Delta Air Lines has led the U.S. airline loyalty industry in duplicity and penny-pinching for several years running (even with a commendable challenge from United last month) so a day in which positive news is announced is quite rare. Yesterday was one of those days, as Delta announced a new confirmed upgrade incentive for Platinum and Diamond elites without the onerous fare class restrictions that have made such instruments virtually useless in the past.
Regional Upgrades for Platinum Medallions
Upon earning 75,000 elite qualifying miles, a Skymiles member earns or re-qualifies for Platinum status. That status comes with the choice of one benefit (i.e. miles, lounge access, status for a friend) and in 2014, the option of four confirmed regional upgrades will be added.
Regional upgrades (and Global upgrades described below) can be used only for the Skymiles member or one companion traveling on the same reservation. Unlike American or United, in which confirmed upgrade instruments can be applied to anyone, Delta’s choice will preclude family and friends from benefiting if not on the same reservation as the member, even if they are on the same flight.
But these regional upgrades are valid on any fare but Delta’s lowest economy class fare, E-Class, meaning a pricey economy class ticket is not necessary to confirm an upgrade in advance. These regional upgrades can only be applied on routes in which complimentary upgrades are offered to elites, will have priority over complimentary upgrades, and will be valid for 12 months from date of issue.
Global Upgrades for Diamond Medallions
Upon earning 125,000 elite qualifying miles, a Skymiles member earns or re-qualifies for Diamond status. That status comes with an elite choice benefit in addition to the Platinum benefit. In 2014, the option for eight confirmed regional upgrades or four confirmed global upgrades will be added.
Like the regional upgrades, the only fare class restriction is E-Class, a huge change from Delta’s systemwides of the past which required a Y, B, or M fare class (the three priciest economy fare classes) in order to upgrade. The systemwide upgrades can continue to be used on Y, B, or M fares on KLM to upgrade from economy class to business class (and from economy to Premium Economy on Air France). Furthermore, S and W fares (pricier Premium Economy fare classes on Air France) can be used to upgrade to business. “O” class space is necessary on KLM and Air France in order to upgrade to business.
Global upgrades are good on all routes in which complimentary upgrades are not offered—not just international longhaul flights but transcon flights between New York JFK and San Francisco/Los Angeles/Seattle as well as flights between Hawaii and Atlanta.
The Elimination of Complimentary Upgrades on Premium Domestic Routes
There is some bad news too, particularly for those JFK-based flyers who are used to complimentary upgrades on transcon flights.
Delta is in the process of installing lie-flat seats on its flights between JFK and San Francisco/Los Angeles/Seattle and consequently will eliminate complimentary upgrades on those routes and on continue to not offer complimentary upgrades on its longhaul service between Atlanta and Hawaii. Complimentary upgrades will also be eliminated on flights to Central America and Northern South America that feature Delta’s international business class cabin. But, flights from the west coast to Hawaii will now be eligible for complimentary upgrades.
What This Means for You
Delta’s move to introduce regional upgrades and greatly loosen the fare class restrictions on its global upgrades should hearten American Airlines flyers. With Delta’s move to offer more confirmed upgrade instruments, American is much less likely to cut back its systemwide upgrades or add fare class restrictions as the merger with US Airways progresses.
It also may put pressure on United, which has taken much criticism for diluting elite benefits and devaluing its award chart, to match Delta and American by eliminating burdensome fare class restrictions on its systemwide upgrades. Currently you must buy a W-class fare or higher on United in order to use a systemwide upgrade, a gamble of several hundred dollars on many routes when an upgrade must be waitlisted. If your upgrade does not clear, there is no refund.
Delta’s Skypesos program—as Gary has dubbed it and now much of the mainstream media refers to it as—is still lacking in many respects, but this addresses a huge gap between the competition and makes the Skymiles program a much more palatable option for international travelers. Still, while American awards eight upgrades after earning Executive Platinum status (100K miles) and United awards six for earning Premier 1K status (also 100K miles), Delta only offers four for flying 125,000—but four is better than none.