Alaska Airlines vs. Delta Air Lines: Which Is Right for You?

Delta Air Lines has better route availability, but West Coast-based travelers may opt for Alaska Airlines.
Aug 2, 2022

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Once partners, now competitors, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines each have a large presence at Seattle-Tacoma International and Los Angeles International airports. If you live near one of these cities or are planning a trip to visit, you’ll likely have flight options on both carriers. If you’re not already loyal to one or the other, you’ll need to ask yourself which airline is better for your travel goals.

To help you decide whether to fly with Alaska Airlines versus Delta, here's a look at where they fly, what their fees are and which one of their loyalty programs best meets your needs.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner for most flight options: Delta

While both airlines are members of travel alliances that greatly expand their reach worldwide, Delta serves twice as many destinations as Alaska as well as several additional continents.

Alaska’s flight coverage

Alaska serves 120 destinations in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Belize. It’s also a member of the Oneworld alliance, partnering with 13 airlines to offer flights to 900 destinations in 170 countries.

Alaska's U.S. hubs:

  • Anchorage, Alaska.

  • Los Angeles.

  • San Francisco.

  • Portland, Oregon.

  • Seattle.

Other U.S. focus cities:

  • San Diego.

  • San Jose, California.

Delta’s flight coverage

Delta serves about 275 destinations across six continents. The airline is a SkyTeam member, which means it partners with 17 airlines that fly to more than 1,000 cities in 170 countries.

Delta U.S. hubs:

  • Atlanta.

  • Boston.

  • Detroit.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul.

  • New York-John F. Kennedy.

  • Salt Lake City.

  • Seattle.

Delta’s key international markets:

  • Amsterdam.

  • London-Heathrow.

  • Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

  • Seoul.

  • Mexico City.

  • Tokyo-Haneda.

Travel credit card availability

Winner for most valuable airline credit card: Delta

While Alaska offers two cards to its frequent flyers (one personal and one business card), Delta offers an array of options ranging from starter to premium cards.

Alaska credit cards

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature®  Credit Card
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Annual fee: $75.

Welcome offer: Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) and receive 40,000 bonus miles with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.

Earning rates:

  • 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Other benefits:

  • Free checked bag for you and up to six other passengers.

  • Companion Fare (buy a ticket for a companion for $99 plus tax).

  • 20% back on in-flight purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Alaska also offers a business card, which has similar benefits as the consumer card above.

Delta credit cards

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express"
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Annual fee: $0.

Welcome offer: Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.

Earning rates:

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and at restaurants worldwide (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.).

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Other benefits:

  • 20% back on in-flight purchases.

  • Pay with Miles to reduce the cost of Delta tickets.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Terms apply.

American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
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Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.

Earning rates:

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and U.S. supermarkets.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Other benefits:

  • First checked bag free.

  • Access to priority boarding.

  • $100 Delta credit after making $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

Terms apply.

American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
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Annual fee: $250.

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.

Earning rates:

  • 3 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and directly at hotels.

  • 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and U.S. supermarkets.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Other benefits:

  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck enrollment fee credit.

  • Delta companion certificate (domestic main cabin).

  • $39 Delta Sky Club access.

  • Elite status boost after spending $25,000 in a calendar year.

Terms apply.

American Express Delta Reserve Credit Card
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Annual fee: $550.

Welcome offer: ​​Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.

Earning rates:

  • 3 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Other benefits:

  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck enrollment fee credit.

  • Delta companion certificate (domestic first class, Comfort+ or main cabin).

  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club access + two one-time day passes.

  • Complimentary Centurion Lounge access.

  • Elite status boost after spending $30,000 in a calendar year.

Terms apply.

Airline loyalty programs

Winner for ease of earning and redeeming miles: Alaska

Alaska is the clear winner in this category, with its easy-to-understand method of earning miles and award charts that let you know how many miles you’ll need for a flight. Delta, on the other hand, has tied its miles to ticket prices, making them harder to earn and more unpredictable to redeem.

