Delta Eliminating Domestic Elite Upgrades on Their Cheapest Fare

In March 2012 Delta introduced “Basic Economy” (“E” class) fares that were more restrictive than regular coach fares.

The idea was to offer them only in specific markets where Delta is competing against a low cost carrier — Delta has to match the low cost carriers on price, so gosh darnit they’re only going to give the same product that those airlines do at that price.

Put another way, instead of beating low cost carriers by offering better value for the price, they were going to only offer what those carriers do.

Basic Economy fares were not changeable, and didn’t allow pre-assigned seating. But Delta’s elites, at least, could still receive upgrades.

For tickets purchased starting February 1, 2015, Delta’s elites will no longer be eligible for upgrades on these fares.

I wasn’t sure if the fares currently allowed same-day confirmed changes or standby travel, but the Delta website says that they do.

Basic Economy fares are non refundable and no cancellations or changes may be made once the ticket is purchased. However, this fare is eligible for Risk Free Cancellation and our Same-day Travel Changes programs.

Apparently the ability to same-day confirm or standby will be going away on these fares as well.

This is the ultimate extension of an airline being loyal to a fare on a given trip rather than a passenger. A customer flying 125,000 miles in paid international business class, who buys one “E” ticket domestically, will sit in back and be unable to change their ticket.

Delta customers flying routes where the airline competes with Spirit, beware. A Detroit-based flyer doesn’t just have to pay attention on their Florida trips, anymore, since Spirit is flying to Dallas, Houston, and Denver as well. In fairness, Delta does make it clear on their website what sort of fare is being booked.

Delta has minimum revenue requirements for elite status, so presumably customers fly on these fares are doing so only occasionally. Delta sees the customers as profitable enough to reward — just not all the time. A revenue-based program isn’t enough: they need to punish their most loyal flyers on individual trips, too.

I’ve suggested before that Delta hates its customers. Anyone care to disagree with me?

(HT: Points, Miles & Martinis)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Countdown to United following this “enhancement?” Of course, they would need the IT to actually support such an…initiative.

    And, for the record, I fully agree that Delta hates its customers; which is why I have never stepped foot on a Delta plane. This type of behavior should not be supported.

  2. Thanks to TOD upgrades, United has effectively already done this on ALL coach fares. Talk about hating your customers…

  3. At least every so often UA throws you a bone. Like today, for instance, I’m really lucky to be getting an upgrade one way on a round-trip H fare LAX-SFO (rolleyes).

  4. Maybe the airlines have finally realized that unlimited upgrades were a mistake that prevents them from actually selling front cabin seats on all except the most premium domestic routes and are now slowly clawing back that benefit.

    To be fair, the person flying 125,000 miles annually in business class is probably doing it on his company’s dime, so there’s no incentive for Delta to truly reward him, especially if he’s buying the cheapest of cheap tickets for his domestic travel.

  5. @UAPremierGuy: If you have never set foot on a Delta plane, how do you know they hate their customers?
    For the record, I have flown UA and some of its partners over a period of 25 years, and I have yest to have an experience that even hints that they do not hate their customers.

  6. Arcanum,

    My experience is that Delta does not give out many front cabin seats until right before the flight departs, thus reserving them for revenue passengers. Of course they give the remaining seats to the passengers on a list ranked by some formula using ticket class/price and flyer status.

    I fly well over 125K miles per year on Delta (yes, on my company’s dime, and I own the company, so it’s MY dime), and yes, there is an incentive as follows for them not to screw me. Simply put: I fly other carriers on routes where Delta or their partners fail to deliver. For example, my company’s policy (which I follow) is to travel on the least expensive seats. Coach domestically and business class internationally (5 or more timezones) when you’re expected to go to work shortly after arrival – and least expensive for those longer flights is often Delta M fare with a Systemwide Upgrade. But Delta (or usually their partner KLM) often fails to honor the Systemwide upgrade even when there are empty seats up front. This has happened to me many times, including on a flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam just last Wednesday! This might be because the KLM agents at check-in and the gate are either poorly trained or just too lazy to bother, but as a consequence I fly other carriers that are less expensive for business class on those routes. Hence, screwing the customer means loss of revenue from me and my employees.

    Rant: Its a new customer for me in Turkey and you can be sure I will NOT be buying my next trips to there from Delta. It’s infuriating to sit in the front of coach and see empty seats in business – and on Wednesday morning the KLM agents at check-in and the gate wouldn’t even try to upgrade me. I’ve documented their screw-up in a letter to Delta, and I’m still waiting for the reply. I have to agree: Delta does sometimes act on some routes like they hate me, and the result is that for those routes they get blacklisted for my business. If I take the cheapest fare domestically and they don’t upgrade me, I’ll fly someone else. Screw ’em right back.

