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Do the “little things” really matter that much in the big 3 battle for elite flyers? Is Delta winning vs AA & UA?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Eighty20 Paretos Estate Red Wine Blend Monterey California Delta Air Line reveiw Renes Points blog

As we approach the 1st of the year I am still kicking around the idea of flying AA either to a small or large degree next year. But this really is a hard choice to make for a number of reasons and as I said before thinking about this makes my brain hurt.

Then there are reports of what a Diamond might expect from contributors to the blog like John who was, shall we say, less than “overly impressed” with his experiAAnce with AA.

Beyond that we have, what should be, one of the simple things in life, that is, a pre-flight beverage service from the cabin crew. Folks, this is not hard. We Delta elites have come to expect it like a great many other things like Gogo wifi on every flight (SloGo, but working), a snack basket full of goodies that change now and then, Woodford Reserve, on time flights and much more when it comes to the elite medallion and domestic 1st class travel experience.

But when folks like Gary from BoardingArea and MJ from InsideFlyer (OK, still sorta-ish BA) are writing posts and getting comments from AA FA’s that we elites and buyers of 1st class travel are over entitled and spoiled for expecting good service in 1st class it makes me say “WHOA HAWSE, WHOA!” Maybe I need to do some thinkin’! Maybe AA FA’s need to go fly Delta a bit to learn how to impress those loyal flyers who, after all, largely contribute to their paychecks.

Then there are the other choices. I mean take a look at one of the new red blends Delta is flying around with this month (see the opening image) from Pareto’s Estate. It is called Eighty20

“Fruit is sourced from the southern region of Monterey County, just north of Paso Robles. This area is known for long, warm days, ideal for sun-loving reds. The result is a balanced, full-bodied wine of intensity and structure.

Juicy black currant and red jammy fruit flavors are balanced with rich and silky tannins. Pair with barbecue ribs, slow roasted meats, hamburgers.”

Well Delta does offer on dinner flights a very tasty “braised short rib dinner” as well as the nice “Delta burger” so this wine pairs well with these choices (I know, good food in the air). Then after the meal or on shorter flights in place of the meal you have the snack basket that includes things like Brookside Chocolate:

new in Delta Air Lines Snack Baskets 1st class domestic Renes Points blog

“Crispy Multigrains and soft Fruit flavored pieces tumbled in smooth dark chocolate”

Now I think these goodies are nowhere as good as Sanders Dark Chocolate caramels that are SOOOO good I bring them home to my wife (well a few of them anyway). My point again here is that Delta is offering a variety of goodness and is, on a mostly consistent basis, providing great service that we have all but come to simply expect as Delta flyers.

Could I even think about giving all of this up for sometimes nice AA folks or, shudder, United surly people on the ground and in the air? I am just not so sure.

Before you jump all over me about my AA & UA comments yes, I know, AA is working on fixing things but AA & UA is not Delta. United, well, I just feel sorry for UA flyers and what you have to put up with. Either way it is going to take a LONG time to fix those two airlines and they are both gleefully decimating their frequent flyer programs that were the ONE BIG PLUS they had and was a huge AAdvantage over Delta and could have saved them and been an offset their failures in service, product and people but that is now gone!

And that I guess sums up today’s post. Other than Alaska, most domestic frequent flyer programs are now all junk. But Delta is truly “banking” on Delta people, product and reliability. With limited choices, maybe it is enough. 2016 is going to be an interesting year! – René

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.

18 Comments

  1. FNT Delta Diamond Reply

    The solution is easy: Status match to Alaska, fly Delta or American in paid first-class and credit to Alaska.

    • @FNT – After I cross 1MM (ie lifetime elite miles) with Delta yes that is my plan as well. Buy 1st on AS flying DL thus not give Delta the money!

  2. Delta runs a better operation.

    American is improving relative to where it was a year ago (but American’s pre-merger catering was better than Delta’s, it’s not going to be as good as it used to be at AA).

