Trying to decide between Alaska and Delta for your next flight? We’ve got you covered!
The quick answer is that Delta is a large airline serving cities and countries all over the world, where Alaska is a smaller company focused on mainly serving the Western United States and surrounding countries. Both are known for solid customer service and in-flight experience.
That’s the way-too-short answer and there are plenty of nuances to consider when trying to determine which option best fits your needs.
Before we dive into the specifics of pricing, experience and service, we’ll start with an abbreviated background on each airline:
Alaska Airlines was founded in 1932 as McGee Airways, based in Anchorage, AK. They struggled through the Great Depression, but rose to the top in Alaska after a series of mergers and purchases, officially rebranded to Alaska Airlines in 1944. They began regularly flying throughout the contiguous US and beyond by the early 2000’s and became part of Oneworld Alliance by 2020.
Delta Air Lines was established in 1925 as a crop dusting company and is now the world’s second largest airline and founding member of SkyTeam Alliance. They began shuttling passengers by 1929 and expanding services from Monroe, LA to Atlanta, GA and beyond. After merging with Northeast Airlines, Western Airlines and later Pan Am, Delta became the leading airline for flights across the Atlantic. It merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008 to become the fleet we see today.
Pricing & Extra Charges
We’ll start by comparing pricing between each airline. While it’s difficult to gauge exact rates, since flights can shift and change in pricing depending on when you book them, we’ll give examples of averages. The booking process will also be covered, along with added expenses you may encounter while booking.
Alaska has a pretty straight-forward booking system, allowing you to select your departure and destination cities on the dates of your choice. You can choose one-way, roundtrip or multiple stops in the options.
We did a little research to see what the average price is for Alaska flights in Main Cabin (economy class) across the US to get a feel for the price you might have when choosing them. We concluded that an average flight on the East Coast at any point in the year is about $1069, a flight on the West Coast is about $275, and a cross-country trip averages $520.
While researching multiple booking days and options, it was a little difficult trying to find days that were available with Alaska even to major cities and airports. You can book with other partners through the OneWorld Alliance, but there is no direct link to do this on their website.
Alaska has three different classes for you to choose from on their website when buying tickets. Here’s the breakdown of what each one includes in the price:
- Saver: this is the lowest fare available with limitations. You’ll get one carry-on and one personal item, but you’ll board last and be assigned a seat in the back of the plane.
- Main Cabin: this is Alaska’s economy class. You’ll get one carry-on and one personal item, you’ll have general boarding and get to choose your seat selection. You’ll also be able to change your flight the same day if necessary. Premium Main Cabin is also an option available on select flights, placed at the front of the Main Cabin.
- First Class: this is the most elite you can get on board. You’ll get one carry-on and one personal item, one free checked bag, priority boarding and seat selection. You can also change your flight same day. In flight you’ll receive other perks and special service.
Here’s a link to a to a listing of current fare types on Alaska’s website.
Delta has an easy-to-manage booking process with so many more flight options when compared with Alaska. They have many different flight times all days of the year and a little bit of a better user-friendly interface.
After research Main (economy class) pricing through the year, we were able to determine what Delta typically charges for airfare. We found that an average flight on the East Coast at any point in the year is about $257, a flight on the West Coast is about $200, and a cross-country trip averages $526.
If you’re looking to book an international flight and Delta doesn’t have one available, it’s likely you’ll be able to find one with their SkyTeam Alliance partners. You can find the link to that booking page by clicking the small SkyTeam logo next to Delta’s logo at the top left of the homepage.
Delta uses has five different classes on their flights, though not all are always available. Here’s the breakdown of what each one includes in the price:
- Basic: this is the lowest fare available and has its limitations. You’ll board last and be assigned a seat in the back of the plane. You won’t be able to upgrade or get a refund if you cancel.
- Main: this is Delta’s economy class. You’ll have general boarding and get to choose your seat. You’ll also be able to change your flight for free and can receive Delta credit if you cancel.
- Comfort: this is Premium Economy, which features more leg room toward the front of the cabin. You’ll have dedicated overhead bin storage, free beer, wine and snacks, and you’ll get to deplane first. You’ll also be able to change your flight for free.
- First Class: You’ll get two free checked bags, priority boarding and big, cozy seats. You can also change your flight for free. In flight you’ll receive premium meals, drinks and snacks, as well as special service.
- Delta One: the most elite option Delta has. You’ll get two free checked bags, priority boarding and lie-flat seating at the front of the plane. You can also change your flight for free and get complimentary Sky Club access. In flight you’ll receive chef-curated fine dining with special service.
You can find all of Delta’s fare/seat types listed on this page of their site.
P.S. – When you’re done reading this one, don’t miss our other expert airline comparisons:
Alaska will waive fees for strollers, car seats and mobility devices. All other baggage will have fees assessed based on number of bags and weight. Your first checked bag will be $30, the second is $40 and the third is $100 per person. If your bag is overweight, you’ll be charged a $100 fee, as well.
