Trying to decide between American and Delta for your next flight? We can help!
The quick answer is that Delta is known for their customer service and attention to detail on the human level during the booking process and on board. American has a little more to offer in the way of destinations, but can be a step down in customer service and experience.
That’s the way-too-short answer, so we’ll dive in a lot deeper to help you determine which airline is the best fit for your preferences.
Before we dive into the specifics of pricing, experience and service, we’ll start with an short background on each airline:
American Airlines is the world’s largest airline based on fleet size and number of passengers carried per year – nearly 200 million of them. This was a direct result of merging with US Airways in 2011, but American got it’s original start in 1930 when two airline organizations merged. American is part of Oneworld Alliance.
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’re starting with pricing since it’s inevitably the first thing you’ll want to look at. While it’s difficult to gauge exact rates, we’ll give examples of averages. It’s important to note that prices will change by month and even by day, but the booking process will always be the same. We’ll also cover added expenses you may come across while booking.
American uses a standard booking system, separating options into classes. Main Cabin seating is what we’ll be using for the pricing example, which includes the ability to choose your seat and has no change fees, which is a plus.
We averaged out the cost for several flights throughout the year and concluded that a round trip along the East Coast is generally around $240, about $400 cross-country and an average of $500 to South America for a single passenger with a possible stop at favorable flight times.
Here’s a full breakdown of what each class includes:
- Basic Economy: includes carry-on and personal item, and advanced seat selection with general boarding
- Main Cabin: includes carry-on and personal item, one checked bag and advanced seat selection with general boarding
- Main Cabin Extra: includes carry-on and personal item, one checked bag and advanced seat selection with early boarding
- Premium Economy: includes carry-on and personal item, one checked bag and advanced seat selection with early boarding, priority check-in and security, wide seats with more leg room, complimentary amenities bag, free WiFi, and exclusive meals with free alcoholic beverage
- Business: includes carry-on and personal item, one checked bag and advanced seat selection with early boarding, priority check-in and security, wide seats with more leg room, complimentary amenities bag, free WiFi, and premium dining on international flights with access to the Flagship Lounge and Admiral’s Club
- First: includes carry-on and personal item, one checked bag and advanced seat selection with early boarding, priority check-in and security, wide seats with more leg room, complimentary amenities bag, free WiFi, and premium dining on domestic flights with access to the Flagship Lounge and Admiral’s Club
Delta has an easy-to-manage booking process with so many different flight options available. They have many 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 cross-country trip averages $526 and a flight to South America is around $725.
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.
P.S. – When you’re done reading this one, don’t miss our other expert airline comparisons:
American baggage fees for one checked bag are included in the above list, but extra bags are priced as follows: first bag, if not included in ticket price, is $30, the second is $40, the third is $150 and each additional bag after that is $200. Pricing may vary for international flights.
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.
American doesn’t charge for much in addition to your selected airfare, but there are a couple extras you can get. For example, if you’d like to insure your flight and get a refund, fees will be assessed according to the price you paid for the round trip flight. These are usually between $50 – $150.
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. Both Delta and American allow you to cancel a flight within 24 hours in order to get your money back, but the rules may vary slightly on timing.
Ways to Save
American has the AAdvantage Program, which is a loyalty program with points given for taking flights, or spending money with their hotel, rental and dining partners. The points can be used for flights, upgrades and car or hotel rentals. Their Elite Status reward members get the best advantages if they are very frequent flyers.
Delta offers a similar program with their Delta 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 the next most important factor when flying, especially when traveling cross-country, internationally or over night. In addition to comfort, we’ll cover the flight experience from the technology to the friendliness of the staff and quality of the food.
American’s Main Cabin seating has become noticeably smaller in recent years, allowing for more passengers to board each flight. This was dubbed “Project Oasis” and most vacationers would agree that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Travelers have noticed that the leg room has become smaller and the lavatories have slightly shrunken. It’s possible if you’ve never been on an American Airlines flight before that you can easily compare it with other affordable airlines, but for those who fly American regularly, this was a big change.
The snacks offered for free will usually be up to standards, with the typical small packs of crackers or pretzels given with a free drink to each guest. However, the meals on board may not be worth the money. It’s probably more worth your while to order food in the airport to bring aboard.
American offers in-flight entertainment, but the screens are not necessarily standard. Instead of being mounted into the headrest, they are detachable, which can be convenient if you’d like to reposition the way you view the screen, but the tech and user-friendliness seems a bit dated.
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. This technology is years ahead of the current screens American uses in their headrests, so Delta wins in the tech category on your flight.
Comfort will be a little step above what American offers, and the food may be a little better, too. First, you’ll receive Biscoff cookies and a free drink on each flight. In addition, you can order hot meals and they’ll probably be more satisfying than American’s dishes.
