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My Elite Status Conundrum: American vs. Delta

by on April 17, 2013 · 44 comments

in American, Delta, Elite Status

For some reason, I just can’t manage to stop flying Delta. For the past year I’ve been trying to shift my loyalty from Delta to American, which you would think would be easy with all of Delta’s negative changes – like an impending shift to a revenue-based elite program, hacked Same Day Confirmed Benefits, an inflexible 72-hour rule on award tickets, consumer-unfriendly expiration of miles when a member dies (not that I’m planning to anytime soon) and the list goes on. I kind of feel like Delta and I are in an dysfunctional relationship – I’m a train careening towards a brick wall, but I’m unable to put the brakes on.

Recent negative changes, including to Same Day Confirmed flight options have me wanting to fly Delta less.

Recent negative changes, including to Same Day Confirmed flight options have me wanting to fly Delta less.

My Year to Date Elite Qualification

I’m currently at 16,742 Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles to date and only 10,588 on American. A lot of my flying this year has been on miles (South Africa, Brazil and a couple Los Angeles trips to name a few) so I’m lagging in the elite qualification department. I’m not panicking because there are a bunch of tricks I can pull out of my sleeve by year’s end (ahem, mileage runs and credit card spend runs), but I still find it interesting that I just can’t seem to fully “quit” Delta.

The Case for American (Abridged)
There are a lot of reasons why I’ve tried to switch loyalty to American:

-Better route network between my main cities of Miami (home base), New York and Los Angeles

-More valuable miles (one-way awards, international first class awards and more flexible change policy)

-A better top-tier elite program.

Being Executive Platinum is great – I love my 8 systemwide upgrades that can be used on any fare with no co-pay vs. Delta’s stingy M+ requirement on international fares. I value those 8 upgrades conservatively at $4,000.

American Exec Plat Systemwide Upgrades like the one I used to get this business class seat on the new 777-300ER can be super valuable.

American Exec Plat Systemwide Upgrades like the one I used to get this business class seat on the new 777-300ER can be super valuable.

Elite upgrades are better for me on American because I usually get upgraded 72 hours in advance on transcontinental routes vs. having to wait until the very last second on Delta since they only process JFK-LAX/SFO elite upgrades at the gate. Knowing that I’m upgraded before I arrive at the airport allows me to plan better and travel with less stress – something I value a ton since I travel so much.

Being based in Miami and part-time in NYC with an employee in Los Angeles, I also can’t beat American’s route network, which gives me lots of options. Delta, for example, has only four weekly flights from Miami to Los Angeles. American also recently launched Choice Fares, which have saved me hundreds of dollars. I routinely change flights due to my frenetic schedule, so I can pay $88 in advance to essentially buy a fare that can be changed as many times as I want or applied to future airfare purchases – plus giving me the flexibility to Same Day flight changes for free and also earn 50% bonus miles.

American's Choice Fares enable my travel commitment-phobia.

American’s Choice Fares enable my travel commitment-phobia.

Why haven’t I been able to switch?
First, flying American out of Miami can be a zoo. Flying Delta is a breeze and no matter what gate you land at, you’re within walking distance to the curb.

American is also usually more expensive and often first class sells out in advance of Executive Platinum upgrades. As a hub, even as an Exec Plat you are one of many, whereas being a Miami-based Delta Platinum you are a big fish in a small pond.

The Delta SkyClub in MIA is great and I generally find the customer service on Delta to be excellent. I feel at home on Delta planes – more so than American. But I think the kicker is that Delta just makes it so darn easy to maintain elite status. With rollover MQMs and the ability to earn status just from credit card spend, I feel like I’m caught in Delta’s elite status hamster wheel and can’t stop spinning.

