A couple weeks ago, I reported that Delta announced that upgrades on award tickets were coming soon.
Well, the official email came today, and effective immediately, Delta elites (Medallions) will get automatically upgraded on award tickets (including Pay With Miles tickets) within the U.S. (except Hawaii), Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico and Central and Northern South America.
The great thing is that the upgrades will be processed at your Medallion window, after all Medallions of your level who are on paid fares. So for example, as a Platinum Medallion, my award ticket will get upgrades before a Gold Medallion on a paid fare. That’s pretty incredible (or crappy if you are a lower level Medallion).
I was expecting award ticket upgrades to be a token benefit since many people only redeem for premium class or international travel. However this set-up makes them a reality to many, since upgrades can be confirmed for last minute award travel, which is often expensive and makes it worth it to redeem miles.
I’d say this enhancement makes Delta the best airline for last minute award ticket redemptions. Why?
1) While Delta has a crazy award ticket calendar, they release a ton of seats at the low level in the days leading up to departure
2) They don’t have a last minute booking fee for award tickets (Continental, American and US Airways do).
3) As a Medallion, I can get an upgrade guaranteed at the time of booking a last minute award. For example, if there are upgrades available for Friday travel, I can book a low-level domestic award on Tuesday (25,000 points) and be booked into first class as if I was buying a revenue ticket. I tested this out today and flights that have upgrade inventory show as “Upgrade Available” when browsing the award calendar. Pretty nifty- no other airline offers first class awards for 25,000 miles- especially on flights to leisure destinations like the Caribbean, which often have many seats available for upgrades.
4) Pay With Miles tickets are also eligible! This is advantageous for people who want to pay a portion of a fare using points (1 SkyMile takes 1 cent off the fare). For example, if you wanted to buy a $200 roundtrip ticket, you could use 20,000 miles instead of the 25,000 mile (or higher) standard award level.
Overall, in my opinion, this is a unique and substantial enhancement to the SkyMiles program. While it disadvantages lower level elite members who will now find upgrades harder to get, it encourages them to achieve higher elite levels- the entire point of a loyalty program.