What are the BEST airports to be a Delta Medallion flyer for perks / awards / upgrades? You tell me!

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where is the best place to live to fly delta

What is the best airport to fly Delta?

If you are a Delta Air Lines  elite / loyalist  there are some places in the USA you do want to live and some places you really don’t want to live. What do I mean?

First off, preferably, you don’t want to live in Delta HUB cities as Delta really does not have to “love you” that much as you have little choice in airlines thanks to consolidation etc. In hubs like ATL or SLC you should be thinking about other major, or minor, airlines as your airline of choice. Or, if you must fly Delta, perhaps thinking of crediting and attaining status with another airline like Alaska that has not yet destroyed their frequent flyer program (but I fear even that is just a matter of time).

But that is not what today’s post is about. Today we talk about where on this big beautiful blue marble you should live if you want to fly Delta. You know even in these dark days if you are willing to work it you can get a ton out of the Delta program (depending on where you live).

SBN South Bend Airport Indiana

Is this the best airport in the world?

I am going start by touting South Bend Indiana first. Everyone who flies Delta should live here (I am kidding, sorta). Here is why I say my home town airport is a winner. If I take a 3 hour radius around SBN airport I can reach no less than 9 locations Delta serves, that is, AZO, FWA, LAN, GRR, MDW, ORD, MKE, DTW, IND! That gives me a great many options for finding LEVEL 1 or 2 award tickets if I am willing to drive a bit (and I do). The same goes for buying a ticket. This year, due to SBN many times being the most expensive ticket (and gas being cheap again) I have found driving to these other locations near home has been a much better choice for revenue tickets. Plus, there are times I want to avoid the horrid CRJ200s that mostly infest fly from SBN.

Let’s keep this going. Chicago’s ORD can be an amazing value and there are many less Delta elites because it is such a UA and AA hub. Chicago can also benefit from MKE or Milwaukee because they compete with the larger airport just south of them.

Dallas DFW was once a Delta hub but no more but still has some ridiculous deals, prices and award values. Oh and did I mention they have an AMEX Centurion club there that I would be happy to move into if they would put a bed in a closet for me! 🙂

Los Angeles, even though Delta considers it a hub city, I have found to be a very good location to hop to so many destinations West for awards! Not just that, you also, like me in SBN, have a number of other airports nearby that can provide escape from LAX if the price is not what you want.

A quick point before I turn this over to you my dear reader. I am NOT talking about “convenience” factors here. If you are willing to spend for a YBM (or 1st class ticket) and you want to fly fast and direct, this post is not for you. This is also not a post about how bad weather or such affects some airport much of the time. This is about perks, upgrades and redemptions. About treatment as an elite and so on. Clear?

Now it is your turn. You tell me if your home town airport is better (please include airport code) and I will update this post with readers choices for best airports to be a Delta elite flyer and spending your “valuable-ish” SkyMiles! Also do you agree with our growing list of airports or disagree with any of the reader suggestions?  – René

 

List of best Airports to be a Delta flyer:

  • SBN – South Bend, IN
  • ORD/MDW Chicago, IL
  • MKE – Milwaukee, WI
  • DFW – Dallas, TX
  • LAX – Los Angeles, CA
  • DCA – Arlington, VA
  • CVG – Cincinnati, OH
  • BWI – Baltimore, MD
  • IAD – Dulles, VA
  • PBI – West Palm Beach, FL
  • MBS – Freeland, MI
  • TVC – Traverse City, MI
  • BNA – Nashville, TN

 

34 comments

  1. As a diamond, I’m 100% for upgrades in and out of MBS and TVC. MBS has CRJ-900s with th 1×2 domestic first-class configuration. Unfortunately, the flights from both places to DTW is fairly short but you at least get wine. I’ve drove to YYZ (Toronto) before as the weak Canadian dollar and super competitive Toronto market means good prices. I was 100% for upgrades on my four flights out of YYZ in late 2015. Only problem is the YYZ-ATL flight is a little long for no meal service and no Sky Club at YYZ. FNT is more difficult because a good number of diamonds fly out of there, but I know platinums who get an upgrade if they take the first flight — always a MD-88/90 — to ATL and the last flight from ATL to FNT. Even as a diamond, I almost never get an upgrade out of ATL. Last week, I was 3 of 35 on the upgrade list for one seat on the ATL-DCA flight. SFO and LAX are amazing because Delta has so many fancy amenities there compared to DTW or MSP.

