Why Would Delta Rather Fly Empty Business Class Cabins Than Upgrade Elites?

by on March 26, 2014 · 135 comments

in Delta, Elite Status

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Along with many of the other negative changes Delta has announced over the past year including award chart devaluations, revenue-based elite requirements, and a new revenue-based mileage-earning system that will go into place in December, the airline also changed up how it hands out upgrades to elites back in December – and I’ve been hearing from many Delta Medallions lately that this new system seems to be broken.

Delta lie-flat BusinessElite product on the 767

Has your Delta BusinessElite cabin looked like this lately?

As a reminder, per Delta, starting March 1, 2014, complimentary upgrades for the transcontinental BusinessElite routes (which used to be assigned at the gate based on availability) are no longer a Medallion benefit. Instead, Diamond Medallions must select to upgrade those routes (and other international routes) using Global upgrades or miles.

These Global Upgrades are part of the new Choice Benefits options Diamond Medallions now have. Diamonds receive Regional and Global upgrade certificates; while Platinum Medallions can select Regional Upgrades.

New Delta Upgrade Chart

New Delta Upgrade Chart

So based on these new rules, pretty much only Diamond’s are getting transcontinental upgrades, and even to do so, they must use a Global Upgrade. The good news is that Global upgrades are eligible on pretty much all paid fare classes for international and domestic BusinessElite routes): Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V classes. They may be redeemed for the named Medallion member and up to one travel companion in the same reservation. The named member and the companion will each require a separate certificate.

On the plus side, upgrades to Hawaii from LAX/SEA/SFO and SLC are now eligible for complimentary Medallion upgrades – so leisure travelers are in luck, but the high-revenue transcon business travelers are going to have to pay a premium to get into BusinessElite – whether that’s a higher airfare or forking over one of those Global Upgrades. It also means that if you want to be able to upgrade transcontinentally, you’re going to have to be a Delta Diamond, which changes the whole rollover strategy. A lot of people stop just short of the 125,000 MQMs required and opt to instead rollover a ton of MQMs and stick with Platinum – but based on this they might want to go for Diamond for the 4 Global Upgrades.

Empty Cabins

So what has this all meant? The new policy has been in place just about 3 weeks now…and I’ve been hearing all about it from readers and my fellow Delta Medallions. I think my Twitter follower Joe summed it up best in this tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 4.38.08 PMI can imagine their frustration! There’s just something painful about flying 75,000+ miles a year on an airline to earn that elite status and to have to sit for 6 hours looking at an empty business class cabin where your elite status would have had you sitting the month before.

Now I know a bunch of commenters are probably going to say that elites are too entitled anyway, but quite frankly, upgrades are a major reason many people go for elite status in the first place and make sure to give their loyalty to an airline. After all, if you have a lot of flying to do, why wouldn’t you give your business to an airline where you’re likely to get an upgrade on your most frequent routes?

This is a different matter from prioritizing elites over other customers who might pay for an upgrade, which many airlines – most notably United – have stopped doing and that got their elites up in arms about a year ago. Hey, if a passenger is going to pay for that business class seat, I think an airline is entitled to sell it to them, but to fly an empty business class cabin as a way of strong-arming some of your most loyal flyers seems like just plain old bad business for me. I am curious to know whether it will boost actual BusinessElite sales as Delta Medallions try to convince their companies to spring for business class on work trips, or whether it just means coach tickets are going to get more expensive as even elites have to compete for more limited space.

I haven’t flown Delta transcontinentally in a while now – preferring to give American my business, especially with all the recent SkyMiles changes – so I haven’t had this issue…yet. But how about all of you? What’s the situation like on Delta planes these days for you elites out there?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Catherine Curtis

    I am trying to find a way to move my elite status to a competing airline. I actually do like the service I get on a Delta flight (Diamond for 3 years now), and I do agree that the changes are counterintuitive to the concept of loyalty.. do you know of a link to switch status between airlines? ( I did this when I moved from a regional airline (Alaska) to a global one (Delta) 3 years ago.

  • zbird

    how is this any different from United, which only allows complimentary upgrades on short-haul flights? I’ve spent many a night in coach on the way to Brazil staring at empty seats up front.

