United TravelBank vs. Blue Delta SkyMiles: Which Card Is Better?

There have been few years quite like 2017 when it comes to United and Delta’s credit cards.

Both companies released new credit cards in Sept. 2017, both of which opened up a new segment of airline rewards cards. The United TravelBank from Chase and the Blue Delta SkyMiles from American Express forego an annual fee and big miles bonuses to provide credit cards that most experts consider entry-level products for those who want to familiarize themselves with airline rewards credit cards.

The two cards are very similar, but they have distinct differences that could be the crucial factors as you decide which of these airline cards is best for you.

We’ve done reviews on both cards, so we’re really familiar with each one’s rewards, benefits and rates and fees.

We know the fine print and the perks, as well as the general opinions about the card from experts other than HighYa.

With all this information at hand, we think it’s a good idea to put these cards side-by-side so you can see how the TravelBank and the Blue Delta SkyMiles share similarities as well as differences.

Our comparison of these cards will cover the following categories:

  • Intro bonus
  • Spending bonuses
  • Rewards flights
  • Travel perks
  • APR
  • Penalty APR

We believe, based on our research, that each one of these categories is vital to understanding the value of these cards when compared against each other.

Before we jump into the category-by-category comparison of the United TravelBank and the Blue Delta SkyMiles, take a look at the data chart we used to compile the necessary information:

  United TravelBank Blue Delta SkyMiles
Intro Bonus $150 in TravelBank cash 10,000 in SkyMiles
Spending Bonuses 2x United, 1.5x all else 2x Delta, 1x all else
Rewards Flights $116-276 10K-25K
Travel Perks 25% back on in-flight purchases 20% back on in-flight purchases
APR 16.99-23.99% 16.74-25.74%
Penalty APR None Up to 29.99%

Introductory Bonus Miles: The TravelBank Is the Winner

The United TravelBank gives its new cardmembers a $150 TravelBank cash bonus if they can spend $1,000 in the first three months of owning the card.

On the other hand, the Blue Delta SkyMiles will give you 10,000 SkyMiles if you can spend $500 in the first three months.

In most cases, you won’t have an issue hitting either spending requirement because they’re both so low. In fact, based on the average American’s spending habits, we believe there’s a good chance you can get the bonus within the first month of owning the card.

Remember, though, there’s a buffer time for those bonuses to show up in your account. Chase’s fine print says your $150 in TravelBank cash will take up to eight weeks to arrive, while American Express’ fine print says your 10,000 SkyMiles should show up within 6-8 weeks.

The main difference between these two offers is the currency you get. The United card gives you TravelBank dollars, while the Blue SkyMiles card hands out SkyMiles.

Based on our research, TravelBank dollars are more valuable than United’s MileagePlus miles because they have a 1:1 with the dollar value of a flight.

Most United flights cost between 25,000 and 37,500 miles, which requires at least $25,000 in spending, while the same flights can cost between $196 and $297, which requires far less spending (more on that in a minute).

This data leads us to believe that the TravelBank’s intro bonus has the upper hand on the Blue Delta SkyMiles’ bonus.

Spending Bonuses: United TravelBank Leads the Way

Both of these airline rewards cards will give you rewards dollars/miles whenever you use your card to make a purchase.

The United TravelBank uses a 2x/1.5x structure for their TravelBank rewards. Whenever you make purchases directly from the United website, you’ll earn 2 TravelBank dollars for every $1 you spend. All other purchases will earn 1.5 TravelBank dollars for every $1 you spend.

The 2x bonus is standard for the industry but the 1.5x bonus on the “everything else” purchases is unprecedented and similar to the rates you get on no-annual-fee cash rewards cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Capital One Quicksilver.

The Blue Delta SkyMiles takes the traditional route and gives you a 2x/1x structure, with double miles coming from any purchases made via Delta’s website.

By our calculations, you can probably spend $25,000 a year on your card, which would amount to $375 in TravelBank cash or 25,000 Delta SkyMiles.

Rewards Flights: United TravelBank Offers Better Value

The United TravelBank and Blue Delta SkyMiles’ rewards cash/miles are only as valuable as the number of points it takes to buy a rewards seat on a flight.

To judge the value of TravelBank dollars and SkyMiles, we decided to calculate the cost of flights on the four most popular flights in America, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics: Chicago to New York, Los Angeles to San Francisco, Los Angeles to New York and Chicago to Los Angeles.

