Is Delta Air Lines Exaggerating The Success Of Its American Express Credit Cards?

Before the pandemic the American Airlines co-brand portfolio had the largest charge volume, but American, United and Delta were all over $100 billion annually.

In June Delta Air Lines made big news claiming to have broken away from the pack reporting that “approaching 1% of U.S. GDP” in charge volume on their co-brand cards. They appeared to suggest over a quarter trillion dollars being spend on Delta American Express cards.

I tried to wrap my head around this number, because it suggested so much growth.

  • Inflation helps
  • But you expect the portfolio to grow beyond that order of magnitude with the economy
  • A little more if they’re successful adding more cardmembers than they’re losing (every portfolio loses a substantial number each year as annual fees come due)

If Delta was exaggerating a bit, and hitting $200 billion in charges it was still a lot even if a third of their growth was driven by inflation.

And we had to believe them, right? This was being reported to investors and lawyers vet their presentations. They aren’t going to intentionally do securities fraud.

At the same time, Delta was reporting that they were lagging behind the goals they set when they re-upped their deal with American Express in 2019 and that was without the expectation of a surge in inflation at the time. Their new deal was supposed to hit $7 billion revenue in 2023 unaided by inflation and they’re going to be slightly short of that.

Ancillary revenue guru Jay Sorenson highlights the math calling into question the lengths Delta appears to be stretching to make their claim about the size of their co-brand. American Express reports numbers, too!

US GDP in June 2023 (at the time of the Delta disclosure) was about $27 trillion on an annual basis (US Bureau of Economic Analysis). 1% of that is $277 billion.

The 2022 AMEX Annual Report discloses this: ” . . . The Delta cobrand portfolio represented approximately 10 percent of worldwide network volumes . . . ” AMEX network volume was $1.55 trillion, with 10% of that being $155 billion (the Delta share).

We have a Delta disclosure indicating $277 billion annual co-brand spend, and an AMEX disclosure indicating $155 billion. One way to get there is to round up $155 billion to $200 billion . . . and that would be “approaching” $277 billion? Another explanation would be a 70% leap from 2022 to current-year portfolio spending. Please, someone help with the math here. I’m inclined to rely on the AMEX numbers.

Take American Express numbers from mid-2023 and you get an assumption that’s 10% larger for American Express spend. Then assume American Express might be rounding down by a percent, and you might get to $180 million in Delta American Express spend?

That’s still more than 50% growth compared to pre-pandemic, but it’s nowhere near one percent of GDP! Indeed, without pinpointing an exact start Delta reported 60% growth in spend, and knowing a rough order of magnitude starting volume that alone tells us they aren’t within $50 billion or probably even $75 billion of 1% of GDP.

Instead the best we’re left with is that perhaps Delta’s co-brand portfolio is doing two-thirds of one percent of GDP, somewhat closer to its peers at United and American, rather than substantially outperforming them. And 0.67% kind of rounds to 1%, or in Delta’s verbiage “approaches” it.

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, 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. […] This comes on top of their announcement of 2023 full year revenue of $58 billion and operating income of $5.5 billion (9.5% margin). They announced that their mobile app “crossed 1 billion in annual visits in 2023, up 25% year-over-year” and shared scant details about their loyalty program, suggesting broadly that they hit record levels of engagement with no specifics offered. They have been somewhat exaggerating the success of their co-brand relationship with American Express. […]


  1. By posting this, I’m requesting Gary not reference my name on this website. I’m not a fan of the approach to grabbing reader attention through sensationalist videos posted by the public. I publish a lot of work on the airline industry and it’s freely available. But I have no desire for an association with this style of promotion. Please don’t reference IdeaWorksCompany or Jay Sorensen as a source. I know there is risk in posting this, as the they say “don’t do battle with those who buy ink by the barrel.” I have no desire for battle, I simply have no desire to have my name linked to your writings, nor contribute to your methods.

  2. Media sources cite other media sources all the time, I’m not sure what the issue is here. To me it would be much worse if Gary posted your data and DIDN’T cite you. Besides, I like sensationalist videos.

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