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Delta adjusting its upgrade scheme next summer — fewer free upgrades?

by on Tue December 20, 2011 • No Comment

Delta First ClassDelta excited many frequent flyers this year by announcing it will roll out an ‘Economy Comfort’ product with 4 inches of extra legroom by next summer across its entire 2 class fleet (planes with both coach and first class).

Its top elite frequent flyers, or ‘Medallion’ members get to select the seats in advance free at the Diamond, Platinum, and Gold levels for domestic flights, and free at the Diamond and Platinum levels for long haul international flights.

Great news, right? Especially since it’s on top of the free space-available upgrades all elite Medallion members are eligible for on domestic flights, right?

Well, we were listening to the Delta Investor Day presentation from last week trying to see what they might share that impacts the flying public’s comfort.

And they noted something ominous for free elite upgrades…(it starts at 2 hours, 52 minutes into the presentation)…

“People who paid fares qualified to get into first class were about 15% (before we started upselling it). Through the process as of last week, we had increased that to 30%. So 30 points of the load factor is actually sold now. So we essentially doubled our sales in the first class cabins.

One of the things is we are reticent to pull that all the way up to our target levels of between 50% and 60% sold because that is the reward for being one of our frequent fliers of Gold and Silver. And that is why we’re also adding Economy Comfort because we can guarantee you Economy Comfort in the summer, when we get to next summer, and we’ll give you the option of either going into the lottery and seeing where you wind up on the list, or confirming at time of purchase.”

It’s hard to parse out exactly what this means…but it could mean…

  • Delta doesn’t want to sell 50-60% of its first class seats just yet in order to keep some free upgrades around for Silver and Gold members
  • But with Economy Comfort in place next summer, which is free for Golds, they will get more aggressive about selling upgrades at a discount next summer…perhaps to reach that 50-60% level
  • Then Elites may be given more aggressive lower pricing for paid confirmed upgrades at booking than they are today
  • That means fewer ‘free’ upgrades will be given out (presumably to all levels, since a Gold buying up may trump a Diamond or Platinum who goes into the ‘lottery’ they refer to)

All in all it sounds like a very different approach to managing their elite program than before. According to them, most of their first class ‘upsells’ to date have been among the elites who would have been eligible for a free upgrade. In other words, elites are breaking rank on their free benefit to guarantee a seat up front.

What do you think? Will you continue to fly Delta with an Economy Comfort product but fewer opportunities for free upgrades as an elite?

Do you think it will reduce availability for first class mileage tickets as well for those who rely on Gold Delta Sky Miles® Credit Card from American Express credit card spend to get a premium seat?

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