At first blush, you would have to be insane to sign up for the Delta Reserve card. It comes with a jaw dropping $450 annual fee which is not waived the first year! However, if you look a bit closer, you just might be swayed.
What you get for the annual fee (just the highlights):
MQMs and bonus miles:
In the past, the signup offer has been for 10,000 MQMs (Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles) and 10,000 bonus miles (redeemable for travel) after your first purchase. See this page for current signup bonus details.
If we conservatively value the bonus miles at 1 penny each and since I’ve argued that the fair trading price for MQMs is about 3 cents each (see How much should you pay for elite qualifying miles), this signup bonus is worth at least $400 (but only if you seek elite status. If you do not seek elite status the value is only about $100).
Sky Club Access:
Once you have this card, you can get into any Delta Sky Club when flying Delta. Guests are charged extra. A Delta Sky Club membership costs $450 for an individual membership (and $695 for Executive Membership which allows bringing in up to 2 guests for free). Personally, I would never pay for that, though. So, I would peg this benefit at about $150, but you should really judge for yourself how much it is worth to you.
After the first year, when you renew the card, you receive a a free companion certificate. This will allow you to essentially buy two tickets to and from anywhere in the continental US for the price of one. Unlike the companion certificate that comes with the Delta Platinum card, this one allows purchasing first class tickets. Note that the companion does not earn miles or MQMs. Also, there are some fare class restrictions to these certificates. I like to use these certificates either on regional jets that don’t have first class or as a way to buy two first class tickets for the price of one. Personally, I value this benefit at about $250. See also: Delta companion certificates quick guide.
If you are on the upgrade list on a flight and other frequent fliers have the same status as you (e.g. Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond) and they bought tickets in the same fare class as you, you will jump ahead of them because you hold this card. This benefit is unlikely to help you very often, but if you fly a lot it will probably be the difference between first class and coach at least once a year. I’ll call this one a $50 benefit (even though circumstances could make it worth much more).
Priority Boarding and Free Checked Bag
If you have elite status with Delta, these benefits won’t matter to you. Otherwise, this is a pretty good perk. Priority boarding will allow you to get on the plane and find overhead bin space for your carry-ons before the bins fill up. The value of a free checked bag should be obvious. If you don’t have elite status, I would estimate the value of this perk to be about $75 per year.
Total estimated benefits first year:
- $600 for elites (MQMs and Miles $400 + SkyClub $150 + Priority Upgrades $50)
- $625 for non-elites who will reach elite status (MQMs and Miles $400 + SkyClub $150 + Priority Boarding & Free checked bags $75)
- $325 for non-elites who will not reach elite status (Miles $100 + SkyClub $150 + Priority Boarding & Free checked bags $75)
Total estimated benefits ongoing years:
- $450 for elites (SkyClub $150 + Priority Upgrades $50 + Companion Ticket $250)
- $475 for non-elites (SkyClub $150 + Priority Boarding & Free checked bags $75 + Companion Ticket $250)
So, as you can see, the card pretty much pays for itself with its benefits. If you value the particular benefits listed above, you might want to seriously consider this card.
Benefits from Daily Spend
If you don’t spend a lot on this card, the benefits are minimal. You will earn one Delta SkyMile per dollar on most purchases, and two Delta Skymiles per dollar on Delta purchases. Compared to several other cards, this is pretty lame, in my opinion. Where the card shines, though, is if you manage to put exactly $30K or $60K of spend on the card in a year:
Big Spend Benefits
Once you reach $30K in spend in a calendar year, you will be awarded with 15000 bonus miles and 15000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) which will help you get to the next level of elite status at Delta. The same benefits kick in again at $60K of spend. So, if you manage to put exactly $30K or $60K of spending on your card each year, you will earn 1.5 SkyMiles and .5 MQMs per dollar spent. Let’s estimate the value of redeemable SkyMiles at 1 cent each and MQMs at 3 cents each. This means that you would earn 1 * 1.5 + 3 * .5 = 3 cents of value per dollar spent on the card. This is really an outstanding rate of return for non-category spend (some cards offer better rates of return for spend within categories such as gas stations, grocery stores, etc.). The more highly you value elite qualifying miles (MQMs) and redeemable miles, the more attractive this option is likely to be to you.
Another very interesting aspect of the bonus MQMs earned with this card (but not with the Delta Platinum card) is that the MQMs are giftable. This means that you can apply the MQMs to another person’s account to help them get to the next level of elite status. There are many ways to take advantage of this. For a few examples, please see: Mileage Running from Home II (now with an exciting 2 player option!)
If you are a frequent Delta flyer and you value Sky Club access, this card is a good one to keep in your wallet or in a drawer. If you are also a big spender, this card is a surprisingly strong contender. In the past few years, I’ve used both this card and the Platinum version to rack up Medallion Qualifying Miles to earn high level Delta elite status. For details, see: Mileage running, from home.
Note: If you’re interested in signing up for this card, you can find the best current offers here.