Do you have a high-annual-fee travel credit card that is co-branded for Delta Airlines in your wallet?
It might be time to consider making a change.
The popular airline recently announced upcoming changes to both its loyalty program and lounge access policies that could reduce the value of your rewards.
This could make it harder for you to qualify for your desired Medallion Status and may prevent you from visiting the Delta Sky Club during future trips.
Money expert Clark Howard, who is an avid traveler himself, has long been a proponent of travel cards without co-branding affiliations.
“I’m really into the travel reward cards that are independent, not tied into a particular airline,” Clark says.
Could these changes be a sign that you should consider joining him with a more generic travel card?
In this article, we’ll look at the announced changes to Delta’s programs, some important things to consider before canceling a credit card and a Clark-approved recommendation for a generic travel card.
Table of Contents
- What Is Changing About Delta’s SkyMiles Program
- Things To Consider Before Canceling a Credit Card
- Travel Cards To Consider Instead of a Co-Branded Airline Card
What Is Changing About Delta’s SkyMiles Program
So, what exactly is going on with Delta?
Delta is revamping its SkyMiles rewards program. The changes will impact that way that flyers qualify for Medallion Status with the airline, which controls things like seat upgrades and lounge access.
And, of specific concern to American Express/Delta co-branded credit cardholders, there also will be changes to perks given to credit card holders.
Let’s walk through some of it:
New Limits To Delta Sky Club Access
In order to “help preserve the premium experience” of its lounges, Delta has announced that there will be caps on the amount of lounge visits credit card holders can make per year.
These limits vary based on the level of qualified American Express card that you have in your wallet.
Here are the details, according to Delta’s press release:
“Starting Feb. 1, 2025, Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Reserve Business American Express Card Members will receive 10 Club visits per Program year. The Platinum Card® and the Business Platinum Card® from American Express Card Members will receive six Club visits per Program year.
These Members can earn unlimited Club access after spending $75,000 in eligible purchases on their eligible Card in a calendar year and will have unlimited Club access for both the remainder of the current program year (which ends on January 31) and for the next full program year. Spend tracking begins Jan. 1, 2024, for the 2025 Medallion year.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Platinum Business American Express Card Members and those customers traveling in Basic Economy, regardless of card type, will no longer be eligible for Club access.”
Previously, the SkyMiles members who held these credit cards were receiving unlimited lounge access for qualifying flights. To achieve that unlimited status under the new rules, you must first spend $75,000 on an eligible card within a calendar year.
Elite Status via Medallion Earnings Will Change
Delta has a pretty confusing rewards program that it’s looking to simplify beginning in 2024.
“Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Medallion Qualification Dollars will serve as the only qualifier for Medallion Status. SkyMiles Members will no longer need to track Medallion Qualification Miles or Medallion Qualification Segments.”
Delta credit cardholders earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) by spending with their American Express co-branded cards, so no harm there.
The issue that has many cardholders upset, though, is that the valuation of those MQDs is going to drop under the new system. And cards that had automatic waivers to move up tiers may no longer include them.
That means you’ll have to spend more money to obtain your desired status.
However, it is worth noting that Delta will also open new opportunities for the type of spending that can earn those coveted MQDs:
“The airline is also increasing Members’ ability to earn those MQDs not only through Delta- and partner-operated flights, but also via Delta rental cars and stays booked through Delta.com, Delta Vacations experiences and an MQD Boost benefit with select Delta SkyMiles American Express cards.”
Things To Consider Before Canceling a Credit Card
Generally, we don’t recommend canceling a credit card without a good reason.
There are several reasons your credit score benefits from keep a long-standing credit card account open, including:
- Length of credit matters. If this credit card is one of your oldest lines of credit, you may want to consider keeping it open. Credit history is a factor for credit scores, and closing an old account will negatively impact your average age of credit.
- It helps maintain a good credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization rate is the percentage of credit that you have available compared to your credit card balances. Keeping an account open helps keep that percentage lower.
- Your credit mix could be impacted. It’s a smaller piece of the pie, but your score benefits from having a variety of credit lines (ex. home loan, car loan, credit card, etc.). Closing your credit card could disrupt this mix.
However, in this situation, it may be worth considering a temporary credit score hit to remove yourself from the Delta card obligation.
This is especially true if you’re paying a hefty annual fee and no longer feel you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
If you’re worried that canceling your card will ding your credit but you also don’t want to pay the annual fee attached to it, you can contact your card issuer to inquire about downgrading your card. This may result in a reduction of your benefits, but it could also save you money on annual fees moving forward.
Travel Cards To Consider Instead of a Co-Branded Airline Card
As we mentioned earlier in the story, Clark rarely recommends the usage of a co-branded travel credit card.
Instead, he prefers using a generic travel card that rewards your spending with no stipulation on brand of airline, hotel or rental car.
Annual Fee: $395 (See Rates & Fees)
Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Bonus Offer: Earn 75,000 bonus miles
Bonus Offer Disclaimer: when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Rewards Program Details: 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. 10 Miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. 5 Miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
Top Card Perks:
Though the annual fee is higher than what Clark usually recommends, there are two key benefits ($300 annual travel credit and 10,000 bonus miles every card anniversary) that help mitigate that fee.
From there, you’ll be able to enjoy a solid rewards program and airport lounge access without being committed to any one brand when booking travel. This will allow you to shop for the best prices for your flights and hotel stays.
If you’re not a fan of the Capital One card, Clark also says the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve credit cards are travel cards that offer quality perks without brand restrictions.
Do you have a Delta co-branded credit card? Will these upcoming changes make you reconsider your membership? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the Clark.com community.