  • Julia

    Ryan, I had a very eye-opening experience booking a Delta flight DEN-JFK the other day. I checked ITA Matrix first and it showed Biz/1st fare one way at $326 and economy was $270. I went to to book the ticket and put in the same info I put in ITA Matrix and it returned a fare of $560. I did a double-take and checked for the exact flight details I was looking at on ITA and noted the Fare Class. Came back to the Delta site search results and went “Hmmmm”. I then selected Advanced search and noticed the drop down below Cabin for Fare Class. I selected the first Biz/1st Fare Class on the list and “Voila!” there was my $316 fare.

    So moral of the story is they are selling Biz/1st tix at really reasonable fares in some cases if you know how to find them so to hell with Elite Upgrades!

  • CloseYourEyesandBlow

    And that is why you boycott delta

  • Auntie

    “but to fly an empty business class cabin as a way of strong-arming some of your most loyal flyers seems like just plain old bad business for me”

    So, I’m a photographer. I have some steady clients. Are you saying that I ought to do extra work for them for free on a day when I’m not actually booked by anyone?

  • Urbanist

    Any suggestions for someone who is based in Atlanta, and is a consistent Platinum with Delta? I need a new airline badly, but as far as I can figure, I’d have to split my flights between United and American (thus making any decent status unlikely) if I wanted to totally abandon Delta.

  • SEM

    This post is about Domestic flights, which have already had the service gutted to allow these free upgrades, lets not ruin the International service just yet…!!!

  • Scott

    I have the same problem. My largest client is in ATL and requires frequent trips to their offices from DCA. Delta is forcing our hand and refusing to give us the respect we all deserve as loyal customers. Time to take our money elsewhere.

  • HumerousUserName

    You should be able to email or fax a copy of your year-end statement to United, American, etc and request a competitive status match for the year. Then you have to earn it going forward.

  • Urbanist

    You may have the option to from DC, but I spend a fair amount of time traveling all over the country for work, and it’s nearly impossible to find direct flights on other carriers (that you would want to have status on) out of Atlanta. On the rare occasion, I might be able to find a nonstop on United or American, but it’s not common (which means that it would be very difficult to get status with these airlines, even with a status match).

  • MoreLikeThis

    No, its like doing doing additional processing or using an expensive post-processing filter that wasn’t initially part of your quote but would make the final product better for a long time customer who has you doing most of their shoots without them having asked or paid the extra $$.

  • Diamond

    Auntie that is a ridiculous comparison. I too am jumping ship to American.

  • SEM

    I am not a DL flyer, but by “Business Elite Trans-cons” I assume that is DL’s nicest cabin that they fly on trans-con routes [as opposed to regular F class cabins]…??? This policy is no different from UA’s P.S. service from JFK-SFO/LAX where the free status upgrades are not given out…In my 17 years of being a UA flyer, the P.S. trans-con flights were always the best…And YES, even if I was not booked in C or F, knowing how nice the experience was, I was more then willing to fork over the mileage, which most of us have a TON of for the UG [I personally value the SystemWide UG certs too much to use for this, but mileage is/was a no brainer]…IF DL’s service goes up to match the price of what Business Elite customers are paying [As UA's did back in the day] I do not see the problem…I would rather be in a half full cabin receiving excellent service and experiencing a great product then in a cabin full of jack-a**’s who can’t get their next beer fast enough…

  • preston

    here’s the reason why this comparison is wrong: by upgrading the elite travelers, you open seats in economy, which you can then sell. what Delta is doing is actually reducing the overall revenue it brings in (short-term) as a way to try to increase business class revenue (long-term).

    the plane is already flying from point a to point b. the seats are already there. the costs are fixed. if you don’t take pictures for a client, you don’t have to take pictures for the client. a plane still has to fly, and they still have to staff it with the appropriate number of FAs.

  • David Rae

    again FU delta……grrrrrr

  • Chris

    If Delta could really sell those economy seats they would certainly upgrade some people to Business Elite. It just doesn’t happen.

  • Chris

    Why are you all complaining? Delta figured that it is more profitable for them to limit the benefits of so-called “elites”. If you don’t like it pick another airline. Or just pay for the service that you want to receive in the first place.