This is compared to American where there’s only one credit card, the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard, that offers elite-qualifying miles (up to 10,000 EQMs with $40,000 in spend) as opposed to Delta’s co-branded Amex cards, two of which offer MQM spending bonuses. The Delta Reserve offers 10,000 MQMs to start plus up to 15,000 MQMs when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, and 15,000 more MQMs when you spend $60,000 in a year. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card offers 10,000 MQMs when you hit $25,000 in calendar year spending and 10,000 more MQMs when you hit $50,000. I just got a targeted offer for the Platinum Delta card that offers up to 35,000 Elite Miles.

That said, thanks to Delta’s new revenue-based rules for Medallion Qualification in addition to flying enough qualifying miles or segments, to maintain elite status you either need to spend either $25,000 outright on a Delta co-branded Amex credit card or $2,500 (Silver), $5,000 (Gold), $7,500 (Platinum) or $12,500 (Diamond) on the airline. I’m about to hop on a targeted Delta Amex offer and there’s no way I’ll spend $7,500-$12,500 to maintain high-tier elite status, so  if I decide to stay with Delta, I’ll probably have to hit the credit card $25,000 spending threshold, which I’d rather do on other cards that offer more valuable points. I suppose you can never have enough MQMs, though, so maybe it’ll make sense to put even more spending on this card. So many decisions to make!

On American premium fares don’t give bonus EQMs, only Elite Qualifying Points. With the EQP system, which is based on ticket class and hence spending) you need qualify either on premium fares or Elite Qualifying Miles (cheap fares). An occasional first class trip (like my upcoming cheap business class to Santiago, Chile) doesn’t really help if I end up qualifying on Elite Qualifying Miles anyway. On Delta you get a 50% bonus on your Medallion Qualifying Miles so first class flights really do help. I hope American ditches the complicated EQP system when they merge with US Airways.

Does It Actually Matter Which Airline You Fly?
I think the biggest factor is that I have so many credit card points and can redeem on the world’s best airlines using my miles/points so when it comes to flying domestically, I like choosing Delta, simply because I’m comfortable on Delta and am used to things like pre-departure beverages, consistent WiFi on every flight and generally friendly flight attendants. While seemingly trivial, I think the biggest thing is that Delta is the best in-flight domestic product and they know people like me will still fly them, even if they trim SkyMiles and Medallion benefits. I’ve railed pretty hard against these changes, but am I exactly the sucker I’ve written about? Is it bad I haven’t admonished Delta and actually taken my spend and loyalty to other airlines?

Is anyone else experiencing a similar dynamic with Delta or another frequent flyer program?

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • DBest

    Since you fly Delta and AA, why doesn’t it make sense to credit all your miles to Alaska, since it partners with both?

  • http://twitter.com/andypahwa Andy P

    TPG, I’m right there with you when it comes to ‘feeling at home on Delta flights’. I have consciously taken my business to United (thanks to Premier Platinum status match challenge earlier this year) and will continue to fly them. But I can’t help but feel shortchanged when I don’t have consistent wifi on my flights or even the slightest notion of a business class experience/seat/meal on United flights (typically regional flights LIT-IAH/ORD, but also IAH-LAX/SFO, LAX-HNL were horrible compared to Delta).

    I may follow your lead and give American a shot here soon. But given the Credit Card, Status and just in general the good experience I’ve had with Delta, it’s going to be hard to cut the cord.

    Good luck.

  • Cory

    With me, I actually felt the question was not whether to maintain status on Delta or pursue status on another airline. But, rather, it was whether it was worth even maintaining any status. I have a very different travel style than many do. I am perfectly content in economy on long haul, though obviously prefer premium classes. I don’t care at all about lounge access. This all is probably in part due to my relatively tiny number of flights each year compared to what you fly.

    But, I felt a year or 2 ago that I was also caught on Delta’s elite status hamster wheel as well. I just jumped off of it and it feels good. I have primarily flown Delta over the years out of Wisconsin because connecting in MSP or DTW is vastly superior to me than connecting in ORD with United or AA.

    You just have to decide what you value most and go with it.