For the United TravelBank, we’ll show the cash value and, for the Blue Delta card, we’ll show the SkyMiles cost:

Flight TravelBank Dollars Cost Delta SkyMiles Cost
Chicago (ORD) – New York (JFK) $186 10,000
Los Angeles – San Francisco $116 11,000
Los Angeles – New York (EWR) $276 25,000
Chicago (ORD) – Los Angeles $196 18,000

The value here between what flights cost and the up-front bonuses are similar, but we’d say, based on this chart, the Blue Delta SkyMiles gives you the better value because after $1,000 of spending you’ll have enough miles for two of these flights (10K SkyMiles bonus + 1K SkyMiles from spending).

On a year-to-year basis, we believe the TravelBank can earn you $375 and the Blue Delta, 25,000 SkyMiles. Based on those totals, it’s our opinion that the TravelBank offers the better value because you can book the longest flight on the chart and still have TravelBank dollars leftover.

The Blue Delta SkyMiles, on the other hand, requires that you use all 25,000 points on the longest flight.

It’s a close matchup here, but we think the United TravelBank offers the most overall value for booking rewards seats.

Travel Perks: TravelBank Wins by a Nose

The main drawback of these two cards is that neither the United TravelBank nor the Blue Delta SkyMiles has a great set of perks for cardmembers and most likely has to do with the fact that neither card has an annual fee.

The United MileagePlus Explorer and the Gold Delta SkyMiles have annual fees of $95 to with their free baggage and priority boarding perks. The Explorer card also gives you two free passes every year for United Club entrance.

The United TravelBank gives you 25% off in-flight food and drinks purchases, while the Blue Delta SkyMiles gives you 20% off in-flight food, drink and headphone purchases.

The discount isn’t taken at the point of sale. Rather, it’s credited to your statement. That credit will take 4-8 weeks to show up on your Chase statement and 6-8 weeks on your AmEx statement.

We give the TravelBank the edge here because the discount is higher and because most people these days bring their own headphones on flights, canceling out the Blue’s headphone discount.

APR: The AmEx Delta Blue SkyMiles Gets the Nod…Barely

This category is pretty simple. The TravelBank’s APR ranges from 16.99% to 23.99%, while the Blue Delta SkyMiles ranges from 16.74% to 25.74%.

Which card has the best APR is relative to your credit scores. If you’ve got excellent scores – think 720 and above – then you’ll most likely get the best APR each card has to offer. In that case, the Blue Delta is the better choice.

If your credit scores are in the mid 600’s, you’ll get the highest APR if you’re approved and the TravelBank is the best choice, APR-wise.

But, considering that the average American FICO score is hovering at 700 at the time of publishing, we’d say that the average person will probably get a better APR with the AmEx Delta Blue.

Penalty APR: AmEx Blue Delta SkyMiles

A dubious distinction of the AmEx Blue Delta SkyMiles is its penalty APR of up to 29.99%. This penalty could kick in when you make one late payment or have a returned payment.

The fine print says that AmEx will “consider your creditworthiness in determining whether or not to apply the penalty APR to your Account.” This could work in your favor if you have great credit scores but will most likely work against you if you have low or below average scores.

The fine print goes on to say that AmEx will review your account every six months to determine if they’ll remove the penalty APR. They also say that you can get the penalty removed if you make six consecutive on-time payments without having any returned payments.

The Final Word: Chase’s United TravelBank Is the Better Card

These two credit cards were launched within a week of each other. Both offer a different spin on airline rewards credit cards, foregoing the annual fee but also giving up some of the travel perks you find with the United MileagePlus Explorer and the Gold Delta SkyMiles.

The TravelBank and Blue Delta are close not only because of the dates they debuted but also because their in-flight discount and up-front bonus are similar.

In the end, we believe the TravelBank is the slightly better card because of the 1.5x rewards rate on non-United purchases and the fact that TravelBank dollars have some pretty good value to them.

If you’ve read through this comparison and believe that neither of these cards is right for you, stop by our 2017 guide to the best airline rewards card.

All the cards we cover in that article have annual fees, but they also have bigger intro bonuses and some nice added perks. Also, the comparisons are more extensive. We judge the cards across 10 different categories.

J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a personal finance reporter who examines credit cards, credit scores, and various bank products. J.R. is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism contest. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and his insight has been featured on Investopedia, GOBankingRates, H&R Block and Huffington Post.