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.
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Both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have shifted to a loyalty program that awards elite status based on how much money is spent with the airline, its partners and on its co-branded credit cards.

Deciding which loyalty program is most rewarding varies from person to person and because that decision 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 frequent flyer miles

Winner: Tie

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 AAdvantage miles

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 Delta SkyMiles

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.

Earning elite status

Winner: American Airlines

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 in either program through credit cards

It is possible to achieve elite status without flying by spending on the airlines' credit cards.

American's co-branded credit cards give holders one Loyalty Point per $1 spent. 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 in either program 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.

Redeeming frequent flyer miles

Winner: American Airlines

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.

Low-priced American Airlines award flights

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.

Few 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.

🤓Nerdy Tip

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.

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.

Seat upgrades on flights

Winner: American Airlines

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 upgrades 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 complimentary upgrades are only available 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.

Lounge access

Winner: American Admirals Clubs

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

American Admirals Club lounge access

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.

Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card
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An annual membership to Admirals Clubs costs $850 or 85,000 AAdvantage miles for one person. The membership provides entry for you and up to two guests. You can also purchase a membership for yourself and your spouse, which costs $1,650 or 165,000 AAdvantage miles.

A cheaper way to get access to Admirals clubs is to sign up for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (annual fee: $595), which also allows cardholders to bring in two guests on an unlimited annual basis.

Another way to get lounge access to through elite status or by flying in a premium cabin. American also grants entry to top American or Oneworld elite members traveling on an international flight (even when in economy class).

Delta has better lounges, but more restrictions

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

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
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An annual Delta SkyClub membership costs $695 or 69,500 SkyMiles miles for one person. Any additional guests will incur a fee. You can also purchase an executive membership, which costs $1,495 or 149,500 miles and allows you to bring up to two guests.

You can also get access to Delta SkyClubs by holding the right credit card. As a result of an agreement with American Express, Sky Club access is available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express (annual fee: $695), The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (annual fee: $695), the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (annual fee: $650) and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card (annual fee: $650).

Unfortunately, these will undergo significant downgrades in 2025 with only a limited number of passes granted yearly (10 to those who hold the The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and 15 to those who hold the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card) unless cardholders can spend $75,000 on the card in a calendar year to earn unlimited passes. Terms apply.

Each pass is valid for a 24-hour period, which means that one pass can be used 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.

Another way to get lounge access to to travel in a premium cabin on Delta or a SkyTeam airline or to have SkyTeam elite status.

Unfortunately, Delta elites 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.

Travel credit cards available

Winner: Delta Air Lines

Both airlines offer personal and business credit cards, ranging from no-annual fee cards with few perks to cards with high annual fees and other benefits like lounge access.

American Airlines credit cards

American Airlines credit cards are issued by Citi and Barclays. Through the years, American offered various credit cards, however now only four personal and one business card are available to new applicants.

American Airlines personal credit cards
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp<sup>&#8480;</sup> Card
American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®
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on Citibank's application

Rates & Fees
Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
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Apply now

on Citibank's application

Rates & Fees
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
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Rates & Fees
Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
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Apply now

on Citibank's application

Rates & Fees
Annual fee

$0.

$0 intro for the first year, then $99.

$99.

$595.

Earn rate

• 2 miles per $1 at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services, and on eligible American Airlines purchases.

• 1 mile per $1 spent on other purchases.

• 1 Loyalty Point per 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases.

• 1 Loyalty Point per 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 1 Loyalty Point per 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

• 10 miles per $1 on eligible car rentals and hotels booked through AA.

• 4 miles per $1 on eligible American Airlines purchases, up to $150,000 spent per calendar year (5 miles per $1 spent thereafter for the remainder of the calendar year).

• 1 mile per $1 on everything else.

• 1 Loyalty Point per 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases.

Other benefits

• Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights.

• Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card

• No Foreign Transaction Fees

• First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation

• Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights.

• Free checked bag and preferred boarding for you and up to four companions.

• Annual companion certificate ($99 plus taxes and fees) after spending $20,000.

• Up to $25 per anniversary year in statement credits for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.