Delta will allow up to two free checked bags when you purchase First Class or Delta One tickets, but all other ticket options will incur a $30 fee for the first bag and $40 for the second bag. The third bag will be $150 and if you have overweight luggage it could cost $100-200 extra.
Alaska applies an $50 change fee for those who’ve purchased the Saver option on their ticket and require a flight change within 24 hours before their flight time. Aside from this, flight changes are free on all other tickets. You can also upgrade from Main Cabin to Premium for $15 or more, assessed based on your flight length and destination.
Aside from overweight luggage and special or bulky checked bags and items, Delta does not have any hidden fees for regular passengers. It’s not impossible special restrictions or events could change this in the future.
Ways to Save
Alaska’s Mileage Plan is highly regarded for being one of the most generous mile rewards programs offered by airlines. It offers one mile for one mile in rewards each time you fly, plus you can earn miles by shopping, dining and purchasing through approved vendors. Alaska also has a savings page found on the “Deals” tab, an option under the “Book” tab.
Delta offers a similar program with their American Express card, which allows you to earn miles by booking flights with Delta or other affiliated airlines, or shopping with partners. There’s no limit to the miles you earn and you can get special benefits like up-front seating and waived fees for baggage.
Seats & Flight Experience
Comfort is extremely important when flying, especially when traveling cross-country or internationally. Along with comfort, we’ll cover the flight experience from the perks included onboard to the customer service you’ll receive and cleanliness of the cabin.
Alaska has two different types of Economy seating labeled “Main Cabin” and “Premium Class”. Main Cabin will be your standard economy seating featuring fairly spacious chairs with adjustable headrests. There have been complaints of the reclining feature and comfort of these chairs, so that will vary from person to person.
The Premium Class uses the same style chair that you’ll find in Main Cabin, but you’ll get more leg room and be seated just after First Class. You’ll also have access to Alaska Beyond Entertainment which can be streamed from your phone. The economy seats do not have video screens in the headrest.
With Delta, you’ll be placed in Main Cabin whether you purchased the Main Cabin or Basic Economy ticket. They have what’s considered some of the best fabric for a low-cost airline and do include video screens in the headrest for your entertainment.
Alaska’s First Class is available on all their aircraft, including small regional planes. They have large, comfy seating with access to inflight entertainment and special service and meals delivered by the flight attendants. The whole experience is not the fanciest, but considered worth the value.
Delta has two different premium options, including First Class and Delta One. First Class is what most people would expect with larger chairs, more privacy, special service, complimentary food and beverages and priority boarding. First Class may vary from plane to plane, as there are some that have yet to be renovated.
Delta One is a step above (and comes with a hefty price), allowing guests to access the Sky Club and features lie-flat seats on board for sleeping through long flights. You’ll even receive exclusive chef-curated food and beverage.
Alaska has been considered by many United States residents to have a great staff that’s well-informed and very attentive to all passengers. There haven’t been many complaints about a lack of empathy or little attention to detail, though some incidents may occur with the occasional disgruntled employee. For the most part, Alaska consistently receives great reviews for their cabin crew and customer service representatives.
Delta has always been a highly rated company where customer service is concerned. Despite their growth in recent years, expanding to destinations all over the world, their standard of customer service has not changed much. Although there have been more recent complaints about flustered attendants and customer service agents, the majority of passengers agree that Delta tries to put travelers first.
Alaska offers complimentary food and beverages on all flights to all classes, though the quality and amount of food might differ from class to class. They do not have onboard entertainment in the headrest, but you can purchase Wifi and rent their entertainment tablets to watch movies and shows. There are also USB ports in each seat, though some complaints state they encountered a few that don’t work.
Delta also offers complimentary snacks and beverages on all flights to all classes. We love their Biscoff cookies, which have been their signature snack of choice for decades. Alcoholic beverages can be ordered by all classes and headrest tablets are located in each seat for onboard entertainment. Wifi can also be purchased.
Both Delta and Alaska cover most major US cities, but a big difference you’ll notice is the international destinations provided by both. It’s important to note the different in availability, as well as the procedures for accommodating passengers in the event of a flight change or cancellation.
Alaska is based in Seattle, WA and flies to over 100 destinations within the United States. They also have strong ties to Anchorage, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles, practically dominating the West Coast of the US. The company is the biggest airline in the state of Alaska, reaching many different areas inaccessible by car or boat.
They are part of the OneWorld Alliance, which allows codeshare agreements with other major airlines like American Airlines. Operating under the umbrella of Alaska, you can book regional flights on Horizon Air, SkyWest, PenAir, and Ravn Alaska.
Delta has hubs in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Salt Lake City, and Seattle/Tacoma. Their influence is sprinkled throughout the contiguous United States, but has a primary focus on the East Coast.
As a founding member of the SkyTeam Alliance, they have codeshare agreements with airlines like Hawaiian and WestJet.
Alaska currently has flights to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico. As this once small company continues to grow in fleet size and influence with the American public and across the world, we’ll likely see more international destinations available soon.
