Delta Imposes New Restrictions on Elites Booking Extra Legroom Seats (Really…)

Delta’s Extra Legroom Seats Get Their Own Fare Class

Delta has created their ‘economy plus’-style seats as a separate fare class, rather than merely seats you ‘buy up’ to get into.

One positive of this approach is that if you buy a premium economy ticket on a partner airline, you’ll generally be in these extra legroom seats for Delta segments. Back when United offered one-cabin TED service, a passenger without Mileage Plus elite status could buy a full fare first class ticket for London – Washington Dulles – Las Vegas… and be asked to ‘buy up’ to extra legroom seats for the domestic Las Vegas flight. So Delta solves that problem.

Although since Comfort+ seats are now a separate fare bucket, purchasing full fare economy no longer comes with complimentary ‘upgrade’ to extra legroom seating.

What is Comfort+?

Delta brands these seats “Comfort+” but they are the same seats as in the rest of coach, with additional legroom like United’s Economy Plus and American’s Main Cabin Extra.

Delta also bundles priority boarding, complimentary drinks, and also snacks on flights that meet required length. Those are service elements that aren’t a part of American’s or United’s offerings, though of course elites get priority boarding anyway; United and American top tier elites get comped drinks; and American top tier elites get complimentary buy on board snacks.

There have been some reports that Delta is introducing a curtain between “Comfort+” and the rest of the economy cabin. They insist they aren’t creating a separate class of service (probably for departure tax reasons from some countries), they’re just creating different “experiences within our Main Cabin.”

Comfort+: It’s What’s for Sale

Having re-branded extra legroom as though it was premium economy, and separated it out into a separate fare class, they’re introducing the ability to buy it at time or booking or buy up into that higher fare class post-purchase. If you buy Comfort+ (rather than getting it complimentary through elite status), you’ll get bonus qualifying miles.

And since for Delta miles are (a rather debased form of) money, you can use your miles to buy up to Comfort+ from economy. Rene’s Points says it’s available at a 40% premium.

Delta Imposing New Restrictions on Elite Access to Extra Legroom Seats

Now that it’s going to be a separate product for sale in US domestic markets and Canada (effective May 16) — and even for sale inflightDelta is imposing significant restrictions to elite benefits for those seats. This way there will be more seats left to sell.

  • Delta will only offer their economy plus style-seats to an elite member plus one companion instead of up to 8 companions

    For flights within the U.S. 50 and Canada, departing on or after May 16, 2016, Medallion members and one SkyMiles traveling companion may enjoy complimentary access to Delta Comfort+ when traveling in the same reservation on Delta and Delta Connection carriers. Clearance priority will be based on the priority of the lowest level SkyMiles member in your reservation. For flights prior to May 16, 2016, Medallion members and up to eight traveling companions in the same reservation may be eligible for Delta Comfort+ upgrades.

  • Eligibility for the seats will be based on the lowest status in the reservation.

    • Diamonds and Platinums still get to confirm at time of booking.
    • Golds get these seats 72 hours in advance and Silvers 24 hours in advance if available.
    • So a Diamond and a Silver traveling together can only get access to these seats 24 hours out from travel.
    • If there’s a non-elite in the reservation, access is also at 24 hours out.

Instead of a Diamond or Platinum members being able to confirm 8 non-elite companions into extra legroom seats at time of booking, they’ll be able to get into extra legroom seats with just 1 companion only 24 hours prior to departure when traveling on the same reservation.

Why Is Delta Doing This?

Here’s the explanation: it’s because “[a]s Delta continues to make investments in our most loyal customers, we want to continue to ensure availability of our premium products for these customers.”

The concern is not that there aren’t enough Comfort+ seats so that Diamonds, who must meet a minimum revenue requirement to attain status, will be able to have access to them. The concern is that they want to limit the number of free seats given out, so that:

  1. Even elites will pay for the seats.

    Purchasing Delta Comfort+ at the time of booking provides you with the peace of mind that you’ll enjoy the premium experience of Delta Comfort+. We do not reimburse Medallion members when Complimentary Upgrades become available.

  2. There are plenty of Comfort+ seats to sell to other passengers, which suggests that non-elites buying up are what Delta considers “loyal.”

Elites Can Now Be Downgraded from Economy Into Comfort+

Since the purchase of an economy seat and being given ‘Comfort+’ is considered an ‘upgrade’ (yet Delta somehow wants taxing authorities to think it’s not a different class of service), elite members will “check the Delta Comfort+ box in the Request Upgrade section of the Passenger Information page” — but since Comfort+ is the same cabin configuration as the rest of coach, they might well be ‘upgraded’ from an exit row aisle seat in the Main Cabin to a middle seat in Comfort+. Some upgrade.

And since it’s now an ‘upgrade process’ they also require that passengers be in the same reservation in order for one customer’s status to grant the other complimentary extra legroom seats.

Wait, No, Really..?

Just as American prepares to devalue the AAdvantage program enough where it’s possible to at least start thinking about Delta, it shouldn’t surprise that Delta takes benefits away even further.

