Delta Improves Upgrade Priority for Elites, Makes Status More Important Than Fare

When Delta and Northwest merged, I status matched to Worldperks Platinum. I figured that the program would be retired, so it didn’t much matter if I ‘wasted’ my once in a lifetime status match opportunity.

I happened to have a whole lot of Delta credit to use for tickets, from the old version of the Citi ThankYou Rewards program. So I was buying Delta tickets, and using my Northwest Platinum status when I flew. The problem was upgrades to and from my home airport of Washington National were nearly impossible.

Northwest and Delta prioritized full fare tickets over status when sorting upgrade priority. On a Thursday afternoon flight I could easily wind up number 50 on the upgrade list when the plane took off. My Platinum status put me behind all of the Silvers flying full fare. And out of DC this was a huge deal, because government YCA fares were treated as full fare tickets. Every government employee flying 25,000 miles a year and on a government Y fare trumped me. It was clear that this upgrade system wouldn’t work for me.

When the United-Continental merger meant moving to the Continental platform in March 2012, the combined airline adopted the Continental system — which was the same as Delta’s and Northwest’s. Now Premier Silvers on full fare tickets were trumping 100,000 miles flying mid-priced tickets. Again, in DC, this was a very big deal. (United didn’t really anticipate the effect this would have in the DC market, that United’s revenue-based Global Services members were being trumped for upgrades by inexpensive government fares, so after a few weeks they changed priority order so that Global Services status still trumped for upgrades regardless full fare tickets notwithstanding.)

The United-Delta model prioritized revenue on a given trip over a customer’s value over the course of the year.

Delta has backed off from this and starting tomorrow will no longer prioritize full fare over status for upgrades.

Instead, Delta’s upgrade priority will work as follows:

  • Status is the first priority
  • Fare class is the first tie-breaker amongst passengers with the same status (this is the old United system prior to March 2012)
  • Delta Reserve Credit Card holders and corporate traveler status are tie breakers
  • Followed by whether a customer has spent $25,000 on a Delta co-brand credit card during the year
  • And then date and time of upgrade request

Upgrades will still be hard to get, with Delta attempting to monetize every last first class seat. But it’s a step in the right direction towards recognizing value over the course of a year and not simply a single trip for Delta.

(HT: The Gate)

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. “This leaves United as the only airline privileging full fare tickets above elite status in ordering the upgrade list.”

    Well that’s just flat-out wrong. UA changed that effective Feb. 1 2016. The priority on UA now (within 5 days of departure) is:

    -Premier 1K members on eligible Y-, B- and M-class fares: Premier 1K Instant upgrades that weren’t confirmed in advance are prioritized by fare class
    -All travelers on waitlisted Global Premier Upgrades, Regional Premier Upgrades and MileagePlus Upgrade Awards: Prioritized by Premier status of the traveler, then fare class and then time of request1
    -All remaining Premier members: Prioritized by Premier status of the traveler, then fare class and then award travel

  2. Ironically it better rewards “What are you doing for me now” value.

    It’s basically a way to prevent cheap govt Y fares from trumping a Diamond on a more expensive, but not Y fare.

  3. You really think this is about elite upgrades? I think it’s about getting some extra revenue from selling upgrades to the passengers already paying full fare…

  4. This just confirms what I’ve known all along–my lousy silver status is totally worthless. I have yet to get a single perk for this stupid status that I even did a mileage run to obtain.
    Fooled me once DL, but never again.

  5. Well, Delta will lose money on this. As a government traveller I’ve had the choice of YCA or cheap as dirt -CA; without the upgrade potential, I’ll just choose -CA since a lowly Platinum who spent $30,000+ on travel last year now can’t beat a Diamond who spent $15,000 on dirt cheap milage runs. Actually, I’ll probably just ditch Delta and go United since they still bump up Y-class. Time for a status match challenge.

  6. A greater priority for Delta should be discontinuing the practice of offering premium and business class seating to employees when elite status customers have not been upgraded. I have yet to be on a flight when there wasn’t a Delta employee seated in 1st Class or Comfort Plus seats while my brand loyalty only occasionally lands me in those seats.

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