It’s that time again! I’ve compared the four major U.S. airlines and their loyalty programs, using common measures to compare the elite benefits of each tier. If you’re wondering which airline deserves your allegiance, I hope you find this project helpful.
This is now the fourth (?) year that I’ve performed this project, and it’s interesting to see the tables evolve as one airline after another has moved to a revenue-based program. Only Alaska Airlines is left, and I have some hope that it will stay unique for a while. You can see the past charts that I created in November 2012, January 2014, and March 2015.
What about the other major airlines in the United States, such as JetBlue or Southwest Airlines? I don’t include them here because they don’t have comparable loyalty programs. Yes, some kind of program is offered, and elite status is attainable at each airline. However, the relative absence of first class cabins, alliances, checked baggage fees, and so on has made comparisons with the other four more difficult. JetBlue is starting to move in the direction of the Big Three by adding baggage fees and adding Mint service to more routes. It’s possible that I’ll include it in 2017 — but not for now.
Organization and History of These Tables
It is not necessarily my goal to say one airline is better than the other, although I provide some opinion in the bottom of each table. There are cases where earning fewer upgrades or fewer miles is worthwhile if the airline makes it easier to redeem those upgrades and miles. Some people also say the customer experience matters more than the benefits of the loyalty program. Later today I’ll write a separate post on which tier in each program provides a “sweet spot” — the most return for your loyalty.
There are few changes to the tables this year vs. the last version published in March 2015. I decided to bite the bullet and list some upcoming changes that American Airlines will make to awarding miles (a firm date is not set) and that Delta will make to providing complimentary access to Economy Comfort (coming in March 2016). I also decreased the number of upgrades that American Airlines provides and raised the price of earning or buying 500-mile upgrades. Beyond these, I can’t think of much else. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything; I’ll update the tables as soon as possible.
You can click on these charts to enlarge them or download all three tables in a PDF. Readers are also welcome to share or repost them with proper attribution, including a link to this post.
Comparison of Lower Elite Tiers
This comparison includes Alaska MVP, American Airlines Gold, Delta Silver Medallion, and United Premier Silver. The most significant changes to this table affect AA Gold and Delta Silver members.
Comparison of Middle Elite Tiers
This comparison includes Alaska MVP Gold, American Airlines Platinum, Gold and Platinum Medallion tiers with Delta, and United Premier Platinum. The most significant changes to this table affect AA Platinum and Delta Gold and Platinum members.
Comparison of Top Tier Status
This comparison includes Alaska MVP Gold 75K, American Airlines Executive Platinum, Delta Diamond Medallion, and United Premier 1K. The most significant changes to this table affect American Executive Platinum and Delta Diamond members.