American Airlines vs. Delta: Which Is Best?

Though Delta ultimately comes out ahead, American beats its competitor in a few important areas.
Apr 15, 2022

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The number of travelers passing through security checkpoints more than doubled from June 2020 to June 2021, according to the Transportation Security Administration. If, like many people, you’re planning to travel more in the near future, choosing the right airline — with the right loyalty program for your needs — is essential.

American Airlines and Delta are two of the largest full-service domestic carriers. If you’re trying to decide between these two, here’s a quick snapshot of the American Airlines versus Delta experience, based on the following factors:

  • Flight destinations and accessibility.

  • Frequent flyer program quality.

  • Airline credit card availability.

  • Overall in-flight experience.

Here's what to consider when comparing American Airlines and Delta.

Where they’re based and where they fly

American Airlines

American Airlines flies to about 350 destinations in more than 50 countries. It is part of the 14-airline Oneworld alliance.

American Airlines’ top domestic airports:

  • Boston.

  • Charlotte.

  • Chicago-O’Hare.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth (headquarters).

  • Los Angeles.

  • Miami.

  • New York (JFK and LaGuardia).

  • Philadelphia.

  • Phoenix.

  • Raleigh-Durham.

  • San Antonio.

  • San Francisco.

  • Washington-National.

Delta Air Lines

Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta Air Lines reaches about 300 destinations in over 50 countries. It is one of the 19 airlines in the SkyTeam alliance.

Delta’s key airports in the U.S. are:

  • Atlanta.

  • Boston.

  • Detroit.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul.

  • New York (JFK and LaGuardia).

  • Salt Lake City.

  • Seattle.

Winner for most options: American

Travel credit card availability

American Airlines credit cards

American Airlines offers three personal card types within its Citi® / AAdvantage® credit card lineup. The cards offer benefits like:

Depending on which card you sign up for, you can qualify for 10,000, 50,000 or 65,000 welcome bonus miles after meeting spend requirements. Annual fees range from $0 to $450.

The airline also offers its co-branded AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® through Barclays. Its benefits include:

  • 60,000 bonus miles after paying the $99 annual fee and making your first purchase on the card.

  • 2 miles for each dollar spent on American Airlines.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

  • $25 annual Wi-Fi statement credit on American Airlines flights.

  • 25% off on in-flight food and beverages on American Airlines flights.

  • A companion certificate on your account anniversary.

Other advantages of the AAdvantage® Aviator® include your first checked bag for free and preferred boarding.

Delta Air Lines credit cards

Delta offers four card options through American Express. Some benefits to expect, depending on the card, include:

Terms apply.

Depending on which card you sign up for, you can earn 10,000, 70,000, 80,000 or 90,000 welcome bonus miles after reaching a minimum spend on the account in the first three months of card membership. Annual fees range from $0 to $550. Terms apply.

Winner for airline credit card lineup: Delta

Airline loyalty programs

American Airlines loyalty program

The AAdvantage program lets you earn miles for purchases through American Airlines and its partner airlines and for hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, cruises and more.

Based on NerdWallet’s airline points value analysis, each American Airlines AAdvantage mile is worth about 1.2 cents. Although American Airlines put a pause on mileage expiration through December 2021, miles typically expire after 18 months with no activity in the AAdvantage account.

Miles can be redeemed for travel including flights, upgrades, cars and hotels, Admirals Club membership, luxury experiences and more. As you accumulate Elite Qualifying Miles, you might be eligible for elite status.

Delta Air Lines loyalty program

Delta SkyMiles are valued at 1.3 cents each, and they never expire — a big plus when comparing loyalty programs of American Airlines versus Delta.

Delta SkyMiles members can earn miles by flying on Delta and its partner airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, Hawaiian Airlines and Air France. Members can also earn SkyMiles using a Delta credit card. Note that, as of Dec. 9, 2021, travelers will no longer earn SkyMiles on Delta basic economy fares.

Medallion Status elite members earn more miles per dollar spent on Delta flights.

Members can redeem SkyMiles for flights, hotel stays, seat upgrades, access to Delta Sky Club lounges, experiences, merchandise and other travel purchases. However, when redeeming miles for award flights, Delta can be more limiting compared to American Airlines’ broader selection of routes and more affordable award fares.

