Best card for free access to Delta Sky Clubs

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If you fly Delta often, then you’re probably interested in Sky Club access.  Sky Clubs provide free food and drink, free internet, and (when not overcrowded) a comfortable place to work or relax when waiting for your flight.  With spectacular new Sky Clubs debuting regularly (I’m looking forward to trying the new ones at LAX and LGA!), Sky Club access is more appealing than ever.  You can purchase an individual membership for $545 per year, but for just a little more you can get a credit card that offers the same Sky Club access plus many more desirable features.

There are two types of credit cards that offer Sky Club access and cost only a little more than buying an individual Sky Club membership: American Express Platinum cards ($695 per year), and Delta Reserve cards ($550 per year).  Amex Platinum cards (which should not be confused with the Delta Platinum card) come in a variety of “flavors” (3 consumer card variations and 1 business card) but every one includes Sky Club access when flying Delta.  The Delta Reserve card, meanwhile, is available as either a consumer card or a business card.

Platinum vs Reserve

Platinum cards cost $145 more per year than the Delta Reserve card, but Platinum cards also come loaded with rebates that can more than offset the card’s annual fee if you fully take advantage of them.  For example, with consumer Platinum cards you can get up to $200 back per year for airline fees, $200 back for certain prepaid hotel stays; $200 in Uber / Uber Eats credits; $240 in digital entertainment credits; $100 in Saks credit; and more.  Platinum cards also provide access to more airport clubs, free CLEAR membership (up to $189 rebate per year), elite status with some hotel and car rental companies, and more.  If you value the perks and rebates, a Platinum card can be worth having even if you don’t value Sky Club access at all.

On the surface, it appears that the Platinum cards are a better choice than Delta Reserve cards for accessing Sky Clubs.  But Delta Reserve cards come loaded with Delta-specific perks that may be particularly appealing to frequent Delta flyers: complementary upgrades (having the card is similar to having Silver elite status); first class companion ticket each year upon renewal; 2 one-time guest Sky Club passes per year; discounted Sky Club guest access ($39 per person); ability to earn Delta Medallion elite status through high spend; upgrade tie-breaker (if you and another person on the same flight have the same level of status and purchased the same fare class, then having the Delta Reserve card would put you before this person on the upgrade queue if they don’t also have the Reserve card); priority boarding; and first checked bag free.

The following table highlights key features that differentiate the two types of cards:

Amex Platinum Delta Reserve
Annual Fee $695 $550
Sky Club Access for Primary Cardholder Yes, when flying Delta same day. Yes, when flying Delta same day.
Free Sky Club Access for guests N/A Cardholders get 2 one-time guest passes per year.
Paid Sky Club Access for guests Max 2 guests or immediate family. $39 per person. Kids under 2 are free. Max 2 guests or immediate family. $39 per person. Kids under 2 are free.
Amex Centurion Lounge Access Yes, regardless of airline flown Yes, when flying Delta
Free Companion Ticket N/A One round trip domestic companion certificate each year upon renewal.
Airline Fee Reimbursements $200 per calendar year with selected airline (See: Amex Airline Fee Reimbursements. What still works?) N/A
Delta Elite Status Perks N/A Complimentary upgrades (similar to Delta Silver status); Upgrade tie-breaker; Elite status with big spend1
Additional perks when flying Delta N/A Priority Boarding; Free Checked Bag
Additional rebates Too many to list here. See: Amex Platinum Complete Guide $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck)
Additional perks unrelated to Delta Too many to list here. See: Amex Platinum Complete Guide Cell phone protection, travel protections, purchase protections.  Details here: Delta Reserve Complete Guide

1) MQD Waiver up to Platinum Medallion status with $25K calendar year spend (or $250K spend for Diamond waiver); Also: 15K MQMs with each $30K calendar year spend (up to 60K MQMs per year).

