Delta always used to be fantastic for domestic flyers looking to upgrade, but awful for anyone who cared about being bumped up to a better cabin internationally.
Sure, they prioritized full fare over status (which United does now as well, since integrating with Continental) but they do give away unlimited complimentary upgrades and their domestic premium product is above average.
But international upgrades — those required buying a nearly full fare “M” class economy ticket even to be able to play the upgrade lottery. You’d pay about as much as a discounted business class ticket to get on the upgrade list, and you wouldn’t get any money back if you didn’t clear the upgrade.
Delta vastly improved their international upgrade policy for top tier elites but with a kicker.
They introduced ‘choice benefits’ upgrade certificates — confirmed domestic upgrades for 75,000 mile flyer Platinums, and confirmed international upgrades for 125,000 mile flyer Diamonds.
At the same time they eliminated complimentary upgrades on premium cross country routes to and from New York (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle) as well as Atlanta – Hawaii.
The only way to get a complimentary upgrade on these flights became the new Diamond choice international upgrades. A 125,000 mile flyer can have four of these, enough for two people to upgrade roundtrip… once.
It’s incredibly frustrating for Delta elite members to sit in back while looking ahead throughout the entire flight at empty seats in the forward cabin.
It’s not quite as frustrating as US Airways offering complimentary upgrades to first class but charging to ‘upgrade’ to premium coach seats without extra legroom. But it’s still pretty frustrating.
And with Delta’s revenue-based program, minimum spend required for elite status, these are presumably valuable customers sitting in back while these seats generate zero revenue. Delta’s theory, one imagines, was that taking away upgrades would encourage people to buy the seats. And it would ‘protect the value’ of the seats if they couldn’t be as easily obtained for free. But there’s been a huge backlash of unhappy members who used to receive complimentary upgrades on these routes and no longer do.
Chris McGinnis reports on a partial thawing of the policy, recognizing that perhaps Delta went to far.
While Delta still isn’t including their premium New York – Los Angeles/San Francisco/Seattle flights in the automatic upgrade process, they are at least proactively upgrading elite members into empty seats at the airport. Essentially, they’re doing complimentary operational upgrades even when they don’t have to (oversold coach, empty seats up front).
“Delta is handling this on a case by base basis,” Delta spokesperson Anthony Black told TravelSkills. “While the policy has not changed, we have now begun to award our top medallion customers upgrades on those flights during slower travel periods or as the operation permits.”