American has Premium Economy, Business and First Class, which provide roughly the same experience. All promise early boarding, large and cozy seats, and special service from the flight attendants. An amenities bag with sleeping blankets and eye masks, a special menu created by professional chefs and more privacy make the premium positioning worth it.
However, there have been reported complaints about the flight crew not attending to the premium seating as expected and reports of bumping people from first class. In recent years, it appears American is doing more to step up their game. But when you’re paying such a high price for luxury air travel, it’s best to ensure you’ve chosen the correct airline for the money.
We will say that American does tend to get better ratings for First Class over Delta.
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. Delta One (or Business Class) is considered one of the best on the market and offers lie-flat seating that rivals American’s first class. However, American’s first class is the way to go when choosing first class options between these two airlines.
American seems to have mixed reviews regarding their flight crew. Some have reported praise for the captains and attendants who have served their passengers admirably, but many have complained about the total lack of customer service and noticeably bad corporate culture.
It’s easy to see how an environment of friendliness can get lost in the shuffle since this is such a huge company. But needless to say, airlines are in the service industry and passengers expect more out of their staff.
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.
From the representatives on the phone and in the airport, to the captains and the flight crew, Delta consistently receives great reviews for going above and beyond on behalf of their passengers.
American provides free snacks and drinks with each flight, along with a large menu and beverage list for overnight and international flights. Wifi can be purchased for a small fee in Economy, but will be included with Premium seating. Headrest screens are also available for free entertainment on every flight, but the interior comfort and outdated technology can be a drag.
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, seat comfort is above average and there are outlets at each seat.
Both Delta and American all most major US cities as well as a host of different international destinations. It’s important to note the variation in availability, as well as the procedures for accommodating passengers in the event of a flight change or cancellation.
Because of American’s giant alliance with Oneworld and network of codeshare agreements with other airlines in the country and around the world, booking, cancelling and flight changes should also be manageable with fewer headaches – that is, if their relationships with their many various worker’s unions are in tact. There has also been a more recent bout of cancellations due to mandatory plane groundings, which accounts for about 4% of their flights. This is a high number in the airline industry.
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.
Delta has not faced the same obstacles with plane groundings and flight cancellations as American, and we hope they continue to provide good service to passengers.
American is, again, the largest airline in the world. It serves almost the entire world with national and international flights departing daily. International destinations include 95 locations around the globe, serving 55 different countries on over five continents.
Delta has a massive international presence, flying to hundreds of different cities across the globe. This totals 330 international destinations. 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.
American Airlines will allow passengers to bring small pets on board for a fee of $125. However, fully-trained service dogs can fly free when accompanied by their owner. Small pets must be 8 weeks or older and must remain inside a carrier for the duration of the flight. Carriers must be stowed away under the seat in front on you.
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.
American will only permit active-duty U.S. Military service members to travel with large breed dogs when traveling on official orders. Dogs must be checked as baggage in appropriate crates that allow them to stand, sit and turn around. All other passengers can not bring dogs as checked baggage.
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 notable and major accidents each airline has endured. 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 not only yourself, but your baggage, too.
American uses mainly a mix of Airbus A320 and Boeing 737-800 narrow-bodied aircraft. The wider bodied planes in operation are their Boeing 777 and 787 models. Each of these is considered the highest standard of aircraft in the industry, which are reinforced with safety gauges and systems.
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.
American, being the larger of the two, has seen more incidents on average. American Airlines planes have been hijacked 17 times, according to the Aviation Safety Network (two of them on September 11, 2001). Also in 2001, American Airlines experienced it’s second deadliest crash when Flight 587 crashed into a Queens neighborhood, killing all on board.
More recently, in 2016, a Boeing 767-300 caught fire before takeoff in Chicago O’Hare due to an uncontained failure. The entire crew and all passengers were able to get off safely, with only a few receiving minor injuries in the panic.
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. In the event your bags go missing or are placed on a separate flight, each airline has different procedures.
American has an option to track your bags online. The airline will even reimburse you for the items lost while you’re on vacation when you file a complaint. If the luggage has gone missing for more than three days, a questionnaire must be filled out and their Central Baggage Resolution Office will handle it from there.
Delta also 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. We like the fact that you can stay up to date with the location of your bags from the moment you release them to airport staff.
In conclusion, we much prefer Delta over American Airlines. Delta simply has the best standards in customer service among the largest United States based airlines. Delta puts customers first in each aspect of their company and it’s very apparent from the booking process, to the bag tracking to the smiling flight attendants.
We personally love the experience on Delta, with it’s comfortable Economy seating, as well as the options to upgrade in Premium, First Class and Business Class. You also get to change your flight for free with the higher options and have guaranteed great service on board – no matter your class.
American could do a lot to step up their game, starting with better customer service and higher regard for those choosing to fly with them. While they may be the largest and often the cheapest among the big airlines, if customer service is important to you we recommend choosing Delta.