gives me a fast track to Medallion status.

Maybe that’s ideal for you, too. As Ben will never hesitate in pointing out, SkyMiles are (for most uses) “worth less” than AAdvantage miles or MileagePlus miles. But to me, the Delta inflight product is vastly superior. In my experience, Delta treats its Medallions extremely well (and hey, your mileage may vary, and probably will). Using a card to spend my way to easier upgrades, free companion first class tickets and the dedicated customer service that comes with Medallion status is a no-brainer.


The information for the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card has been collected independently by One Mile at a Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Comments

  1. I believe the card also gives you higher priority for upgrades. Anecdotally, as a Gold – and now Platinum – I get upgraded a ton, even on some full flights at peak times from, or between, hubs. YMMV.

  2. @Neil S.: Interesting. I know the card gives you a higher priority within your Medallion status, but do you find it kicks you up to the top of your Medallion-specific upgrade ranks?

    Anecdotally, too, I’ve been upgraded with a non-Medallion companion in the early Gold Medallion upgrade window notwithstanding that technically companions upgrade at 24 hours, so I wonder if that has something to do with the card?

    (Clearly, Delta Medallions and card members have reported “unadvertised” perks before – like Diamond upgrades JFK-LAX at the gate – so it’s nice to compile a list.)

  3. From what I understand, there’s the typical list of factors that place you in your spot on the upgrade list. (I don’t know the exact order, but…) Fare class purchased, time of purchase and medallion status all factor in. I believe at the end of the list, if you and someone else are tied on all other fronts, the card is the determining factor. If you have it you’ll get the upgrade. Delta Points says it works. I having been Platinum for a few years running, my upgrades still clear at a decent rate (Platinum out of LAX). I can usually manage the $30k threshold, but can’t hit the $60k as I don’t manufacture any spend.

  4. I have this card. Garrett is right: The Reserve is a tie-breaker only when all other things within Medallion level are considered. So you won’t jump to the top of the pile, you’ll jump over others in the same fare class; if you’re a Gold Medallion traveling on a cheap ticket, it helps every now and again, but not much.

    I am 99% sure that your MQMs from the Reserve DO NOT roll over, but if someone could confirm, that would be helpful.

  5. @Dave: Reserve MQMs definitely roll over. It’s Delta’s offer to purchase MQM’s at the end of the year that doesn’t roll over.

    Keep in mind, you have to have over 25,000 MQMs to begin with for anything to be eligible for rollover – so if you just collect 15,000 MQMs a year from $30,000 of spend and amass nothing else, that won’t work.

  6. I fly about the same as you. What is the reason for Reserve rather than just sticking with Platinum? Thx

  7. @Enjoy Fine Food: With the Platinum card, you can earn up to 20,000 MQMs after $50,000 worth of spend and your companion certificate is limited to economy tickets.

    For me, the extra 10,000 MQMs for $10,000 more in spend, and the ability to use my companion certificate on first class travel, is worth the bump up in annual fee.

    When every last MQM helps, those 10,000 MQMs go a long, long way.

  8. Yes @Nick is correct, which makes this post a bit confusing. You cannot sit back and collect your MQM boost year after year and reach status by accumulating. You need to have some healthy base to begin with.

  9. @Heather: Right, but I’m not sure what’s confusing about it — if you spend $60,000 in a given year and collect the 10,000 MQM signup bonus, you’ll have 40,000 MQM’s — since that’s 15,000 MQM’s over the 25K threshold, they’ll roll over and you can reach status by accumulating so long as you generate more than 25,000 MQM’s, which you can do from spending $60K.

  10. Ah I get you Nick. Yes, starting in year 1 with signup and with max spend you will have auto silver for years 1-2 and then have gold in year 3. (Year 1-total 40K, Roll 15K; year 2-total 45K, Roll 20K; year 3, 50K-no roll but achieve Gold).

  11. Nick,

    Can I get the MQM bobuses for both the Delta Platinum and the Delta Reserve in the same calendar year if both Amex cards are business cards? And secondly, am I disqualified for the new member bonus on the Reserve if I cancelled my non- Delta Amex Gold Business card this year..I still have the Delta platinum Btw.

  12. @Rich – Absolutely. In fact, you can get 30K from a consumer reserve, 30K from a business reserve, 20K from a consumer platinum, and 20k from a business platinum. That’s 100K right there. Oh, and you could even have your spouse donate their 60K (personal and business reserve MQMs) if they don’t want them as well. If you have access to considerable spend, DL status is easy to manufacture.

