American AAdvantage vs. Delta SkyMiles: Which Loyalty Program is More Rewarding?

Recent downgrades and devaluations to the SkyMiles program put American's AAdvantage loyalty program out ahead.
Ramsey Qubein
By Ramsey Qubein 
Updated
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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After a tsunami of changes to the Delta SkyMiles program, the spotlight has never been brighter on airline loyalty programs. Both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have shifted to a loyalty program that relies solely on how much money you spend with the airline and its partners or on its co-branded credit cards.

But, Delta made changes in 2023 that ruffled the feathers of many of its loyal members. One month later, Delta finally walked back some SkyMiles changes after its CEO Ed Bastian acknowledged the original plan went too far. Still, the changes may not be enough for every Delta flyer.

To find the right one that meets your needs, you'll want to do a little comparison shopping. Of course, the right program varies for each person because it is based on where you live, where you travel to most often and the type of trips you like to redeem with miles.

When comparing American AAdvantage versus Delta SkyMiles though, there is a clear winner for those who do want to maximize their rewards with a lower spend. Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision for you.

Earning redeemable miles

Both carriers have a similar earning structure offering general members 5x miles per dollar spent on all fares, except for basic economy (more on that below). Elite status travelers earn at a ratio of 7x, 8x, 9x and 11x in ascending order based on the four tiers.

Earning miles with American

American offers a variety of other ways to accrue miles through spending: booking rental cars, hotels or vacation packages through the airline, shopping through the online portal or spending on American Airlines co-branded credit cards.

Unlike Delta, AAdvantage members do earn miles on basic economy fares, but at the measly rate of 2 miles per $1. Members with elite status will also get a bonus on the 2x miles.

Earning miles with Delta

Delta offers similar mileage-earning opportunities but tacks on some innovative partnerships like earning miles when shopping via Instacart, Starbucks, Lyft, and Airbnb, among others. It also has a suite of co-branded Delta credit cards. SkyMiles members do not earn miles on basic economy tickets.

Winner: Tie

Earning status

Things get a bit more interesting here because it's much easier to earn status with American and its Loyalty Points system than with Delta and its Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).

Both airlines use different metrics, but the chart below outlines the different tier qualifications for 2025 elite status. American and Delta have also created online calculators to help you determine your specific situation.

Elite status

American

Delta

Low-level status

40,000 Loyalty Points for Gold.

5,000 MQDs for Silver.

Mid-tier status

75,000 Loyalty Points for Platinum.

10,000 MQDs for Gold.

High-level status

125,000 Loyalty Points for Platinum Pro.

15,000 MQDs for Platinum.

The top tier with published thresholds

200,000 Loyalty Points for Executive Platinum.

28,000 MQDs for Diamond.

Earning status through credit cards

It is possible to achieve elite status without flying by spending on the airlines' credit cards. American gives cardholders one Loyalty Point per $1 spent on its co-branded credit cards. Meanwhile, Delta co-branded credit cards earn one MDQ per $10 or $20 spent (depending on the card).

There is one small concession for Delta cardholders, though. Delta will now give anyone with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card an automatic 2,500 MQD bonus each year, which started on Feb. 1, 2024. This should provide a little boost toward elite status without any extra spending.

If you were only relying on credit card spending, it would cost $40,000 in a program year to achieve Gold status on American. To get the equivalent entry-level status on Delta when using the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, which earns 1 MQD per $10 spent, would require spending $47,500 (taking the automatic 2,500 MQD bonus into account). With the the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (1 MQD per $20 spent), you'd have to spend $97,500. This boxes out a lot of people that don’t spend that much on a credit card. Terms apply.

Earning status through flying

American Airlines also lets elite members earn Loyalty Points at a higher ratio. For example, an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member earns 11x Loyalty Points per dollar spent on flights, compared to just 5x for general members. On Delta, a general non-status member and a Diamond Medallion earn 1 MQD per dollar spent, so the ascent to top status (or requalification) is much harder with Delta than on American.

Winner: American Airlines

Redeeming miles

The whole point (forgive the pun) in earning miles is to redeem them for travel to the places you want to go. This means that the number of redemption partners for an airline program is key, and the ability to know how many miles you would need is helpful. Both airlines have moved to dynamic pricing, which means knowing how many miles you will need for a redemption is hard.

More American sweet spots

It is common to find American awards in economy as low as 5,000 or 7,500 miles for a short, one-way redemption. Longer flights and those in the premium cabin can cost more, but you can usually find good deals if you are flexible.

That doesn’t mean there are not some crazy high redemptions like one-way business class flights to Sydney for 450,000 miles. But across the board, there are many more sweet spots.

Discounts on Delta award flights

Aside from the occasional SkyMiles flash sale where the carrier makes many awards quite affordable, its cheapest standard redemption using SkyMiles usually prices into basic economy. This means you have fewer benefits and won’t be able to use the Sky Club, even with an annual membership. If you redeem your SkyMiles for a business class seat, the pricing can be astronomical, sometimes as much as 400,000 to 500,000 miles for a one-way ticket.

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Those with an eligible Delta co-branded credit card receive a 15% discount on redemptions, which takes some of the edge off the higher prices.

Winner: American Airlines

Upgrades

Both loyalty programs offer elite-status members space-available upgrades on most domestic and regional flights. These are not promised, and they should not be expected. If you really want to fly in the premium cabin, you should purchase a ticket for it. But when there is space, it’s nice to be recognized. Both programs also offer their top-tier elites upgrade certificates that can be used on longer flights, but they are quite different.