  2. I really like the DC area airports (DCA, IAD, BWI).

    Upgrades can sometimes be tough out of DCA, but they’re easy out of BWI and IAD. DCA has a nice SkyClub, and I can go from Metro station to gate in about 10-15 minutes (having a separate ticket counter near the station entrance is pretty awesome). The TAs and GAs aren’t usually the best, but the SkyClub agents are usually great. Fun to talk to and very helpful.

    CVG is where is all began for me when it comes to flying. The airport has seen better days, and may end up being dehubbed, but for now it has some of the best service in the entire system. The agents will go out of their way to help passengers with issues (even those without status). Upgrades can be so-so, as can prices and award availability, but I value the personalized service that is rare in this industry these days.

    My ranking: DCA, CVG, BWI, IAD

  3. @William – I have been told DCA can be really hard for upgrades. What about award space for DCA? Can others chime in how current CVG UGs are as well as award space.

  4. I live between Palm Beach (PBI) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL). These two airports have completely different personalities. Fort Lauderdale is lower priced mainly due to Spirit having their hub there. Also, FLL is a heavy tourist airport between all the cruise travelers and stopover travelers heading to the Caribbean. My likelihood of getting an upgrade as a Diamond Medallion is much higher here compared to PBI which is full of wealthy business travelers and snowbirds. On average the Monday morning flight from PBI to ATL at 8 or 9:30, I won’t even make it in the top ten for upgrades due to all the million milers and flyers who purchase first class seats.

    Even though I rarely make upgrades, I still fly out of PBI due to the fact it is half the size and easier to navigate and helps me avoid all of the novice tourists travelers.

  5. Live in Florida and airports I use are FLL. Not a good airport for upgrades cause every flight out basically is to ATL where I never get upgraded. The times I have got upgraded were flights out of DTW or going to DTW.

  6. I will add that DC Area airports usually have better availability than CVG. I can usually book an entire itinerary at once when traveling out of DCA, vs having to book the longest segment, and hoping the connections open up at a lower level later. Peak business travel times (like Friday afternoons and Mondays) can be tough for low-level award availability though.

  7. We fly out of BNA (Nashville) and don’t have problems getting the upgrade as a platinum for my husband. Plus the airport is small enough that security isn’t too bad and the delta gates are closest to security. We can fly direct to LGA, CVG, DTW, SLC, MSP, LAX, and, of course, ATL. We even have a direct to Orlando some days. As a gifted gold I don’t usually get the upgrade into ATL but the others I usually can. Flying through ATL so much hurts upgrade chances but on the other hand I have no problems finding low point award tickets.

  8. ECP is now my hub, nice easy airport vs ATL from where I moved, always upgraded and some bargain business seats now and then. No more getting up at 5am to fight traffic in Atlanta…..love it here.

  9. Well, I guess the best airports for you to get an upgrade from Delta are the ones that are not Delta hubs and where you have many other airlines serving the same destination. It is getting ridiculous to get an upgrade if you live in a Delta hub.

  10. Despite being a strong UA hub, I would avoid SFO as much as possible. Have flown MSP-SFO RTs weekly and the UG list is always 30+ people!

  11. SJC is good, much easier than SFO! Delta starting to fly out here and mostly shuttle flights. I got upgraded to first class on my flights between SJC and LAS just being Gold. Now I hope Delta adds more routes to southern CA (not just LA) so I don’t have to fly Southwest!

  12. Seconding Emily’s point re: BNA. Airport is a breeze, small but comfortable lounge, gates are generally the closest to security, and, as PMs, my spouse in I almost never get upgraded to ATL. I’ve been in the teens and twenties of the queue on B or M fares. Full disclosure: I grew up in Memphis and am still salty about Delta gutting MEM to further overload ATL. So there’s that also….

  13. I fly from BHM which might as will be ATL. With the Mercedes plant in Vance and many Diamonds flying back to Germany on a regular basis as a Diamond have trouble getting upgrades on the BM to ATL leg and then ATL might as well be called Diamond city. I agree with comment above as I will drive the 3 hours to BNA, Nashville, to get some awesome deals on MR’s.

