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Delta Launches Smart Travel Pack: Bundled Benefits For A Fee

by on September 17, 2013 · 3 comments

in American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United

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Earlier this week, Delta launched what they call their Smart Travel Pack option, where SkyMiles members can purchase a bundle of benefits such as free checked baggage and priority boarding. It costs $199 to purchase for travel between September 16, 2013 and January 5, 2014, and is only available online to non-Medallion members since most of these benefits overlap with Medallion benefits. Once purchased, the benefits of the Smart Travel Pack will be included for any travel during the promotional period when customers include their SkyMiles number in their reservation.

Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard a 757-200ER.

Delta’s Smart Travel Pack allows for a 50% discount on domestic Economy Comfort at booking, which becomes complimentary at check-in.

Delta’s new Smart Travel Pack includes:

  • Complimentary Preferred Seats, when available, on domestic and international flights
  • 50% domestic Economy Comfort discount at booking, complimentary at check-in
  • 25% international Economy Comfort discount at booking up until check-in
  • Customer receives Zone 1 priority, unless the customer qualifies for a higher boarding priority
  • 20% mileage bonus on Delta operated/marketed and Delta Connection flights for the purchaser of Smart Travel Pack
  • First checked bag is free

Up to 8 companions in addition to the purchaser in the same reservation will receive these benefits with the exception of the 20% mileage bonus that will only go to the purchaser, so if makes more sense to buy if you are planning to travel with a large group and no one has Medallion status.

If you have a Delta American Express co-branded credit card such as the Delta GoldDelta Platinum, or Delta Reserve cards, you are eligible to partake in this offer, however you would not be able combine multiple benefits such as getting two fee checked bags free (one for being a cardholder and one for purchasing the Smart Travel Pack).

In my opinion, this is yet another erosion of elite status- especially for lower tier elites that value these benefits. Now anyone without elite status can cough up a couple hundred bucks and get the prime seats and priority boarding that elites had to “work” for. I understand the need for airlines to bring in new revenue streams, but they have essentially recreated Silver Medallion benefits and sold them for a reasonable price. I assume this is a test trial, because the time-frame is a little weird and there is no mention of buying the Travel Pack in the future. I bet if they can launch this with little to no backlash from their elite members, it will become a regular offering- something several of their competitors have done as well.

United Annual Economy Plus Subscription

United's Economy Comfort subscription starts at $499 per year.

United’s Economy Comfort subscription starts at $499 per year.

United offers flyers an annual membership for Economy Plus, its roomier economy seating section, with an annual fee of $499 not including a $50 initiation fee (though currently waived).

Flyers who partake in this offer will be able to select Economy Plus seats on all flights only within the continental United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). If you want to extend this benefit for North and Central America it is $599 and if you’d like to be able to take advantage of this globally it’s a whopping $699 per year.

It’s hard to imagine this fee would be too cost effective for anyone, because if you are flying so much to justify needing it – ie you would be spending this much money upgrading to Economy Plus seats anyway – then you are most likely a Premier member of the airline’s mileage program, and Premier Golds, Platinums, and 1K’s can select complimentary Economy Plus at booking while Premier Silvers can choose these seats for free at check-in domestically. With the Annual Economy Plus Subscription, there are no additional benefits such as any extra mileage earning opportunities or baggage fee waivers.

American Choice Fares

American's added benefits are on a per trip basis.

American’s added benefits are on a per trip basis.

American introduced its new system of Choice Fares earlier this year, and it resembles the Smart Travel Pack in that passengers can “upgrade” their fare to included bundled benefits, but Choice Fares are a per-trip and even per-leg option, so you can buy them a la carte, and there are two tiers – a basic one and a more premium one. Here is what each includes.

1. Choice Fares: These are basically the discounted economy fares as they are today – the least expensive way to get from point A to point B with no extras added on. You pay fees to make changes and you accrue miles normally.

2. Choice Essential: For an additional fee of $68 roundtrip, these fares will include 1 checked bag, Group 1 priority boarding and no change fees.