  • GoMatt

    I agree with you. I feel Delta gets a lot of negative
    feedback about them trying to become a more profitable carrier and improve
    their long-term health as a business. I find their staff on the phone, at the
    airport, on the plane the best in the United States. I think because the
    company is on track, it trickles down to the employees. It helps them serve us
    better not having to worry about where the company is headed. If I had to pick
    a new slogan, it would be like that of Publix. Delta, where flying is a
    pleasure. It always is for me. (gold medallion)

  • Mark

    Wow, I could have quoted this entire article. I refer to it as a love/hate relationship with Delta. I have done a complete 180 from loving delta to publicly trash talking them.

    As a student with zero income, there is no way I will keep medallion after MQDs. I decided to status challenge AA Plat by using my NYC-IPC business class fare coming up this weekend. I have equal travel planned thus far throughout the summer on both DL and AA.

    But in the bottom of my heart, Delta is close to home comfort. Knowing more than the Delta reservations reps and gate agents is invaluable. Delta has always gone the extra mile for me and I don’t really know if this switch is AAdvantageous.

  • Michael

    I’d say if you’re SPG Gold or PLT, you should be on Delta.

  • BREAK IT OFF

    I MADE the switch from Delta to AA. As a former Delta Silver/Gold Now a gold on A – I am staying on AA. (based in NYC). What I miss the most is the “product” of Delta as right now, it is more enjoyable. AA often feels like I am flying on a grey hound bus. They are getting better – upgrading planes, amenities, etc… but they have MUCH more work to do on this front. In the end, once/if they catch up – like with their new trans-con planes coming out in the fall, I will be fully satisfied. It’s like a breakup. You miss the nice things your ex-had but the big ticket, important things (upgrades, ease of using your miles for flights, upgrade vouchers, etc…) makes it worth it in the end. Break it off and don’t look back! Do you want someone who can continually give you the important things or do you want or someone who looks nice but is always taking things away from you even though you have been so loyal over all the years.

  • Scm1133

    I actually feel like I’m in a similar situation – I fly a lot for work and personal travel, but I’ve hit a rut with delta. Reduced benefits are frustrating, but not as much as eliminated routes from dca to bdl, bos – we’ve started to transition to US Air ad it actually feels a lot better. I agree that the customer service is superior with Delta, but I wish I didn’t have to reach out as often – in 6 legs I had 6 missed connections all due mechanical issues, tardy flight crew, etc. This didn’t used to be the norm so it raises a few red flags.

  • Ralf

    I flew 65k miles on Delta last year and agree with you that their international business elite is one of the best business class products out there. I also think Delta’s flight attendants, especially intl, are great.
    I’ll make Gold on United this year, though, and don’t know if I’ll even keep Silver on Delta. About 90% of my travel is international business class and having flown Thai (twice) and Air Canada in the past week, I’d say Delta has them beat. Neither offer slippers in business while Delta does.
    But MileagePlus is so much better than SkyPesos so I’m at a loss. I just book to my schedule, which this year has happened to be Star Alliance/United.

  • Taha Jamil

    totally agree with you. I’m Platinum on Delta, status matched on United. No lie, I was just telling my wife this past weekend that I feel more at home when flying on Delta. Little things like getting personally thanked by flight attendants goes a long way. As much as Delta is trying to “nickel and dime” us, their service is still the best we got in the US. As much as I’m irritated by some of the recent changes, I can’t “divorce” them.

  • Rob

    These are all my feelings exactly! I’m South Florida based, so I’ve experienced first hand what you are talking about.

  • Lucy

    Brian – I am nowhere near elite status on Delta, so I am in a different situation than you. But in the past 1 1/2 years I have deliberately avoided flying Delta as much as possible. That’s not easy, because I live in a smaller southern city where flying on Delta through Atlanta is the default route to anywhere (even heaven or hell after death as the saying goes.) But I am so annoyed at Delta’s pitiful award availability and constant “enhancements” that I simply cannot see any reason why I should reward them with my business. IMHO, Delta’s attitude towards its loyal customers is bad, and I think its a very bad idea to reward bad behavior.
    You have obviously recognized the problems Delta has. You just need to try a little harder to get yourself out of that dysfunctional relationship. ;-)

  • Carl

    I live in Hawaii, so no comp upgrades on Delta to the mainland. And for my travel to Asia, M fares too expensive for systemwides. And online award bookings are a mess.