    AAdvantage is still FAR BETTER than SkyMiles. Look at award chart pricing. Oh, wait, you can’t. Look at the prices ‘on any given day’ for international upgrades. AA has no revenue requirement for elite status, and doesn’t prioritize upgrades based on fare either. I hate the award chart changes coming March 22 [which really are only bad for international first class — something Delta doesn’t offer at any price]. And I hate that a year from now they’re going to revenue-based earn, but remember that a greater % of American’s miles are earned from non-flight activity [more than 2/3rds] so for many of us this doesn’t matter a ton.

    But of course Delta is running a better on-time operation, not cancelling flights. American does have Delta beat with quality product on the transcon routes, though. By a lot.

  3. But will they tell you when the award chart on your blog changes?

    Will they give you advance notice of those changes?

    Say what you like about American’s devaluation but we did get at least 4 months’ notice. They didn’t claim it’s illegal to give their customers advance notice when they’re getting hosed.

  4. While American struggles with the little things like PDBs, I think it’s worth noting that I did point out in my article that both F/As on the flights I was referencing turned out to be quite good. What I didn’t point out was that on the flight home, there were two F/A’s in the galley welcoming pax aboard….one of which spent most of her time griping about various life and scheduling issues. Once she took her harpiness to the back of the airplane, our #1 F/A finally came alive and turned out to be great during the flight. But that’s another whole blog post….and perhaps a college case study on employee engagement and morale.

    To the larger issue of DL vs AA vs UA – While AAdvantage will become relatively less attractive in 2016, it still has advantages. (Pun intended) As Gary points out, no minimum spend for elite status is a big one, as is published award charts, and I’ll take AA’s upgrade program all day long vs Delta’s, and for more reasons than I don’t like the “comp for all” fallacy. Gary is also right about the transcon product, and the fact that the A321T three class service has survived new management’s calculating eye actually gives me some hope for AA’s future vs Delta.

    I fully expect American’s new management team to ultimately fix AA from an operational reliability perspective, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some product tweaks along the way that one could probably perceive as improvements. Given that I spent my formative years in the employ of American Eagle and American Airlines and still have relationships with many people at the airline, I’m somewhat naturally biased towards American. And for sure, American still does a lot of things well.

    That said, the Delta flight experience (from people to ops reliability to inflight hard and soft product) edges out AA IMHO. That coupled with the fact that for the time being, I live less than 20 minutes from Delta’s largest hub likely means that I will continue to fly Delta, even with what probably is an inferior mileage program. In 2016, it becomes relatively less inferior to AAdvantage, all else being equal.

    If, as I expect, I’m ultimately living in an AA hub again, I’ll be a full-time AAdvantage player. I’m close enough to 2 million miles to make it worthwhile. If things like that don’t matter to a flyer, Alaska remains an option for now, especially if you’re the type who buys first class tickets.

  5. Not to get political, but the main difference between Delta and AA/UA is that Delta’s FAs aren’t unionized, while AA/UA’s are. As long as that is the case, you can expect surly FAs who should have retired, or been fired, years ago. Bad behavior is protected, and good service is disincentivized. Why perform at your best when dead weight is allowed to hang around and receive the exact same (or if more senior, better) benefits?

  6. I have shifted my travel from Delta to American and have recently qualified as Exp Platinum. Ten days ago I flew Delta from SFO to JFK on a 767. I was able to use miles to upgrade and enjoyed superb service in Business Class. The flight was a reminder of the many ways Delta has made flying in Business a delight. When I call the Diamond line, it commonly feels like the person answering is eager to help. With American’s Exp Platinum line, they are always helpful but only some of the agents leave me feeling like I do with the Diamond line. I am glad I am making the change to American but will miss Delta’s level of service.

