In recent years, Delta Air Lines has been the trailblazer in the U.S. airline industry.
The Atlanta-based carrier has been the one that all the others want to mimic. Whether it’s Delta’s impressive premium load factors or the carrier’s top-notch on-time performance, Delta has earned the envy of its competitors.
Yet there’s one area where Delta has lagged: its SkyMiles loyalty program. Not only has the program been one of the least rewarding of the major U.S. airlines, it’s also been one of the only ones to still (partially) reward travelers for how much they flew.
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American Airlines and United Airlines ditched traditional status-earning metrics in recent years, and now it’s Delta’s turn to play catch up. Last week, the airline announced perhaps its biggest loyalty update yet with the introduction of a revamped Medallion program that rewards you exclusively for how much you transact with the airline and its partners.
If this concept sounds familiar, it’s because Delta is basically copying American’s revamped AAdvantage loyalty program that launched last year. And now that the two airlines are going head-to-head on similar elite-qualifying criteria, it’s worth considering which program is more rewarding.
Hint: It’s American’s program, and here’s why.
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Lower status thresholds
If you’re looking for the quickest way to earn status, you’ll want to stick with American. As part of Delta’s revamped Medallion program, the airline is increasing status thresholds to levels that many flyers now think are unattainable.
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In fact, Delta’s Medallion thresholds are consistently higher than American.
Accounting for the 10x multiplier difference between Loyalty Points and MQDs reveals that reaching status with American is easier than it is with Delta.
|Tier 1 (Gold/Silver)||40,000 Loyalty Points||6,000 MQDs|
|Tier 2 (Platinum/Gold)||75,000 Loyalty Points||12,000 MQDs|
|Tier 3 (Platinum Pro/Platinum)||125,000 Loyalty Points||18,000 MQDs|
|Tier 4 (Executive Platinum/Diamond)||200,000 Loyalty Points||35,000 MQDs|
For top-tier Executive Platinum status, you could spend $200,000 on American Airlines credit cards to earn it. To get Delta top-tier Diamond status? You’d need to spend $350,000 on the Delta Reserve card for the needed 35,000 MQDs.
More elite earning opportunities
Not only are the status thresholds lower with American, but it’s also much easier to earn Loyalty Points than it is to earn MQDs.
That’s because Loyalty Points can be earned for so many more transactions than MQDs.
The list includes:
- Cobranded credit cards
- AAdvantage Dining
- AAdvantage eShopping
- AAdvantage Experiences
- AAdvantage Hotels
- Car rentals
- AA Vacations
Meanwhile, Delta will only award MQDs from a subset of these activities: flights, cobranded credit card spending, and packages for rental cars, hotels and vacations booked through Delta.
Earning Loyalty Points from American’s shopping portal has become a fan-favorite feature for many TPG readers and reporters, and this opportunity alone makes Loyalty Points easier to earn than Delta MQDs.
All credit cards are equal
When it comes to spending your way to elite status, none of the major U.S. airlines can compare to American’s offering.
Every dollar spent on a cobranded American Airlines credit card earns one Loyalty Point (except for the no-annual-fee AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard, which earns 0.5 Loyalty Points per dollar on purchases.)
This simple earning structure applies across nearly every Citi- and Barclays-issued American Airlines credit card.
The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
That’s a stark contrast to Delta’s setup, which only awards MQDs from spending on the mid-tier or top-tier credit card.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card members earn 1 MQD for every $10 spent. Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card members earn 1 MQD for every $20 spent.
This variable earning rate means that you need to splurge for the Reserve’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) in order to unlock the most favorable MQD earning scheme. If you instead go with the mid-tier Delta Platinum card, your earning rate is slashed in half.
Effective 1/1/24, this benefit will no longer be available, and there will be a new way to earn toward Medallion Status with the Card. Learn more at delta.com/skymilesprogramchanges.
Elites earn more
Historically, airlines have done what they can to keep you on the elite status “hamster wheel.” Once you hit elite status, carriers try to keep you coming back.