    For those reasons, i stick with UA. Great upgrade percentage to the mainland, good route network in Asia where i can use my systemwides (granted on W fares), and excellent online booking engine.

  • http://twitter.com/pricesquire Ben Price

    This article encapsulates my feelings 100%. Unfortunately, I live in JAX, where DL has a noose around JIA. It’s almost impossible to leave on a non-DL flight (unless you’re flying AA to MIA or JB to Puerto Rico)..Plus, 9/10 times AA is more expensive.

  • http://twitter.com/pricesquire Ben Price

    Where are you in the SE? I’m in the same boat. Almost impossible to go non-DL, and I’m always hitting ATL as my first stop out of JAX.

  • http://twitter.com/pricesquire Ben Price

    “If I had to pick a new slogan, it would be like that of Publix” You MUST live south of the Mason-Dixon line ;)

  • Mark

    I basically “cut my teeth” re: elite status flying Delta, working my way up to DM over the last few years. Last December, I status matched to AA EXP, and for the last several months I’ve been trying to determine the same thing… DL or AA. Ultimately I voted AA, and for many of the reasons already mentioned (superior mileage program and SWU system, plus a kinder upgrade program.)

    Note I’m based in NYC, so the big fish/small pond issue is moot. I can fly “big pond” DL or AA out of LGA or JFK, or “small pond” DL or AA out of EWR. I agree there are benefits to flying DL or AA out of EWR, but only when traveling to a hub. In 50 flights this year flying AA across the country (mostly out of LGA,) I’ve only sat in coach once.

    I don’t fully agree that DL’s hard product is superior. On the surface it may seem that way, with more domestic flights with IFE and a slightly larger wi-fi roll-out (AA is just about 100% domestic mainline, so the only gap is with regionals.) However, where AA lacks in seat-back IFE, DL lacks in power-ports. And while DL has done a very nice job branding their hard product lately, I find AA seats to be more comfortable… They may be cloth instead of DL’s ubiquitous blue leather, but the cloth breaths better. First class seats tend to have more legroom, and IMHO are of a substantially more comfortable design (especially on the MD-80s.)

    If anything, I see DL as merely a couple years ahead of AA in hard product investment. We’ve seen where AA is going, as evidenced by the 77W and the plans for their Airbii. In a year’s time or two, AA will be giving DL a serious run for its money. (And even now, you won’t find a DL narrow body with a sky interior. If you haven’t flown a 738 with one yet, just wait… you won’t be saying Greyhound bus.)

    First class service I find to be superior on AA. Meal quality is vastly superior, as is frequency/chance-of service. I find that to be of higher value than DL’s PDB consistency. We’ll see where that goes post US merger… It’s probably my biggest concern with the merger today. And on the topic of the merger, we may all lament US’s inflight domestic product, but remember it was no different than NW’s (completely barebones.) Keep in mind half the DL domestic fleet has absolutely no IFE of any kind and rather small first class cabins.

    Lastly, I do agree it is harder to earn status on AA than on DL, but then again we all complain how DL’s medallion ranks are way over inflated. Expect MQDs to bring parity, so I wouldn’t consider ease of earning status in the equation. Just go with what you find more valuable.

  • Avi

    I can relate to your situation. After 7 years of highest elite status at Delta, I decide to give it a rest by being Platinum at Delta and EXP on AA. My and coworkers and I fly so much that some of us will be DL Diamond till 2016 if we stop flying now completely.
    All the benefits you listed is the only reason I keep Platinum status on Delta. They make it so darn easy to fly with them that I never look anywhere else. Plus most of my travels took me to places where Delta has a direct flight. Yes I know some people would say I would get more miles by having layovers. True but you are talking to someone who would earn 250k+ MQM a year with no DL affiliated credit card.