3. Choice Plus: These fares cost $20 above Choice Essential (so $88 above Choice/Regular Fares) and have the same three perks as Choice Essential plus a 50% AAdvantage mileage bonus (not Elite Qualifying Miles), waived same-day confirmed flight changes, same day standby and a premium beverage (including alcohol).

Change fees are waived, but if the fare on the new ticket is higher, the customer will still have to pay the difference in fares. If the fare of the new ticket is lower, you will be issued a credit in the form of an airline voucher. If you purchase one of the Choice Essential or Plus fares, you can change your ticket as many times as you want without a fee. These fares do not include Priority AAccess for security, and priority boarding is Group 1, which comes after Priority AAccess boarding.

American does not offer any sort of annual subscription like Delta’s Smart Travel Pack or United’s Economy Plus Subscription.

The Comparison

So how do these three benefit bundling systems stack up against one another? Let’s compare them by a few criteria.

Seat Selection: United’s Annual Economy Plus Subscription wins here since you are able to get Economy Plus seats at time of booking. With Delta’s Smart Travel Pack it’s only at time of check-in for free, and American’s options don’t include improved seating. Winner: United.
Baggage Fees: Delta’s Smart Travel Pack is the winner here since it provides the first checked bag free for the purchaser as well as for up to eight companions on the same reservation, which could save you over $200 in baggage fees. American comes in second place since they do offer a checked bag for free on Choice Essential and Choice Plus fares. Winner: Delta.
Waived Change Fees: American’s Choice Plus fares are the winner when it comes to change fees. They offer both waived same-day confirmed flight changes, as well as same day standby. Delta and United’s packages don’t allow for any change fee waivers and both airlines will charge you $200 to change a domestic ticket and up to $75 for same day changes on United and $50 on Delta, so if your plans are up in the air, American’s Choice Fares could be a real money-saver. Winner: American.
Mileage Bonus: Delta’s Smart Travel Pack offers a 20% mileage-earning bonus on Delta operated/marketed and Delta Connection flights, but American offers a 50% bonus on Choice Plus fares – so if you’re flying a lot during the Smart Travel Pack period, you could rack up more on Delta with the one-time $199 fee instead of having to pay each time on American, but if you’ve only got a few flights, American might be the way to go. Winner: American and Delta.
Priority Check In/Boarding: Delta and American tie in this category. Delta’s Smart Travel Pack provides Zone 1 boarding, where as American Choice Essential and Choice Plus fares offer Group 1 boarding. Winner: American and Delta.
Other Discounts: American’s Choice Plus fares come with a complimentary premium drink coupon. Winner: American.
I think the introduction of Delta’s Smart Travel Pack, while underwhelming in the benefits it accords, is an interesting new wrinkle in the legacy carriers’ attempts to woo and keep non-elite flyers by offering them a glimpse of the perks elites enjoy.  I wonder if we’ll see even more developed benefit-bundling systems in the not-too-distant future, and I would love to see Delta and United introduce bundled fares that include waived ticket and same-day changes.

 

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  • Brendan

    I agree that this is a big hit towards diminishing the value of
    the medallion status. Some of these “Smart Travel Benefits” are
    what elites, and especially lower tiered elites bank on. I am definitally sending a note to DL to voice my concerns.

  • Chris

    Those lower tiered “elites” should just get over the fact that despite the terminology most of them are by no means as valuable to the airlines as they think they are. What Delta does here is basically selling silver medallion status for 200 bucks per quarter; so roughly $800 per year if the program gets expanded. This tells you roughly how much “worth” silver elites are to the company. Delta simply prefers the cash over someone doing lots of economy class mileage runs.

  • Michael

    Well, this is why it took me three years to get from 988,000 miles to Million Miler status–the silver medallion status that come with MM status is nice, but not really worth much. Which is basically true of the entire Sky Miles program. It seems Delta is banking on offering a superior flight product (I know, debatable…), and hoping to lure flyers that way rather than through the promise of future program-related benefits except at the very top tiers. In some ways it’s charmingly old-fashioned, though it would be more so if drinks again cost $3, rubber chicken were served between LGA and ATL, and pitch were 34″.

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