  7. Nice to see Gary and MJ add to the conversation, two opinions I value along with Rene and John.

    But the little things aren’t going to keep my butt in seat in 2016. Delta had a great opportunity in 2016 to “keep climbing” yet they chose not to actually climb. Quite the contrary based on their actions especially towards elites. I’m too tired today to beat the dead horse, it’s dead and I am moving on. I’m DM in 2016 and could easily be DM in 2017 if Delta does not muck more things up. But they will, or at least their track record indicates they will. I have accepted that MQMs will not matter, that my spend on Delta co branded cards won’t matter and embraced going back to UR, MR and (new to me) Thank You points as valuable currency. I’ll figure out how to spend my cache of SkyMiles on the lowest level for international travel and call it done.

    It’s quite easy for me to give up on medallion status and just purchase the least expensive FC seat. Alaska will get priority if fares are close to the same. I think AA will get second slot on priority then Delta at the bottom with United. I’ll miss calling the DM line when needed but I won’t miss the upgrades because DL has made it pretty clear that those will be gone in the future unless I buy C+. Sorry, I won’t play that game just like I never played the use miles or pay for an upgrade game. I’ll just buy a FC seat like I did most of this year.

    Funny but isn’t someone who just buys a FC seat the type customer DL wants? I’m not feeling it, especially not now.

  8. I’ve been AA Executive Platinum all year and finally got my first free upgrade two weeks ago, from Burbank to Phoenix. If you’re looking for an occasional free upgrade, it won’t happen on AA.

  9. Corbett Kroehler Reply

    I just flew AA red-eye service DFW-MCO. I paid for first-class (only $200 more than coach and, of course, included my checked bag). The flight was every bit as good as Delta’s would have been. The flight attendants were very good. We received a pre-flight beverage. During the flight, over the Gulf of Mexico, we received something Delta doesn’t offer, warm mixed nuts as our main snack. Delicious and whisper-quiet for slumbering passengers!

    The gate agents weren’t surly, either. Best of all, we landed on time and baggage claim only took about 10 minutes longer than Delta’s new rapid handling standard. I already have moved a big chunk of my business away from Delta and will move more in the new year. Competitor service may not be quite as good but lower fares tempt.

  10. I always enjoy when people claim DL vs AA vs UA is better…when the fact is that when you fly all three of them enough every year, you realize that your actual experience isn’t considerably different barring you only fly a particular route. Each carrier has a few routes on which it is superior in one way or another, and other routes on which it is inferior on one way or another. Everyone loves to average things out to showcase why one carrier is better, but no one flies average routes. Delta may average out to be operationally better, but my experience has been operationally comparable on all three carriers–on time, with occasional delays here and there (most often due to weather), and reasonably good service on all three.

    As a Lifetime Premier Gold on UA, I automatically get Econ+ at booking, something for which you need higher comparable status with DL. For award flights in F, only UA and AA offer those on its own metal or partners. I don’t bother any longer worrying about elite status since it means so much less now–something that few are catching onto with these new revenue model equations. I book the best flight route on whichever carrier I need, and if I get an option to pay for an upgrade to business/first, sometimes I take it and sometimes I don’t. With UA, sometimes Econ+ can be better legroom for me at 6’2″ than First can be on a domestic flight, anyway.

    Everyone loves to claim that DL and AA are so much better than UA, but that hasn’t been my experience. As a flyer from SoCal using LAX and SNA, where all 3 carriers are equitably represented and none have a hub fortress presence dominating the others, I fly all three carriers regularly,mad well as the occasional Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue flight as appropriate based on my intended destination. There are more similarities now between the carriers than differences IMO. UA has vastly improved its seats, its wifi offerings, its catering, and even its service. The fact that UA and AA have FA unions and DL doesn’t is a factor that often gives DL an edge in cost structure…but I still find good service on UA about as often as on AA and DL, to be honest.

    Averages and profit margins don’t tell the story of the comparative experience of flying the carriers as much as people want to admit. But il be just as happy if everyone clamoring for DL and AA to get the perceived better product, leaving me more than happy to fly UA more often on a product that I perceive to be pretty comparable….and internationally to be sometimes my favorite of the 3.