    So in the end, I decided to make AA my primary and Delta secondary.

  • RobertnSMF

    I’ve been DM or PM with Delta for 7 years and find the same discussion going on in my head. Low level redemptions are pitiful, SWU are questionable, and the relationship with Air France this last year has been strained at best. In the end I stay with Delta because I can use CC spend to keep my elite status – and in some years this is a big deal. I have decided the breaking point for me would be if Delta stopped waiving award changes fees for elites. Minus 72 hour rule aside, this would REALLY devalue my stockpile of Skymiles. The changes by Delta this last year have me concerned, and I’m trying to actively use as many award miles as possible to reduce my holdings. If the program and airline would stay in its current form, I would have no reason to leave.

  • http://twitter.com/CTravlr Cardinal Traveler

    I’m in ILM, and have the same issue. Either Delta or US (until the merger). DL currently has a stronger route network and more competitive pricing, but I can’t stand giving them more money.

  • http://twitter.com/CDKing80 Paul

    examples of what does he like about AA and DL that he wont get crediting to AS. No SWU, rare upgrades on DL, no upgrades on AA, no credit card spend for elite status, no free same day changes on DL or AA. Other things not mentioned is he would have to pay for extra legroom seats coming to AA and existing on DL. I’m sure there’s more reasons that i cant think of right now. AS is a great airline to credit to if one isn’t going to get past 25-50k EQM annually

  • Santastico

    I used to be a loyal AA customer for many years and most of them as Exec Platinum. I accumulated 1.5MM miles and got Gold status for life but 6 years ago I moved to a Delta hub and had to switch. I hate Delta!!!!! I used to be Diamond elite and in 2010 after moving to a different role in my company and flying almost nothing that year I saw myself as having no status at all. I find this rule from Delta a terrible way to treat customers and penalize them very hard for not flying much in just 1 year. I prefer riding on a Greyhound bus than flying on Delta with no status.

  • GoMatt

    I did. Been in NYC for the past 4 years, and what do I miss most? Publix.

  • Graydon

    Awesome. I chuckled as I am writing this from the city where Publix was born. Man I love Publix. And Delta. Publix more…

  • GoMatt

    Chicken tender sub and the bakery 36 ct. chocolate chip cookies is where it’s at…

  • CaroleP

    I can’t believe I’m reading the same language I have been speaking, especially since your bashing of Delta. I keep saying Delta and I are in a trial separation, but I keep going back to continually get abused. It’s hard not to when you live in Memphis. Delta is screwing us royally, but it’s hard to switch.

  • Greg

    That makes my lunch decision easy tomorrow.

  • http://twitter.com/rubiety Ben Hughes

    One aspect of this to consider is the fact that American/US Airways will be undergoing a merger soon, and there are likely to be a lot of headaches an operational/IT problems during this period. I’m coming at it from the other side where I’m trying to hit UA 1K and also maintain my US Chairman’s, but I’ve had doubts about even trying for Chairman’s again due to the merger hassles and the uncertain regarding what they will do with their program. ExecPlat now is great, but will all those benefits be maintained during the merger – or will they be diluted with we Chairmans coming over? Who knows, lots of uncertainty for now.

  • Jasen1

    Who was that said democracy is the worst form of govt except for every other kind of govt?

    That’s how I feel about Delta. They are the worst except for every other airline.

  • Jasen1

    Who was that said democracy is the worst form of govt except for every other kind of govt?

    That’s how I feel about Delta. They are the worst except for every other airline.

  • Jasen1

    Who was that said democracy is the worst form of govt except for every other kind of govt?

    That’s how I feel about Delta. They are the worst except for every other airline.

  • GoMatt

    Don’t forget the “submarine sauce” at the end. They keep it hidden in the refrigerator. It’s like an oil and vinegar with seasonings.

  • http://twitter.com/pricesquire Ben Price

    There is nothing more enjoyable than starting my day with a bunch of “I love Publix” talk. How refreshing! And yes, chicken tender sub for lunch, please!

