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Seeing Sky-High Prices with Delta? Why & What You Can Do

Trust me: It's not just you.

Delta flyers around the country are seemingly hitting a breaking point in unison with high prices on their go-to airline. Questions like “Why is Delta so much more expensive?” and “What’s going on with Delta’s prices?” dominate Reddit, other forums, and social media. It's become a frequent topic around proverbial workplace water coolers, cab rides to the airport, and even inside Delta's own Sky Club lounges and planes.

Let's be real: Everyone loves to gripe about flight prices … even if they're actually going down. But the chorus surrounding Delta's at-times absurd pricing has grown louder than ever. Flying to or from its biggest hubs like Atlanta (ATL) or Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), you don't have to look long or hard to find a Delta fare that's $200, $300, or more above every other airline.

 

new york to london flight prices

 

Sure, examples like this are easy to cherry-pick… but they're also telling, part of an undeniable trend. Delta hubs dominated USA Today’s recent analysis of airports that have seen the biggest airfare increases in recent years, too: Among the nation’s 30 largest airports, five of the top 10 offenders were major Delta hubs, with Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) topping the list.

So what gives with pricing on the Atlanta-based airline? Why do fares seem higher than ever – and is there any solution? We've got some answers.

 

What's Driving Delta's Prices?

In short? Delta charges more for airfare because they want to … and they can.

It's really that simple. Delta knows the majority of its best customers simply don't have a realistic alternative in the heavily consolidated U.S. airline industry, where carriers have carved out near monopolies at their biggest and most important hubs. Swear you'll constantly take one-stop flights with American, United, or Southwest? Delta will gladly call your bluff.

Delta controls close to 70% or more of the market at its hubs in Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), and Salt Lake City (SLC). Even in New York City (JFK) and Boston (BOS), your best alternative is JetBlue: an airline that's now on unsure financial footing, recently replaced its CEO, and has a poor track record for running flights on time.

With a stranglehold on many of its biggest airports, Delta can get away with charging higher airfare because that's what passengers will pay. While it might make everyday flyers happy, there's no financial incentive to slash fares. We call it the Delta hub penalty, and it's alive and well.

 

delta planes on tarmac

 

Now, Delta's not the only airline that crowds out competitors – not even close. But pricing goes beyond market share and into the company's overarching strategy: Delta fancies itself America's best, premium airline … and the entire point of being a “premium” airline is charging your passengers a premium.

If they can convince consumers they're the best option out there, surely Delta can convince travelers to pay a bit (or a lot) more for a seat on those planes. And few can argue that Delta hasn't set itself apart from competitors.

There's now complimentary Wi-Fi on most Delta flights for anyone with a free SkyMiles account and seatback screens on almost every plane, too – even as competitors like American and United ripped those TVs out. While many of its planes are actually decades old, they look fresh and modern – aside from its many woefully outdated business class cabins on long-haul flights, ironically.

Delta has made reliability part of its brand, dominating the rest of the industry with on-time performance for years. Nearly 84% of Delta flights arrived on time last year compared to about 79% or less at both American and United, according to federal statistics. And while Delta flyers might grumble about service onboard slipping since the pandemic, the airline is still widely regarded as having friendlier flight attendants than its competitors.

 

delta first class cabin

 

The slow but steady return of business travelers might be another factor.

Once the heart of every major airline's strategy, business travel disappeared in early 2020 and was much slower to bounce back, forcing airlines to pivot and cater toward everyday vacationers instead. But Delta has repeatedly said that corporate travel is coming back strong.

Airline president Glen Hauenstein told investors in January that they entered 2024 expecting business travel at 90% of pre-pandemic levels. Maybe they just don't need us cost-conscious vacationers as much as they did even a year ago?

 

price comparison on google flights

 

Is all that enough to warrant the prices you see for your next Delta flight? You might not think so, but there's little reason for Delta to change course … because it's working. Last year was a record-setter for Delta, pulling in 23% more in revenue than in 2019, despite still flying slightly less compared to pre-pandemic levels.

