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Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post about how far the American AAdvantage program had fallen and how comparatively strong the SkyMiles program had become. Outside of a few exceptions, largely on short commuter hops on the East Coast, you pretty much couldn’t find economy saver awards using AAdvantage miles. This was especially true if you were hoping for a logical itinerary you would actually want to fly with your family. A simple routing from their hub in Dallas to any of the New York City airports had exactly zero nonstop economy awards available for four people when I did a full month search for travel in June 2017 back in January of 2017. Other months really weren’t significantly different. AAdvantage miles weren’t worthless, but if you wanted to use them to fly on American, doing so at the saver level was almost impossible.
In contrast, at the same time, I was having tremendous success finding Delta awards on nonstop, or at least logical itineraries, which was surprising to me at the time. For our family travel purposes, Delta SkyMiles had become much more useful than American AAdvantage miles. Many others shared their similar experiences in the comments section of that post.
So, one year later, how are things looking? Are AAdvantage miles still virtually impossible to use for saver awards on American operated flights, or have more awards become available? Are Delta SkyMiles still as useful as they were a year ago? Let’s find out…
The state of the AAdvantage saver award
Before I get into the search results, I’ll say that my own experience with American AAdvantage in the last few months has been much better than it was at this time last year. Heck, just last week I was able to book business class award tickets home from Europe using AAdvantage miles at the saver level on an American operated flights without fuel surcharges. Best of all that wasn’t a one-off fluke where availability is there for a day and then gone for months. I still see many options to cross the Atlantic on American operated flights in business class at the saver level. That by itself is a huge positive change for American.
Not only that, but I’ve noticed many more American awards available at the saver level on domestic trips. That said, in my searches, you will find the most success at the saver level if you are willing to have a connection. Still, that is miles ahead of where we were a year ago when I often couldn’t find anything even remotely workable on American operated flights at the saver level.
I duplicated the award searches I did at this time last year, and thankfully the results mirror what I’ve been noticing for a few months. Things are indeed much better with AAdvantage.
Both this year and last year I searched for four domestic saver awards from Dallas (their hub) to NYC. Last year I found nine dates in a month that had economy saver availability for four. On first glance that isn’t good, but it isn’t terrible. However, when I selected nonstop options only, the choices dropped to exactly zero, despite those flights all being from a hub.
This year, there were 19 days in roughly that same period where four people could fly nonstop from Dallas to a New York City airport at the AAdvantage saver rate. That is real, tangible improvement that benefits families.
For what it is worth, if you were willing to connect, four people could fly all but two dates that month at the saver level.
From Houston to New York, a route that requires a connection as American does not fly it nonstop, a year ago there were only two dates in that month with domestic saver awards for four. On both of those dates, the award options were totally non-workable for a family requiring at least three flights to go less than 1,500 miles.
Now there are fifteen days in that same month with saver availability to go from Houston to New York City. A spot check of several of the routings showed them to be totally logical with just one connection required, usually in Dallas or Charlotte.
If you wanted to fly Dallas to New York City with your family of four nonstop in first class, things predictably get much tighter, but there was one date with four first class seats available. Last year there were none.
The state of the Delta SkyMiles saver award
Now let’s look at Delta SkyMiles this year compared to last year on the Houston to New York City route in that same month of June. Last year Delta had 18 days where nonstop round trips for four were available for 25,000 miles. They don’t publish an award chart, but that is (was) their standard lowest round trip price. That was really good availability for a nonstop flight during the summer, especially after seeing what American had to offer.
This year Delta has 11 dates in virtually the same period with saver awards for four people for 24,000 miles per round trip. That is still good, though obviously in this one example it isn’t as good as last year in terms of the number of days available at the lowest price. That said, the price itself is 1,000 miles fewer than last year.
On the flip side, the highest price on this route when we checked it last year was 37,500 miles per round trip and this year it is 48,000 miles. This is of course just one example, but it is consistent with my opinions of Delta SkyMiles in recent months.
In general, I think you can now find some Delta awards for less than you can with similar competitors, but they have increasingly moved to a more variable award pricing model where some dates will be less expensive than they used to be, and some will cost more. On the whole, I think Delta is still solid for domestic economy round trips, especially if you have some date flexibility to book on their cheaper days. Additionally, when they do their monthly flash sales there are some even better deals to be had.
Right now, Delta SkyMiles and AAdvantage miles are roughly equal
All in all, I’m pretty happy with where things stand with American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles today compared to where we were a year ago. A year ago many of us thought our AAdvantage balances weren’t worth very much, but today I think we are in a much better place. In fact, my next credit card application is very likely to be for an AAdvantage card as I have been hauling through my stash of American miles booking very nice saver awards. In terms of Delta, I don’t think the situation has changed dramatically from where we were a year ago, which is just fine by me.
The falling star may be United
While I didn’t really include United in my post last year as their program was pretty stable, I honestly think they are the one among the major US programs that has fallen the most in the last 12 months with their own introduction of new (higher) tiers of award prices. For the same Houston – NYC route in the same month, United offers 13 dates with nonstop economy saver availability for four at 12,500 miles each way if you don’t have elite status or their co-branded credit card. If you do have elite status or a co-branded United card there are 20 days available for the picking. That’s actually much better than I expected. There are no dates with first class saver availability for four on that route in that month.
I still love my United miles, but as I pointed out the other day, you really need to have a United credit card (or elite status) if you want to have the type of saver award availability you are probably used to in that program.
While some will disagree, I think on the whole for domestic economy travel, the main three traditional US frequent flyer programs currently have currencies that are roughly equal in value. Which one is best for you will depend on your personal situation. I still prefer United miles as I have elite status, their credit card, and live at a United hub. However, I am using AAdvantage miles and Delta miles at pretty much an equal rate as my United miles, even for old fashion economy saver awards. When you start talking about international business class travel, the discussion shifts a bit as to which currency is best, but I still don’t think there is a clear winner. Which is best will depend on where you are and where you want to go.
I’m happy to have all three currencies at the ready so I have options when it comes time to book our trips. I’d love to hear your recent experiences using United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage, and Delta SkyMiles!
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.