A $550 annual fee will, probably rightly, discourage most people from applying for a credit card. But if you're a true Delta loyalist, there may be no better card for you than the high-end Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

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The Basics

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card comes saddled with a $550 annual fee, as big a fee as you're ever likely to see in a consumer credit card. But to ease the sting, you can currently get up to 100,000 bonus miles when you apply; 80,000 for spending $5,000 in purchases in your first three months, plus an extra 20,000 miles after your first cardmember anniversary. You'll also receive a one-time bonus of 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles after spending $5,000 in your first three months on eligible purchases.

Unfortunately, the only bonus category here is Delta purchases, where you'll earn 3 miles per dollar on eligible purchases with the airline. That's not bad, but it's the same rate you'd earn with a Chase Sapphire Reserve, and less than you'd get with the Platinum Card® from American Express. For all other purchases, you'll only earn 1 mile per dollar spent.

The Points

Luckily, Delta Skymiles are the most valuable rewards currency among the U.S.'s three major airlines, with a valuation of 1.2 cents each, according to The Points Guy.

Domestic award flights on Delta are roughly tied to the cash price of the ticket, so an inexpensive Tuesday flight could go for as low as 4,500 miles, but a higher demand Sunday ticket on the same route could be over 30,000 miles. That means you'll rarely overpay in points, but you also won't find many sweet spots either.

When traveling internationally though, Delta includes partner flights from the SkyTeam alliance into its search results, and depending on the airline you're flying and the structure of its award chart, you may spot some redemptions that are much more lucrative than any you'd find on a Delta-operated flight.

The Perks

As is the case for most airline-branded credit cards, the real value of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card is in its perks, which are numerous. Here are some of our favorites:

Annual Companion Pass

Once per year starting on your first cardmember anniversary, you'll receive a domestic roundtrip companion ticket that you can use for a traveling companion on any paid Delta roudntrip flight within the contiguous U.S. You'll only be responsible for taxes and fees.

It's not the only Delta credit card to offer a companion ticket (the $250/year Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card includes a main cabin-only version), but it is the only one that's eligible for any class of service, including first class. Depending on the route and the seats you choose, this benefit alone could be worth thousands of dollars.

Lounge Access

Just as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® offers unlimited access to Admirals Club lounges, the Delta Reserve card grants the cardholder a Delta SkyClub membership, with unlimited access to Delta lounges if you have a valid, same-day boarding pass for a Delta or partner airline flight.

This benefit also extends to authorized users, though each one you add will incur an additional $175 annual fee. However, you'll also get two one-time SkyClub guest passes every year, and you can use the card to purchase unlimited additional guest passes for $39 each.

If you book your Delta flight with your Reserve card, you'll also have access to American Express's best-in-class Centurion lounges if you're lucky enough to be flying through an airport that has one, though each guest you bring will incur a $50 fee.

Status Boost

Delta status chasers can earn a bonus 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles for every $30,000 in spend with the Reserve card on all purchases, up to four times per calendar year.

At the lowest level, you'll achieve Silver Medallion status after earning 25,000 MQMs in a calendar year, and you'd get a waiver from the Medallion Qualifying Dollars requirement by spending $25,000 on eligible purchases with the card during the year as well. That means you can essentially buy your way to Medallion Status by spending $60,000 per year on the card, or $30,000 combined with 10,000 MQMs earned by flying.

Upgrade Priority

Complimentary upgrades on Delta flights are awarded from the highest Medallion status to the lowest, but within each given Medallion tier, Reserve cardholders will be first in line. On some flights, that could mean the difference between getting pampered in first class or stuffing yourself into seat 27E.

TSA Precheck/Global Entry Credit

The Reserve is far from the only card to include this benefit, but every four years, you'll be able to receive a credit of up to $100 towards your Precheck or Global Entry application fee.

Priority Boarding/Checked Bags

Some version of this benefit is available with most of Delta's credit cards, but Reserve cardholders and up to nine companions on the same reservation will get their first checked bag for free, and will be bumped up to Main Cabin 1 boarding.

Why Apply?

Obviously, this card really only makes sense for frequent Delta fliers; the kind of travelers that go all in to earn Medallion status, and would make ample use of the SkyClub lounge network.

If that sounds like you, great! This is the only card that'll let you buy your way to Medallion status independent of any airline purchases, and one of the few cards to offer SkyClub lounge access (the Amex Platinum being the other notable example). And if you ever splurge on business or first class seats on domestic flights, the card's annual companion ticket can more than make up for its $550 annual fee.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Photo: The Points Guy