Delta’s Next Transformative Step is Here, Introduces Revenue-Based Upgrades

Since the elimination of award charts from Delta’s website, I’ve been saying that:

  • We won’t know when the airline devalues, since we don’t have an official benchmark to compare pricing to
  • It’s a step towards a revenue-based program, where awards are priced dynamically based on the cost of a ticket at any given time.

I’ve suggested that Delta may not adopt a flat rate for their miles, either, charging more or less to different types of customers or at different times.

And I’ve wondered… what about upgrades? Delta said we didn’t need charts since their website pricing had gotten so much better. But that spoke to awards and not at all to upgrades.

Now we know. Delta has introduced revenue-based upgrades where miles are used to ‘pay the difference’ between your fare and a higher class of service.

Your miles can be used to pay the difference in a Main Cabin fare and a Delta One™, First or Business Class fare for eligible flights within the U.S. 50.

Interestingly, at present the example on their website shows miles worth 1 cent apiece towards upgrades. It’s an open question whether that paltry valuation will stick over time, of course.

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. i think the advantage of these upgrades is that since they’re based on actual paid fare differentials, they’re instantly confirmable if they quote you, rather than doing the upgrade lottery.

  2. I [foolishly] booked a K fare and banked on an upgrade LAX-JFK, which of course didn’t clear. The flight is wednesday, but in their defense, the entire business cabin is booked–100%. The entire plane is booked damn near 100%. There’s a later flight with a few seats open, so come Wednesday morning, I’ll check back and see if there are any left. It’s funny–as soon as they take away complimentary medallion upgrades on this route, the cabins are full…desired effect? I guess so…….

  3. If Delta wants to value Skymiles at one cent each, I’ll cheerfully buy a lot. Otherwise, it’s just one more note in the sour tune of Delta changes.

  4. I just booked six tickets for travel through fall. Every route had a better Delta flight I could have chosen but I took lesser choices on AA, US and AK to avoid flying for less miles than I have always earned. Why would any major company think they can inspire loyalty by taking away fairly earned mileage? They devalue customer loyalty and forward customers to those who don’t.

  5. Very misleading post, Gary. These upgrades have been around for nearly a year, and upgrade awards for fixed miles is still an available option. More options is always a good thing.

  6. I’ve noticed lately that every time it is time to check-in online the Delta app offers me options to upgrade using money but not miles. I got options to upgrade on domestic na international flights. Always one way.

  7. I did this for a one-way earlier this month as I don’t have DL status and the upgrade cost was minimal (only 5900 miles). Note that you’re really losing a bit more than 1cpm because you’re losing the 5-11 RDM/$ on the upcharge. So my $59 upcharge ended up costing me 5900 + the opportunity cost of 5*59 miles, for a true redemption value of just over $0.0095.

    You still do get the upgraded MQM, however.

    For me, the best part is that it really simplifies work reimbursement, as I don’t have to try and explain the difference in credit card outlay between coach and first.

  8. I confirmed that in 2012 I flew JFK-CDG-BLR (and vice versa) in AF business and earned 25,538 MQMs — 17,024 miles flown + 50% class of service bonus.

  9. Seems like my earlier post didn’t go through? What I was “confirming” is that I thought AF business previously DID count toward status, and when I flew AF in 2012, it looks like I did earn MQMs on DL.

  10. Delta now has three different programs to pay with miles, including “pay with miles,” “upgrade with miles” and “mileage upgrade awards.” I had to explain the difference to four different Diamond desk agents, two of whom were supervisors. Hilarity ensued.

    @Nick, I confirmed with the DD prior to my trip that I would get RDMs for the actual fare of the ticket, not just what I paid OOP, since I was “paying” the fare difference, just with a different currency. As we know now, the DD agent who told me this factoid was incorrect.

  11. It seems obvious to me what Delta is doing. They are intentionally driving away smart people who get value out of the program. They don’t need your loyalty.

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