As I switch some of my flying to Delta and complete my SkyMiles Platinum status challenge, I’m experiencing more of the differences between SkyMiles and AAdvantage firsthand. It’s not that I didn’t know these things before, but when you’re actually in a situation where you’re trying to qualify for status, you experience these things firsthand.
When it comes to the elite program, I knew there were some things I’d like less about SkyMiles than AAdvantage. For example, SkyMiles doesn’t let you redeem miles for international first class, and SkyTeam doesn’t give top tier members access to international first class lounges (unlike oneworld). But there are also other areas where they’re better than AAdvantage.
However, there’s one area that’s hitting me especially hard as I map out my possible path to Diamond for next year — let’s start with the less major implication, and then the more substantial one.
Delta awards fewer elite qualifying miles for travel
When it comes to earning elite qualifying miles, one major difference is that American awards 200% elite qualifying miles for all paid first & business class tickets, while Delta awards 150%, with the exception of full fare first & business class.
With premium cabins being more reasonably priced nowadays, I’m sometimes finding myself paying for first class when my upgrade chances aren’t good. One motivating factor is the additional elite qualifying miles I earn. 200% vs. 100% is a big difference, while 150% vs. 100% isn’t quite as compelling of a reason to spring for a paid premium cabin fare.
SkyMiles mileage earning rates for travel on Delta
For example, American Executive Platinum requires 100,000 elite qualifying miles per year, which translates to 50,000 flown miles in discounted first & business class. Meanwhile Delta Diamond Medallion requires 125,000 elite qualifying miles per year, which translates to ~83,300 flown miles in discounted first & business class.
But this is minor compared to my other “issue.”
Delta’s partner mileage earning rates are hugely inconsistent
There’s no denying that American AAdvantage is closer with some of their oneworld airline partners than others. They have joint ventures with some airlines, while there are other partner airlines that they’re even cutting any codeshare ties with, like Qatar Airways.
Nonetheless, American awards at least 150% elite qualifying miles for paid first or business class travel on all oneworld partner airlines, and also lets you earn elite qualifying dollars for travel on all oneworld partner airlines. The reason I appreciate this so much is because airlines like LATAM, Malaysia, SriLankan, etc., frequently have good value premium cabin fares, so flying them can really help towards earning status with American.
AAdvantage mileage earning rates for travel on Qatar Airways
While Delta is technically part of SkyTeam, in reality Delta’s main alliance is the “MeTeam,” which is Delta’s at-will alliance that maximizes their own good at every given point.
SkyMiles partner airlines are in four groups, depending on how much Delta likes them. The cool kids table is for their joint venture partners, which offers attractive mileage earning.
However, by the time you get down to groups three and four, you’re looking at severely reduced mileage earning. For example, the paid business class ticket I recently flew on Xiamen Air earned me just 75% elite qualifying miles, which is fewer elite qualifying miles than I would have earned for a cheap Delta economy ticket.
So in crediting miles to Delta I was looking forward to the opportunity to fly airlines like China Southern, Aerolineas Argentinas, Garuda Indonesia, Vietnam Airlines, etc., in business class, so I can experience some new and fun products. And while I can still do that, the mileage earning rates will be severely reduced.
Even more, there’s quite an opportunity cost to crediting those flights to SkyMiles, since other programs credit 150%+ miles for travel on many of those airlines.
I sort of knew all of this coming in, though it’s really only hitting me to this degree as I start to map out trips to earn Platinum or Diamond status for next year. Fortunately I’ll easily be able to earn Platinum thanks to how easy it is to earn MQMs through Delta’s credit cards, though it’s Diamond I’m considering. With a couple of strategic mileage runs, it shouldn’t be too tough to earn.
However, if you are considering SkyMiles, their weak partner earnings is something to consider. Qualifying for status with AAdvantage is easy, between earning 200% EQMs on discounted first & business class tickets on American, and the 150% earnings rates on all of their partners in discounted business class. Meanwhile with SkyMiles, we’re talking about 150% MQMs on discounted first & business class tickets on Delta, and in many cases just 75% earnings rates on some of their partners.