Delta Thoughts: Award Availability, 717’s, & Long Distance Regional Jets

Earlier this year my household transitioned to a card lineup that features two American Express cards and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. As a result, our earnings structure looks like this:

I know there are ways to slightly increase return for certain categories, but this works pretty well for us to keep it simple. It’s also nice that the Blue Business Plus doesn’t carry an annual fee. Trying to maximize every single category while paying 5 different annual fees can be counter intuitive. Since we’re relatively heavy on American Express spending, getting to know the Membership Rewards program is important. In case you haven’t already seen it, we’ve published an American Express Points transfer guide to help you out.

Delta Award Availability Is Great

The main domestic airline transfer partner for American Express is Delta. As a Phoenix based flyer, I don’t find myself flying Delta often. Phoenix is a Southwest and American hub, so most of my flying has traditionally been with those two airlines. Next year we’re planning a trip up to Seattle so I decided to take a look at Delta’s award availability. Since Delta has a hub in Seattle, I knew there would be at least a few nonstop flights per day. To my surprise, the award availability was fantastic:

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised and have just been living in an American Airlines bubble for too long. American’s award availability is completely unacceptable. United usually isn’t much better. While Delta doesn’t publish an award chart, it’s easy to run searches and I’ve found that flights are pretty reasonable. My departure date is a Friday which is typically one of the busiest days to fly. Nonetheless, Delta had award availability for (3) passengers on all three nonstop flights from Phoenix to Seattle. Furthermore, 11,000 miles one-way isn’t a bad value for the convenience of a quick online points transfer and booking.

Long Distance Delta Regional Jets

I’ve got to say one thing that did surprise me about the available Delta flights is the prevalence of regional jets servicing the Phoenix – Seattle route. The flight time for this route is about 3 hours. On certain days all three Delta flights are serviced by a Embraer 175 which is a 2-2 configuration, albeit one of the larger varieties of regional jets. Typically, I’m accustomed to being on a regional jet for 2 hours or less.

Fortunately, our particular flight is serviced by a Boeing 717 which I think is a great plane. Passengers traveling as couples can sit on the side with two seats, while families of three like us can take the other side of the aisle with three seats. To my knowledge, Delta and Hawaiian are the only domestic airlines flying a 717 at the moment.

Bottom Line

What I look for in transfer opportunities has changed since we had a baby this year. At the moment, the idea of building a complex first class itinerary to Southeast Asia isn’t in the cards. Instead, I’m looking for ways to maximize our everyday spending and utilize simple transfer partners with good availability. Delta checks all those boxes where American fails miserably. Now if they just had a few more nonstop routes from Phoenix, I’d be really happy.

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