Yet with Delta’s revamped program, Medallion members don’t earn status any faster than they would if they were a general member. All flyers, regardless of status, earn one MQD for every dollar spent on flights (before taxes and fees).
Meanwhile, American calculates Loyalty Point earnings from flights as a 1:1 conversion based on the redeemable miles that you earn.
For instance, top-tier Executive Platinum members earn 11 miles per dollar spent on American flights (before taxes and fees). For a $200 ticket, that equates to 2,200 AAdvantage miles and 2,200 Loyalty Points.
With Delta, that $200 fare would equate to just 200 MQDs, regardless of status.
Lucrative promotional offers
While the standard earning rates for Loyalty Points are 1:1 based on the number of redeemable miles earned, American frequently offers promotions to boost your Loyalty Point earnings.
Right now, the airline is offering at least two Loyalty Points per dollar spent on eligible car rentals. Depending on your status, you can earn up to five Loyalty Points per dollar.
Additionally, as you climb the elite ladder with American, your Loyalty Point earnings will be accelerated by up to 30%. If you earn 60,000 Loyalty Points in a qualifying year, you’ll enjoy a 20% Loyalty Point bonus on eligible activities completed within six months after qualifying. That multiplier is boosted to 30% after crossing the 100,000 Loyalty Point threshold.
Eligible partners include American Airlines Vacations, SimplyMiles, AAdvantage eShopping, AAdvantage Dining and American Airlines hotels.
While it’s possible that Delta might introduce promotions down the line, the airline isn’t currently planning any, giving American a clear leg up in this category.
Rewards come sooner
Along with lower status thresholds, American also delivers benefits along the elite status journey. This is part of the carrier’s Loyalty Point Rewards program that was unveiled last year.
Earning status confers a slew of perks; activity before, during and after the status journey contributes to even more rewards.
Meanwhile, with Delta, you’ll only earn status benefits and perks once you hit Medallion thresholds. Silver and Gold members don’t have the option of choosing any additional perk — only those with Platinum and Diamond status can select a pick from the Choice Benefits menu.
Delta teased that updates are coming to the Choice Benefits program, but until then, American’s Loyalty Points Rewards scheme is generally more rewarding.
Unlimited lounge access
Along with Delta’s revamped SkyMiles program, the airline is also instituting a cap on the number of annual visits that you can make to the Sky Club.
This is undoubtedly a big blow to those with the airline’s top-of-the-line cobranded credit card, as well as those who use The Platinum Card® from American Express to use the Sky Club.
The only way to unlock unlimited visits to the Sky Club is by spending $75,000 on your eligible credit card.
Effective 1/1/24, this benefit will no longer be available.
Effective 2/1/25, Reserve Card Members will receive 10 Visits per year to the Delta Sky Club; to earn an unlimited number of Visits each year starting on 2/1/25, the total eligible purchases on the Card must equal $75,000 or more between 1/1/24 and 12/31/24, and each calendar year thereafter.
In contrast, American offers unlimited Admirals Club access with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard that comes with a $595 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Of course, you could argue that the Sky Club is generally leaps and bounds better than the Admirals Club, but unlimited access is a perk that many frequent flyers will appreciate.
Across nearly every dimension, American’s AAdvantage program is more rewarding than Delta’s revamped SkyMiles scheme.
Both American and Delta now award status based on your transaction volume with the airline and its partners, but American includes more eligible activities, offers lucrative promotional offers, has lower status thresholds and much more.
If you’re considering jumping ship from Delta, it may be worth investigating the AAdvantage program.
Of course, your travel patterns may not necessarily let you easily switch to American depending on where you fly and where you’re based.
But if you’re looking for the easiest path to top-tier status, look no further than American. Just remember you’ll need to put up with the airline’s subpar domestic experience — at least compared to Delta, which offers free Wi-Fi, seatback TVs, stunning lounges and an all-around award-winning travel experience.
For rates and fees of the Delta Skymiles Reserve Amex card, click here.