Southwest vs. Delta: Which Is Better?

If you want elite perks, Delta should be your airline of choice. Other flyers will prefer Southwest's offerings.
Mar 22, 2022

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Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines are two of the most well-known airlines in the U.S. They are also two of the largest in number of passengers served. However, the two carriers couldn’t be more different in the destinations they serve, loyalty programs they offer and fees they charge.

When trying to decide if Delta or Southwest better suits your needs, it's helpful to compare them side by side.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner for most flight options: Delta

The number of routes and destinations is important when trying to decide if you want to fly Delta or Southwest. Delta's footprint nearly triples Southwest's.

DELTA ROUTE NETWORK

Delta Air Lines serves about 300 destinations in more than 50 countries worldwide. Delta is part of the SkyTeam alliance, which means the carrier partners with 18 other airlines that fly to more than 1,000 cities in 175 countries.

Delta domestic hubs
  • Atlanta.

  • Boston.

  • Detroit.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Minneapolis.

  • New York-JFK.

  • New York-LaGuardia.

  • Salt Lake City.

  • Seattle.

The airline’s key international markets include London-Heathrow, Mexico City, Paris, Seoul and Tokyo-Haneda.

SOUTHWEST ROUTE NETWORK

Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, flies to more than 100 destinations, most of which are located in the United States (with select destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America). The airline isn’t part of any alliance, so you have significantly fewer options to reach destinations abroad when flying Southwest.

Southwest hubs
  • Atlanta.

  • Baltimore.

  • Chicago-Midway.

  • Dallas-Love Field.

  • Denver.

  • Houston-Hobby.

  • Las Vegas.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Oakland.

  • Orlando.

  • Phoenix.

Travel credit card availability

Winner for most valuable airline credit card: Tie

Delta and Southwest both offer multiple co-branded airline credit card options for leisure travelers as well as road warriors.

Delta cards offer free checked bags for up to nine passengers booked on the same reservation. Southwest is a unicorn in that the airline doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags — a benefit that's available to all passengers, not just credit card holders.

Holding a co-branded Delta card puts primary cardholders and their companions in an earlier boarding group every time they fly Delta, regardless of their seat assignment. Select Southwest cards offer either Early Bird check-ins or four upgraded boardings when available. Southwest has an open-seat policy and doesn’t assign seats before departure.

Some Delta cards offer discounted or free membership to Sky Clubs, which are Delta-branded airport lounges. The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card comes with access to The Centurion Lounges by American Express. Terms apply. Southwest doesn’t have any lounges for its flyers and therefore offers no access.

Both airlines’ co-branded credit cards offer a discount on in-flight purchases, but the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card also comes with a $75 Southwest credit and 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points. Select Delta cards offer the opportunity to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and travel credits by meetings spending requirements.

Here's a roundup of the available credit cards from both airlines, and a snapshot of their perks.

DELTA CREDIT CARDS

American Express issues several co-branded credit cards to Delta flyers. Here’s a closer look at the options.

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

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

Perks include 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and at restaurants, 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases and 20% back on in-flight purchases. It also has 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 bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.

Some of its benefits include Main Cabin 1 priority boarding, a free checked bag for up to nine passengers and 2 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases, at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets. Terms apply.

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

Welcome bonus: 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.

Cardholders get access to perks like a Global Entry / TSA PreCheck enrollment fee credit, 3 miles per $1 spent on Delta purchases and directly at hotels and status boost. Terms apply.

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

Welcome bonus: 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.

One of the best perks of this card is the Delta companion certificate for domestic first class, premium economy or main cabin tickets. Terms apply.

SOUTHWEST CREDIT CARDS

Southwest partners with Chase for its Rapid Rewards credit cards. Both casual and frequent Southwest flyers will find suitable options to add to their wallet.

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
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Annual fee: $69.

Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Cardholder benefits include 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and two Early Bird check-ins per year. You'll also get 25% back on in-flight purchases and 3,000 bonus points every membership anniversary.

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
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Annual fee: $99.

Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

This card earns 3 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases, 2 points per $1 spent with hotel and car partners, local transit, internet, cable, phone services and select streaming, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases. It also gets 6,000 anniversary bonus points.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
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Annual fee: $149.

Welcome bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Four upgraded boarding positions per year, a $75 Southwest annual travel credit and 7,500 anniversary bonus points are just a few of this card's benefits.

Airline loyalty programs

Winner for ease of earning/redeeming miles: Tie

Delta’s list of worldwide destinations on its own flights as well as partner flights makes it appealing, but what if you're primarily a domestic flyer or you often fly with family? Then Southwest takes the cake.

For elite status pursuers, the decision is easy: Delta rewards its Medallion members with upgrades to premium economy and domestic first class. Southwest doesn’t operate a multi-cabin aircraft, which means that elite members fly in the same seats as everyone else.

Delta’s loyalty program, SkyMiles

Delta awards miles based on how much a ticket costs on its own flights.

The higher your Medallion tier is in the program, the more redeemable SkyMiles you earn per flight.

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.

When you credit other SkyTeam and non-alliance partner flights to the Delta SkyMiles program, you earn miles based on the ticket’s fare class and a percentage of distance flown.

Delta SkyMiles are worth 1.3 cents each, according to NerdWallet’s valuation.

Sadly, Delta has done away with award charts and now prices its awards dynamically, meaning award rates can change as frequently and unpredictably as cash rates. This means that the value of your Delta miles typically stays the same, as the price in miles is attached to the price in dollars.

Southwest’s loyalty program, Rapid Rewards

Southwest Rapid Rewards awards points, called Rapid Rewards points, based on the type of fare you purchase, its cost and your elite level. Southwest offers flyers three types of fares: Wanna Get Away, Anytime and Business Select. The number of points you earn per flight varies by fare.

Southwest fare type

Rapid Rewards points you earn

Wanna Get Away

6 points per $1.

Anytime

10 points per $1.

Business Select

12 points per $1.

On top of that, status holders earn a tier bonus on the earnings listed above.

Southwest status tier

Bonus points you earn

A-List

25%.

A-List Preferred

100%.

Based on NerdWallet valuations, Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.4 cents apiece.

Southwest offers early family boarding for up to two adults traveling with at least one child six years old or younger. That, and the airline's free checked bags — plus the ease of canceling and rebooking award flights with travel vouchers — makes the Rapid Rewards program highly appealing to a wide variety of travelers.

Another factor that could sway your decision in favor of Rapid Rewards is a Southwest Companion Pass — a benefit of the program that allows you to book a flight with cash or points and add a companion ticket for free (plus taxes). You might not fly to destinations on the other side of the globe, but at least your plus-one can travel anywhere you go at no extra cost.

Extra fees

Winner for lowest fees: Southwest

When it comes to keeping the extra charges in check, Southwest has zero competition. With no baggage fees (for the first two bags) and no change fees, Southwest sets itself apart from other airlines, including Delta. As mentioned before, a co-branded Delta SkyMiles credit card can waive checked bag fees for you, but if you don’t hold that card, you’re on the hook for luggage fees.

Let’s take a look at how much in fees you’re likely to pay, or not pay, when flying both carriers.

DELTA FEES

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

  • Seat selection (on basic economy fares): Price varies.

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

SOUTHWEST FEES

  • Checked baggage: $0 for the first two checked bags.

  • Seat selection: $0 (at boarding time).

  • Change fee for all flights: $0.

If you’re choosing between Delta and Southwest

When it comes to airline credit cards, availability of flights, the ease of using points and miles, and fees, it's a toss-up between Delta and Southwest.

When you factor in earnings rates, basic economy considerations, in-flight entertainment and pet friendliness, Southwest just edges out Delta. (See our annual best airline comparison.)

Fly Delta if:

  • You live near a hub.

  • You want the perks of elite status, like lounge access and premium cabins.

  • You fly a mix of international and domestic destinations.

Fly Southwest if:

  • You're a heavy packer.

  • You primarily fly within the U.S.

  • You're not interested in luxury travel perks.

Or, consider yourself a free agent and fly both — whichever offers the better flight at the better price.


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:

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