Delta, by many accounts, offers the best product for day-to-day domestic travel. Of the Big 3, Delta is the only one that doesn’t genuinely suck, and no matter which cabin you’re in, it’s a fine way to get around both the country and the globe. Most importantly, it’s reliable; it bests its competitors in terms of fewest delays and cancellations, which makes for a more pleasant travel experience. Delta is very passenger friendly in these regards, but its loyalty program is the total opposite. Management has implemented a number of frustrating policies that hinder higher flying, such as inconsistent award prices and other restrictions. It’s all very divisive actually — no one can come to a consensus of what to make of Delta — some love it, others hate it!
- Name: Delta Airlines
- Code: DL
- Website: www.delta.com
- Domestic Hubs: Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL), Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (CVG), Detroit-Wayne Metropolitan (DTW), New York JFK (JFK), New York LaGuardia (LGA), Boston Logan (BOS), Los Angeles International (LAX), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Salt Lake City (SLC), Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
- Destinations: 319
- Alliance: SkyTeam
- Loyalty Program: SkyMiles
- Loyalty Tiers: (1) Diamond Medallion, (2) Platinum Medallion, (3) Gold Medallion, (4) Silver Medallion
Three Notable Features
- Best domestic flying experience: When you fly Delta, you’re probably going to have a favorable experience. The airline has all the characteristics of a well-run operation, and it is far more consistent than its competitors. Passengers in all cabins can look forward to comfortable, spacious seats and friendly flight attendants. Almost the entire fleet has been outfitted with onboard wifi, and the in flight entertainment selection is the best in the United States. You can watch dozens of movies or entire seasons of HBO shows to help pass the time on board.
In the coming years, higher flyers can look forward to new and retrofitted cabins. Delta will soon take delivery of new Airbus A350s, and each plane will be outfitted with updated Business Class and Premium Economy Cabins. The former is particularly intriguing — it’ll feature private, enclosed suites! Neither American nor United, or any other airline for that matter, offers that…
- Fewer delays & cancellations: Delta prides itself on its “operational reliability,” which basically means that they have significantly fewer flights delayed and cancelled than their competitors do. I’m serious, and at the beginning of the year, the airline’s PR department issued a statement entitled “Delta Shatters Record, Goes Two-Thirds of 2016 Without Mainline Canceled Flight.” This article features this graphic…While this isn’t a typical marketing strategy, this is quite an accomplishment and it deserves recognition. Higher flyers should take note, especially those who travel for their day jobs. You’ll be grateful for the strong reliability when you consistently make your meetings with time to spare, but that’s easy to take for granted. On Delta, you can trust that you’ll get to your destination on time almost every time, and that can’t always be said for the other carriers. For what it’s worth, I’ve only had one Delta flight delayed.
- Perks galore!: To complement its smooth, punctual flights, Delta offers travelers features that bolster their overall travel experiences. Its lounges, known as SkyClubs, are consistently better than those of other legacy carriers. Thanks to a partnership with American Express, a number of cardholders with same day Delta boarding passes can access these spaces too. Clubs throughout the network are enjoying the benefits of new investments, and some of the improvements are downright stunning.
The soft product is being upgraded as well, and now passengers can dine on fresh and tasty dishes before a flight, shower, and in some places, get massages.
Many higher flyers will appreciate the 20 minute baggage guarantee as well. Delta promises that no one will have to wait longer than that to pick up their luggage. It’s a small touch, but it makes navigating/leaving the airport much less stressful. Because of initiatives like these, you’ll be in good hands from airport to airport when traveling Delta.
Three Notable Drawbacks
- You get what you pay for: For the reasons I mentioned in the last section, Delta is a good, reliable airline to fly point-to-point around the country; it’s an image of what air travel should be like in the United States. Unfortunately, such benefits come at the cost of higher airfares. In other words, you usually have to pay a premium for travel on Delta when you wouldn’t otherwise on American or United. Now this isn’t always true, but Delta is usually the most expensive option between any two cities. As points of comparison, here are prices for…
Remember, this is only a small sampling of flights, and there are cases in which Delta is comparatively cheaper.
As an old mentor of mine once said, “generalizations are bad, but there’s a reason they exist.” The same could be said about Delta’s pricing.