In the mean time, you can book international flights through their OneWorld Alliance partners like British Airways, Emirates, Icelandair, Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Delta has a massive international presence, flying to hundreds of different cities across the globe. Delta is the only US airline that currently serves Copenhagen, Dakar, Lagos and Stuttgart. You can also book international flights through their SkyTeam Alliance partners like Air France, China Airlines, Kenya Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Alaska will always permit fully-trained service animals to travel in cabin with the owner. However, all other small pets that meet the flight requirements will incur a $100 travel fee. Only one pet is allowed per passenger and each flight will only take up to three pets total. Alaska allows dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds to travel in cabin so long as they are 8 weeks or older.
Delta allows all fully-trained service dogs in flight without charge to the owner. The owner must meet the DOT requirements before travel. All other small pets (including cats, dogs and household birds) can travel in cabin for a fee of about $200 for national flights and $400 for international flights. Pets must remain in carriers for the flight, placed under the seat in front of you. They must be at least 10 weeks old to fly.
Alaska also permits a various amount of household pets to travel in the baggage compartment. This includes everything from the standard dogs and cats up to guinea pigs, ferrets, non-poisonous reptiles and other pets. The fee is $150 each way for most flights, but active-duty service members will only pay $100 each way.
Delta does not allow any pets to travel in the cargo hold.
Statistically, air travel is the safest way to go when compared to other forms of transportation. We’ll take a look at the accidents between each airline. Crashes are very rare, while incidents resulting in minor injuries can be a little more common. It’s also important to see which airlines have the best safety measures in place for yourself and your baggage.
Alaska primarily uses Boeing 737 models with some Airbus A320 mixed in. The Airbus models are currently being phased out in favor of Boeing. Shorter regional flights will use Bombardier Q400 and Embraer 175 through Alaska owned Horizon Air & SkyWest Airlines.
Large aircraft like Boeing and Airbus are highly rated for safety and regular maintenance, while the smaller aircraft will always have a higher risk. Despite this, Alaska was placed 8th in the world’s list of safest airlines in 2021.
However, the Bombardier Q400 was specifically designed to fly in extreme cold weather, which makes it perfect for regional flights in Alaska. They are fast jets that fly quietly and quickly. Embraer 175 has a similar design and purpose, usually seating up to 75 guests.
Delta employs Airbus and Boeing, but primarily uses Boeing 717, 757, 767 models, along with Airbus A330. Delta typically prefers to renovate and repurpose old aircraft through their company owned TechOps, in order to save money on planes. But they have more recently been open to replacing outdated aircraft with brand new Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier models.
Alaska had a bout of incidents with airplane models no longer being used in the early days of its existence. Before 2000, the company reported seven fatal accidents. The most notable of their history was a freak accident in January 2000 where the stabilization system failed during an emergency landing at LAX. The crash killed all 88 passengers on board. This prompted Alaska Airlines to put a new, extensive lubrication check system in place before each flight.
More recently in November 2020, a brown bear was struck and killed by a plane landing on Yakutat Airport runway in Alaska. No human injuries were reported.
Delta also had its fair share of fatal crashes before 2000, totaling 12 reported accidents overall along with two additional incidents resulting in minor injuries. More recently in January 2015, nearly two dozen passengers were injured during a hard landing into a snow bank at LaGuardia Airport.
In January 2020, a Boeing 777 dumped gallons of fuel over a five mile radius of territory in Los Angeles County, injuring 56 people on the ground. The plane made a safe landing at LAX with no injuries on board.
We suggest you review each airline’s baggage requirements before flying to be sure you are not carrying prohibited items. Firearms, for example, are allowed with certain stipulations on Alaska flights, but they are strictly banned from Delta flights.
As far as losing baggage goes, checking directly with the airline in the airport should be your first step. Next step for Alaska would be to reimburse you for the essentials you’ll need for a day or two. If your baggage is missing for more than five days, they’ll file a report and investigate.
Delta has an option to track your bags so you don’t lose them in the first place. But if you do lose them, they’ll ask you to submit a claim online or in the airport so they can investigate.
In conclusion, Delta has been a trusted airline by many Americans for generations and it’s tough for some to deviate loyalty by trying other airlines, but Alaska is the perfect comparison to Delta for those who are anxious about giving it a shot.
We would typically choose Delta airlines, since we’re located on the East Coast and they have many more flights to choose from on a daily basis. They run a fairly tight ship and we’ve never personally experienced problems flying with them. The changing your flight for free, getting reasonable airfare, and having extensive partnerships with other airlines around the world are great selling points for us – not to mention the fact that we love their Biscoff cookies.
On the other hand, Alaska isn’t a bad choice if you’re sticking to the West Coast of the United States or flying regionally around Canada or Alaska. The flight experience is often compared to the same level of service provided on Delta and Alaska as a company is quickly coming up in the ranks to join the world’s dominating airlines. We hope they have more service in more destinations in the near future.