  14. If you are/want to be Delta elite, it’s hard to argue that Atlanta is not the best place to base. The simple fact is that there a far, far more flight options from Atlanta, which allows me to pick flights that are more likely to have upgrade availability. I can also pick flights with better in-flight amenities. If there is a problem with my flight while I am still in ATL, there are experienced, skilled, and dedicated Delta Redcoats (and more senior employees) to solve my problem. And, let’s not forget, there are multiple SkyClubs in ATL, most of which have been recently or are in the process of being upgraded. I really cannot see how any frequent traveler living in ATL would choose to focus on a non-Delta airline (except maybe SW if you fly west a lot) — there are simply not enough direct flights on other airlines to enable you to achieve status without spending all your time connecting in places like CLT, ORD, PHL, etc.

  15. I love LAN. 10 minutes from home, easy parking, quick security and easy connections to DTW and MSP. No UG available to DTW, just a 20 min flight, but as a PM I am often upgraded from DTW to just about anywhere. The DTW SkyClubs are conveniently located with wonderfully helpful staff. FNT and GRR are other nice options to DTW: only 40 min away, nice airports and often better prices (probably because of greater competition). I agree it is about impossible to get an UG from ATL or SFO, but I am often upgraded to and from DCA.

  16. I’ve always been happy at IAH … Especially with the service. Now that a centurion lounge is coming soon, it will be even better.

  17. MSP is a terrific airport with great food options on any airline but agree that the DL medallion crowd is large. I have seen 50 people on the list from there or ATL and I only seem to get the upgrades between when on a pricey Intl connection. (DM MM DLReserve card) DFW – MSP is cheap, MSP -DFW is outrageous (3x the opposite direction at times) and way cheaper on other carriers. Tough to keep loyal like that. Need to check out more of the best-of list. Hope to see more Centurian Clubs appear soon too. Thanks Rene.

  18. jax always to atl very few upgrades then atl to sfo and or san(my freq airports) never I have seen up to 98 on the upgrade list with 1 seat left.. they should just turn it off !!!!

  19. I currently live in DEN. We moved there from Louisville KY where we were close to SDF, BNA, CVG, EVV, and IND. I agree that BNA is good for lower tier medallion upgrades and very very friendly and helpful service. SDF is very similar. Smaller airport, but still plenty of flights, great award space, helpful staff. It’s very easy to find award space from DEN to SDF or CVG. I’ve been able to get last minute round trip award tickets for 12,500 miles when tickets were retailing over $600. Pretty good value. I would not find the same value with delta if I were in a hub city. Flying non hub to non hub on a regular basis even silver and gold can get pretty regularly upgraded.

  20. MSP: Lousy! 🙂 Only rare opportunities for good-priced seats, not very often included in Delta seat sales, lounges are not yet upgraded: hard to understand.

  21. MKE is Milwaukee. 🙂 not MKW
    That was my hometown airport until I moved to NYC. What a difference! Anyway MKE is great and has a really decent sky club. it is big! Used to be the club for Midwest Express airlines.

  22. @Jane – Grrrrr W and E are right next to each other on keyboard ya know. Fixed. Txs much 😉
    .
    BTW I love MKE very much. Nice Sky Club too!

  23. I love Myrtle beach (MYR)

    In the past few years I’ve missed only 1 or 2 UG out of MYR. I always buy the GA’s gifts, bring them candy, tweet pictures with them to @deltaassist and buy them drinks when we see them out at a bar around town. The MYR GA’s always take care of me and will even call me at home the night before if there is going to be an issue the next day.

    Plus, the 200’s are almost all gone (to SBN), replaced by 900’s and 717’s. And we even get a summer flight to DTW.

  24. Have to agree with Rob. ATL is useless for upgrades, but in every other respect, it’s great. Senior, experienced staff, wonderful airport, good restaurants and lounges, and my favorite part: no connections. I had to change planes 2x to get to somewhere in Canada last year and I kept complaining, Someone asked why I was so upset and I said “I’m from Atlanta–we don’t change planes.” And, most of the time, it’s true. As long as you stay on DL, you can get almost anywhere without a connection. Now, I do compare prices, and I am in no way loyal to DL (I’m only Silver), so if SW or AA wants to offer me a cheaper direct flight, I’ll take it (and, 2x last year, they did and I did). But, I’m not going to change planes in CLT or MIA just to save $50. My time is worth something.