  13. For my money, a biz and a personal Plat is $390/year, two companion certs (coach only, I think) and up to 40K MQMs. And I get lounge from an Amex Plat. So I’m happier that way. I guess I lose some upgrade priority, but I gain 10K MQMs and $60. I do have to crank the MS up a bit.

  14. curious if you are short of the 60k spend level on the amex reserve in late december and make a sizable purchase (let’s say a large screen tv for $4k, but then take it back in January (within the 30day limit), would delta renege your diamond status if that put you back under 60k and those 15k MQMs are what put you into diamond status?

  15. To have the little edge to make the upgrade using the reserve card, do I have to purchase the ticket with the reserve card, or just have one is enough?
    If I have to purchase the ticket with it, do I have to purchase the ticket on delta.com?
    Thnx.

  16. You only need to have the card, you don’t need to purchase the ticket with the Reserve card. It does work well. I’m Delta Diamond and have only missed one upgrade all year.

  17. Thank you Rj.
    How does Delta know I have the card? I have it in my delta.com profile. Does it have to be the primary card If I have multiple cards in my profile?
    Thnx Endre

  18. Hi Ended. Yes just put the Reserve card in your profile and that’s all thats required. You can have other credit cards in your profile but that should be the only Delta credit card in there.

  19. actually AMEX and Delta communicate this info and you do not need the card in your “My Wallet” to actually link them as you have to have a Skymiles account input in your Amex application before you get your card if you don’t have an account Amex will open one for you with the info that you have provided in your application.

    Also it is notable that while amex does not promo this, in the card benefit term here:https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/personal-card-application/supplementary/delta-reserve-credit-card/sjterms/36182-9-0#cardbenefits

    “Priority Checkpoint”
    Card Members are entitled to enter the expedited Sky Priority security line with their printed boarding pass at participating airports. Benefit is limited to the Delta Reserve SkyMiles Credit Card and the Delta Reserve for Business SkyMiles Credit Card. Reservation must include the Basic Card Member’s SkyMiles number. Priority Checkpoint is also available for passengers traveling on the same reservation as the Basic Card Member. Priority Checkpoint will only be available on Delta and Delta Connection carrier operated flights. Terms and limitations apply. For most up to date participating airports please visit http://www.delta.com/prioritycheckpointlines. Subject to change without notice.

    it is very strange to me though that do not advertise this as this is a bigger benefit then Priority Boarding
    now behind Pre-Board, First Class, Medallion AND Comfort+ pax as they board in Zone Sky
    AMEX DL Gold, Plat and Reserve boards on Zone 1

  20. Does anyone know if the annual fee for the Delta Reserve card will count towards MQDs? I need ~$400 more MQDs and ~8k MQMs to get to the next medallion level so I was thinking about getting that card.

    Thanks!

  21. It does not. Only things that counts are things that are spend with delta. I.e a seat upgrade to first class or C+, buy MQMs year end are expensive but as far as I know also count for MQD.

    Efective January 1, 2014 for, Delta Comfort+ and Preferred Seats purchases and, effective July 21, 2015, paid Premium class upgrades, made through a Delta channel (including delta.com, Fly Delta mobile app, Delta Reservations, Delta kiosks, and select Delta airport locations) are included in MQDs . If a Delta Comfort+, paid Premium class upgrade or Preferred Seat is purchased at the airport in Amsterdam (AMS), or Paris (CDG) for a Delta-operated flight, the member will not earn miles or MQDs . If a member purchases a Delta Comfort+, paid Premium class upgrade or Preferred Seat and Delta is not able to accommodate the member in that seat or a similar seat, the member’s purchase will be refunded and no MQDs will be awarded. If a customer voluntarily changes his/her flight or seat selection once purchased, a refund for the original seat purchase will not be provided and no MQDs will be awarded. MQDs will not be awarded for complimentary access to Premium cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Preferred Seats. MQDs may only be earned by the member traveling whose name and SkyMiles number is included in the reservation.
    All other ancillary purchases or fees including but not limited to checked baggage fees, Priority Boarding, Delta Sky Club® memberships, Wi-Fi passes, in-flight food and beverage purchases, in-flight entertainment, unaccompanied minor fees, pet travel fees, Mileage Booster™ or mileage purchases, ticket change fees, Direct Ticketing Charge (DTC), same-day confirmed or standby fees, Administrative Service Charge (ASC), and External Reissue Charge (ERC), do not count toward earning MQDs.

