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Historically airline credit cards have been considered to be “premium” cards, as they have annual fees and come with valuable perks for those who fly an airline with any frequency. However, last week we saw the introduction of no annual fee cards from both Delta and United. While the cards were announced around the same time, they’re structured differently.
In this post I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of The UnitedSM TravelBank Card and the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, to look at how the sign-up bonuses, return on spend, etc., compare.
The fundamental difference between the two cards
While the cards are similar in the sense that they both have no annual fees, their structure is different. The United TravelBank Card is essentially a cashback card, where the rewards structure gets you “cash” in your United account that you can use towards flights, while the Blue Delta SkyMiles Card is a traditional mileage earning card.
However, the Delta SkyMiles program is increasingly becoming more revenue based, meaning that even though you’re earning miles, it’s getting tougher to get outsized value from your SkyMiles.
Comparing the sign-up bonuses
The United TravelBank Card is offering a sign-up bonus of $150 in TravelBank credit after spending $1,000 within three months.
The Blue Delta SkyMiles Card is offering a sign-up bonus of 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 within three months.
In this case I’d say United’s card offers a marginally better return. I value SkyMiles at ~1.2 cents each, meaning that the 10,000 miles are worth ~$120 to me. However, the minimum spend on the Delta card is only half of the minimum spend on the United card. So I’d say the United sign-up bonus is marginally better.
The terms of the United TravelBank Card say the following:
This product is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this credit card within the last 24 months.
Furthermore, it’s my understanding that the card is subjected to Chase’s 5/24 rule, meaning you won’t typically be approved if you’ve opened more than five new accounts in the past 24 months. If you’re anywhere close to that limit, personally I’d much rather apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, Chase Freedom® Card, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, etc.
Meanwhile the terms of the Blue Delta SkyMiles Card say the following:
Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who:
- Have or have had this product or the Delta SkyMiles® Options Credit Card, or
- Currently have or have had one of the following products in the last 90 days: Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, or Delta Reserve® Credit Card.
That’s surprisingly restrictive — that means this card has the strictest approval requirements of any Delta Amex product. You won’t earn the welcome bonus if you’ve had cards like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express in the past 90 days. Meanwhile the welcome bonuses on all of Delta’s other co-branded cards are available as long as you haven’t had that specific card before. So it’s interesting that their most basic card also has the strictest requirements for earning the bonus.
So both of these cards are surprisingly restrictive when it comes to getting approved and earning the welcome bonus.
Comparing the return on spend
The United TravelBank Card offers the following return on spend:
- 2% in TravelBank cash on airfare purchases with United
1.5% in TravelBank cash on all other purchases
Meanwhile the Blue Delta SkyMiles Card offers the following return on spend:
- 2 SkyMiles per dollar spent at restaurants and on purchases made directly with Delta
- 1 SkyMile per dollar spent on everything else
So I’d say for everyday, non-bonused spend, United’s card is better here, as I value 1.5 cents at more than one Delta SkyMiles. However, the Delta card does have the benefit of offering double miles at restaurants, so that card wins for restaurant and airfare purchases.
Still, neither of these cards offers an especially compelling return.
If you’re considering putting spend on the United Card, I’d instead consider using the no annual fee Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. I’d generally rather get a return of two cents after paying for a purchase than 1.5 cents.
If you’re considering the Delta Card, I’d instead use the no annual fee Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, which offers points that can be converted into Delta SkyMiles, except you can earn points at a faster rate.
The United TravelBank Card offers 25% back as a statement credit for eligible inflight purchases. It doesn’t come with many of the same benefits as the $95 annual fee United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, like a free first checked bag, priority boarding, two United Club passes every account anniversary, additional saver and standard level award availability, a potential waiver of the elite status revenue requirement, etc.
Meanwhile the Blue Delta SkyMiles Card offers 20% back as a statement credit for eligible inflight purchases. It doesn’t come with many of the same benefits as the $95 annual fee (though it’s waived the first year) Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, like a free first checked bag, discounted SkyClub access, the ability to use “Pay With Miles” towards the cost of a ticket, etc. However, this year the card will come with a Medallion Qualifying Dollar Waiver if you spend $25,000 on it. However, as of January 1, 2018, it won’t, unless you have another American Express Delta card.
For the savvy, frequent traveler, neither of these cards is going to be your best bet. There’s potentially a lot of value in having a premium airline card for the perks it offers, or having a card earning flexible points for the return on spend it offers (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card). However, I suspect a lot of brand loyal casual travelers will still find these cards to be interesting, because they want a card with an airline they like, but don’t want to pay an annual fee.