  25. Charlotte (CLT) has been great for Diamond upgrades. I can’t recall the last time I missed an upgrade to or from CLT even on award tickets booked in coach. CLT is not the nicest airport for delta passengers. Terminal A is pretty bleak. There is no Skyclub although I use the Admirals Club when flying delta.

    Because I’ve burned my skypesos primarily on international awards, I’ve noticed no advantage or disadvantage for award availability at CLT. I think international award availability (especially business-class awards) depends much more on availability from the gateway airport rather than CLT.

    Airfare from CLT seems to be neither really high or really low. I have occaisionaly driven to Raleigh and Greensboro NC and Greenville,SC for lower fares. Every once in awhile delta has really low fares from CLT to international destinations. I use these fares for GUCs.

  26. I like to fly out of Rochester, MN. Usually upgraded on the short hop to MSP or the long one to ATL. Mainly clinic people and leisure travelers. Rarely late, great times to get in to MSP to catch pretty much every other plane. And they have an awesome restaurant with gyros that are sooooo good! And i like the sky clubs at MSP. One on C concourse is nice if you like to pour your own drinks.

  27. MKE is great because they have a wonderful book shop with thousands of rare books–some great hard to find titles. The airport, I thought, however, was a little tired. I wasn’t impressed with the old-ish Sky Club, either.

    LAN has cheap airfares to DCA via DTW but the LAN is dumpy, in my opinion, and there can be a lot of issues sometimes getting home on the last flight out of DTW if there is weather. My friend flies LAN-DTW-somewhere (and back) once or twice a week and calls me a half-dozen times every winer needing a lift home out of DTW because he’s stranded. I can be at DTW, FNT and LAN within 60 minutes. MBS is 90 minutes. YYZ is 3 1/2 hours.

  28. The WAS airports give so many options. DCA is the perfect choice for convenience. Upgrades aren’t bad (I’m a diamond) even to ATL. You’re almost guaranteed an upgrade from BWI. I can’t stand IAD but it’s good to have in the mix for price shopping. I work at a nonprofit so the fare always has to be LOW. My husband is a lawyer and gets to fly full fare on the DCA LGA shuttle. He LOVED it when the new revenue earning system kicked in. Me, not so much.

  29. Add PDX to the list. I lived there for a year. Flying to south america (EZE) via ATL is sometimes $800. I did 7 of those trips (I’m from Argentina and due to current US legislation, my girlfriend cannot live with me and has to stay in Buenos Aires)

    Great prices PDX-MSP, PDX-ATL, PDX-LAX… Is like a hub without being a hub (since that’s SEA) and an awesome airport.

  30. The nice thing about BWI is flights from BWI-MSP are just long enough for meal service in first-class. That isn’t the case for BWI-DTW, DTW-DCA, BWI-ATL or ATL-DCA. Unfortunately, for me, flying home from MSP (except MSP-DTW) means a miserable CRJ-200 flight to FNT/MBS.

  31. Sorry Rene, CVG is not a good airport to get upgraded at. I am Platinum and last week I was 21/47 on the upgrade list for a flight… The fact that Cincy is home to multiple fortune 500 companies (so lots of business flyers) and Delta has slashed flights there (meaning business types need to connect via ATL or another true hub) means its very tough to get upgrades. The general rule of picking someone else’s hub is a good one. I am 14/14 for being upgraded in DEN (even as a gold, and seen some silvers get it too). So places like ORD, DFW, SFO, etc are good options for major cities with upgrade possibilities.

  32. HNL is great. It’s far away from ATL, so no one gets in trouble for taking good care of friendly frequent fliers. The staff are mostly ex-NWA agents who love to talk about the NWA days and how they used to take care of Hawaii residents . . . make sure to mention how you miss NWA. 🙂

    Upgrades are very accessible for any domestic flight (except HNL-ATL which is near impossible these days, even with a cert). And flights worldwide are pretty affordable because we’re a sun destination. I can fly to CDG in business class for cheaper than it costs from ATL-CDG.

    Staff are also extremely friendly (though one of the lounge dragons is a little bit stiff until you get to know her).

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