  • http://twitter.com/pricesquire Ben Price

    There is nothing more enjoyable than starting my day with a bunch of “I love Publix” talk. How refreshing! And yes, chicken tender sub for lunch, please!

  • PlanoMike

    I fly AA since from DFW it’s very convenient. Plus, having flown for years from here I am now lifetime Platinum, so I don’t worry about requalifying.

    While at least 1.5 million of my miles were real miles, the rest were charge card miles. Since AA changed their policy, which I was surprised they took so long to do, of only awarding elite for actual miles, it’s tougher now to reach elite (above Gold) unless you really fly a lot, which is what they want.

    But, to the point, I am happy to fly coach. I still look at it as a free flight. We used to use miles to fly first to Europe but that really chews up the miles and as I generally now only earn miles from credit card charges it can take a while to get FC quantity miles. I sometimes do BA’s World Traveler Plus, but would never pay for it. But with the fuel charge hit I’ve started using Avios for places like Mexico where I just returned from after spending a copay of $105 (a LAS trip cost me $5).

    I might add that since my wife has started flying more she is accumulating tons of miles and is now Gold but that will end once her current assignment ends.

    I like AA, maybe Platinum helps, and I don’t like, when I fly non-AA, being treated like a steerage passenger. Plus, based on what I’ve seen, AA has the much better Elite program.

    As for lounges, we normally only need to use them when returning home from Europe. On departures from DFW to Europe we don’t have that much time open to make it worthwhile to go to the lounge. One other item, on FC and the food served. We never eat on the plane going to Europe, never drink liquor.either. We eat light at an airport restaurant before the flight. These are night flights and we sleep and treat our bodies good so that jet lag is a non-issue. When we land in Europe we are ready to start the day.

    So, for us, trying to qualify on two airlines holds no benefit.

  • http://twitter.com/MJonTravel Marshall Jackson

    It is a tough decision. Living in Atlanta now, I fly DL almost exclusively. I like the planes, the people, and just about everything else DL except SkyMiles. IF I were in control of the majority of my travel, I would give more than a fleeting thought to flying AA/US and making the connection in CLT. As it is, the large majority of my employer’s business goes to DL, so I fly DL. I surely do miss AAdvantage. Heck, I miss Dividend Miles.

  • Kathy

    I keep thinking about leaving Delta too (Plat here) but one thing that deters me is my Lifetime SkyClub membership.

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  • Daniel Millar

    My first top-tier frequent flier status was US Airways Chairmen’s Preferred. Then Continental. Then American. And I’m in transition to United while preferring to fly SWISS. I earned each one by flying, no promos or bonuses, and spent several years with each one. They were all pretty much the same in hindsight, but at some point each of them made staying loyal just too difficult (old seats, poor service/attitude at a particular airport, service cuts, …). Three to four years seems to be the limit of the time frame that an airline is able to be stable and be innovative. So currently, I’m avoiding the congestion and variable service of US carriers and flying SWISS to Europe and otherwise sticking with Star Alliance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dbaker0926 Dustin Baker

    Question… I recently switched to American Airlines from Delta (they did a status match and I am Platinum with both now). I love American actually and I live in Charlotte so with the US Air merger I will have a Hub to fly direct from in the near future. I often fly to Atlanta where a Delta or US Air ticket is only $200-500 round trip and with American it is normally around $1,000. It is a short flight so I can live without a first class upgrade but I have no status with US Air. Should i bite the bullet and get some miles on US Air banking they will be rolled over to my American account or just stay Delta for now until the airlines merge and I get the status benefits.

    Regards,
    Dustin

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  • Fredtheflier

    I am a double million miler that quit flying for 18 months……now I am back in the air a couple times a month, but I resent the fact that I had to start all over at the bottom. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with Delta over a 15 year period, even was on an international ” business traveler advisory council ” meeting four times a year to tell Delta how to be a better airline. I’m back up to Platinum which really doesn’t mean squat.

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