An enticing piece of snail mail

Why I passed on an airline card with a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus

Wealth and Wants with Ted Rossman

Ted Rossman has seven years of experience in the credit card and personal finance industries as a member of the award-winning communications department at CreditCards.com and its sister sites The Points Guy and Bankrate.

I recently received an interesting credit card offer in the mail: a targeted offer for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express that included a 60,000-mile sign-up bonus – twice as many miles as usual. I was intrigued because Delta has become my airline of choice over the past couple of years.

When my wife, daughter and I fly together, it’s typically from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit my wife’s parents. Like most leisure travelers, we tend to look at price first and schedule second. Lots of airlines fly this route – including Delta, American, United, JetBlue and Alaska – and we’ve dabbled with all of them.

It just so happens that Delta has won the price/schedule battle of late. And I like how Delta miles never expire (unlike American, United and Alaska). We flew Delta for free last April when we redeemed 31,500 SkyMiles for three economy seats from SFO to JFK. When their 60,000-mile invitation arrived in my mailbox, I was tempted.

See related: How not to pick the wrong credit card 

My research process

To help me decide whether or not to get the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, I plugged in some sample JFK/SFO dates and times. We might visit California during our daughter’s upcoming spring break. To fly Delta from JFK to SFO on our preferred date and time would cost $271 in cash or 22,000 miles (plus $5.60 in taxes and fees) per person. For the sign-up bonus plus another 6,000 miles (which I already have in my account) and $16.80, we’d get three airline tickets worth a total of $813.

That sounded great, but I wasn’t fully convinced. My wife threw cold water on the idea by claiming we already have enough credit cards (she has six, I have four). My hesitation was partially my aversion to annual fees (this card charges $95 after waiving the fee in year one), but also a nagging feeling we might be able to do better elsewhere.

Tip

Tip: How to score big rewards with sign-up bonuses: Evaluate whether or not a new card's bonus points will be useful to you. And if the card has an annual fee, weigh the cost and make sure it won't eat into your rewards. Also, be sure you can pay your balance in full each month. 

The verdict

It turns out we’re already doing better. Our existing portfolio of no-annual-fee cash back cards easily beats the Gold Delta SkyMiles card in all categories. Two miles per dollar on Delta purchases? We could get three on our Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card (along with other types of travel, including gas, as well as dining and streaming services). One mile per dollar on everything else? Our Capital One Quicksilver Card gives 1.5 percent back on everything, our Chase Freedom has rotating 5 percent categories and our Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 3 percent back on groceries and 2 percent at department stores. I couldn’t justify putting any spending on the Delta card after earning the sign-up bonus.

If I decide to sign up for a travel card that charges an annual fee, I’d be better off with the Chase Sapphire Reserve because of its 50,000-point sign-up bonus (worth a minimum of $750 in travel) and its 3x travel and dining categories (which at least match my Propel card). If I had the Sapphire Reserve, I could pool those points with my Chase Freedom points and transfer to partners such as United and JetBlue, or book travel directly through Chase for a 50 percent bonus. I’d also get free airport lounge access and Global Entry/TSA PreCheck (unlike the Delta card) and what I view as the most generous travel insurance perks in the industry.

I also like the idea of transferable points because I worry about becoming too dependent on a single airline. We have tons of options in New York, and Delta might not always have the best price or schedule. For example, JetBlue has a comparable spring break flight that costs $162 ($109 less than Delta) per person. I think my family's travel needs are best met by keeping our options open, and that’s ultimately why I passed on the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card.


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Updated: 11-15-2018