Co-branded airline credit cards can be a smart way to rack up frequent flyer miles for your favorite airline, particularly when the ability to earn miles extends beyond purchases for airfare.
In recent months, American Express and Delta SkyMiles have come together to offer some cardholders an added benefit of using miles in advance of earning them with the card. If you have seen or heard of an e-mail offer or promotional letter touting this specific benefit, known as Fly Now, Earn Later, you aren’t alone.
Many cardholders received information about the promotional offer, even though American Express and Delta kept it under wraps for the first several months. Before you jump on the opportunity to Fly Now, Earn Later, here’s what you need to know about the program.
How Does the Amex-Delta Fly Now, Earn Later Program Work?
The Fly Now, Earn Later travel miles program is offered to select cardholders who have and actively use a co-branded American Express and Delta credit card. Currently, there are two cards known to have the new benefits available to specific cardmembers: the Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, and the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express. Each of these credit cards offers the Fly Now, Earn Later perk to cardmembers who have a strong spending history with the card, and a track record of on-time payments.
With the new travel miles program, cardholders can borrow up to a set number of Delta SkyMiles through their American Express credit card at no cost. The amount of travel miles available to borrow against is dependent on the individual cardmember and his or her spending patterns since opening an account.
Through the benefits section of the website that provides card details, cardmembers can request the Fly Now, Earn Later reward by simply clicking a request button to see the total miles available. If borrowed, the cardholder has six months to repay the borrowed miles through purchases made on the American Express credit card.
Breaking Down the Math
The advantage of borrowing miles for Delta flights before they are actually earned is a nice perk for cardmembers who are just shy of earning enough miles for an award flight. Borrowing miles, instead of paying for them outright through Delta, is a more cost-effective way to get the next flight booked and paid for without any out of pocket expense.
As an example, a cardmember who borrows 25,000 Delta SkyMiles through the Fly Now, Earn Later program does not pay an upfront fee to do so. However, over the next six months, they would need to spend enough on their respective American Express credit card to earn back the borrowed miles. This would mean spending the following within the six-month time frame:
- At least $25,000 in spending for non-Delta purchases
- At least $12,500 in spending for Delta purchases
These spending requirements may seem high, but that is only for 25,000 advanced miles. For cardmembers who qualify for a larger quantity of miles through the new program, the purchasing requirements are far higher based on earning one mile per dollar on most purchases, and two miles per dollar on Delta spending.
Fly Now, Earn Later Considerations
Although the Fly Now, Earn Later travel miles program is a smart way to get a free flight with a credit card, the use of the program comes with several considerations.
First, if the borrowed miles are not repaid within the six-month period, cardmembers are charged 2.5 cents per mile for the remaining balance. This means if there isn’t enough spending on the American Express card to make up for the borrowed miles, you will end up paying a hefty amount for your “free” advance. In the example above, failing to earn enough to cover a balance of 5,000 miles could result in a $125 charge!
Because of the penalties imposed on cardmembers who miss the mark on spending the six months after a miles advance, this program is not a great fit for everyone. The good news is that American Express only offers miles advances to cardholders with a significant history of spending – and repayment – on the card.
However, using the program could result in overspending simply to avoid the advance miles fee. Cardmembers who overdo it on spending just to meet the requirement may find themselves in a difficult spot trying to pay off the credit card debt quickly. This challenge could result in interest charges that make the Fly Now, Earn Later program far more expensive than meets the eye.
The bottom line is the Delta and American Express miles program is only meant for financially savvy and confident cardmembers. Those who fear they cannot hit the repayment requirement or those who already have a habit of overspending should wait until their miles are earned before using them.