So sure, some travelers may swear they're calling it quits with Delta and finally flying other carriers. But by the numbers, we're not seeing it – at least not yet.

And Delta is betting people will continue paying more to fly with them. It's the airline's entire strategy. 

“People come to us because of the experience they get on Delta as compared to others. And it's that differentiation, that distinction, is what the definition of being a loved brand is: That people have a relationship, they have an irrational commitment towards,” CEO Ed Bastian said during the company's big investor day presentation last summer. “They'll invest a premium with and they spend their loyalty on Delta. And we continue to grow that.”

To some travelers, though, the higher prices smack of hubris – just another slap in the face after last year's botched overhaul of the Medallion Status program and the recent hike to annual fees on SkyMiles credit cards. After years of brand loyalty, it's personal now.

And it's particularly painful in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), where flight prices can seem exorbitantly high thanks to a quirk in how Delta is trying to fend off upstart low-cost carrier Sun Country.

On dozens of routes where the carriers fly head to head, you can book a stingy Delta basic economy fare for the same price as Sun Country. But if you want a better, main cabin fare – the kind that lets you pick your seat, change or cancel flights for free, earn SkyMiles, and get into Delta Sky Clubs – Delta regularly charges an additional $200 or even $300 more per ticket.

 

msp rsw basic main

 

In the end, Delta may be simply targeting a different customer than just a few years ago: more wealthy vacationers who'll gladly pay more for a Delta nonstop and returning corporate road warriors whose employers don't care.

 

Where You Can Still Find Delta Deals

Airfare is not a monolith – not even on Delta.

The trend may seem obvious that Delta airfare is rising, but that doesn't mean it's going up everywhere. Take it from us: We search for and find Delta flight deals every day for our Thrifty Traveler Premium members. So while you might see eye-popping fares of $500 or more, I promise that Delta deals are still out there.

A little tip: Competition is the x-factor when it comes to flight prices. So if you're hoping to find a better deal flying Delta, focus on destinations where you've got multiple carriers to pick from.

Here are some places to look.

 

New York, Denver, Phoenix & Miami

Within the U.S., a handful of cities stick out as safer bets for cheaper Delta fares. They've all got one thing in common: They're big hubs for competing airlines, too.

We're still routinely finding cheap prices flying into New York and all three airports: New York City (JFK), New York City-LaGuardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR). That includes some recent Delta fares this spring, summer, and fall as low as $99 roundtrip.

 

delta flight alert new york city

 

Competition is fierce flying in and out of Phoenix (PHX) – and there are tons of flights to pick from, especially during the winter and spring.

 

minneapolis to phoenix flight

 

The same goes for Miami (MIA) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL). 

Denver (DEN) is another frequent source of cheap Delta flight deals, thanks largely to huge presences from both United and Southwest and low-cost Frontier Airlines that keep prices down. That includes low prices paying cash and dirt-cheap Delta SkyMiles rates, too – with fares as low as 7,000 miles roundtrip!

 

delta skymiles deal to denver

 

Hawaii

Hawaii has been a hotbed of flight deals lately, including flying Delta.

You'll almost always find the lowest fares from Delta's West Coast hubs with nonstops to the islands: Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA). Just as with other carriers, we regularly see Delta selling flights for under $200 roundtrip.

 

delta los angeles

 

 

Cancún

Cancún (CUN), we have a problem: After years of bottomless travel demand, attention seems to have shifted away from the Riviera Maya. But airlines still have plenty of flights and seats to fill.

The result is some of the cheapest roundtrip fares we've ever seen to Cancún, including Delta fares like:

  • Atlanta (ATL) to Cancún for just $293 total
  • Boston (BOS) and Los Angeles (LAX) nonstop from $299 roundtrip
  • Detroit (DTW) nonstop as low as $374
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) from $353 roundtrip
  • And New York City (JFK) to Cancùn and back for just $275 total

 

cancun flight deal

 

Iceland

If you're looking to make it to Iceland this year, you're in luck.