American allows upgrades from economy to business

American’s systemwide upgrades are available on any economy class fare for an upgrade to business class or domestic first class if inventory is available. However, these cannot be used on award tickets. A recent change is the ability to also use them on British Airways tickets, but you’ll only be able to go from economy to premium economy, premium economy to business or business to first class.

Most Delta upgrades are from economy to premium economy

On the other hand, Delta only offers the complimentary upgrade from economy to the next-available cabin. On many flights, this is economy to premium economy — not business class. If space is available at departure time, the upgrade to business would be made available. This makes it less rewarding to use these.

Delta does deserve credit, however, for allowing elite travelers to use these certificates on award flights and Miles+Cash tickets, as well as with partners like Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic.

Winner: American Airlines

Lounge access

Both airlines have an extensive lounge network providing travelers with a place to relax. They include complimentary refreshments and more personalized customer service.

American’s inclusive lounge access

Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

American is working on upgrading many of its Admirals Clubs and improving the food and beverages. Where American earns accolades is in its entry policy, which includes any time before departure on a same-day American or partner flight as well as upon arrival. Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® cardholders can bring in two guests on an unlimited annual basis. American also grants access to top American or Oneworld elite members traveling on an international flight (even when in economy class).

Delta has better lounges, more restrictions

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
NerdWallet rating 

Typically, Delta Sky Clubs are more modern and have better food spreads. They have become so popular with travelers that the airline had to limit access to only three hours before departure.

As a result of an agreement with American Express, Sky Club access is available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. Unfortunately, these will undergo significant downgrades in 2025 with only a limited number of passes granted yearly (10 and 15 respectively) unless cardholders can spend $75,000 on the card in a calendar year to earn unlimited passes. Terms apply.

These passes are valid for a 24-hour period now, which means you can use them at departure, connecting and arrival airports (even if on a redeye flight). Once these visit passes are exhausted, credit cardholders can pay $50 for additional entries to the lounge. Medallion members can also pay $695 for an individual lounge membership for unlimited entries to the Sky Club.

Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion passengers traveling in economy class cannot access Sky Clubs on an eligible, same-day international departure, despite this being a key perk for SkyTeam elite status. New restrictions also cut access for pretty much anyone traveling in basic economy.

Winner: American Airlines

Million Mile status

Achieving Million Miler status is a multi-year goal for some flyers. American Airlines only offers lifetime elite status up to the mid-level status. Members that fly 1 million miles earn Gold status for the life of the program; those that fly 2 million miles receive Platinum status. With each additional 1 million miles, they receive four systemwide upgrades. There is no way to earn higher elite status tiers for life with American’s program.

Recent Delta changes to its Million Miler status have upped the game significantly. Members would receive elite status after their first million, and they can earn all the way up to top-tier Delta 360 status after 5 million miles.

  • 5 million+ miles earn Delta 360°.

  • 3 million and 4 million miles earn Diamond Medallion.

  • 2 million miles earn Platinum Medallion.

  • 1 million miles earn Gold Medallion.

Winner: Delta Air Lines

Bonus perks the more you fly

Both airlines offer a menu of perks, so that flyers can customize their benefits as they reach certain benchmarks. American’s Loyalty Point Rewards rewards almost everyone who flies American a few times a year, whereas Delta’s Choice Benefits program only rewards members with Platinum and Diamond Medallion status.

Delta has a host of new Choice Benefits for 2024, in addition to its existing perks that include flight credits and gifting elite status. The new changes include:

  • 2,000 MQDs for Diamond Medallions and 1,000 MQDs for Platinum Medallions to help with the next year’s qualification.

  • Delta Sky Club individual membership option for Diamond Medallions. This will cost two Choice Benefit selections.

  • More bonus miles: 35,000 for Diamond Medallion members or 30,000 for Platinum Medallion members.

  • Increased Delta travel voucher: $350 for Diamond Medallions and $300 for Platinum Medallions.

  • Wheels Up flight credit for Delta's private aviation partner.

American has its own stash of goodies for frequent flyers, but these kick in much earlier than Delta’s. In fact, AAdvantage members qualify for some of these benefits before they even reach the first level of elite status. Loyalty Point Rewards include:

  • At 15,000 Loyalty Points: Priority privileges with Group 5 boarding plus either Group 4 boarding for one trip or 5 Preferred Seat coupons.

  • At 60,000 Loyalty Points: AAdvantage Gold status plus Avis Preferred Plus status or a 20% Loyalty Point bonus when spending with select partners within 6 months. 

  • At 100,000 Loyalty Points: AAdvantage Platinum status plus Avis President’s Club status or a 30% Loyalty Point bonus when spending with select partners within 6 months.

  • At 175,000 Loyalty Points: AAdvantage Platinum Pro status plus the ability to choose from perks like two systemwide upgrades, 20,000 bonus miles (25,000 bonus miles for AAdvantage credit cardholders), six Admirals Club passes or travel credits among others perks.

With perks at lower levels and more options at each tier, American takes the cake, even though Delta has added options for Choice Rewards.

Winner: American Airlines

Which airline comes out on top?

Both airlines offer a global network of flights and loyalty programs with multiple ways to earn rewards.

American These include things such as priority boarding, bonus miles and systemwide upgrades.

Unfortunately, recent changes to SkyMiles have made it harder to earn top-tier elite status. This comes on the heels of reductions in the value of SkyMiles for redemptions, fewer global upgrade uses and more restrictive lounge access policies.

As a result, American’s program comes out ahead for many travelers who value those benefits. The value you find comes down to what is important to you and how often you can fly (or spend) with either airline.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Cards for American Airlines from our Partners
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

on Citibank's application

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
4.6
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x

Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

Miles

Intro offer

70,000

Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $7,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.

Miles
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Points
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