Airlines - United States


The big 3

  • Delta:
  • United:
    • Hubs: ORD, DEN, GUM, IAH, LAX, SFO, IAD, EWR
  • American:

Other full service airlines

(business class, lounge, long-haul):

  • Alaska:
    • Fleet: All 737
    • Focus: West coast
    • Hubs: ANC, SEA, PDX, SFO, LAX
    • Lounges, no lie-flat seat.
  • jetBlue:
    • Fleet: 320 + 220
    • Focus: Northeast, Florida, Caribbean
    • Hubs: JFK, BOS, FLL, MCO, LAX, SJU
    • Long-haul: transatlantic
    • Mint business class lie-flat seat; no airport lounge.
  • Hawaiian
    • Fleet: 321, 332, 717, 789
    • Focus: Hawaii
    • Hubs: HNL, OGG
    • Long-haul: transpacific


  • Southwest: all 737; ATL, BWI, MDW, DAL, DEN, HOU, LAS, LAX, OAK, MCO, PHX
  • Frontier: all 320
  • Allegiant: 320 + 737
  • Avelo: all 737
  • Breeze: A220-300
  • Sun Country:: all 737

How to earn lifetime status?

AA Delta United Alaska
Alliance oneworld Skyteam Star Alliance oneworld
PartnerFlights Eligible Eligible No No
1M Gold (25k) Silver (25k) Gold (50k) MVP Gold (40k)
2M Platinum (50k) Gold (50k) Platinum (75k) Gold 75K (75k)
3M - Gold (50k) Premier 1K (100k) -
4M - Platinum (75k) Golbal Services -


  • Airlines are all using "Million Miler" as the qualification for lifetime status.
  • Silver and Gold are not created equal in different programs.
  • United and Alaska do not count partner flights, that is why the same 1M miles will earn you a higher level status in these two.
  • Only United and Alaska provides highest level lifetime status. Delta does not have lifetime Diamond, AA does not have lifetime Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum.

AA Bonus:

  • 2M: 4 one-way systemwide upgrades
  • Every additional 1M miles: 4 additional one-way systemwide upgrades

United Bonus:

  • 2M: Annual companion Premier status
  • 3M: Annual companion Premier status
  • 4M: Annual companion Premier status

Shooting for Million Miler? Do your own math to see if it is possible, for example, suppose you are based in San Francisco:

  • SFO-SEA: 679mi, 1 million = 737 round trips
  • SFO-JFK: 2586mi, 1 million = 194 round trips
  • SFO-PEK: 5913mi, 1 million = 85 round trips

UA vs DL vs AA

Financial Performance

There are quite a lot of bad news about the airlines, globally. This industry is considered "uninvestable" by many. Even Buffett sold all airline stocks.

I've never been a big fun of AA, especially after the Project Oasis; I want to love more about Delta but my home airport is an United hub, so I do not have many choices as a customer. However as an investor, how to rank the big 3?

Assets vs Liabilities

It's the first time that I take a look at their earnings. The comparison of their assets and liabilities is quite interesting:

(2020 Q1, In million $)

AA Delta United
Assets 58,580 68,738 53,055
Current Liabilities 19,213 19,392 16,087
Noncurrent Liabilities 42,003 35,037 27,550
Stockholder's equity (2,636) 14,309 9,418

Before the COVID-19, AA has the world's largest fleet, with 900+ mainline aircraft, and Delta 800+, United 700+. Delta is known for it's old planes (dozens of MD and 717), yet it has the highest assets, and AA's stockholder's equity is negative.

Plane Retirement

All 3 are retiring planes due to the lack of demand:

  • Delta will accelerate the retirement of MD-88 and MD-90; all 777-200ER and 777-200LR will be retired, making A350 the long haul flagship (thanks to the upgrade of 280t MTOW so that the newer deliveries can fly the LR route like ATL-JNB)
  • AA will retire all 757, 767, A330-300, E190. AA fleet looks much simpler and streamlined after this: 737 and 320 for short-haul, and 787, 777, 332 for long-haul.
  • United does not have an obvious set of type to chop (either super old like Delta's MD or a small sub-fleet like AA's 9 A330-300). It will retire 767-400, which is mostly used for transatlantic routes, plus 10 757-200 that use a different type of engine than the rest of 41 planes.

Alliances / Joint Ventures


  • Sky team
  • Transatlantic: joint venture with Virgin Atlantic, Air France, KLM
  • Transpacific: primarily Korean Air, also China Eastern
  • Latin America: LATAM


  • Oneworld
  • Transatlantic: British Airways
  • Latin America: Gol (after LATAM leaves oneworld)


  • Star Alliance
  • Transatlantic: Lufthansa
  • Latin America: Copa Airlines and Avianca