Five Good Reasons to Choose Delta

I give Delta a hard time frequently on this blog. I’m pretty transparent about my travel patterns and choices, and how I go about making those. Delta hasn’t been my choice and I think I’m justified in that. I’m not going to rehash all of the reasons here.

Instead I thought I’d take a contrary position for this post, and offer up five good reasons why someone would want to choose Delta and/or Skymiles as their primary air carrier/loyalty program. See what you think, and whether any of these reasons apply to you.

  1. You’re a super frequent flyer. American and United both have top tiers at the 100,000 mile level. Delta, like United, requires minimum spend for elite status. If you’re flying more than 125,000 miles a year and spending more than $15,000 on airline tickets you’ll be a top tier elite with Delta and folks flying 100,000 – 124,500 and spending less than you won’t be. You aren’t competing for upgrades or standby priority with folks you’d be competing with if you flew another airline.

  2. You live in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit, or the Upper Midwest. (Or you live in Seattle and fly primarily to Asia, or your primary destinations involve these places.) Northwest Airlines executives used to say about the Upper Midwest, “it’s cold, it’s dark and no one wants to go there… but it’s all ours.”

  3. Your reward goals are Australia or French Polynesia. Delta’s miles are harder to use than United’s, American’s, or Alaska’s — but they’re ironically best situated for two of the toughest destinations for award travel, especially premium cabin award travel. Delta partners with Virgin Australia, whose award availability is outstanding. And they partner with both airlines flying from the mainland U.S. to Tahiti – Air Tahiti Nui and Air France – although those awards are still tough.

  4. You don’t care about miles or status, you just want a good airline operation. Flying an airline is still (even primarily) about getting from A to B. If you ask executives at other U.S. airlines which carrier they admire the most, and they’re being candid, they tell you Delta. I cringe when I hear it, because airlines like United wind up simply mimicking Delta’s choices even though they’re running a very different business. But there’s no question that Delta is running a good operation, even if the Skymiles program hasn’t been as good as the airline itself.

  5. Inflight productivity. American has fleetwide internet… on mainline. US Airways has it on regional jets, and I expect the combined carrier to close the gap. (United, while installing rapidly, has been way behind for years.) If you want pervasive inflight internet, even on the regional fleet — in other words, if you want to make the most productive use of your travel time — it’s tough to argue with Delta.

Do you choose Delta? Who or why not?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My companion pass ends with SWA this year and I’m slowly transitioned to Delta. Delta is usually cheaper and is definitely more comfortable. SWAs horrible schedules, delays and uncomfortable seats are to blame as are a bunch of other non-PC complaints.

  2. i live in Atlanta so enough said:) I am actually looking forward to the changes to Skymiles next year. I fly short hops on late notice a lot so I cannot accumulate a lot of miles but my ticket spend is averaging 10k plus per year. Delta operations has proven dependable and service is consistently good. I am generally happy with Delta.

  3. Other reasons to fly Delta from an NYC-based flyer:

    6) You fly a lot of short expensive last minute flights…and thus SkyMiles 2015 will be great for you. (vs AA/US)
    7) You appreciate a decent terminal especially at LaGuardia…you can’t argue that what Delta has supported at Terminals C/D there is light years ahead of the “third world” experience United and American have there. Plus, it’s not in New Jersey.
    8) And finally…you care about miles, but recognize its much better to have a decent airline to count on to fly 2x+/week rather than the at most 10x/year you redeem miles for major flights.

  4. How about this:

    #1: They are a nice airline. They give out little snacks in coach. The have comfortable aircraft, and run mainline flights on a ton of routes. Their customer service is nice. Their hubs are pleasant places to connect. They have wi-fi on essentially every flight, and IFE on almost every international flight. Once again, THEY ARE A NICE AIRLINE.

    I like reading you a great deal, Gary, but I don’t get how this doesn’t make sense to you. Particularly in a world where you can get so many miles from credit cards, why is it so baffling that people would like flying Delta when *it’s a nice airline*

  5. “Northwest Airlines executives used to say about the Upper Midwest, “it’s cold, it’s dark and no one wants to go there… but it’s all ours.” LOL

    Yeah, I fly Delta (I live in Minneapolis). Delta is not exactly generous to their customers, but they do seem to run an airline efficiently (quite a bit better than Northwest did, in fact). An unfortunate side effect of their efficiency seems to be flights that are packed to the rafters no matter when you fly. But they get you where you’re going, and usually on time.

