With changes to the AAdvantage program that make it so much more like United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles, elite frequent flyers at American especially are re-considering their loyalty.
Some members will do better with the changes (higher spending; those flying 75,000 – 99,999 miles a year with average or better spend) and many will do worse (especially lifetime elites).
American thinks these changes are going to be good for revenue, but American has been performing better than United financially already and Delta doesn’t think its frequent flyer program changes are a driver of their revenue premium.
Lucky at One Mile at a Time explains why he’d consider switching to Delta.
He mostly explains several reasons why it makes less and less sense to choose which airline to focus on based on the unique benefits of their frequent flyer program, rather than extolling true virtues of Delta.
I would argue that:
- Delta is the better operational airline
- Delta’s top tier elite program will soon be the equal of American’s
But that’s not the full picture.
There’s no question that Delta runs a more reliable on-time operation than American despite American management’s obsession with “D0”. And Delta does it with a fleet of older planes.
While American is investing in its inflight product and its lounge product to some degree, it’s not as good as Delta’s.
San Francisco SkyClub Bar Area
And Delta has faster internet — they’ve got more recent generation air to ground Gogo installations, and they’re a launch customer for Gogo’s high speed satellite internet.
If frequent flyer programs didn’t exist, and geographical differences in schedule didn’t exist, you’d pick Delta over American in a heartbeat.
Delta’s top tier Diamond level requires 125,000 miles and $15,000 in spend, compared to American’s which will require 100,000 miles and $12,000 in spend. We know the spend can be waived by using a Delta American Express card for $25,000 in purchases a year. American will likely have something similar but don’t know the details yet.
American’s threshold is lower, and they’ll count partner flights (through a distance and fare class equation) towards the requirement. So depending on the charts American releases they could wind up easier still to hit.
But even if you assume that you can hit top tier elite with either program there are still real differences. But we don’t know what additional changes are coming to AAdvantage when they roll out Basic Economy fares, and domestic and international premium economy.
The biggest thing that used to rule out SkyMiles elite status for me was that they privileged full fare over status for upgrades. They stopped doing that 5 weeks ago.
When they rolled out extra legroom seating as a separate fare class they started treating elites with companions on the same reservation as having the lowest status to get those seats. A Diamond with a companion (and only one was permitted to join in extra legroom seats) wouldn’t be able to get extra legroom seats until check-in. They’re fixing this.
Delta’s Diamond tier will be as good as American’s Executive Platinum, although it’s worth noting that Delta won’t provide complimentary upgrades on New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Frnacisco, and as tough as it can be to confirm upgrades at booking on international flights as an American Executive Platinum, it’s tougher to confirm upgrades at booking both domestically and internationally on Delta.
Delta’s redemption program is better for transatlantic business class (availability and no fuel surcharges) but I still give the edge to American for better award routing rules (as draconian as American’s are), actually having an award chart, lower award prices on many routes, and still having awards for international first class. American also has partners I want to fly more than Delta’s (I’ll take Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Etihad over China Eastern, China Southern, and Middle East Airlines).
Delta is the better airline, with better meals, reliability, and inflight internet. American has newer planes and I like American’s international business class seats better than Delta’s, though American still has way too many angled business class seats flying. (Both Delta and American are probably better airlines right now than United, though United offers a better redemption program in my opinion than SkyMiles.)
American’s Old Angled Business Class Seats Are Taking Too Long to Replace
Say what you will about American, since the no-notice changes of April 8, 2014 they’ve gone out of their way to make sure changes are known in advance. That’s not how Delta behaves. There are many reasons to fly Delta but SkyMiles isn’t one of them.
Net net AAdvantage is still the better program for me, but I’d consider trading off the better frequent flyer program for the better airline if Delta’s hubs were more conveniently located for me. As an Austin-based flyer my choices of primary carrier boil down to airlines with nearby hubs: American (Dallas hub) and United (Houston). Plus American and United have lounges at my home airport and Delta does not.