Delta and American Express Re-up Credit Card Deal Through 2029

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American Express has been issuing Delta co-brand credit cards since 1996. Of course their relationship with Delta dates back farther than that. They introduced Membership Miles (now Membership Rewards) in 1991, and three years later offered 3x on Delta spend.

The two partners announced a renewal of their relationship at the end of 2014. It was a record-setting deal with American Express paying Delta more than ever before, which the card issuer was motivated to do to lock in their largest remaining co-brand partner after Costco’s decision to break up.

While card companies often protect us from devaluations — they’re the mileage program’s biggest customer, and don’t want to see the value of their portfolio diminished so contracts often include provisions to preserve a program’s value — Delta has had American Express over a barrel because losing Costco meant losing 10% of their card business.

Now Delta and American Express have announced an extension of their relationship with Delta is touting as furthering their favorable economics even more.

  • New deal runs through 2029
  • Continues Membership Rewards points transfers and American Express premium Delta co-brand and Platinum/Centurion access to SkyClubs

Delta is projecting – what seems to me – unlikely growth in top-line revenue from this deal. Much of this comes from increasing consumer spend on cards, not just new acquisition or higher prices paid by American Express at a time when there’s some question about the direction of the overall economy:

As the two companies work together, Delta expects its benefit from the relationship to double to nearly $7 billion annually by 2023, up from $3.4 billion in 2018, strengthening Delta’s increasingly diversified revenue stream.

We don’t know what sorts of provisions might be included in the contract to adjust for things like interchange risk (whether driven by competiton or future regulation) but two things strike me,

  1. This isn’t a five or seven year deal. It’s cementing even further a long term relationship which both parties are betting will be a winner based on their respective needs.

  2. In any 50-50 deal, Delta takes the hyphen. That Delta is willing to do this deal tells me it’s a stronger win for them than for American Express.

Warren Buffett of course is a major investor in both American Express and Delta.

I view Delta cards as strong, of course for their initial bonus and for the benefits they convey to passengers (especially those without elite status) flying the airline semi-regularly. I do not view them as a strong tool for spending, independent of weakness in the SkyMiles program itself.

That’s because even if you want to earn SkyMiles through credit card spend, American Express offers cards that earn Membership Rewards points faster than Delta miles, and Membership Rewards points will continue to transfer to Delta as well as having the option of being moved to other programs as-needed.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. To me this looks like Delta is getting a huge raise. This paragraph from the press release reads as if American Express is hopeful but has no idea if this is going to work out in their favor:

    “American Express expects attractive growth economics over the term of the agreement and affirmed its previous guidance for 2019 of FX-adjusted revenue growth in the 8-10 percent range and adjusted earnings per share between $7.85 and $8.35, subject to any contingencies and legal settlements1. The economics of the new terms are not expected to have a material effect on the first quarter results of American Express.”

    In other words — “We hope we didn’t overpay, but we couldn’t let Delta go after Costco left.”

  2. So AMEX is going to buy billions of “worthless” Skymiles and hope its card users won’t notice? Are card users that stupid? Don’t they know it is better to get a 2% cash back card than a Skymiles card??

  3. Delta’s inflight service if fine but customer service is appalling bad and my experience has consistently demonstrates complete contempt for their customers. Allocate your dollars/points at your own risk. Try jetblue, alaska or other airlines that don’t hate their customers

  4. @Ed
    The average CC user either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. They earn miles on their airline card and are happy to spend them, despite that there are far better earning options. Every time one of my coworkers swipes, and they are at least wise enough to not use a corporate card, it’s a cobranded airline card.

  5. No new benefits nor perks. I don’t understand why American Express cardholders get to access Delta’s Sky Club lounges but Delta-branded American Express cardholders can’t access American Express lounges. It’s unfair. Meanwhile, the Sky Club lounges are still overcrowded and Delta lags behind both American and United in premium lounges and premium dining options.

  6. Speaking for myself, I only got a Delta card after an increased bonus offer, and because I had already accumulated some Skymiles from flying over the last few years. I haven’t put any spending on the card other than to secure the bonus, and probably won’t keep it, either. Now I have a larger balance of admittedly low-value miles, but maybe I’ll be able to find some sweet-spot redemptions to spend them on…someday.

  7. I guess this is where I am lucky to live Hawaii. HNL flights to TPE non-stop on China Airlines business is only 60K one way with decent availability. Wide open availability if you want to stop in Shanghai on China Southern. HNL to Tokyo on KE business is also available at 60K.

  8. I suspect this deal is because Amex knows that without Delta it’s toast. Can you imagine the number of platinum cards that’d be canceled without Sky Club access? Delta may not be the most valuable use of MR points, but on the other hand it’s probably where most people spend their MR points (and why people keep their MR earning cards in the first place). And Amex offers the huge signup bonuses on the Delta Amex cards for a reason. Without Delta, their domestic lounge presence is trashed, and its only remaining co-brand partners of note are Hilton and Marriott. And you can’t really even count Marriott because it has one foot out the door with Chase. This is a desperate ploy by Amex, and Delta took advantage of it (I bet they’ve been suited by other banks and used that as leverage with Amex).

  9. I wonder what percentage of Amex card holders are only in the game for the outsize award seats (Biz Class seats) versus paying for drinks at the SkyClub or upgrading using miles at a penny per mile? If Amex (with DL’s help) can keep both groups happy, maybe the deal will work. But as DL keeps devaluing SkyMiles, and more and more people in the first group become unhappy and ditch Amex, will that hurt Amex, and eventually DL? If the mix is 1% vs 99%, probably not. But if the mix is more like 10% vs 90%, I bet the DL – Amex game becomes a loser for both companies.

  10. Dumb move AmEx. I haven’t put any spend on my Delta card for probably a year +. When the annual fee comes up I’m going to cancel and tell exactly why. ‘With Delta making skymiles worth a penny a point there are a lot of better cards out there.’

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