  6. What makes me NOT like Delta is their intentionally obfuscational award availability chart. I feel as if I am being taken for a ride and not treated as an intelligent, valuable passenger. Other than that, I think their product overall is best of the big 3.

  7. I fly a lot. The decision is always – do I want “good” now or “good” later. Delta easily has the best airline experience and easily the worst FF program. But, as the rest of the airlines are on a race to the bottom, DL is looking better every day.

  8. Yeah, we could only wish for a Skymiles program as good as the overall airline. But if your a person who reads this kind of blog, you’re probably looking for an airline with a good frequent flyer program. Unless you have unique circumstances — most likely, you live near a DL fortress hub — it’s best to stay away from DL.

  9. @Jason I actually think terminal C at LaGuardia is decent, I use it flying US Airways – just wish it didn’t take so long to get there upon entering the airport! The Marine Air Terminal isn’t great but it’s efficient. I like the Main terminal, though, with an Air Canada club and now the Centurion lounge!

  10. Can you name a better airline for people who live in the Southeast? Delta has an extensive operation out of RDU. They’re also very reasonable on one way flights to Chicago when United and American are charging 3x the price.

    Furthermore, they’re an enjoyable airline to fly if you miss your upgrade. IFE, Wifi, snacks, lots of mainline planes. They also don’t rely on single class RJs on long flights like the other airlines.

  11. I was loyal to Delta when I was in GA and in another small city southern where Delta was the most competitive. I still have status, but it is only Silver. I fly what I consider “a lot,” but I know that compared to others, I hardly fly at all.

    I was fiercely defensive of Delta until I moved to Nashville, TN, and started flying Southwest. I know lots of folks love to hate SW, but it is (in my experience) the most fun, friendly airline to fly. Even before I had status, they would always go above and beyond to help out in any tough situation (which was rare). I love SW’s company culture!

    Delta’s answer was and is always, “no.” Plus. Their reliability out of Nashville is (in my experience) very poor, especially in Sundays and Fridays when I travel the most. I have missed so many ATL connection to and from Nashville.

    Finally, I feel like I get LOTS more with SW A-List than with Delta Silver Medallion. Two years ago, I could score the occasional upgrade. Today, that’s hopeless, so the upgrade opportunity ities with Delta are worthless to me, plus most of my other Silver “benefits” are extended to those with AmEx cards.

    So, I know you asked why someone would choose Delta, and that was not the nature of my comment. The best reason for me is/was living in a Delta hub. If I flew much more, Delta would be far more attractive as well.

  12. Non-hub flyer with DL & UA regional service. In 14 round trips on Delta this year, I’ve had one that was delayed other than for severe weather. On 7 United RTs, I’ve had 5 mechanical or crew-schedule delays. As a United 1K and Delta Diamond, it’s a no-brainer. With an admittedly frustrating amount of work I can almost always find low-level DL awards domestically.

  13. Gary’s fourth reason for flying Delta is my first. I care much more about getting where I need to be on time than I do about frequent-flyer issues.

  14. Unfortunately, no matter how bad things get with AA/US, and they’re getting worse for me, I’m pretty much sticking with them.

    I live and work near PWM, as in I can see the airport from my window. US flies non-stops to PHL and DCA, which are my most frequent destinations. With work, both US and DL offer 1 stop to my most frequent business destination.

    The best I can do is keep crediting AA and DL to AS, who I feel offers the best frequent flyer program. I get some benefits with AA and DL that way, but almost always get upgraded when we fly BOS-SAN on AS 3-4x a year.

  15. I should add, I’ve had IRROPS on my last 3 trips to DCA. This past Saturday, my flight was canceled, making it a trip in vain. I realize I’m talking USX here, but I’ve honestly had an overall better experience with USX than mainline US in 2014.

  16. Yes Terminal C at LGA (shared between US and DL) is decent…and the renovation was driven by Delta. And when I have to spend more than two minutes in the Main Terminal outside the pre-security Centurion lounge….I thank United and/or American.