Delta goes head to head against budget-friendly airline Icelandair with nonstop flights to Reykjavik (KEF) from many of its hubs. So whenever we see Icelandair slash prices – and it happens regularly – Delta almost always responds in kind with fares under $500 roundtrip … and sometimes under $400!

 

delta nonstop to iceland 

Dublin

You could be even luckier if Ireland is on your mind.

On flights from Boston (BOS), New York City (JFK), and even the upcoming new route from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Delta has repeatedly slashed roundtrip fares to under $500 – and occasionally even under $400!

 

Tips to Avoid Overpaying for Delta

If you're set on flying Delta but still hoping to save, some easy tips can help you save a bit (or a lot) of money.

 

Use Delta's Price Calendar

Shifting your travel dates by just a week – or even a day or two – can help you save hundreds of dollars per ticket. Fortunately, Delta has an easy tool to help you find those savings.

No matter where you're departing from or flying to, you should always select the “My dates are flexible” option when searching at Delta.com.

 

delta flexible dates search

 

Thrifty Tip: While you can also search for and book Delta fares with its smartphone app, you won't have this same flexibility – search from a desktop or laptop instead.

Do that, and the airline will pull up a full week of fares with the best deals highlighted in green.

 

delta flexible dates

 

You can take it even further and get a full, five-week view by clicking “Price Calendar.”

 

delta price calendar

 

This is why we preach the Flight First Rule: Searching and booking for flights before you request time off, book hotels, pay for rental cars, or any part of the trip planning process, really. The key to saving on flights is giving yourself the flexibility to fly when it's cheapest.

And Delta's website makes it relatively easy to find those savings.

 

Or Google Flights Explore

No matter what airline you're flying, Google Flights is the best search engine to find cheap flights, period. And one of its most powerful tools is tailor-made to help you find the cheapest Delta fares – especially when you aren't sure where you want to go.

The Google Flights Explore map is second to none. Type in your home airport, enter a city, country, or even an entire continent, and Google Flights will pull up a map that shows you the cheapest places you can fly.

While you can't filter these results for only Delta fares – at least not directly – you can filter to only show flights on SkyTeam airlines … and that's the same thing. This makes the Explore Map an easy way to find cheap Delta fares from your home airport.

 

google flights explore map

 

Read our full guide to using Google Flights Explore!

 

Pay More for a Main Cabin Fare

I know, I know. It sounds counterintuitive.

But again and again and again over the last few years, travelers have rebooked their Delta tickets after prices suddenly drop, pocketing a Delta eCredit for the difference. And not just by $10 or $15, but prices often fall by $100 or more roundtrip.

And the key is paying more for a main cabin fare that gives you that option. The cheapest basic economy fares can't be changed or canceled without forfeiting hefty fees: $99 roundtrip on most of them and $199 for long-haul international tickets.

That's why it could easily make sense to pay the extra $70 or $80 Delta typically charges for a main cabin economy fare. Not only will you get free seat selection and other perks that basic economy lacks, but you leave the door open to greater savings.

The process works like this:

  • Book at least a Delta main cabin economy fare
  • Even after booking, set (or keep) a Google Flights price alert on those flights and wait for an email
  • Once that happens, cancel your existing flight, then rebook it using your credit at the lower price
  • Pocket an eCredit to use toward your next trip with Delta!

It may seem too good to be true, but it works like a charm. We regularly see Delta drop prices on flights just a month or two ahead of departure.

I've done it myself to get at least $1,000 or more in Delta credits over the years. And I'm not alone.

 

price drop voucher tweet 

Vote With Your Wallet: Try Another Airline

For years, we've had a mantra meant to encourage travelers to go free agent: Your loyalty is costing you money. With Delta, it might be costing you more than ever.

