So remember a few days ago, when my brother decided to go to Hawaii next month? I took on the responsibility, nay, honor, of booking and planning the flights. Part of the deal included getting to charge the purchase to one of my cards. My first reaction was “Oh no! I don’t have a Delta credit card!”
I wanted to make sure I got the most “mileage” out of the purchase though, so I evaluated the cards in my wallet.
Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express
There are four versions of the Delta SkyMiles card from American Express: the Delta SkyMiles Card, the Gold version, the Platinum version, and the Reserve card. I’ll pretend I have the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, since that’s the one I’d most likely get if I started flying Delta frequently in the future. All of these Delta cards earn double miles on purchases directly from Delta. So, on the total purchase amount (remember, he had a $1,000 voucher) of $180.76, I’d earn about 180 miles. At a value of 1.2 cents per mile, these miles are worth about $2.16. Keep in mind we’re talking about a very small purchase amount, and therefore a very small number of miles earned, but the principle remains the same. Essentially, my return on points is about 2.4% of the purchase amount.
If I was purchasing these tickets for myself, I may have used this card. In addition to the miles, I’d get a free checked bag for myself and a companion, priority boarding, 20% off in-flight purchases, and reduced entrance costs to any Delta Sky Clubs I wanted to check out. Unfortunately, only primary cardholder gets these benefits, so my brother will have to pay for any checked bags flying with him to Hawaii. Airline credit cards also have an additional mileage earning bonus for high annual spends. For example, this Delta card offers a faster way to Delta Medallion Status if you spend $25,000 on the card in one calendar year. If I flew Delta frequently, or needed to reach or maintain Medallion Status, it might be worth it.
My BarclayCard Arrival+ earns double points on all purchases. Flights, dining, gas, anything. This is a great card to use for everyday, random spending. Once you have at least 10,000 points, you can redeem them for a statement credit against any travel expenses on the card.
If I charged the purchase to my Arrival+, I’d earn 360 points. At a value of 1 cent/point, this is worth approximately $3.60. This represents a value of about 2% of the purchase that I’d get back in points.
American Express Premier Rewards Gold
My final sensible option was the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card I opened recently. This AmEx earns 3 Membership Rewards points on every dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines, 2 points on gas/groceries/restaurants, and 1 point on everything else. Membership Rewards are particularly useful since there are so many ways to redeem them. You can redeem them for statement credits or transfer to partners, for example. Membership Rewards will transfer to British Airways, Delta Skymiles, Asia Miles, Allitalia Millemiglia, Etihad Guest Miles, Aeroplan Miles, Hilton HHonors Points, and Starwood Starpoints.
On a $180.76 purchase directly from Delta, I’ll earn 540 points. AmEx MR are worth about 1.9 cents per point, bringing the cash value of the points up to $9.18. I think we have a winner! I’ll be getting about 5.7% of the purchase back in points. Not bad!
I have plenty of other cards, including a Discover it, Citi AAdvantage Executive, Southwest Personal Premier, United MileagePlus Explorer Card, a few from my local bank, and a US Bank REI card, but none of these offered much value. I didn’t include any of them since the rewards I earned on these cards from a Delta purchase were no more than approximately 1-2%.
I’ll be using my American Express Premier Rewards Gold card for this purchase, getting 5.7% of money “back” in Membership Rewards points. Compared to my other two options (the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express at 2.4%, and the BarclayCard Arrival+ at 2%), my AmEx PRG gets back more than double the competition.
I hope this post helps illustrate the importance of comparing your cards against each other. Sometimes the co-branded airline card isn’t worth using, especially if you’re not taking advantage of the carrier-specific benefits of the cards.
If you have a scenario to run through, let me know in the comments, and I can crunch some numbers for you!