  7. They also hate their small company people as well. For whatever reason, SkyBonus Small Company awards cannot be upgraded…I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what is the logic or reasoning. I am not being sarcastic here, why would you tell a Diamond member to sit in coach because they used a SkyBonus ticket which had been earned out of loyalty to Delta…

  8. Delta is what it is. I just find the marketing hypocrisy insulting. Every flight safety video starts with their Chairman stating “we have your back”. That means nothing in a court of law so he can continue with the hyperbole. It’s a culture of survival and lying through omission. I sit in stunned amazement of how they have surgically discovered and closed loopholes that I had no idea existed. I think they HATE “giving” anything and are ONLY and ALL about the INCOMING CASH in a very shortsighted manner. But, it is what it is. Kill your loyalty folks. It’s a gentle charade. Their very customer is held the most in contempt.

  9. Delta doesn’t hate ALL customers, just it’s poor ones. Just like the Republican Party, just like America.

  10. I’ve suggested before that Delta hates its customers. Anyone care to disagree with me?

    I will.

    I am PM on Delta. Last year I did that on $3700 MQDs. This year I’m making DM. I’m currently at 89k MQMs and $4900 MQDs. Let’s hear it for > $25k on my Delta Amex card.

    IOW, I fly a lot, on cheap tickets. If anyone, I’m someone Delta should hate.

    A couple months back I took a red-eye into Rochester MN, worked the day, and was scheduled to catch the last flight of the day out of MSP. I checked in for my shuttle ride with Go Rochester, sat down in the lobby, and fell asleep. I woke up at 8 PM, to discover that the shuttle had left without me, I was an hour and a half way from the airport, and my flight time was in an hour and 55 minutes.

    I got a cab, and called Delta. Delta support put me standby on the first flight the next morning, and put a note “in my record” for the gate crew to read that I was on the way, please hold the plane for me.

    I got to the airport at 9:39. Between security and the long run, I got to the gate at 9:51. The plane was still there, the gate door was still open, and my seat in first class (upgrade of a cheap award ticket) was waiting for me.

    If Delta hated their customers, I would have been screwed.

  11. Before we all get our panties in a bunch, I’ve never seen an E fare pop up on Delta for any of my routes or searches. E fares are not terribly common, and I think they are clearly marked as such when they do pop up. But 90% of the time if I want to book the lowest fare I get L, U, or T. And even if E *did* pop up, my understanding is the fare differential is rather minimal to an upgradeable fare?

  12. As an AC flyer, its been an interesting year watching the programs south of the border. Every change that was made this year had already been done up here in the last 5 years. Rev based? Done. Limited upgrades? Done. Reward chart gutting? Done. Lounge access cuts? Done.

    And many of the same beliefs and arguments that were made up here by FFers to make themselves feel better are now being made down south. So here are some lessons from someone who’s already been though it:

    1) “I fly J for work, but E fares for vacation. Making me fly in economy for vacation is awful and I’m going to leave”. No, you won’t and DL knows that. You’re not going to give up your direct J flights for work just for 2 vacation upgrades a year. I mean you might, but on the whole, the number of people who will won’t outweigh the benefits/extra revenue from people buying up.

    2) “I don’t fly routes with E, this won’t impact me”. Cute. You think after DL sees the extra buy-up revenue this generates they’re going to leave it on the table for all the other routes? Give it 2 years, it’s going system-wide.

    3) “I’m going to AA/UA, they’ll never hurt me”. Ha! You should ask the guys who left AC for UA because “They care about their flyers”. Give it a couple years, they’ll all copy it.

    4) “It’s only E fares, who cares”. Give it a year and see what other fare classes join it.

    End game: The days of easy upgrades are over. You want them, you’re going to be paying more for the chance.

  13. Good for Delta. Making these fares ineligible for upgrades when they are rock bottom fares makes sense. As a frequent flyer flying on cheap fares (myself included) it sucks. At the same time, if I was in charge of the airline and responsible to shareholders to maximize profit…I would do the same thing. You can’t have it both ways. Do travelers want a premium experience or do they want a larger seat for free? Spare me the I am loyal line. Flying everywhere for less than actual cost is not loyalty. It’s gaming the system. Ok…rhetorical question. Everyone wants more and more without being willing to pay for it. That game is over. The airlines are getting smarter. Props to them for finally figuring it out

Comments are closed.