    Putting someone in Business Elite is not costless for the airline. It takes up FA resources, drinks, meals, etc. It is not obvious that it is a bad business decision to leave some seats empty if nobody is willing to pay for them. On the contrary, it is probably a good idea. But we don’t have to speculate about this. Let’s just wait a couple of months, and if the current system is still in place it must be the case that it is working for Delta. Let the market decide if this is a good move.

    Again, airlines are not in the business of pleasing so-called “elites”, many of which are not very profitable customers. They are supposed to maximize revenue for their shareholders.

  • Miles_Dyson

    Living in Atlanta you have no choice, it’s a pit of despair. I live here so I often look for choices but there are non. Flying AA most of my routes are a connection through DFW or MIA so it just adds time.

  • Oldsmoboi

    Just another reason to never ever ever fly Delta. I am loyal to The New American because they let me sit up front regularly since I have Gold status with them. That’s why they get my business… that’s how loyalty programs work.

  • Annalise Kaylor

    I’m ATL based and status matched to Alaska. I’m banking my miles there so that I can still enjoy my Medallion benefits when I have to fly Delta, but can also bank/redeem on American, as well. I’m sure eventually DL will cut ties with Alaska but at least this way I bank to one spot with the flexibility of both. Thus far, its worked wonderfully.

  • sunglassesadvil

    While you make some good points, others are not so good. For one, unless DL can drop flight attendants at the last minute, putting people in Business Elite probably doesn’t take up additional FA resources. Business Elite has dedicated FAs.

    Also, airlines might not be primarily in business to please elites, but it is well-advised for them to do so. Many of them are definitely the most profitable customers for DL – especially now that DL has enacted revenue requirements for status. These are the flyers that fly the most and pay DL the most money. Pleasing these people keeps them with DL, which keeps money coming in.

  • Allen

    Done With Delta.

  • Chris

    “For one, unless DL can drop flight attendants at the last minute,
    putting people in Business Elite probably doesn’t take up additional FA

    Of course it does. If there are more passengers, then service quality obviously suffers. If there are people that pay a lot of money to receive good service they might not be happy if there experience is suffering because Delta decides to let non-paying passengers into the cabin.

    “Also, airlines might not be primarily in business to please elites, but it is well-advised for them to do so.”

    This is an assumption that YOU are making. But a multi-billion dollar airline with a huge market research department is saying that you are wrong. Do you think Delta makes these business decision without very carefully thinking about the consequences? No, they figured that there will be enough people willing to pay for the service if they shut down the “gate roulette option” for transcon flights, and that the extra revenue will exceed the losses from a few grumpy “elites” switching the other airlines. Only time will tell if they are right, but it looks very plausible to me.

  • Urbanist

    While airlines (as public companies) are in the business of maximizing value for their shareholders, that is not a game of what will earn me the most revenue today (at least not at well run companies). It’s a game of how do I grow this business over time, and ensure that the business continues to grow. Shafting your most loyal customers is not the right strategy.

    If I book two flights a year on an airline other than Delta because of BS moves like this, how many free glasses of wine do they have to give away to make that even? If I start accumulating points on another airline and then paying to fly that other airline on long-haul, significantly more profitable international routes, how many free biscoff cookies would Delta have to give up to negate the lost profit?

    It’s a bonehead move that Delta is utilizing because they can right now. A few years from now, we’ll see the same cycle we did back in the early 00′s, and there will be far fewer loyal flyers of Delta to support them when they need it.

  • Elbert

    As a LAX-JFK commuter, I’m switching to AA and the new A321′s.

  • PHLF

    False comparison. Closer – but not exact – is if you are already taking pictures for a client. You then make a bunch of prints but the client doesnt want them all. You have a stack of such photos ready to be thrown away. Steady client A shows up to collect his prints from a different photoshoot and says “hey, thats a great pic. If you’re just throwing it away, can i have it?”

    If you’re Delta, you say, “No, that’ll be $300 or you can forfeit 10 of the prints in your package.” If you’re an airline that appreciates steady clients, you say “Sure! see you next week.”

