Today we’re going to be taking a look at the differences between two of the biggest flight companies in the world- Southwest vs Delta. I’ve had countless experiences on both airlines, and can confidently say that this is a genuinely hard decision to make… But I’m going to show you the ups and downs of each side.
The airlines are fairly different in their business models, but they often come up together in reviews because they both are highly regarded. The trick is to understand which one does what, and how you can use each airline for your specific travel needs!
By the end of this article, you’ll know the key differences between the two airlines, you’ll understand the features of each, get some decision-making tips, and know some alternative airlines to choose from. Let’s get started!
Bottom Line Up Front
The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line flight-around experience anywhere in the world, Delta can provide that. However, if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line budget airline, Southwest is your best option. Southwest does things a little differently than other airlines, but it works. There’s only one cabin to choose from, free checked bags, and free snacks. Delta hits almost every niche flyer on the market and can provide a whole different experience based on your budget.
Let’s compare Southwest and Delta head to head.
- Southwest services most of the continental United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, whereas Delta services almost the entire world, and specializes in the east coast of the United States
- Southwest only has one cabin and seating class on their entire plane, whereas Delta has five different classes you can choose from depending on your budget and desired comforts
- Southwest has an eclectic staff that will make your experience fun, whereas Delta has a top-rated staff around the world
- Delta has a full menu on their flights, and even chef-inspired meals if you are in Delta One, whereas Southwest only serves snacks and drinks on their flights (which are free)
- Delta has monitors on every seat on their airplanes that provide in-flight entertainment, whereas Southwest offers streaming services that can be accessed on your mobile device or computer
- Delta’s reward programs (SkyMiles) give the loyal customers more elite benefits, whereas Southwest’s program is good, but is only good for basic purposes like getting discounted travel options
Let’s take a look at the key features of these two airline companies.
Southwest is one of the most unique airlines in the industry as they play by their own rules. I like to think of them as the best of the best in terms of budget airlines because they are cheap yet you still get a decent amount of benefits.
The company itself was started in 1967 by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, who planned to undercut prices in Texas to get a foot in the door. This led to several lawsuits from competing airlines, but things eventually worked themselves. Over the years they began to slowly expand across the United States. Today Southwest has about 4,000 departures per day and over 50,000 employees.
In its totality, Southwest is primarily a domestic flight company. This means that the large majority of their flights are within the United States. There’s no particular side of the United States that they work better with, either. You’ll find solid deals from Southwest across the entire nation. They have a few international flights, but they mainly go to a few places in Mexico and the Caribbean.
I often use Southwest if I’m trying to get somewhere cheap and efficiently, with little hiccups. I wouldn’t necessarily use them if you’re trying to go on vacation, but if you’re on business they’re not a bad option.
The great thing about Southwest is that the first two bags you check are free. Compared to most airlines, this is a big deal. Most charge $30-$50 for the first couple of bags. As a bonus, they also allow you to bring a free carry-on with you. For most travelers, this means you’ll never have to pay for any luggage. However, if you’re the type that likes to bring lots of luggage, you may get a few fees tacked on. Overweight bags cost an extra $75, and any checked bags beyond two are $75 each.
I always like to use as few bags as possible, which means I don’t check very often. I use packing cubes to make sure my belongings can all fit into a carry-on! It saves the hassle of having to pick up your bag, and make the whole process easier.
In terms of classes, Southwest is different than most standard airlines as well. They only have one cabin on the entire flight, and there are no first-class or “premium” seats. This means that whoever checks in first gets to board the plane first. However, you can pay an extra $15 for an “Early Bird Check-In,” which lets you board before everyone else.
The seats themselves are fairly comfortable but not nearly as cozy as the economy seats on Delta airlines. They don’t come with power outlets, however, the trays are fairly large which means they’re good for getting work done if need be.
