Delta and American Express are billing the newly launched Delta Reserve Credit Card as "the most elite" of the various Delta co-branded cards issued by American Express. In fact, by just about any measure, it's the most elite of any airline affinity card.
First, the price: $450 per year. That makes it one of the world's most expensive credit cards, which puts the value proposition front and center. At that price, it had better deliver.
At the top of the benefits list are the bonuses awarded after using the card for the first time, and after reaching spending targets. While most airline affinity cards offer generous sign-up bonuses, the Reserve card distinguishes itself by awarding cardholders with 10,000 bonus miles that qualify for elite status. Thereafter, cardholders earn additional bonuses depending on their spend: 15,000 more elite-qualifying miles, plus 15,000 redeemable miles, after spending $30,000 in a calendar year; and an additional 15,000 elite-qualifying and redeemable bonus miles after spending $60,000 in the same year.
Assuming the targeted spending thresholds are reached, a cardholder could earn 40,000 elite-qualifying miles the first year, and 30,000 elite-qualifying miles in subsequent years. (Elite-qualifying miles earned with the card can be given away, which may be of interest to some.)
Another significant benefit of the Reserve card is complimentary use of the Delta Crown Room airport lounges when flying Delta. (An annual Crown Room membership costs as much as $400, but that includes use of Continental and Northwest lounges as well, which is not included with the card.)
There's also a free annual companion certificate "with no blackout dates and no minimum fare requirements," access to the dedicated Breezeway priority boarding lane and frequent-traveler security line, and assistance from the American Express Concierge service.
While undoubtedly pricey, the Reserve card may be cost-justified for travelers who can fully benefit from the elite-qualifying miles and lounge access. That narrows it down to medium- to high-frequency flyers—but not travelers who fly so often that they already earn high-level elite status.
And since the bulk of those elite-qualifying miles are awarded after spending at least $30,000 annually, only those in a position to charge $2,500 or more per month need apply.