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Amex gives Delta SkyMiles co-brand cards a makeover—but it comes at a cost

The news: American Express raised annual fees across its six Delta SkyMiles credit cards and made changes to their rewards programs, per a press release.

  • The annual fee for the highest-tiered cards (Delta Reserve and Delta Reserve Business) increased $100, from $550 annually to $650.
  • Delta Platinum and Delta Platinum Business’ annual fees increased to $350, up from $250.
  • And the lowest tier (Delta Gold and Delta Gold Business) went from $99 annually to $150.

Some of the added perks cardholders will get with these fee increases include:

  • Enhanced Companion Certificate. Delta Reserve and Delta Platinum cardholders can now use the certificates, which allow a friend or family member to fly with them for free on one round-trip flight a year, for new destinations including Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Central America.
  • Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) headstart. Delta Reserve and Platinum cardholders will receive added MQD points at the beginning of each qualifying year to boost their loyalty status.
  • New statement credits. The different tiers added new travel and entertainment (T&E) statement credits, such as for Delta Stay, rideshare, and Resy.
  • New reward categories. Additional spending categories were also introduced to the business cards, expanding points eligibility for spending on transit, US shipping, and office supply stores.

Will it work? American Express is hoping these added rewards will compensate for the annual fee hikes.

  • If cardholders use all of their new statement credits, the cost savings can easily offset the fee increases.
  • But some of the statement credits may have niche appeal, and sticker shock from the annual fees could scare away current and new cardholders.
  • These updates also come in the wake of Delta’s frequent flyer program overhaul last fall, which was met with consumer outrage and ultimately ended in a reversal.
  • The airline risks similar negative consumer feedback over the fee hikes, which could hurt cardholder retention. But since these cards target more affluent customers, it should be able to mitigate some of this risk.

Why it matters: Many consumers are unsatisfied by credit card rewards.

More tweaks to credit card rewards programs will likely be around the corner to mitigate this issue and boost customer satisfaction. But issuers like American Express will need to ensure the changes aren’t too costly and are in line with what consumers actually want.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Payments Innovation Briefing—a three-times-weekly recap of top stories reshaping the payments industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.