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Best credit cards for flying via the SkyTeam airline alliance

Most partners in the SkyTeam network are foreign airlines – that’s why Delta credit cards can be your best bet for maximizing miles on SkyTeam flights


Whether you’re a frequent flyer or simply fly a couple of times a year, these are the best credit cards for earning and maximizing miles and perks on SkyTeam alliance flights.

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It’s fairly simple to select a rewards credit card that gives you the best perks from your favorite airline. But what do you do when that “favorite” is actually a group of airlines?

Welcome to the world of airline alliances.

These global networks are one more factor smart credit card users are considering when they look for their perfect travel card. They’re also one more way to travel for points or get perks with a host of other airlines.

If you’re based in the U.S., chances are you learned about SkyTeam alliance by flying Delta Air Lines.

Besides Delta, SkyTeam members include: Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeromexico, AirEuropa, AirFrance, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, Czech Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, MEA, Saudia, Tarom Romanian Air Transport, Vietnam Airlines and XiamenAir.

Want to get the most in rewards and perks while traveling via SkyTeam? Travel experts share some of the best credit cards to use.

See related: Best credit cards for Delta Air Lines

Best cards for occasional SkyTeam travelers

For several travel veterans, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is a smart choice for occasional SkyTeam travelers.

“It is kind of the bread and butter” option when it comes to flying with the SkyTeam alliance, says Hud Callaway, director of user success for RewardStock.

This is what Delta SkyMiles Gold from American Express offers:

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Priority boarding.
  • 20% discount on eligible Delta in-flight food, drink and audio headset purchases.
  • 35,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
  • $100 Delta flight credit if you spend $10,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year.
  • $99 annual fee, waived the first year.

Even if you just take the family on vacation once a year, you’ll make up the annual fee in checked bag charges, Callaway says.

“The miles can be used on any SkyTeam partner,” he says.

But Benét Wilson likes the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card. The annual fee is $250, “but if you fly Delta regularly, it comes with some really good perks,” says Wilson, The Points Guy credit cards editor travel expert.

“I really like the fact that it comes with a free checked bag, priority boarding and no foreign transaction fees,” she adds. Plus, flyers get one free companion ticket per year.

For points mavens, the earn rate is 3 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

If you spend $2,000 in the first three months, it awards a welcome bonus of 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). Plus, you can earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

Gary Leff, travel blogger and founder of ViewFromtheWing, says it all depends what the traveler values most.

“If you’re an infrequent flyer but take trips on Delta more than a couple of times a year, it can be worth getting the entry level Delta credit card for free checked bags and priority boarding,” he says.

But if you’re looking for rewards, “you earn more points faster with American Express cards, and those points transfer to Delta or your choice of other airlines,” says Leff.

The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express travel (starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) , while the American Express® Gold Card earns 3 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Looking for a no-annual-fee option?

Callaway’s pick is the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, which he carries himself.

“I didn’t want an annual fee, but I did want to earn some points,” Callaway explains.

Delta Blue SkyMiles offers:

  • 10,000-mile bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months.
  • 2 miles per dollar at spent at restaurants worldwide and on Delta purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar on other eligible purchases.
  • 20% discount on in-flight purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees

While there’s no priority boarding, “if someone’s just looking to keep their miles alive, that’s a good card,” he says.

See related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

Best cards for frequent SkyTeam travelers

Callaway’s choice for the frequent SkyTeam flyer: the American Express Platinum card.

It grants access to a wide network of airport lounges, including the company’s Centurion lounges and the Priority Pass network.

It also offers:

  • 5 points per dollar on flights and hotels booked through the American Express portal.
  • $200 airline fee credit.
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit.
  • Up to $200 Uber credit.
  • $100 hotel credit.
  • Up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit.

Amex Platinum also offers perks like upgrades, breakfast and late checkout from hotels in the company’s Fine Hotels & Resorts group. The annual fee is $550.

But for Wilson, the best pick for travelers frequently flying SkyTeam is the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

The annual fee is $550, but it grants Delta SkyClub access for the cardholder (and up to two guests at an exclusive discounted rate) – “which pretty much covers the fee,” she says.

You also get your first checked bag free on Delta flights, priority check-in, priority boarding, 24/7 concierge service and a companion certificate for a domestic flight every year.

And if you spend $3,000 in the first three months, you get a welcome bonus of 40,000 miles, plus 10,000 status miles.

In addition, you also earn 15,000 status miles if you spend $30,000 in a calendar year.

“This is a card for people who fly a lot and want elite status and the comforts of priority check-in,” says Wilson.

See related: New SkyMiles Select membership from Delta offers priority boarding, other perks

Best all-around cards for SkyTeam travelers

Callaway’s choice for this one is also the Delta SkyMiles Gold card. Its $99 annual fee – waived the first year – he says, “is a low barrier of entry.”

And it comes with travel insurance, which can be invaluable for road warriors, says Callaway. “If you’re traveling all the time, it’s inevitable that something’s going to happen. The nice thing is, it covers pretty routine things that happen.”

On one flight to Italy, Callaway’s bags didn’t make the last leg of the trip. “But a per diem on the card was able to compensate us for all the lost items,” he says. They were able to pick up clothing and sundries.

And you can use the miles through the company’s own travel portal or “take them out to the airline,” says Callaway. “The best way with SkyTeam is to transfer them out to SkyTeam partners and use them directly.”

Another option he likes for SkyTeam flyers: the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card. Despite its steep annual fee, if you’re seeking status with Delta, this could be the way to go – because it helps you accumulate the specialized miles that boost your status with the airline, Callaway says.

If you’re a regular SkyTeam flyer and you want the perks that come with elite status, that’s the card that will get you there, says Leff. But if you’re after travel rewards, he’d advise putting your heavy spending on one of American Express’ Membership Rewards cards.

Or, for a less pricey route to status, both Callaway and Wilson like the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card. “If you’re traveling regularly and spending on the card, it’s a good deal,” says Wilson.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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