If you haven’t yet seen the bombshell news, Ben is (finally) considering calling it quits with American Airlines, and considering moving his elite business over to Delta.
For regular readers of OMAAT, this is something equivalent to, say, Sarah Palin endorsing Hillary Clinton for President.
I’m not going to rub salt into his Executive Platinum wound, but I did figure this was a good opportunity to remind Ben — and, by extension, all the other disenchanted AAdvantage loyalists in our readership — why I, personally, enjoy flying Delta, what I get out of the elite Medallion program, and how I make the most out of my SkyMiles.
Last year I wrote a piece called “In Defense Of Delta,” so I’m going to try and expand on that rather than duplicate what I’ve already written.
It’s A Better Airline
For a U.S.-based carrier, Delta Air Lines is about as good as you can get in flight.
- Delta’s on-time performance is unparalleled, and it almost never cancels flights
- It has, dependable and fast Wifi — Gogo, to be clear — on almost all of its planes, including all of its long-haul international flights
- You can count on lie-flat beds (and excellent bedding) with direct-aisle access on all of its long-haul international flights in Delta One; the majority of Delta One transcons are on 767s which offer direct-aisle access as well
- The food on Delta is actually quite good, especially compared to United and American
- Delta’s in-flight entertainment product, Delta Studio, is excellent
- I’ve generally found customer service to be reliably warm onboard and on the ground
I realize everyone’s mileage varies, but personally I’ve enjoyed myself on Delta flights much more so than on other legacy domestic carriers. I actually flew American Airlines last month in First Class on the A321 from New York to Los Angeles, and while the hard product was certainly impressive, I was underwhelmed by the so-so ground experience at JFK, the barely edible food, the perfunctory service and the general sense that American doesn’t know what to do with “First Class” in a three-class cabin other than boast about it.
Delta pretty much leads the pack, and while it doesn’t offer a “First Class” like American does, its business class product is just about competitive or superior in every respect.
Life’s Great As A Diamond Medallion
To be clear, life was pretty great as a Platinum Medallion, even as a Gold Medallion (although I can’t say there’s much to notice about being a Silver Medallion). But since I made Diamond Medallion last year, the perks and level of personalized customer service I’ve received has been nothing short of spectacular.
Agents at the Diamond Medallion call center, for instance, pick up within a few rings, and are not just very friendly but tremendously competent and proactive. In truth, I feel like the Diamond Medallion line is like my own personal airline concierge service. Although Delta has few irregular operations, the one delay I did have this year was handled with aplomb.
The threshold for Diamond Medallion (125,000 qualifying miles) is substantially higher than Executive Platinum at American or Premier 1K status with United (both 100,000 qualifying miles). While that makes Diamond Medallion status harder to achieve, it also thins the herd a little, making it more of a rarefied tier (and making upgrades that much more reliable).
Even mid-year, Ben could fast track his way to Diamond Medallion status by signing up for the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, as well as the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card. Just by signing up for both, Ben could get 20,000 MQMs. With $60,000 in spend on one card — tough for some, but Ben puts a lot of spend on his cards — before the end of the year, Ben could count on another 30,000 MQMs. There’s 50,000 MQMs — and Gold Medallion status — without setting foot on a plane.
But there are some terrific paid business class deals on SkyTeam carriers right now offering huge MQM payloads. For instance, Ben could book a roundtrip from LAX to Frankfurt (or anywhere in Germany, really) on Delta for ~$1,650 in business class, which would, depending on the routing, earn him roughly 18,000 MQMs a pop.
And he could take advantage of one of my favorite MQM hacks, which is a transcon flight on Alaska (say, LAX-DCA) in paid first class (usually around $1,200) which actually gives you a 200% MQM bonus — so a little under 10,000 MQMs for a simple one-day turnaround.
And no other airline offers rollover MQMs, which, if used strategically, are hugely valuable.
SkyMiles Aren’t So Bad Anymore, Are They?
Personally, I like SkyTeam carriers and Delta partners. I’d rather fly across the Atlantic on Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic or Alitalia than on British Airways, for instance. If you can deal with the inability to redeem for true first class cabins, you’ll find your options are fairly terrific. Aside from the airlines mentioned above, you’ll find pretty great redemption options with Virgin Australia and some decent options with Korean Air (which may sometimes be subject to blackout periods).
While much has been made about the lack of an award chart, to be fair to Delta there have been as many genuine mileage discounts on routes as there have been increases. More transparency would be great, but as the miles and points world was taunting us for hoarding our devalued SkyPesos, I was finding plenty of uses for them.
Now that American and United have copied all of Delta’s mileage program devaluations, there’s really no clear standout. Consequently, Ben — and many of you — must pick your airline of choice based on the user experience, not the rewards program.
No surprise the winner is Delta.