Winner for ease of miles: American

Extra fees

When it comes to add-on fees like baggage, seats and more, which airline rises to the top?

American Airlines

If you’re flying economy on American Airlines, you can bring one carry-on bag and one personal item aboard the aircraft. There’s no charge, so long as they fit inside the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

Checked bag fees start at $30 for the first bag and go up for additional bags. Traveling with pets? You’ll pay a $125 fee to bring your pet onboard in an approved carry-on kennel. Checking a pet costs $200 and this kennel also must meet airline standards. Unaccompanied minors incur an additional $150 fee, plus tax, each way.

Delta Air Lines

With Delta Air Lines, similar baggage rules apply for economy passengers. Travelers can bring one carry-on bag and a personal item on the plane at no additional charge. For standard checked baggage, you can expect fees starting at $30 for the first bag.

Delta charges a $150 fee each way for an unaccompanied minor. For pets, travelers are charged a $125 one-way fee for carry-on pets; large pets that don’t meet in-cabin requirements can be shipped through Delta Cargo at variable rates.

Some credit cardholders and travelers with Medallion status in the SkyMiles program, get the fee waived on their first checked bag.

Winner for lowest fees: Delta

In-flight experience

American Airlines

American offers lots of what you’ve come to expect from a modern airline, like high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi and a range of entertainment options including movies and music.

But on most AA flights, you have to use your own phone, tablet or laptop to access the entertainment, instead of a built-in screen on the seat back in front of you. There’s also no free texting on American Airlines, aside from app-based texting while connected to Wi-Fi.

Delta Air Lines

Delta offers a streamlined experience when it comes to in-flight entertainment. Delta Studio, the carrier’s entertainment suite, provides passengers on many flights with movies, TV series, music and podcasts from its built-in seatback screens.

Also, Delta provides travelers with free texting on iMessage, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, making it easy to stay connected while 35,000 feet in the air.

Winner of the sky: Delta

If you’re considering Delta vs. American

When comparing the experience between Delta Air Lines versus American Airlines, Delta is a clear winner. Although it doesn’t have as many flight routes as American Airlines, Delta makes up for it with its superior in-flight experience and useful SkyMiles credit card benefits.


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 2022, including those best for:

partner programs

IHG® One Rewards
Get exclusive benefits and earn points faster
World of Hyatt
Enjoy free nights, member rates and more
Alaska Mileage Plan
Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
IHG® Rewards Program

IHG® One Rewards

Wherever you go, however you stay, IHG One Rewards offers rewards for every one.

on IHG One Rewards’ website

Highlights:
  1. Cheers to new tiers: New tiers allow members to earn points faster.
  2. Piling on the perks: New members benefits that enhance every stay
  3. Milestone Rewards: Allows members to choose their rewards.
  1. Cheers to new tiers: New tiers allow members to earn points faster.
  2. Piling on the perks: New members benefits that enhance every stay
  3. Milestone Rewards: Allows members to choose their rewards.

on IHG One Rewards’ website

World of Hyatt

World of Hyatt

With the World of Hyatt loyalty program, enjoy a world of rewards designed to revolve around you.

on Hyatt's website

Highlights:
  1. Earn points for things you already enjoy with Hyatt
  2. Use your points for free nights at more than 1,100 hotels around the world
  3. Three elite tiers to unlock exceptional benefits - room upgrades and more.
  1. Earn points for things you already enjoy with Hyatt
  2. Use your points for free nights at more than 1,100 hotels around the world
  3. Three elite tiers to unlock exceptional benefits - room upgrades and more.

on Hyatt's website

logo image

Alaska Mileage Plan

Mileage Plan is Alaska's loyalty program for anyone who loves to travel and is free to join!

on Alaska's website

Highlights:
  1. Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
  2. Our members earn 30% more miles on average than other airlines
  3. You earn based on how far you fly, not how much you spend
  1. Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
  2. Our members earn 30% more miles on average than other airlines
  3. You earn based on how far you fly, not how much you spend

on Alaska's website

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