  17. In other words, if the frequent flyer program is mostly worthless, fly based on who actually flies to/from where you’re going. Not sure we needed to be told that. Since status and miles are essentially worthless now for most Delta flyers, they are liberated to shop around based on price and schedule. Surely only some kind of extreme victim of internet addiction is shopping for flights based on whether or not there is wifi. Having constant access to the internet is not, in the real world, any great aid to being a productive worker.

  18. Living in CVG I am somewhat captive to Delta as well, but without all of the benefits of actually being in a hub 🙁

    I wouldn’t mind Delta as much if their award site wasn’t so awful. I am hopeful (though not optimistic) that the 2015 changes will make things better

  19. 1. Only airline that flies into tiny communities in Georgia.
    2. Only airline that is partnered with Aeromexico, the only major airline in Mexico is a must when flying into second tier Mexican cities.

    If it wasn’t for these two factors, I’d be on American without a second thought.

  20. Gary, it appears that #5, Inflight Productivity, is a win for AA/US and not Delta, the way it is written.

    As a person who hasn’t flown Delta in the past 25+ years I have no knowledge of Delta’s inflight connectivity.

    What you have written is ambiguous and has left me confused.

  21. they are THE lousiest airline in terms of customer service — and I have dealt with a lot of lousy customer service over the years.

    i try to be a very patient flyer. but delta really makes flying a stressful experience. from surly, unhelpful gate staff (who you will inevitably have to deal with if you fly out of JFK — their ops are terrible during peak times) to flat-out rude customer service agents (one told me over the phone that i simply didn’t have enough skymiles to warrant his hearing my complaint; i reported him and got a complete refund on my ticket). sure the soft product isn’t terrible and i actually love the domestic F hard product on short hauls. but i expect to be herded like cattle and treated like a human being by airlines. delta fails at the latter. i switched total allegiance to AA a year ago and i have no regrets.

  22. In order of importance;
    1. The crew (and staff usually) are actually NICE.
    2. They sometimes fail (still a few lousy old NW 757’s) but they are obviously making an effort, with many new cabins, direct-aisle in Biz class (god i hate climbing over someone), Wifi on 100% domestic.
    3. I live in ATL. This is NOT my #1 reason, I’d gladly use UA or AA as I don’t really mind connecting. But for the moment, DL has the best domestic product.
    BUT having said all the good stuff, if they continue to get TOO greedy (I’m looking at you, Glen Hauenstein) with the “monetization” of Sky Miles… I’d be fine switching back to AA or UA, because they are catching up to DL.

  23. I notice they didn’t cut off any of their lucrative credit card deals, just their loyalty flyers. Thats an odd way to operate a frequent flyer program, unless you are really running a frequent dollar, sorry peso, program. Now you can get status if you spend enough on delta or charge enough on amex. At least you don’t have to go through atlanta when you use the credit card.

  24. Through many years of flying Delta, I have starting noticing how much their customer service is tied to their most loyal customers. I am currently Platinum with them, and will be Diamond in 2 weeks. I also hold the Reserve Card from AMEX. This past trip there were 2 situations, 1 theirs and 1 mine, where they went above and beyond to please me. And boy did they. I already buy my tickets in first class so to be able to please me to the point of me handing out the “good employee” certificates they give us to give to them, it has to be special. They do run a very efficient operation and they do take safety most seriously. I have not flown AA since I was insulted publicly, inflight, by the FA’s on a flight from SFO to MIA in 1993. I fly US when I have to and while I don’t hate them, I don’t love them either for reasons too long to go into. My only complaint would be that I am kinda witnessing this 1%er attitude with DL that makes me understand comments from people without status who have not had the best experiences with them. Status does help, and I enjoy the perks, but I hope they are not ever given to me to the detriment of others.

  25. The revenue based mile earning is much more suited to the short trips that we book in the MidWest. Also, most of our trips are booked with a week or less, notice. But the Delta Connection carriers are pitiful and missing connections is almost constant thing with Delta. From where we live United and American all connect thru ORD, which is worse than DTW or MSP. So, we don’t have much choice.