  11. Rod Aftuck Reply

    Renee;
    I am 70,000 miles short of 2 Million butt in the seat miles on Delta, with just weekly work travel will hit that early 2016. It will be a big decision then to stay with “squeeze you till you pop” Delta or move on. Living in Atlanta AA has added many new flights with the USA merger and SWA is # 2 here. Many of my business colleagues who travel weekly as well are switching to SWA and have the benefit of bringing along a guest for free on any flight after status met. I often think it may be time to switch from “it’s the journey” to “it’s the destination” and stop and smell the roses once I land and take advantage of the great rates on the many other airlines.
    Happy Holidays,
    Rod

  12. Young_Tho®ough Reply

    When you are flying for business it is most certainly the destination both the site and more importantly, home! Getting home by any means.(route, shena, or otherwise)
    But when you are avgeeking about being in the air, a great meal, voyaging with friends or family, checking out recent movies, enjoying the rush of engines, or even a great nap just to land onlytried the purpose of turning around to do it again in the opposite direction, then it most certainly is all about the journey. #itsthejourney

  13. Sorry I got in late on this debate. In 2015 I switched my primary paid flying to AA from DL. With beaucoup rollover MQMs this won’t affect my DM status. Unless you can get an immediate status match to EXP, the “problem” you will have in flying AA is no complimentary upgrades to first for a while. You can buy 500 mile certs and be put on a waiting list though.

    DL’s C+ is better than MCE on AA I believe. The free drinks and food on C+ seem like a nice perk in theory although I’ve not flown C+ enough to see how this translates in practice. AA MCE and first class seats have more legroom than DL counerparts and first class seats have more personal space for beverages and snacks without deploying the tray table. The food and snacks on AA are very good. DL has better deserts IMO. Food is a toss up for me.

    Service can be better on DL domestic flights. But you never know what you will get. On an ORD-MSP flight, the DL FAs were in the galley talking for the whole flight. On an AA flight from SCL-DFW, I was i MCE. On boarding I wished the FA happy Aviiation Day. She brought me a pair of first class pjs!.

    My experience is PDBs are about 80% on AA versus 95+% on DL. International AA service is just as good as DLbut DL currently has the edge in international business class hard product with all aisle acess business class and of course the upper deck on the 747 which is the best business class seat in the skies IMO.

    One thig that AA has that DL cannot match is being able to use miles to fly international first class. First class on CX or JL for less than DL business class is simply incredible! That changes March 22 ,2016. Still even after that date, AA gives the option to fly first class internationally and DL does not.

    Along with first class flights AA provides access to first class lounges. As an EXP I have access to AA and OneWorld first class lounges even when flying coach. Flagship lounges are a definite cut above skyclubs, and the CX and JL lounges I’ve visited, business and especially first, are no comparison to skyclubs. Also non flagship AA clubs give EXPs coupons for two premium drinks when flying on international itineraries.

    For domestic lounges,the recent improvements in skyclubs probably puts them above the average Admirals club. But Admirals clubs are slated for upgrades next year.

    It is a shame that AA is cutting back the SWUs from 8 to 4 next year. Eight SWUs alone was worth switching for for me. AA will add two more SWUs for reaching 150,00 and 200,000 miles in 2016. So you can still beat DLs allotment for 4 GUCs. We will see how SWU mesh with AA’s new premium economy service.

    I plan to requalify for EXP in 2016 with the majority of the flying done before the revenue based change takes effect.

    The last, and perhaps most important, factor for me is that I feel that DL has been basically dishonest in a lot of its dealings with loyal customers who supported the airline in tough times. If I have any choice at all, I won’t give a company like that much of my business.

  14. Pingback: About That Status Match to Alaska Air - MJ on Travel

  15. had my first DL hamburger at 35,000 miles and it was pretty good… but the whit wins still need some work!!!!

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