Alaska’s loyalty program: Mileage Plan

Alaska is unique in that it still lets you earn miles in its Mileage Plan program the old-fashioned way — based on the distance between the departure and the arrival cities. The longer your flight is, the more miles you earn, no matter how much you paid for it. Easy peasy.

If you fly on any of its Oneworld partners, you'll earn miles based on the distance and the fare class you purchased, so you might earn just a percentage of the distance flown instead of the full amount.

According to NerdWallet’s valuations, Alaska Mileage Plan miles are worth about 1.1 cents apiece.

Although Alaska has implemented dynamic pricing for its own flights and domestic flights operated by American Airlines, it still uses award charts for most partner airlines. The charts differ for each partner, and there’s still a lot of value to be had depending on where and when you’re traveling.

Delta’s loyalty program: SkyMiles

Instead of rewarding customers for how many miles they fly, Delta calculates SkyMiles rewards based on how much they pay for their ticket. So a long-distance but inexpensive flight no longer earns as many miles as it would with the Alaska Mileage Plan program.

The number of miles earned also changes depending on your elite status tier. Medallion members earn more SkyMiles if they’re Platinum Medallion, for example, than if they’re a general SkyMiles member.

Elite status level

SkyMiles you earn

General member

5 miles per $1.

Silver Medallion

7 miles per $1.

Gold Medallion

8 miles per $1.

Platinum Medallion

9 miles per $1.

Diamond Medallion

11 miles per $1.

Partner flights earn miles based on the ticket’s fare class and a percentage of the distance flown based on that fare class.

Delta SkyMiles are valued at 1.3 cents apiece, according to NerdWallet, slightly better than Alaska’s rate of 1.1 cents.

Sadly, Delta doesn’t publish award charts and instead prices its award flights dynamically, meaning award rates more or less correlate to cash rates and can swing dramatically based on ticket prices.

Additional travel fees

Winner for lowest fees: Tie

Both airlines charge similar fees for things such as checked bags and ticket changes, while seat selection fees vary depending on the class of ticket and availability.

Alaska’s fees

  • Checked baggage: $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag.

  • Seat selection (on Saver fares): Varies.

  • Change fee: $0 (excluding Saver fares).

Delta’s fees

  • Checked baggage: $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag.

  • Seat selection (on basic economy fares): Varies.

  • Change fee for domestic flights and international flights originating in the U.S: $0 (excluding basic economy fares).

Flight amenities

Winner for in-flight experience: Alaska

Alaska’s first class seats come with more leg room, more food choices, and access to a greater number of movies and TV shows. However, if you don’t have a device that can stream entertainment, you might be better off choosing Delta on longer flights if you want to watch a movie or TV show.

Alaska’s in-flight experience

When it comes to Alaska Airlines versus Delta first class, Alaska has an edge with its 41-inch seat pitch. Meals are available in first class on trips longer than 670 miles and you can reserve what you want in advance, so you’re not left with an option you don’t like.

On Alaska flights, you typically have to connect to Wi-Fi with your own device to get access to in-flight entertainment that includes more than 800 movies and TV shows. Free texting is available for those using iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp on their phone.

Delta’s in-flight experience

Meanwhile, Delta comes in at 35 to 37 inches of pitch in domestic first class. Meals are offered in first class on flights of at least 900 miles, and the airline is starting to bring back hot meals on select flights.

For entertainment options, passengers have access to a touch-screen equipped with Delta Studio, which includes more than 300 movies and TV shows, live TV, podcasts and games. Delta flyers also get complimentary free messaging through iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp on their mobile devices.

If you’re choosing between Delta and Alaska

When pitting Alaska Airlines versus Delta, the winner depends on your location and destination. Delta flies to more destinations from its many hubs and offers its flyers more ways to earn rewards with its array of co-branded credit cards.

However, Alaska may provide more value if you are based on the West Coast, where most of the airline's flights are concentrated. Its loyalty program is one of the few to still earn miles based on distance flown — not price paid — and it still uses award charts for many of its airline partners, which is good for flyers who want to earn and redeem Alaska miles.

To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, see this page.


How to maximize your rewards

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