  • PHLF

    If you are a frequent traveler in a hub city, in all likelihood, picking another airline for all travel is not a viable option.

  • Andy Jeffery

    I used to think Delta was one of the premier airlines with a Customer focus….but I guess $2.7 billion in PROFIT isn’t enough!! That’s a record PROFIT for them!! So what do they do?….Screw over the traveler. As a business traveler, I used to go out of my way to travel on Delta, knowing that my gold status got me something, an upgrade to First occasionally, etc.., and looked forward to building my mileage. Now I see that there is no recognition for the traveler, except based on how much you pay. I am sure Delta will yet again have a record profit in 2014..but it won’t be from me.

  • Chris

    That sucks for you of course, but why is this Delta’s problem? They are maximizing profits, as any company in a free market should.

  • Chris

    You may book two flights on another airline, but somebody else who would have played the upgrade game before might now pay for Business Elite (or have his/her company pay). Delta seems to believe that this is a good deal for them: they lose some revenue and gain some revenue, and seem to believe that the sum of the two is going to be positive over the future. What evidence do you have that they are wrong?

  • Chris

    Always remember: if a company is making profits it means that they are doing things right. If they increase profits, it means that they improved operations.

  • Dan Nainan

    I have been such a loyal Delta flyer and Diamond from when they first introduced the Diamond program. I have developed “econophobia” and do not wish to fly coach, ever. As a result of this policy change, I simply take a connecting flight. Last Friday I was on a 767 with flat bed from New York to Salt Lake and then onwards to California.

    It’s truly sickening to read that these business class seats fly empty. It would be one thing if we had never gotten free upgrades, but to take them away after we had them, and for no reason…it just really hurts.

    But I don’t mind that much I guess, but the new frequent flyer policy that starts January 1 means I’ll be gone and switching to another airline, and I never thought I would say that. I was so loyal to Delta.

  • Chris

    You have no understanding of economics. If people expect that they can get Business seats for free at the gate, then they are less likely to buy them. Committing to leaving seats empty if nobody is willing to pay a certain minimum price is a very good business decision for the airline.

  • sunglassesadvil

    On your first point, I totally agree re: service, but that wasn’t your original point. Unless they can drop FAs at the last minute, FA costs are the same.

    As for your second point, I agree entirely – I made the assumption. I don’t know why you put an emphasis on the fact that I made that assumption, I don’t know who else would have made it. And as you stated, they made an assumption too. And you are making an assumption as well saying it looks very plausible, so we are all working off assumptions. I’m just not sure how many people work for businesses that allow them to easily pay for business fares on transcon flights – if they did, wouldn’t they be paying for those flights already? After all, they are not actually paying for these flights if they are business travelers.

  • Kevin S

    Chris, my guess (only slightly educated based on some tracking of flight aggregators) is that the spread between Economy and Biz Elite fares will be more dynamic (they will shrink when demand is low to maximize the filling of the cabin, with some sort of floor to prevent over-discounting) and, like you said, the market will determine how large this spread is in the long run. If it is successful, other domestic airlines will follow suit. If, over the next 3 quarters, revenue does not show a material increase, Delta will likely revert (without publicly admitting an unsuccessful strategy) to the system of rewarding Elites with domestic upgrades.

  • David

    Don’t forget about us lowly Gold medallions. Under the old rules, we’re also supposed to be able to upgrade on these routes, and I was able to get a transcon biz upgrade on the JFK-SEA route not too long ago.

    But the loss of upgrades ON TOP OF the new minimum spending requirements are just a killer — especially since I’m mostly a chronic leisure traveler, and miles running is a key strategy for me being able to get status.

    There’s really no real purpose to requalifying for Gold anymore, so I’ll have to challenge or match onto a competitor now. Ugh.

  • crimsonablue

    Airlines around the world outside of the US force elites to pay cash or points to upgrade. This is not new. It’s about resetting expectations

  • sunglassesadvil

    I’m not really sure why someone would play the upgrade game if their company would so willingly pay for biz. If I work for a company that will pay for biz, even if I’m SURE I will get upgraded I’d have the company pay, since I’ll get a higher mileage credit for that biz fare. Am I missing something here?