  26. Gary,

    Thank you for an interesting post. I have been a Delta Diamond forever, and I’m moving to American and Alaska next year. I’ve noticed a distressing trend of nickel and diming passengers (even at my level). The last straw this year was not upgrading passengers on intercontinental flights.

    While I value their operations, I do not value their corporate direction or frequently flier program. I understand Jason’s comment that it is better to have a decent airline to count on to fly 2x+/week rather than the at most 10x/year, but I believe a decent airline should make those 10x experiences amazing if you fly more than 2 times a week.

  27. I have to choose between AA, UA and DL here in Hooterville. All flights are regionals to a major hub, and the hubs are DFW, ORD, DEN and ATL. Going east, ATL would be a good choice. But the problem is ATL!! I know people seem to like it, but are you kidding me? Compared to DFW, what a pit! And the Skylounges are jammed and feel old compared to Admirals clubs at DFW. Plus, an ERJ to DFW or ORD and the single seat side is WAY preferable to those torture tube CRJs that UA and DL fly. I’m a small guy, and I always get seated next to a large person who spills into my seat. 1.5-2.0 hours of hell. There are a huge variety of reasons for choosing an airline, each unique to everyone’s situation. So, a good FF program, 2 decent hubs, a better RJ ride, and a good schedule mean AA is my airline of choice and has been for a decade. Which sucks, cause I gotta say, a mainline DL flight is quite nice and a pretty good domestic experience.

  28. Loyal CO top-level flier since the early 90s. Made it though the United transition as 1K. This year I did a match to DL PL and on the way to hit Diamond and not looking back. My reasons:

    a. +1 for the “nice” – reminded me a lot of the reasons I used to love Continental. Water, pillow and blanket on every F seat waiting for me, is nice. So is a free drink coupon on flights I did not get upgraded.
    b. Mainline. 50% of my flights on UA were on CRJs and about half on no F RJs. This year about 90% of my flights are on mainline and of the rest, only a single segment on a non-F RJs.
    c. Better soft product: The FAs do not serve and hide on longer flights
    d. Domestic wide bodies in routes additional to NYC-CA

  29. The answer to your question, Gary, is quite simple: None of your 5 reasons to use DL applies to me. When I couple that with the fact that I care A LOT about acquiring points and miles I can most easily use to take trips I want to take in premium class, I’m pointed away from DL. I fly DL when its routing, schedule, equipment, and/or price is/are substantially superior to competitors with more desirable/more useful miles.

  30. DL PM, will be DM after my next three flights. Why?

    1: I’m in MN. DL has the best flights for where I need to go
    2: They may be Sky Pesos for most people, but the availability as a PM has generally been quite good.
    3: I like the people. The vast majority of the FAs are great, same for the phone service people and the Sky Club people. Heck, even the baggage claim people are great.
    4: They generally get there when they say they’ll get there. Not always, but most of the time.

    @Peachfront, you’re utterly wrong about DL Status. Flying back from Heathrow with my wife, I saw (on the Delta App) that the last two center rows of Economy Comfort were empty, so each of us took one row. My wife got to lay down and sleep, I got to spread out and get some work done, and one of the FAs hunted me down just so she could thank me for being a PM, and make sure I had everything I needed.

    Very nice, for $0.09 / each. 🙂

  31. Delta is the only airline that flies PDX -NRT-BKK with only two flights . It’s a very long flight ( so glad I finally quit smoking ) and this is the shortest possibility . I’ve only flown peasant class but , many times . Too bad I only learned about credit cards recently , that would have been very useful . I got mad at Delta because I couldn’t use my miles . Last time I flew a different airline . Delta doesn’t seem so bad after that . Even my wife who almost never complains about anything said ” Delta , Delta , Delta ! ” Seems like it’s not easy but , possible . I’m now building miles with the help of American Express and Alaska Air Visa . Thanks to Gary Leff and a few others I think we’ll have our first ever business class experience soon . Keep Smiling !

  32. #1 reason for me is the Sky Lounge access that came with the AMEX Platinum card…without having any status. They also seem to be more on the cutting edge of digital platforms with their mobile app and even supporting the Apple Watch. Their partnership with SPG hotels is a nice perk too.

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