The staff on Southwest is known to be fun, quirky, and a little different from other flights. I’ve had airline attendants rap the safety information, make jokes on the microphone, and even sing. You truly never know what you’re going to end up in, which is part of the fun of flying Southwest. In terms of actual helpfulness, they are a great staff. You’ll find that there are countless positive reviews about them online, and they are treated well as employees by the actual company.
Food and drink are fairly lackluster on Southwest, but you have to remember that you are paying for a budget airline. You’ll get a free soft drink and snack on each flight, which can range from pretzels to nuts to cookies. They do however offer an alcohol menu, which includes beer, wine, and a few cocktails like margaritas, rum and cokes, and bloody marys.
I will vouch for their pretzels. Higher quality than most airlines.
The in-flight entertainment on Southwest is fairly solid, assuming you have a device that can access the services. All the movies and tv shows are free for you to watch, which is a plus. You don’t have to worry about downloading any items on your phone or laptop before the trip. Most Southwest flights also offer wifi access, which is an $8 charge per flight. This is nice if you’d rather browse the internet on the flight.
Southwest offers a program called Rapid Rewards, which is how you can rack up points if you travel with them frequently. The program is free to signup for, and the points never expire. One of my favorite parts about Rapid Rewards is that there are no blackout dates, so you’ll get points even on the busiest weekends. Once you build enough points, you can use them for reduced airfare, hotels, car rentals, and gift cards.
Overall, I’d say it’s a solid program if you’re loyal to Southwest. I’ve used it a few times and felt like I was getting a decent amount of points for how much I was flying.
Delta Airlines has a strong reputation for being one of the highest-ranking airlines in the world. Its customer ratings are phenomenal, and they are one of the oldest airlines in the world. They started in 1925 as a crop-dusting company right out of Georgia. They have over 700 aircraft in their fleet and made over $30 billion in revenue back in 2021. Needless to say, they’re one of my favorite flight companies for a reason.
Delta specializes out on the east coast of the United States with large hubs in New York, Boston, and Atlanta. This means that if you’re traveling to or from this side of the United States, you’ll have a better chance of getting as good fare with them. However, the thing that separates them from lots of other airlines, including Southwest, is that they have international flights as well. You can find options to take you almost anywhere in the world with Delta, which makes them a leader in availability.
If I’m going on an international vacation, Delta is usually my first choice. Every time I’ve been in the skies with them, I feel relaxed and comfortable. Their chairs have a very “premium” feel to them, which is a nice start to my vacations.
Delta charges $30 for your first checked bag, and $40 for your second checked bag. Customers should make sure their bags aren’t overweight, or else they could risk a $100 – $150 fee per overweight bag. One way you can get free checked bags with Delta is to purchase a First Class or Delta One ticket, which will allow you up to two free bags. The good thing is that Delta does allow a free carry-on and personal item per person, so if you can squeeze all your belongings into a smaller bag like me, you’ll be home free.
The seat classes are where Delta really shines against the competition. They have five different sections you can sit in, which each provide their own benefits, depending on what luxuries you want. The cheapest sections are Basic and Main, which are only different in that Main boards before Basic, who gets the back of the plane.
The next step up is Comfort seats, which offer the same type of seats as Basic and Main, except they give you a bit more leg room, a dedicated storage bin, and free food/drinks. The top two tiers are First Class and Delta One which provide premium seats, additional menu items, priority boarding, and in the case of Delta One, fully reclining chairs.
I’ve only ridden in Delta One once, and it was probably the highest-end airline experience I’ve ever had. You actually choose your meals a couple of days before flying, so it’s prepared special just for you. I had an absolutely mouth-watering steak with potatoes that has spoiled all other airline meals for me.
The staff on Delta has high ratings across the board, so you can expect to have a hospitable flight attendant on your journey. The most impressive thing is how universal their good services are across the world. I’ve had great flight attendants flying anywhere from Europe to simply Kentucky.
