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This chart shows why upgrades are so hard to get now

by on Wed July 15, 2015 • No Comment


If you fly a lot you know that even if you have very top tier frequent flier status with an airline it can be tough to get a free upgrade to First Class, and it feels harder than just a few years ago.

Today, Delta reported its earnings and revealed some numbers that show how quickly the upgrade landscape has changed for the worse…it’s now selling 57% of its domestic First Class seats, leaving less than 43% for upgrades:

  • “Achieving a 57% paid load factor in first class is another stepping stone along our path. I believe when we started, we told our investors that we file this as a several billion dollar opportunity in total with all four of these classes intact or three of the classes intact in the main cabin and so 70% is our long-term goal. We’re at 57% today and we started at 13%. “

It was selling only about half that (31%) just 4 years ago, as noted in last year’s investor presentation, and it hopes to sell 70% of them soon.


Some of that is due to an improving economy.

But a doubling means something more is at work.

The culprit…

Delta has become more willing to sell First Class at cheaper prices, with better technology and merchandising techniques to present you with attractive offers. All of this comes at the expense of free upgrades for frequent fliers.

To keep your loyalty they’ve installed a lot more comfortable Economy Class seats via the Comfort Plus section, which didn’t exist before 2011.

So not getting an upgrade doesn’t have quite the cramped sting it did in the old days.

And many fliers have much of a choice, with most large airports having only one or two airlines dominating traffic, and Delta tends to operate the most concentrated of hubs, so a passenger leaving because the carrot of an upgrade is gone doesn’t leave much choice.

Still, many elite fliers are choosing to pay reasonable prices for a guaranteed First Class seat instead of playing the upgrade lottery.

Food has improved from the days when it was just an upgrade class, and Economy Class is more full than it used to be, so paying for First Class makes more sense for more people now.

So if you’re a bargain hunter it stings, especially when you see what Delta is starting to charge for upgrades with miles.

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