Delta, American & United: Who’s Got the Best Pilot Retirement Offering?
On this episode of A Wiser Retirement™ Podcast, Casey Smith and Missie Beach, CFP®, CDFA®, discuss the different airline retirement plans, specifically focusing on offerings from Delta, American, and United.
United now offers the option of choosing the Market-Based Cash Balance Plan or an Active RHA annually. United’s Market-based Cash Balance Plan allows pilots to opt in and out over time. This plan is a no-brainer for high earners, as it enables them to take the money they have already been taxed at higher rates and invest it to keep pace with the market. In addition, United offers a 60-day disability plan where pilots share costs at 25%, but there is a company sick bank. United’s life insurance plan consists of a group term of $750,000.
For American Airlines, 401k employer matching is currently 16%, increasing to 17% in 2024, and expected to rise to 18% in 2026. American Airlines pilots can opt in and out of the Market-Based Cash Balance Plan. Furthermore, American’s disability plan consists of 120 hours in an extended sick bank. American Airlines’ life insurance is a flat $750,000/year, subject to imputed income. Policies offered by American Airlines are not as competitive as those offered by Delta and United, and additional coverage can be obtained through Allied Pilots Association, a frequency-based plan.
Delta’s 401k match is 17% and is expected to increase to 18% in 2026. Delta disability policy has no income limit and has an 182-day elimination period. In addition, Delta offers different options for life insurance plans, with a payout of $1,068,000. Delta stands out for providing a good retirement plan that includes a guaranteed variable universal life (GVUL) policy, which has lower premiums and provides a little more take-home pay due to imputed income tax benefits. We recommend Delta pilots participate in the GVUL policy, but they shouldn’t add any extra money to it.
Click here to download your airline’s 401k allocation.
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