    If you buy for a flight remember the MQD only counts if ur flight is depart before Dec 31

    If you live somewhere except US, change your address can avoid MQD as it is only apply to US resident but changing it now is a bit sensitive because it is the end of the year so if u do make sure u have plenty prove and it align with your travel with delta. Changing it middle of the year is better

  22. @Felix Him, @lucky, @Nick,
    I’m interested in knowing more about the priority checkpoint. I’ve flown delta several times this year while having the reserve card linked to my account. The only time I’ve gotten priority checkpoint on my boarding pass is when flying in first class. Any ideas what I need to do to make this happen?

  23. @JB Honestly I don’t know how it’s being executed but it’s one of the benefit in the benefit term. You may have to ask delta or Amex for it as I’m a delta medallion. I always have priority Checkpoint. Sorry

  24. Does anyone know what date the signup bonus MQM’s post at. I got the card in early December 2015, made a purchase immediately, so am qualified to receive 10K MQM’s but my statement doesn’t close until 1/3/2016 and Delta says Amex only sends info 1x per month. Can someone who has received the bonus MQM’s verify if it’s posted as of qualifying purchase date or statement date or just when they show up in the Delta system? Thanks!

  25. Something to note: it appears that the 10K MQM signup bonus is only available to new Amex cardholders. If you’re upgrading from the Skymiles Platinum card, the offer does not appear to be available.

  26. I had platinum and I got the reserve as an add on, not an upgrade from platinum. I got the 10 k Mikes within days of opening account.

  27. If u have the card more then one year. It’s often almost certain you get 5k for upgrading. I got 10k and 10k MQM

  28. Question. With 2090311800 reserve you have 90 days to transfer the mqm’s to someone else or to claim them. My wife attained the benefit in December 2015, and I did in OCTOBER 2015. I if I transfer hers to me now in 2016, and claim mine now in January, will they be applied to 2016 MQM or back credited to 2015?

  29. As far as we know. Whatever mileage boost that u earned during 2015 calendar year is going to be MQM count for 2015. Not going to be in the 2016 just because u requested in the year 2016 as the mileage boost is 2015

  30. Any idea what the maximum MQM sign up bonus Amex has offered with the Reserve card? I have usually seen 10K.

  31. Can I open a new delta reserve credit card each year to get the bonus MQMs?

    If I own 2 businesses, can I open 2 Delta reserve credit cards, linked to the same SkyMiles account and get the new customer bonus MQMs?

  32. @Mike,
    Great question. All I can tell you that I had the Platinum Delta Amex, I got the sign up bonus. Two years later I opened the Gold Delta Amex under the same name and skymiles number, and I didn’t get the sign up bonus. A year later I opened the Black Reserve Delta Amex under the same name and skymiles number, and I didn’t get sign up bonus.

  33. If you do not use your Delta Reserve Card to pay for your airfare, do you still receive all the benefits given the card is tied to your Skymiles number? For example, will I get the baggage benefits? Or will I still get priority over others on the upgrade list in my medallion status?

  34. It’s Dec 2016 and I’m almost at $30k spend for the 15k MQM boost. Since I have not hit the threshold yet, the boost option is grayed out in my Skymiles account. Let’s say I hit $30k on Dec 31 it will be 2017 before the $30k spend reflects on my Skymiles account. Can I still apply the 15k boost to my account for 2016?

    Also, this is what it says in terms & conditions: “The MQMs are not redeemable and only count towards Medallion status.” Does this means, you no longer get the 15k redeemable miles? Did they change this recently b/c in 2015, I do recall getting 15k MQM AND 15k redeemable miles.

  35. I am a few thousand MQM short of Diamond. If I get the Reserve card and make the purchase before Dec 31–will those MQMs qualify for 2017 status. I am just worried they may not post until the cycle ends in january.

  36. So if you use this card for husband and wife household purchases…who get the MQM’s? I assume only the person listed as primary on the card?

    Also are the rewards only redeemable for mileage? No cash back?

  37. I am trying to have Delta match my American Airlines Gold status with Delta’s Silver Elite status. According to their SKYMILES MEDALLION® STATUS MATCH CHALLENGE page for Terms & Conditions states that the required 6250 MQMs can not be earned from Delta branded SkyMiles credit cards…they do not count. Is that true? Does that mean that getting the AMEX Delta Reserve card with its instant 10,000 MQMs can not be used? Thanks.

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