- “SkyPesos”: In addition to more expensive airfares, higher flyers see less of a return in terms of frequent flyer miles. Delta’s loyalty program, SkyMiles, is run with minimal transparency and its members are subjected to the corporate whims with few opportunities for recourse. Such is the nature of higher flying though. Points currencies are privately regulated, and corporations are not our friends; they owe us nothing more than what we pay for (i.e. safe transportation from Point A to Point B), including incentives for returning customers. Still though, it seems that Delta management takes its customers for granted, at least based on the SkyMiles policies it implements. The biggest slap in the face is a lack of published award charts. As I explain in the SkyTeam Guide, this practice enables management to charge a lot more for certain award tickets. For example, between Detroit and Tokyo…
The Detroit – Tokyo example is one of many, and all of Delta’s award prices are plagued but such vast discrepancies and inconsistencies.
- SkyTeam is a weaker alliance: SkyMiles, like American’s AAdvantage Miles, suffer from a near debilitating fault in the realm of higher flying. Neither currency is as valuable as it could be, as Delta is constantly changing its points’ values and American doesn’t make any saver-level award space available. What saves the latter is that those points can be used for redemptions on oneworld partners; the former doesn’t have that benefit. Delta is a founding member of SkyTeam instead, an alliance that also features Air France, KLM, and Korean Air, as well as 16 other airlines that are far more obscure. That’s not to say that the group sucks — it’s improving rapidly as a collective, especially in Asia — but it’s definitely not up to the standards set by oneworld and Star Alliance. Not all the members offer reciprocal benefits either. You can’t redeem SkyMiles for First Class on any of the other airlines, and Delta limits how many points you can earn on partner flights. I haven’t even begun to discuss the abundance of mediocre on-board products either…
None of these policies are friendly to higher flyers. Your SkyMiles just don’t go very far on SkyTeam carriers.
Three Special Opportunities
- Cheap domestic redemptions: While SkyMiles leave lots to be desired, Delta will consistently put on sales for reduced award tickets a few times a year. Some highlights in 2017 include one way domestic flights in Economy Class for 5,000 miles, and Delta One trips across the Atlantic and back for 110,000 miles. These are substantially cheaper rates compared to the prices otherwise, but be diligent, because booking windows don’t usually last longer than 72 hours or so.
As a habit, I try to book all of my Delta awards with these deals. I don’t want to risk spending more than what I have to because of draconian pricing techniques used by the corporate management. Opportunities like these give leverage to consumers.
- Chinese opportunities: SkyMiles, time and time again, show their worth (or lack thereof) when trying to redeem them for higher flyer experiences. Finding a reasonable rate simply doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s not all bad. Thanks to up-and-coming SkyTeam airlines like China Air and Xiamen, you can use Delta’s currency to take advantage of new, state of the art business class products.
There are some beautiful cabins to be had with cutting-edge seats, but most importantly, there’s ample availability priced at competitive rates (around 80,000 SkyMiles one way from North America to Asia). These are excellent ways to get to and from the Far East, and as the East Asian SkyTeam airlines continue to expand, they’re only going to get better quality wise.
- Easy to earn miles: It’s possible to accrue SkyMiles without excessive amounts of travel thanks to Delta’s partnerships with American Express, Starwood, and Lyft, among many others. AMEX offers the Delta Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cards, and those frequently feature huge sign-up bonuses throughout the year. Until the Fourth of July, it was possible to earn more than 140,000 SkyMiles from these three alone. Add in the fact that Delta is also a transfer partner with American Express, and you’re soon looking at a wealth of miles for your usage as a higher flyer. Similarly, thanks to Crossover Rewards, you can earn points every time you stay at Starwood Properties or hail a ride from Lyft. These are in addition to all the usual outlets that you can earn points at, like through shopping and dining portals, through rental cars, and so on.
There are plenty of great deals to be had if you know where to look!
As is the case with the other airlines, Delta has its share of strengths and weaknesses. While I have mixed feelings — I think it’s a good airline for travel, but a bad one for higher flying — that doesn’t mean that its competitors are definitely superior or inferior. You probably have different experiences, perspectives, and values than I do; what matters to me may not matter to you and vice versa. The point of this guide is merely to highlight the features that makes Delta unique, and help you better understand how it fits in to higher flying collectively.