All About U.S. Airline Loyalty Programs – Delta & Southwest

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Miles & Points For Beginners

Part 1 – Starting With The Basics

Part 2 – How Your FICO Credit Score Is Calculated

Part 3 – All About U.S. Airline Loyalty Programs – American & United

Part 4 – All About U.S. Airline Loyalty Programs – Delta & Southwest

Note: I do not receive any commissions for cards linked to in this post.  Card benefits and bonuses change.  Please check directly with the credit card issuer for current terms and conditions of their offers.

As we did the other day with United & American, today we will talk a little about the loyalty programs of Delta & Southwest.  The idea of these posts is to give you a basic understanding of how each airline’s program works and how you can utilize their miles to take your dream trip.

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Delta Airlines

The current Delta Airlines was born out of the merger between Delta & Northwest that was completed in 2010.  After the merger, Delta was the largest airline in the world.  Since then, the airline has been notoriously unfriendly to frequent fliers.

Many people complain that it is often difficult to find low level redemptions with Delta’s Skymiles. The company has also devalued their award chart two different times in the past year and they implemented a revenue requirement for elite status as well.  For this reason, some people call their mileage program “SkyPesos” and it is safe to say Delta isn’t the favorite awards program for those who love to fly for free with airline miles.

Delta Airlines Partners

Delta Airlines is part of the SkyTeam Alliance of carriers.  This means that you are able to use your Skymiles to book flights on many different carriers that are members of that alliance. Additionally, Delta Airlines has partnered up with several other airlines outside of the alliance and you can often earn Delta Skymiles for flying with their partners.

SkyTeam Partners – Aereflot, Aerolineas Argentinas, AeroMexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia Airlines, Tarom, Vietnam Airlines, Ziamen Air.

Other Partners – Alaska Airlines, GOL, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Hawaiian, Malaysia Airlines, Olympic.

Here is a full list of Delta’s partners and how many miles you earn by flying on each.

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Award Bookings

As I mentioned before, Delta devalued their SkyMiles program twice this past year.  The first devaluation went into effect on February 1st.  It stays in place for flights until June 1, 2014. After June 1, an even worse chart goes into effect.  You can see the full award charts here. For each region that you choose, you will then see the pre-June 1 pricing and the post-June 1 pricing.

My experience with Delta is that it is often difficult to find Saver awards. It is for that reason that I don’t collect SkyMiles too often. I have about 35,000 sitting in an account that I will use eventually.  To tell the truth, I have had a hard time even finding space to burn them on a simple domestic roundtrip.  With that said, if you live in or near a Delta hub city, then this may be the airline for you.

Credit Cards

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Delta Reserve Credit Card 

  • 10,000 MQM & 10,000 bonus miles after first purchase. (To find out what MQMs are click here.)
  • $450 annual fee.
  • 2x miles on Delta purchases.  1x miles on everything else.
  • After $30,000 in purchases you earn 15,000 MQM & 15,000 bonus miles.  After $60,000 in purchases you earn an additional 15,000 MQM & 15,000 bonus miles.  Spending is based on the calendar year.
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club Access.
  • Priority boarding and more.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

  • 5,000 MQMs & 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
  • $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase during the first three months.
  • $195 annual fee after May 1, 2014.  $150 before.
  •  2x miles on Delta purchases. 1x miles on everything else.
  • After $25,000 in purchases you earn 10,000 MQM & 10,000 bonus miles.  After $50,000 in purchases you earn an additional 10,000 MQM & 10,000 bonus miles.  Spending is based on the calendar year.
  • Priority boarding, free checked bag and more.

Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card

  • 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months.
  • $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase within the first three months.
  • $0 annual fee the first year then $95
  • 2x miles on Delta purchases. 1x miles on everything else.
  • Priority boarding, free checked bag and more.

Summary

Delta is not known for having the best or friendliest loyalty program.  Despite their shortfalls, the company has pretty good service and flies all over the world.  As you can see, Delta partners with American Express which means their credit card offerings are very competitive.  Additionally, the Reserve & Platinum cards are powerful ways to get more MQMs to qualify for elite status.

southwestlogo

Southwest Airlines

Southwest up until this year has been entirely a domestic U.S. airline.  They have had international partnerships in the past (most notably with Mexican carrier Volaris), but Southwest has been hesitant to expand internationally.  About a year ago this changed when they purchased AirTran which had routes to the Caribbean and Mexico.  As AirTran is folded into Southwest completely this year, they are starting to announce international routes.

