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The Day That Delta SkyMiles Overtook American AAdvantage Miles for Award Travel

Jan. 12, 2017
5 min read
The Day That Delta SkyMiles Overtook American AAdvantage Miles for Award Travel
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Now that the girls are both back in school and 2017 has arrived in full force, I've been doing a bunch of airline award and paid ticket searches this week. I mean, a bunch. In a perfect world, I'd like to get all of our 2017 airline tickets fully booked and squared away as soon as possible. Okay, maybe not all of them, but at least the ones for family trips that already have set dates and are 99% going to happen.

I know we will be buying some of our tickets with cash, but naturally I'd like to use miles for a good portion of them as well to keep our out-of-pocket costs down to a reasonable-ish level. Buying tickets for three was already not cheap, but since our snuggly littlest girl turns two this summer (already?!), some of our trips this year (and beyond) will require four tickets. Gulp. As I am sure other parents already know first-hand, buying four tickets every time you fly is seriously sticker shock to the 4th degree.

Some of the domestic destinations on our agenda this year are the Boston/New York area, the Asheville/Charlotte area, the Seattle/Vancouver area, and of course Grandma and Grandpa's house in Wichita, Kansas. I'm also still playing with our spring break plans, so I have searched everywhere from Hawaii to Mexico to Grand Cayman to Key West and more for those dates. I'm also starting to play around with a late fall trip to Europe.

On these hundreds of searches I completed in the last few days, I have seen some very strong themes emerge that aren't necessarily all new, but still surprise me a bit given just how consistently they played out. Time and time again on my searches this week, my American AAdvantage miles keep coming up being borderline useless. It doesn't help that I don't live at am American hub, but finding domestic saver AAdvantage awards with even remotely logical connections has proven to be almost impossible. I don't want to over-exaggerate as it is still possible to find some AAdvantage saver awards, but it requires significant date flexibility, not traveling during peak times, not needing 3-4+ seats, or having a hot streak of really good luck.

If I wanted to use American miles on any of these trips I researched, I better be ready to pay 50 - 100% more mies than the saver award price because their Anytime award prices are generally the only ones available. If you are familiar with the American search tool, grey is the new light green.

I found myself happy when I could at least find the lowest level Anytime award price...which says a lot about how rare saver awards were.

Non-inspiring American saver award availability isn't anything new, but I was just sad to see that the pattern is holding so strong. What did surprise me even more was how comparatively fantastic Delta SkyMiles were for many of these same searches. Anyone who has been in the miles and points world for a while has heard SkyMiles referred to as SkyPesos, but I'm not so sure that is the best descriptive word for SkyMiles at the moment.

My searches keep coming up with award availability for 25,000 SkyMiles per round trip and less. And it's not just on wacky itineraries to third-rate destinations that require three flights to go 1,000 miles, or where there is just one seat available, or some other similar restriction.

As a non-scientific example, here is round trip award availability in June for four people on Delta from Houston to New York City. As you can see, there are lots of dates where seats are available for four people at 25,000 miles per round trip.

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Here is the same search on American Airlines using AAdvantage miles. As you can see, there are very few times you can get four saver awards from Houston to New York, and when you can it usually requires three flights to get there.

I wanted to hope it was just Houston that was making this search seem a bit off, so I did the same search for four award seats in June from Dallas to New York, an American hub.

At first it looked a bit more promising, though certainly not as good as the Delta results. However, when I stated investigating further, many of the available options again were far from ideal. Once I clicked "nonstop only", not a single saver award date remained coming or going in any class of service.

Remember, my Delta results were nonstop only from the beginning.

I don't want to put Delta SkyMiles up on a pedestal as I don't think that program is the gold standard in frequent flyer programs given how they make some changes, that they have no published award chart, etc. but there is no question that right now Delta SkyMiles are more useful for lots of domestic saver awards than AAdvantage miles.

For most of the domestic trips I searched this week, SkyMiles had reasonable to good options using miles, and American had iffy to terrible options. I'm sitting on way more AAdvantage miles than I am Delta miles, but right this second I am wishing I could flip that and move all my AAdvantage miles to SkyMiles. Thankfully I can transfer American Express Membership Reward points from cards like my Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card 1:1 to Delta if I need them for some of our trips.

As for my AAdvantage miles, for now it seems I am just going to let them keep sitting and hope for award availability to improve at some point. I'm really not sure how much worse it can really get for families at the saver level.

I'd love to hear if my unscientific samples have held true in your recent award searches? Which miles are you using the most right now and which ones are giving you the most trouble?

Featured image by Getty Images

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