Platinum Variations

If you think that a Platinum card may be the best fit for you for accessing Sky Clubs, then the next step is to pick either the Business Platinum card or one of the 3 consumer Platinum cards.  Here’s a quick guide:

Your first decision point should be consumer vs. business:

  • The Business Platinum card is best if you highly value the card’s 35% Pay with Points rebate, $120 in wireless credits, and $400 in Dell credits.
  • A consumer Platinum card is best if you intend to add Platinum authorized users so that they too will have Sky Club access (the consumer cards charge $175 for 3 AUs whereas the Business Platinum charges $350 per person).  A consumer card may also be best if you value Uber credits, hotel credits, digital entertainment credits, Equinox credits, Saks credits, Walmart Plus credits, and the ability to earn 5X directly with airlines.

If you decide that a consumer card, rather than a business card, is right for you (see above), then the next step is to pick which consumer card is best.  Consider these decision points:

  • The Morgan Stanley Platinum card is best if you want to add a Platinum authorized user since the first Platinum authorized user is free.  Platinum card authorized users get access to Sky Clubs.  You can add free Green or Gold authorized user cards to all varieties of Platinum cards, but Green and Gold authorized user cards do not provide Sky Club access.  The Morgan Stanley card is a particularly good choice if you qualify for the card’s $695 annual engagement bonus (details here).  The main downside of the Morgan Stanley variety is that it requires having a Morgan Stanley investment account.
  • The Charles Schwab Platinum card is best if you prefer cash back over travel rewards since it lets you cash out points at 1.1 cents each; or if you have a lot of money invested with Schwab since you’ll get an annual kickback ($100 for $250K invested, or $200 for $1M invested).
  • The regular Platinum card is best if you expect to refer friends. The other consumer varieties only offer you a $100 bonus for each friend you refer whereas the regular Platinum card sometimes offers as many as 30,000 Membership Rewards points with each referral.  Sometimes this card also has the ability to generate better offers for your friends than found elsewhere.

Delta Reserve consumer vs business

The Delta Reserve card and the Delta Reserve business card are nearly identical in all features.  One small difference is that with the business variety you can earn 1.5 points per dollar on non-Delta spend after spending $150,000 in a calendar year.  For the first $150K spend it is the same as the personal card: 1 point per dollar for non-Delta spend (and 3x for Delta spend).  The other difference is that the business card won’t affect your personal credit.  That can be a good thing if you plan to put a lot of spend on the card since higher utilization rates usually bring down credit scores.

While I have a slight preference for the Delta Reserve Business card, the personal card is very nearly as good.

Authorized Users

If you want to buy access to Sky Clubs for multiple people in your family, it’s not necessary for each person to have their own primary card account.  Instead, you can add them as Platinum authorized users to your Platinum card or as Delta Reserve authorized users to your Delta Reserve card.  In each case, there is an annual fee for those authorized users, but the details vary considerably by card:

Annual Fee Authorized User Fee Total Cost for 2 People
(Primary + 1 AU)
Total Cost for 4 People
(Primary + 3 AUs)
Delta Reserve $550 $175 each $725 $1,075
Morgan Stanley Platinum Card $695 1st AU is free, next 3 cost $175 $695 $870
(Same price for 5 people)
Regular or Schwab Platinum $695 $175 for up to 3 AUs $870 $870
Business Platinum $695 $350 each $1,045 $1,745

The best deal for 2 adults (a primary cardholder and one authorized user) is with the Morgan Stanley Platinum card since that card offers the first AU for free.  For 3 or 4 people, the other varieties of Platinum cards are just as good, but for 5 people the Morgan Stanley card again comes out ahead.

Bottom Line

If you’re interested in paying for Sky Club access, in almost all cases you’ll be better off picking up a Platinum or Delta Reserve card instead.  Consumer Platinum cards are particularly good for those willing to invest time each year towards maximizing the card’s rebates because it’s possible to get back more money then you spent on the card’s annual fee.  But for those who want to keep things simple and/or are interested in Delta elite perks, a Delta Reserve card is probably the better bet.