If you've exhausted all the options above and are still coming up short, seeing high Delta fares, it might be time to vote with your wallet and try another airline. Maybe the grass is, in fact, greener on another airline – especially if it's saving you $100 or more per ticket.

Now as ever, being an airline free agent is far and away the best path toward traveling on the cheap. Instead of focusing only on Delta, search Google Flights and pick the cheapest fare that fits your travel plans.

Maybe you've focused on flying Delta over the years in the name of earning SkyMiles and status. But those SkyMiles won't get you nearly as far as they did just a few years ago. And after increasing annual spending requirements and eliminating workarounds, status is further out of reach than ever – with questionable benefits even for those select few who reach it.

Read more: Is Earning Delta Medallion Status Worth it Anymore?

Unless your employer is footing the bill, save your money and try something else – at least once.

 

Bottom Line

High prices on Delta flights just seem to keep getting higher, and once-loyal Delta flyers are hitting a breaking point.

It's all by design. Delta is hoping its “premium” brand convinces customers it's, in fact, worth paying more. And for many of us held captive at major Delta hubs who treasure nonstop flights, we simply don't have a realistic alternative. Delta is the only game in town, and they know it.

But while the trend seems undeniable, it's not universal. There are still good deals out there and ways to save on Delta flights.

 

13 Responses

  • I’m one of those stuck with Delta, as I live in Atlanta. The prices are outrageous, especially if you’re looking at first class. My contract is currently in Boston. JetBlue used to have 3-4 flights a day now they only have 2 and they don’t work on my schedule. I would fly JetBlue coach any day. Delta coach is dreadful and always full. They have me by the… and they know it.

    • It’s now to a point in MSP that it’s laughable. As a former Diamond member I’m giving up my Delta Amex Reserve card and have begun using Sun Country after years of mocking them. Keep raising awareness like you did in this article and eventually Delta will react. The experience is great on Delta but money is more important than free WiFi.

      • I am hearing this type of comment about Sun Country more and more. Many don’t realize that they have over 100 destinations from MSP now. I also like that their credit card provides baggage and seat discounts plus a free alcoholic drink onboard. You also don’t have to reach a spending threshold (like Delta’s $10,000 threshold) to get flight credits.

  • I am in ATL and I did vote with my wallet. After being loyal to Delta for years, if not decades, I was comparing the cost of flights in Premium Economy to a destination in Europe and I discovered I could fly United’s PE to that destination for about $800 less. I booked with United and haven’t looked back. (I also discovered I prefer having my layover at EWR rather than at CDG or AMS). I got their credit card and flew them enough in 2023 to earn silver status with them after having never flown them before. I flew Delta only one time in 2023. I am keeping my Delta gold amex because of the checked bag benefit and 15% off miles redemptions……….for now.

  • Looking for a roundtrip, midweek flight to Orange, CA, the best fare I could find (first class) on Delta was $3425. United runs the same route, better timing, and a first class seat costs $1500. I’m a two million miler Diamond Medallion, but I don’t have money to waste. United it is.

  • You get what you pay for, or are willing/can afford to pay for. It’s no different with hotels, groceries, or buying a car. It’s really not worth complaining about. If you want to fly on-time, nonstop, on an aircraft with a multitude of inflight entertainment options, and with multiple daily flights to the most important destinations, it’s Delta hands down. Do you stay at the Four Seasons or Best Western? Shop at Lunds/Byerlys or Aldi? Drive an Audi or Chevy? We all have choices. For me, I pay the premium for Delta and it has always been worth it. I save on where I stay (a bed is a bed), where I shop for food, and drive a 2010 Outback with 165k miles. It starts, goes the same speed as the luxury wheels, and is paid for. It all comes down to preferences. Jam-packed, no entertainment, pay extra for everything, no frequency air carriers just aren’t my thing. And if Delta has a major mechanical, they can find a faster way to get you moving again than any of the “ultra low cost” wannabees.