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 »

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  1. So pls advise. I’m elite plus platinum with Alitalia. I book a round trip delta Eco seat. LGA/ATL am I due an upgrade to Comfort+ ? Coz Delta staff are confused and cannot answer me. (And silly me. Here’s me expecting delta to honour the Skyteam Elite Plus rules!!!). Now I recall why I dumped delta as my carrier of choice 3 years ago!

  2. Wow. It’s amazing how fast Delta is decending For that a couple times of year, I might not even get economy comfort with my wife. Once I move in the summer going to make it that much easier to be a free agent.

  3. Well this is going to piss off a lot of flyers and just generally make things annoyingly complicated.

    With that said, this is essentially the VX model. Of course they only have two/three rows of premium economy (and no narrow seats with tray tables in armrests!) and it has significantly more leg room and a lot of food/drink options so it’s not completely unfounded.

    I think if they are really going to try to brand this as a separate cabin they at least need to block the middle a la the European model.

  4. As long as a Plat/Diamond can be confirmed in Comfort+ at time of booking at no additional cost, it’s not totally bad. I don’t want to be put on a list and compete with other elites, I want it confirmed at time of booking.

  5. It’s not a surprise that gutting of award programs has followed extreme industry consolidation (6 to 3). While everyone makes a big deal over airfares, it’s the award programs that really didn’t stand a chance. You just don’t have that many options

  6. I’ve always been thrilled to be UA Lifetime Gold–with the ability to reserve an Economy Plus seat at booking. This latest move by Delta just makes United Gold status all that much more appealing.

    I feel for all those flyers trapped in DL hub cities who have fewer and fewer benefits as elite flyers on DL. Say what you want, but that is increasingly true on DL and rarer and rarer on UA–especially even with lower elite status on UA!

  7. Just so people know: Diamonds and Platinums get C+ at time of booking *IF* there is upgrade space available. In other words, just like there has to be upgrade inventory for complimentary upgrades, this is also the case for any upgrades from the Main Cabin to C+. So, this change is a significant downgrade for top-tier elites.

  8. That is very smart of DL. Businesses can now specify a policy where W is permitted. And people buying W will have more availability. Kudos to DL, who will see higher revenues.

    And yes, all of you “the government should not regulate” type are seeing the effects of this policy: corporatism.

    More to come. For example, with less business people in Y, expect even worse seating and service back there, and more fees (for carry-ons like on Spirit, for example).

  9. This is such a bad idea. Basically two platinums flying together will trump a diamond and someone with gold or no status. What a great way to alienate top flyers who want to fly with a spouse or child (like on a holiday).

  10. Yes, 2 Platinums trump a Diamond and Gold….but that’s always been the case. I don’t understand all the hate. The is bad for casual flyers because less main cabin seats, more premium seats. And is great for loyalty program members. Don’t get that bump up front? Now you have the chance for another section. Am I not seeing something, or is the mob just looking for blood?

  11. @Joe that’s not accurate, for extra legroom seats a Diamond and Gold on the same reservation could access the seats at booking. Now that Diamond and Gold won’t access the seats (if still available) until close to travel.

    There’s not a new chance for another section, the extra legroom seats have existed for years, there are now new restrictions going into place for the seats that elites used to have greater access to. That’s so Delta can get some elites to cough up cash for what they used to get free, and so they can sell more of the seats to non-elites. That’s a takeaway from elite members, not great for loyalty program members.

  12. If Delta’s C+ were truly a different, actual Premium Economy section this would be OK, but it’s not. Or is this a hint that they are maybe moving in that direction (i.e., better seats and all the stuff that true Premium Economy carriers have)?

  13. A minor quibble, but If there’s a non-elite in the reservation, C+ access is (per the FAQ) *no sooner than* 24 hours out. It could be at the gate. Into two middle seats, not together, assigned by the GA.

    This is going to be a logistical mess, IMO.

  14. Oh come on. Who wants the comfort seats anyway… they are narrow and cap compared with another real airline in the world. I’m a diamond and fly transatlantic twice a month because they are cheaper than any other airline and as a small business owner the overall cost is what counts .. row 30 transatlantic are by far the best seats on the aircraft or fly Emirates! !

  15. Sorry to call out the grammar police, but come ON people.
    If you can count them, there are FEWER of them; if you can’t count them, there are LESS. There are FEWER seats available for elites; there is LESS incentive to fly DL.
    There is less water in the glass than before because there are fewer water molecules. See how easy that is? (Now in return for this simple grammar test, can someone give me one for effect and affect? I can never get that right.)

  16. Gary….

    OT: But where did you find this info on the United website: “United and American top tier elites get comped drinks.”

    I’ve been United 1K for multiple years and was totally unaware of this ‘benefit’.

    Thanks! Plus, have a great trip to Paris.

  17. @Gary….duh me. I totally forgot about those little drink vouchers. United forgot to enclose them this past renewal year and even though I called them twice, the vouchers failed to materialize.

    When you mentioned the complimentary drinks, I thought it was some new policy announcement that I missed ….which it seems that I did via your October posting.

    Thanks for your reply!

  18. This may be the worst part:

    “Customers, regardless of elite status, who select Basic Economy cannot upgrade to Delta Comfort+.”

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