A few weeks ago Southwest announced a couple of routes to the Caribbean.  They also made clear that several new routes to Mexico should begin before the end of the year.  It is expected that AirTran will cease to exist after 2014, which means that we should expect Southwest to continue announcing their expansion into international markets.

Southwest Airlines Partners

As I mentioned before, in the past Southwest has had partners including Volaris and WestJet, but at the current time there are no airline partnership agreements.  Instead, it is believed Southwest is looking to expand into international markets themselves.

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Award Bookings

Southwest was the first major U.S. airline to move to a revenue based loyalty program.  Previously, they awarded you one credit for each segment flown.  Once you reached 16 credits, then you were able to redeem them for a free roundtrip flight.

A few years ago they changed that system to a revenue based model.  You now earn points based on the cost and type of fare booked.  Wanna Get Away fares earn 6x points per dollar, Anytime fares earn 10x points per dollar and Business Select fares earn 12x points per dollar.  For example on a $100 Business Select fare you would earn 1,200 points, a $100 Anytime fare would earn 1,000 points and a $100 Wanna Get Away fare would earn 600 points.

Another example of how you earn miles on Southwest depending on the fare.
Another example of how you earn miles on Southwest depending on the fare.

Once you have the points in your account, you can then use them to book flights.  The way that works until March 31, 2014 is that you pay 60 points per dollar of airfare.  For a $100 ticket for example, you would need to redeem 6,000 points.  Starting on April 1, the redemption rate goes up to 70 points per dollar. Using our previous example, that $100 airfare will soon cost 7,000 points.

While the revenue system makes things very simple and doesn’t require complicated award charts, it does have its down side.  Southwest felt the need to devalue their Rapid Rewards currency despite the fact that a revenue model should theoretically never have to be devalued.  With that said, for domestic flights Southwest still offers free baggage, no change fees and a comprehensive route network that makes them a compelling choice for flying within the U.S.

The final thing of note when talking about Southwest is the Companion Pass.  Once you reach 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year, you are given a companion pass that is good through the entire following calendar year.  With the companion pass, the pass holder can bring one previously named person with them for free on ANY ticket.  The companion just pays the security fee for their ticket.  Additionally, credit card bonus points count towards the pass.

Credit Cards

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Credit Card

Southwest’s credit cards are issued by Chase.  Most of the time the bonus is 25,000 points after $2,000 in purchases, but they often bump that up to 50,000 points.  (Right now the bonus is at 50,000 points.) Remember that bonus points do count towards the companion pass, so it is probably best to wait for the higher bonus.

Southwest Personal or Business Premier Card

  • Current bonus of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months.
  • 6,000 bonus points on your anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines and AirTran®Airways purchases made directly with the airlines
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1x points on all other purchases.
  • $99 Annual Fee.

Southwest Personal or Business Plus Card

  • Current bonus of 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months.
  • 3,000 bonus points on your anniversary
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines and AirTran®Airways purchases made directly with the airlines
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases
  • 1x points on all other purchases.
  • $69 Annual Fee.

Many people get one of the personal cards and one of the business cards.  With the 50,000 bonus points on each card and the minimum spending, you would have 104,000 of the 110,000 points needed for the companion pass.  At that point you could earn the rest of the points through spending on the cards.

Summary

I am not the biggest fan of Southwest mainly because I like to have an assigned seat.  They do however fly into more airports from Las Vegas than any other airline, so I am compelled to fly with them once in awhile.

Jasmine and I also have the companion pass for this year and next, so I anticipate flying with them quite often!  For me, the most exciting part is their international expansion.  Very soon we will be able to use the companion pass on routes to the Caribbean and Mexico!

Conclusion

I am not the biggest fan of either Southwest or Delta.  It would be stupid to ignore either of these programs though.  Both Southwest and Delta are huge companies and there is no doubt that at some point you will need to fly with them.  Southwest’s biggest selling point is the companion pass and how easy it is to obtain with credit card bonuses.  Delta’s credit card offerings are fairly competitive as well and useful when you have miles like me that are otherwise trapped.

Hopefully with this post and the previous one, you now have an idea of how these large U.S. carriers work, which credit cards they offer to entice you to join and participate in their awards program, how their programs work and which of their partners fly to your dream destination. Perhaps now you can see that your dream trip is within grasp!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

 


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