How to get into Delta Sky Club lounges

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Delta renovated their lounge at Reagan National Airport (DCA), and it’s gorgeous.  I visited recently and was impressed with the design, the food (menu crafted by former Top Chef finalist Marjorie Meek-Bradley), and the functionality (tons of AC and USB power ports, for example).  It’s simply a terrific lounge.

Rather than write a boring lounge review, though, I decided to write up some of the best ways to get into Delta Sky Cubs, for less (after the photos…).

Sky Club Membership Pricing

As I write this, Delta’s website shows the following membership options:

  • Executive Membership: Unlimited Club access for the member and up to two guests per visit
    • $745 per year; or
    • 70,000 miles
  • Individual Membership: Unlimited Club access for the member only. Members may bring up to two guests to the Club at the rate of $29.00 per guest per visit.
    • $495 per year; of
    • 47,000 miles

I don’t know about you, but these prices are more than I’d like to pay.  So, let’s look at alternatives…

Diamond Elite Status

Delta’s top tier Diamond Elite status offers Sky Club access or Sky Club membership through Choice Benefits (see my recommendations here).  Unfortunately, Diamond Elite status is very difficult to obtain: It requires 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles per year (think of these as miles actually flown) plus $15,000 in Delta spend (or $250,000 spend on Delta branded credit cards).

Fly International Business Class

When flying international business class on Delta or a Delta partner, you get free access to the Delta Sky Club.

Fly Delta One Transcons

When flying Delta One on select transcontinental flights (JFK to LAX, for example), Delta SkyClub access is included.

Credit Card Alternatives

A number of credit cards give the cardholder free access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta.  None of these allow free guests, but you can bring guests for only $29 each (vs. the usual single visit price of $59 per person).  You can also add family members as authorized users (for a fee) so that they will get their own Sky Club access.  Note, though, that Amex requires authorized users to be at least 13 years old.

Delta Reserve: $450 per Year ($45 cheaper than individual Sky Club membership)

Both the consumer Delta Reserve card and business Delta Reserve card offer Sky Club access to the account holder.

Companion certificate: An additional perk (beyond Sky Club access) that helps justify the card’s steep annual fee is a domestic companion certificate issued each year upon renewal.  This lets you essentially get two round trip domestic flights for the price of one.  And unlike the companion certificate that comes with the less expensive Delta Platinum card, this one lets you buy first class seats.

Elite status: The Delta Reserve card is also the best card to have for earning Delta elite status through spend.  At $30K calendar year spend, and again at $60K, you get 15K Medallion Qualifying Miles that you can either apply to your own account or gift to someone else.

Authorized user cards ($175 each): If you want to add authorized users to your account, each user can get either a Delta Platinum card for no additional fee (and with no valuable benefits) or a Delta Reserve card for $175.  A Delta Reserve authorized user card includes Sky Club access (but does not include a companion certificate or the ability to earn extra MQMs with spend beyond those earned by the primary cardholder).

Amex Business Platinum: $450 per Year ($45 cheaper than individual Sky Club membership)

The Amex Business Platinum Card is loaded with high end perks that can justify the annual fee, such as:

  • Up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees.  You could use these credits to reimburse guest access to Sky Clubs.  For more ideas, see: Amex Airline Fee Reimbursements. What still works?
  • $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement.
  • Airport lounge benefits: Priority Pass Select membership, plus free access to Delta SkyClubs, Amex Centurion Lounges, and Airspace Lounges
  • Rental car elite status. National Executive status is particularly valuable in my opinion.
  • Marriott/SPG Gold status.
  • Hilton Gold status.

A few benefits unique to the Business Platinum card include:

  • 35% Airline Bonus: Get 35% of your points back when you redeem points through Amex Travel for either a First or Business class flight on any airline, or for any flights with your selected airline.
  • Gogo inflight internet: 10 complimentary single flight segment passes for Gogo inflight internet each calendar year (these work on international flights too!
  • 1.5X points per dollar on purchases of $5000 or more
  • Amex business cards are not shown as accounts on personal credit reports. This is particularly helpful when signing up for Chase credit cards (since Chase frequently denies applications for those who have signed up for 5 or more cards in the past 24 months).

Authorized User Cards ($300 each): These are really referred to as employee cards.  You can add no-fee Green cards instead, but those have no benefits.  Platinum employee cards get lounge access and many other perks.  See: Which Amex Platinum benefits work for authorized users?

Amex Platinum Card: $550 per Year

There are several versions of the consumer Amex Platinum card (see: Which is the best Amex Platinum card?).  They share many of the same perks as the Business Platinum card, such as:

  • Up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees.  You could use these credits to reimburse guest access to Sky Clubs.  For more ideas, see: Amex Airline Fee Reimbursements. What still works?
  • $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement.
  • Airport lounge benefits: Priority Pass Select membership, plus free access to Delta SkyClubs, Amex Centurion Lounges, and Airspace Lounges
  • Rental car elite status. National Executive status is particularly valuable in my opinion.
  • Marriott/SPG Gold status
  • Hilton Gold status.

And also include a few perks no available through Business Platinum cards.

  • Up to $200 per year in annual rides with Uber ($15/month, $35 in December)
  • Up to $100 in credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (up to $50 in credits semi-annually, enrollment required)
  • 5X points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines

Authorized user cards (price varies by type of Platinum card):

Recommendations for one

If you usually travel alone, then the best option is arguably the Amex Business Platinum Card.  For $450 per year, you get Sky Club access when flying Delta, plus $200 in airline fee rebates, plus 10 Gogo passes, and much more.

Recommendations for two

The best two person option is probably the Morgan Stanley Platinum card ($550 per year) which includes one free authorized user. The card requires a Morgan Stanley account which can be had for as little as $5K invested.

If you often fly together, another good option may be for each of you to get your own Delta Reserve card ($450 each).  The reason to consider this option is if you highly value the annual companion ticket.  My wife and I regularly use our companion tickets to reduce the cost of high priced holiday travel.  If you’re sure you can similarly use the certificates to good effect every year, then this option is worth considering.

Recommendations for four

This is a pretty specific situation, but bear with me for a second.  Suppose you are a family of two adults and two kids 13 years old or above.  In that case, you could get two years of Sky Club access (and many other great perks) for free:

  1. First adult signs up for Platinum Ameriprise card and adds rest of family as authorized users.  First year is free.
  2. After a year, first adult closes Platinum Ameriprise account.  Second adult signs up for Platinum Ameriprise card and adds rest of family as authorized users.

More reading

Please also see these posts:

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