  • Google Flights is your friend. Last year we planned a trip from Portland Oregon to Rome in late January. BE fares on Delta were running $800 to $1,000 round trip. I got a Google notice that the fare had dropped to about $530 round trip and grabbed two seats. I bought them with my Delta Gold Amex, so we each got a free checked bag. We flew from Portland nonstop to Amsterdam on Delta with a KLM codeshare flight to Rome. Return was on Delta through JFK. No free WiFi on the Transatlantic flights, just a promise it’s coming soon. Meals were included and the food was acceptable.

  • I keep wondering why people are paying huge annual credit card fees and keep flying Delta. We should all boycott Delta for a week. They will get the message. It’s bad enough the small seats they confine us to for several hours. I would never treat guests like that in my home.

  • Gave up my Delta card & moving business to United & other carriers. Refuse to play their game! Raising prices BECAUSE THEY CAN well guess what Delta passengers are abandoning you in droves BECAUSE WE CAN! Hard won loyalty easily discarded will not easily come back to you!

  • Delta is anything but premium. Having free WiFi and seat back entertainment, while nice, doesn’t make you premium. Their catering is terrible if you aren’t flying out of a hub (but over the 900 mile threshold). I fly weekly with Delta, get very consistently inconsistent service. Flew ATL-AUS last Monday, FA service in FC was below average. Taking same flight this week, will see if it’s any different.

  • We’re in ATL and fly Delta almost all the time. We buy MC, instantly upgraded to C+ and upgraded to FC more than 50% of the time. It is becoming more and more rare that a PDB is served in FC – especially galling when the FAs are sitting down looking at their phones. Furthermore, threats of turbulence are keeping FAs in their seats and it isn’t unusual to get no more than water when no turbulence actually appears. So, the benefits of being a Diamond Medallion have been shrinking at a rapid pace.

    Now that actual miles flown hardly count for anything (just to make the fare count towards MQDs, which I don’t need, and towards MM status, which has such a long time horizon as to be of very little influence), if another airline has FC for a price similar to MC on Delta at a reasonable time of day, that seems like a no-brainer. In the MSP-DFW case above, I see pretty much the prices shown. However, in the case of Delta, this is Basic Economy and it turns out that MC in another $100 more. This is only $150 less that FC on American.

    Speaking of the BE/MC difference, Google flights is severely limited in it’s usefulness in that regard. They list 4 classes of fare – Economy, Premium, Business and First. In the case of Delta, Economy means Basic Economy and nobody in their right mind would book that. It would seem trivial to add Main as another class, but maybe Delta is paying Google to maintain this deceptive practice? Yes, tracking prices is useful to a certain extent, but managing the BE/MC difference is a real pain in the neck.

  • Parents worked for Northwest 40 years. Been Diamond since inception except this year. 2.5M miles. Started voting with wallet a couple years ago. Much benefits from being a Thrifty Traveler Premium member. For international we now always almost reposition to take advantage of huge pricing. For example, MSP-DEN on Southwest and then Denver to Nairobi business class. 4 tickets $16K on Turkish Airlines new routing DEN-IST(-NBO). Delta wanted $40K through NYC on Kenya Airways. The Southwest flight was $173. Delta was $349. No reason to pay $724 more ($176 difference x 4) for a 1.5 hour flight when both providers have 4-5-6-7 flights a day. The exit row on Southwest with no seat in front of it along the window is the most affordable first class seat in the US! We always option Early Bird a couple days before given that part is non-refundable. I could give other examples to Croatia, Dubai, Maldives, Bali, Chile, Columbia, etc. With that said, we will absolutely jump on Delta when there is a great deal like the RT biz class / Delta One codeshare on Air France for $1400 to 20 European cities that was available for 1 1/2 hours a couple weeks ago.

  • As a Twin Cities resident, Delta sucks! The only time I have flown with them in the last 10 years is with leftover miles on a deal to Vegas last year. Otherwise I will NEVER fly with them if I have another decent choice!

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