Delta Air Lines has announced several changes to its frequent flyer program for 2024, to replace the changes they had announced to its frequent flyer program for 2024. In the midst of all of the rancor and chaos, there’s a change to who gets upgrades going forward.
The airline says it now sells 75% of first class seats.
- That includes low yielding routes where first class rarely sells. On premium routes the percentage is much higher.
- That includes low yielding days and times. At peak travel times the percentage is much higher.
Upgrades have gotten very difficult for most Medallion members, most of the time. As the leftovers that Delta customers fight over become more and more scarce, SkyMiles has changed how they divvy up the scraps. Key changes for 2024:
- On domestic (complimentary upgrade-eligible) flights with premium economy, those buying premium economy will have priority for upgrade to the forward cabin.
- In most cases million-miler status becomes the number one tie-breaker for upgrades. A Diamond million miler trumps one who isn’t.
- The fare class you buy you buy no longer matters for upgrade priority. Being on a full fare ticket won’t help you anymore.
- How many qualifying dollars you’ve earned in the current calendar year now matters, but it’s a tie-breaker below just having the airline’s premium credit card and whether or not you’re part of a corporate travel program. (At American Airlines, the number of loyalty points earned on a rolling 12-month basis is the first tie-breaker for upgrades after status.)
- The final tie-breaker remains date and time of upgrade request.
There are two major problems that limit upgrades at Delta. First is, given that they’ve gone from selling 13% of first class seats to selling 75% of them (for some amount of cash), they no longer have enough first class seats. This is something entirely in their control. It makes sense to add seats now that they’re monetizing them so well.
Elite upgrades do still matter for driving long-term business and for encouraging co-brand card spend where the airline is working to grow annual revenue Amex revenue from $7 billion to $10 billion.
Second, Delta is notoriously bad at actually processing upgrades at the gate. I’m constantly hearing from readers who don’t get upgraded and where flights go out with empty seats up front. If you aren’t upgraded in advance, it’s in the lap of the gods whether upgrades will be processed.
SkyMiles Elites Headed Towards The Back Of The Plane
Addressing these two issues would allow Delta to sell more premium seats and retain the loyalty of premium customers who increasingly have to spend more with the airline and on its premium co-brand cards just to stay even (or, with fewer seats for upgrades, to still fall behind). Adding premium seats would come at the cost of the marginal coach seats on the aircraft. Ensuring that gate agents process upgrades would not come at such a cost, but would take crucial minutes as they try to get flights pushed back.