Here are some resources for digging deeper:

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TravelerMike

The unfortunate thing, and it applies to both cards, is that the minimum age for an AmEx authorized user I believe is 13, so there does not appear to be a way to get one’s kids into the lounge (for free) when traveling.

Paul

Guess pass for amex platinum is also $39

Sam

Weird. Just last night I was considering closing my Plat card & adding myself as an authorized user on P2’s Reserve card. My only hesitation is getting to use Centurion while flying any airline. A bit of an issue here in SEA because I’m split 60/40 between DL & AS (DL Plat & AA Plat Pro). I value lounge access on my AS departures & with AS breaking up & getting back together with Priority Pass (it’s not you, it’s me!), we’re loungeless in Seattle at the moment on AS departures. Yes… Even with the small – for now – Amex lounge here, it’s better than our absolutely berserk gates & restaurants other than really early or really late in the day.

John

I have both even though I am not a very frequent delta flyer. The companion cert , 2 free skyclub passes, and free bags justify the cost for me.

Reno Joe

The companion ticket alone might cover the annual fee. The 2 free passes are gravy. Smart.

Sam

I like it. You both talked me into it. Trying to find an offer with 10k/15k mqm’s & more than 50k miles. Might be waiting until after 6/8 when all of the current offers end. For the next 5 days its either 100k/0 mqm or 50k/10k mqm + usual bennies.

Reno Joe

If you are patient, sometimes a 125k / 10k MPM offer pops up in incognito mode. From day to day, for me, it’s been toggling from the “regular” offer to this juicy offer.

Also, consider your choices if you have a Player 2.

James

I haven’t had to show my Amex Platinum card in a long time (a year? two?) to enter the clubs. YMMV though?

Reno Joe

It is likely because you have your Amex Platinum as a payment method in your Delta Sky Miles account. Delta automatically links your boarding passes to your card — even if you did not pay for the ticket with that card. Just run your boarding pass under the optical reader and it knows you’re good to go. (See Marjorie’s comment below.)

Last edited 5 months ago by Reno Joe
Marjorie Rist

Just a little FYI: if your Amex Platinum matches your name on your Delta Skymiles account, you can add it as your primary method of payment in Delta, and then you don’t have to show the actual card to get in. Mine is set like that, and it will scan me in from my boarding pass, just like it did when I paid for boarding pass. Works same for my AUs.

Marjorie Rist

That was supposed to be “paid for membership”…need coffee…;)

Sam

Doesn’t have to be your “primary” payment method. Just had to be “a method” of payment on your Skymiles account for your card to be tied to your boarding pass.

David

Since I got caught by this going into LAS:

Amex Centurion Lounge Access – Yes, regardless of airline flown (Outbound ONLY)

It would be nicer if this was just “ticketed that day” but I did try it on my way home and it was very nice.

David

Sorry the Amex Personal Platinum and you only get Centurion lounge access when ticketed OUTBOUND

Most people probably know this but I missed it.

Thanks for all the great advise!

Reno Joe

Amex did away with arrival visits at the Centurion Lounges for Amex Platinum Card holders a while back. Sky Clubs are still doable on arrival.

GringoLoco

Gate areas are less crowded these days. The lounge system is FUBARed due to shiny bits of plastic…

Reno Joe

Two points might be worth noting.

Access to Amex lounges. The Amex Platinum Card (all flavors) grants access to the entire Global Lounge Collection (which includes Priority Pass), does so irrespective of which airline one is traveling on, and has the potential of complimentary guest if the spending requirement is met. The Amex Delta Reserve Card (both flavors) grants access to a subset of the Global Lounge Collection, does so only if one is flying on Delta, and there is no potential of complimentary guest access.

Authorized users. As you note, $175 per year gets a person the first three authorized users on the Amex Platinum Card (personal flavors). On the Amex Delta Reserve Card, every authorized user is $175 per year — so, the first three would be $525 per year.