The food and drink on Delta airlines are pretty solid, but I wouldn’t say it’s “amazing” unless you have a Delta One ticket. Delta One unlocks a new menu where you can get access to meals curated by world-class chefs. If not, you’ll get some pretty standard menu choices, like sandwiches, fruits/veggies, and regional-specific choices. You’ll also get their signature Biscoff cookies on every flight, which are my favorite part.
Delta also shines extremely well in the entertainment sector. Every seat on their planes, even the Basic and Main seats have built-in monitors packed with films and tv shows to enjoy on the flight over. This is perfect for me because I always forget to download enough content to watch on my personal devices.
Delta’s SkyMiles program is a pretty solid program if you’re looking to pledge your loyalty to a certain company. If you put in the miles with Delta, you’ll be rewarded with all sorts of benefits. In addition to the obvious frills like free flights, hotels, and rentals, you’ll also get access to lounges, and priority boarding, and have the opportunity to move up a ranking system where you’ll get even more customized support.
SkyMiles is truly one of the best reward programs on the market, so if you travel for a living look into it!
Decision Making Tips
Want a little help deciding which one to go with? Check out these decision-making tips.
How Far Are You Going?
If you’re going anywhere in the domestic United States, Southwest will most likely get you a better fare than Delta. However, if you’re going anywhere in the world that’s not in North America, your only option will be Delta, as Southwest airlines only stay local. It is important to note that if you’re on the east coast of the US, there’s a chance you could get a better deal with Delta because they specialize in this half of the US.
What Kind of Experience Are You Looking For?
If you’re looking for a higher-end experience, realize that Delta is most likely what you are looking for. At its heart, Southwest airlines is a budget airline company, but it’s probably the best in its class at that. Delta has more features, such as built-in monitors, more food options, and more comfortable seats. Southwest is a good experience if you’re looking for a reliable way to fly cheaply.
Alternatives to Consider
If you’re still not sure if you want to consider Delta or Southwest airlines for your next trip, here are a couple of competing companies that you might want to look into.
Alaska Airlines is a good option to consider if you’re traveling around the west coast of the United States, and want a fare that could compete with Southwest. They’re also different in that they offer three different cabin levels, so you can travel in relative luxury if that’s what you desire. Alaska Airlines is almost like if you combined Delta and Southwest into one- you’ll get cheap flights with a decent amount of travel frills.
The most comparable airline to Delta in terms of luxury would most likely be Virgin Airlines. The only problem is that they have a fairly limited network of flights, but if you find one available it’s worth checking out. You’ll get solid food options, extremely comfortable seats and lounge areas, and a fantastic reward program that’s connected with its hotel network.
If you’re simply looking to travel as cheaply as possible, Spirit Airlines might be an option to consider. It’s worth noting that they have a lot of hidden fees in their payment process, so make sure you keep your eye on what’s being factored in. I’ve found the best way to travel with Spirit is to pack a carry-on with all your items, arrive early, and know what you’re getting into. You’ll have a mildly uncomfortable flight, but you’ll save lots of money in the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: If you take into account prices for experience level, then yes, Southwest is better than Delta. But if you’re basing the decision on features alone, then Delta is the leader. You’ll find many more travel frills with Delta.
Answer: Yes, Delta has a significantly larger flight network than Southwest. Southwest only exists in the United States and Mexico/Caribbean, while Delta has flights all over the world. This is most likely because Delta has been in business for many years longer than Southwest.
Answer: Like any other flight, the cheapest days of the week to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This is because it is smack dab in the middle of the week when most people are already at the destination they need to be at. Weekends are generally the most expensive time to fly.
Conclusion: Delta or Southwest?
Overall if you’re looking for the best cheap airline you can get your hands on, look no further than Southwest. You’ll get from point A to point B comfortably and with little hiccups. You’ll also receive stellar customer service, free checked bags, and a few snacks.
However, if you’re looking for a more high-end experience, Delta Airlines is most likely what you are looking for. You’ll get to choose your level of comfort, and have access to better meals and services if you have the budget.
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