Which airline has the best miles and frequent flyer program? United, American, and Delta are the big three legacy carriers that most directly compete with each other in the United States. For that reason, I publish charts that compare their award prices.
United and American Airlines currently have award charts that were devalued in February 2014 and March 2016 respectively. Delta’s is in a state of constant devaluation with frequent unannounced price changes that come into effect for flights flown a few months later. Recently, Delta devalued their partner awards pretty drastically, so I have updated the charts to reflect those higher prices.
All charts compare the cheapest possible award you can book with the airlines, called Saver, MileSAAver, or Level 1. All charts show the one-way price in thousands of miles.
The economy chart has an extra column because American Airlines has off peak dates for economy awards that are cheaper than their normal MileSAAver awards. The asterisk next to the Europe off peak award is because it is the only off peak award bookable on American Airlines partners. All other off peak awards must fly American Airlines planes only.
The slashes in the American column show the price for flying on American (cheaper) and partners (more expensive.) The slashes in the Delta column show the price for flying on Delta (cheaper) and partners (more expensive).
American’s devAAluation has put its economy award prices roughly in line with Delta’s and United’s.
Delta’s October Devaluation for Business Class last year came with some economy reductions, which gives Delta some of the cheapest economy awards. Delta’s Business Class awards aren’t looking great now though, after the latest blow to their partner awards.
The biggest steals I see are American Airlines off peak awards to Central America and Hong Kong.
The slashes in all columns show the prices for flying that airline (cheaper) and partners (more expensive) except the slashes in the American cells for flights within the United States and Canada show the price for flying First Class on a two cabin plane (cheaper) and Business Class on a three cabin plane (more expensive.) The slashes in the Delta column within the United States and Canada show the price for flying First Class (cheaper) and flat bed Business Class (more expensive.)
Again American’s changes put it right in line with its competitors briefly until Delta’s changes made American Airlines awards look cheap by comparison again. American miles are still cheaper to Northern South America, Japan, and Korea.
Delta doesn’t have a column because Delta miles cannot be used to book three-cabin First Class. To book SkyTeam First Class, transfer Ultimate Rewards or Starpoints to Korean miles. Slashes show the price of flying that airline (cheaper) and the price of flying a partner (more expensive.)
It is almost always cheaper to use American Airlines miles to fly one of its awesome partners’ First Classes than it is to use United miles to fly one of its partners’ First Classes, but both charts are terrible. The only possible value I see is paying 80,000 American Airlines miles to fly JAL’s very awesome First Class to Japan or Korea.
For First Class awards in 2017, look to use Alaska miles, Korean miles, or Singapore miles instead.
Economy awards are pretty similar across the board (except for American Airlines’ Off Peak prices which are great). Delta’s latest partner devaluation makes Delta Business Class awards by far the priciest out of all three airlines.
In general, First Class is not the best use for United and American Airlines miles–and you can’t even book Three-Cabin First Class with Delta miles.