• 25% off in-flight food and beverage services.

• Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you.

• First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation.

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If you're looking for a business card with American Airlines, your only option is the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®.

Delta Air Lines credit cards

Delta credit cards are issued by American Express. There are currently four personal and three business cards available.

Delta personal credit cards
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
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on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
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on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
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on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
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Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Earning rates

• 2 miles per $1 on purchases made directly with Delta and at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

Annual fee: $0.

• 2 miles per $1 on purchases made directly with Delta and at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout and delivery in the U.S.).

• 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

Annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $150.

• 3 miles per $1 on eligible purchases made directly with Delta and on hotel purchases.

• 2 miles per $1 at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants (including takeout and delivery in the U.S.).

• 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

Annual fee: $350.

• 3 miles per $1 on eligible purchases made directly with Delta.

• 1 mile per $1 on other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

Annual fee: $650.

Other benefits

• No foreign transaction fees.

Terms apply.

• First checked bag free.

• Priority boarding.

• No foreign transaction fees.

Terms apply.

• Companion certificate (main cabin).

• First checked bag free.

• Priority boarding.

• No foreign transaction fees.

Terms apply.

• Airport lounge access.

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

• Credit for application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

• First checked bag free.

• Priority boarding.

• No foreign transaction fees.

Terms apply.

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Delta business credit cards
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
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on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $150.

$350.

$650.

Earn rate

• 2 miles per $1 on purchases made directly with Delta and at restaurants (including takeout and delivery in the U.S.).

• 2 miles per $1 on purchases made with U.S. shipping providers and U.S. advertising providers in select media on up to $50,000 of purchases per category, per year.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

• 3 miles per $1 on purchases made directly with Delta and on hotels.

• 1.5 miles per $1 on purchases U.S. shipping purchases and every single purchase of $5,000 or more up to $100,000 per year.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

• 3 miles per $1 on eligible purchases made directly with Delta.

• 1.5 miles per $1 on eligible transit, U.S. shipping and U.S. office supply store purchases.

• 1.5 miles per $1 on all purchases after spending $150,000 in a calendar year.

• 1 mile per $1 on other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

Welcome offer

Earn 75,000 Bonus Miles after spending $6,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Ends 7/17.

Earn 95,000 Bonus Miles after spending $8,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Ends 7/17.

Earn 110,000 Bonus Miles after spending $12,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Ends 7/17.

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Million Mile status

Winner: Delta Air Lines

Achieving Million Miler status is a multi-year goal for some flyers. Delta does it better, as you can earn lifetime status at even its highest tiers.

American Airlines Million Miler

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.

Delta Million Miler

Recent Delta changes to its Million Miler status have upped the game significantly.

Members receive lifetime 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 earns lifetime Delta 360°.

  • 3 million and 4 million miles earns lifetime Diamond Medallion.

  • 2 million miles earns lifetime Platinum Medallion.

  • 1 million miles earns lifetime Gold Medallion.

Bonus perks the more you fly

Winner: American Airlines

Both airlines offer a menu of perks, so that flyers can customize their benefits as they reach certain benchmarks.

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

American's Loyalty Point Rewards

American’s Loyalty Point Rewards rewards almost everyone who flies American a few times a year. Members can earn Loyalty Point Rewards starting at 15,000 Loyalty Points and going all the way up to 5,000,000 Loyalty Points.

American's stash of goodies for frequent flyers kick in much earlier than Delta’s. 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.

Delta's Choice Benefits

Delta’s Choice Benefits program only rewards members with Platinum and Diamond Medallion status.

That said, Delta offers several new Choice Benefits for 2024, in addition to its existing perks (such as 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.

Which airline comes out on top?

NerdWallet's extensive annual analysis on the best airline rewards program, plus the factors considered here, have a resounding conclusion: American AAdvantage outcompetes Delta SkyMiles.

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

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.


The information related to CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

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

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

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 $250 to use on Capital One Travel in your first cardholder year, plus earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening - that’s equal to $1,000 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 Travel℠, 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 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
See more cards
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