Why Delta Air Lines Co-Branded Credit Card Holders Might Want to Switch to Other Cards for 2021

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A major airline is making it easier for people to retain their elite status even if they’re not flying. That means you won’t have to spend money on its co-branded cards to help keep your status for next year, and may now have more flexibility to maximize everyday rewards from other cards. 

Last month, Delta Air Lines extended the current status of all its elite frequent flyers by a year, until January 2023. The extension helps those who typically fly Delta often, but aren’t traveling because of the ongoing pandemic, preserve their status. So far, it’s the only major U.S. airline to have made that decision.   

For Delta, the move was a strategy to keep its most loyal customers in the fold. For me, it was a signal that I should switch my credit card strategy for the rest of 2021. If you have any co-branded Delta Air Lines card — for example the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card — you might want to do the same. Here’s how I’m doing it.  

Why I Am Switching Away From Delta American Express Cards in 2021  

A lot of my credit card spending has historically gone on the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, a travel rewards card that offers a really valuable perk: a companion ticket every year on Delta Air Lines.

But not this year. Beginning in late July, I moved pretty much all of my spending to cards that earn transferable points, not Delta SkyMiles. I don’t plan to take the Delta card out of the drawer until 2022. Instead, the go-to cards for my wife and me for the rest of this year will be the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.  

Pro Tip

If you are not loyal to a particular airline, choose a credit card that earns transferable points, not airline miles.    

Prior to this summer, the Amex Delta Platinum was such an important part of my financial and travel-planning strategy that I kept it even during the pandemic, when almost no one was flying, despite its $250 annual fee (See Rates & Fees.) But that Delta Air Lines change to elite status qualification means spending on this card holds little value for me, at least for the remainder of 2021.       

I’ve had Delta Platinum Medallion status for years.

Normally, you need to fly 75,000 qualifying miles and spend $9,000 on Delta flights in a calendar year to reach that status, but spending $25,000 on a co-branded Delta Air Lines card waives the latter requirement. By using the Amex Delta Platinum for groceries, bills and other household expenses for my family in New York City (and paying off the balance every month!), I have been consistently able to hit the $25,0000 threshold and maintain Platinum status with the airline, without ever having to spend that staggering $9,000 on flights.

Having that status is worth the cost for me, because I value access to Delta’s VIP lounges and frequent upgrades on flights. In the past few years I have been bumped to first class on more than half of my domestic flights on Delta, including when flying with my wife.      

But the extension of elite status means I do not need to spend money on Delta’s co-branded credit cards until next year. In January 2022, I will begin using Delta cards again, so that spending will count for the 2023 status year, after the extension ends. 

You May Want to Spend on Non-Airline Travel Rewards Cards This Year

Spending on Delta cards right now would still get me value, because it would result in accumulating Delta’s SkyMiles, which I could then redeem for nearly-free flights in the future. 

But there are other travel rewards cards that can earn me quite a lot of points for later travel. If you are not actively working this year towards status, with any airline, general travel rewards cards are a great choice right now. You will accumulate points for your everyday spending that you can then use to book on several airlines worldwide, not just on the one you’re most loyal to, Delta or other. 

While fewer people travel — a situation that will likely endure for some time, as the coronavirus is not yet fully under control — those cards can still work for you today, providing value for future travel.   

Here’s how I’m using travel rewards credit cards for the rest of 2021.           

What Credit Cards I’m Spending on for the Rest of the Year 

I’m putting the bulk of my family’s spending for the remainder of the year on two cards: the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. (Note that Chase does not allow holding both its Sapphire cards at the same time; I have the Reserve, and I am an authorized user on my wife’s Preferred account.) 

That way we will earn thousands of Chase Ultimate Rewards points to redeem for free travel, paying only taxes and fees. We will also easily hit the spending requirement of $4,000 in three months from account opening to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s exceptionally high 100,000-point bonus, which can itself fund quite a few flights and hotel stays.

An added perk of the Preferred — which is currently our pick for best rewards card with an annual fee under $100 — is that, starting Aug. 16, it will earn 3x points per dollar spent on dining, instead of two. That’s the same earning rate as the Sapphire Reserve, which carries an annual fee more than five times higher, of $550.         

For all our transportation needs — from mass transit to rideshares and car rentals — we’ll use the Reserve, which earns 3x points on all travel and 10x points on Lyft. For online grocery shopping, we’ll use the Preferred (3x points on online groceries starting Aug. 16.) 

Another good choice among rewards cards would be the Citi Premier® Card, which offers a very attractive 3x points-earning rate on many everyday spending categories, including supermarkets, for the same $95 annual fee as the Sapphire Preferred. It does not offer any travel protections, though, unlike the competing Chase card.   

Bottom Line

Holding more than one travel rewards card can pay off when unexpected situations arise. 

If those cards have annual fees, you have to be absolutely sure that you’ll get enough value to offset the cost of those fees. And if you decide that a card costing you money to hold no longer provides benefits, you can downgrade it to another with a smaller fee, or no fee at all. That is better than canceling an account outright, which can hurt your credit score.   

And as always with credit cards, budget your expenses so you can pay your card bills on time and in full. Card rewards can turn from lucrative to a net loss if you carry a balance that you pay interest on.      

As for my personal card strategy, the American Express Delta Platinum will likely be back in rotation next year, when I will have to qualify for Delta Air Lines elite status the old-fashioned way: by flying and spending. 

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card please click here.