  • Chris

    Totally agree.

  • Urbanist

    We’re talking about leaving seats empty vs upgrading medallion members. Upgrades can be given at the gate, while the plane is boarding. So, unless these business class seats are all of a sudden going to be snapped up by travelers who buy their tickets 15 minutes prior to departure, they’re not doing this in lieu of gaining revenue. I don’t know too many people who purchase their flights – business class or coach – 15 minutes prior to departure. Leaving these seats empty pisses off your most valuable customers, while saving you a few pence here and there on free food.

  • wingknut

    I have no idea…throwing this out there.

    But to give the seats away at little/no profit, is putting weight in them, and if your reward process creates a loss i fuel required to fly it..THEN this makes some sense.

    Yes, miles used, is helping the books, but using them at a loss could be an issue.

    In the last year, the average cost of fuel per passenger from say..Atlanta to Chicago, went up $25 to $88.

    Maybe it makes sense..the ‘cost’ of miles on the books unused, is cheaper than the loss in cost to use them. empty.

  • SK

    But if you are traveling JFK-LAX, you have plenty of options…

  • Andy Jeffery

    I’m not against a company making profits…what bothers me is always wanting more-more-more….at the detriment of the customer. Airlines, in general are squeezing everything they can out of the flying public. Less flights, More and smaller seats per plane, “Premium” seating costs, Luggage costs, more frequent flyer program restrictions, etc. I often joke with friends that soon Toilets will require a credit card swipe…but I can almost see it coming.

  • Juan Sebastian Cruz

    really Delta? What happened to don’t let the rules over rule common sense… MAKES NO SENSE TO FLY WITH AN EMPTY CABIN AND PISS OFF YOUR LOYAL ELITE CUSTOMERS. DUMB FUCKS.

  • kansasdba

    As far as I’m concerned. There should never be an empty seat in Business or First. Even if they wait until the last minute to pull people up.

    Maybe what Delta should have done was simply say that all upgrades on these flights will clear at the gate (giving them maximum time to actually sell the seats)?

  • Ed

    Unoccupied seats = lost revenue. It makes no sense from a business perspective to fly empty planes.
    The least what Delta could have done is to provide a pay-for-upgrade opportunity.

  • Flyer Fun

    Chris, I guess I am wondering WHY you are posting.

  • Urbanist

    That’s argument is a tad too simple. Unoccupied seats = opportunities to build loyalty among high paying customers via upgrades, which opens coach seats for standby passengers. Giving those upgrades at boarding would rarely, rarely cost the airline more than a free glass of wine and a bag of cookies. If those seats are unsold 15 minutes prior to departure, those seats are as good as empty. Fill those business class seats with high profile customers, and backfill the economy with paying standby customers.

  • brian kusler

    They’re just matching United’s policy for elite upgrades on the United PS flights. I have to fork over ≈20k per segment to sit up front on the SFO/LAX-JFK run. But it’s worth it — brand-new lie flat seats. If I want to vie for a free status-based upgrade to crappy 38″ recliner then I book on the EWR-SFO run.

  • Matt

    TPG, thanks for bringing this issue back to the forefront. This helps build credibility for you as a consumer advocate, and I appreciate it.

    The only way to hope for a change here is to continue increase awareness, provide a speakerbox for disgruntled elites, and help consumers realize that there are greener pastures elsewhere — then individual elites can “enhance” their experiences away from Delta through their airline choice. Hopefully the market shows DL that this was a bonehead move. And hopefully posts like this spur change in how elites are directing their dollars.

    On a related note, have you considered including relevant data from other airlines in these posts? For example, a quick chart that shows how other domestics treat upgrades, flights to Hawai;i, transcon legs, etc in terms of upgrades. Could help place things in context and showcase the DL devaluations.

  • Chris

    You have no understanding of economics. If people expect that they can
    get Business seats for free at the gate, then they are less likely to
    buy them. Committing to leaving seats empty if nobody is willing to pay a
    certain minimum price is a very good business decision for the airline.

  • Chris

    See my comment below. You don’t seem to understand how dynamic pricing works. If people expect things to be free they are not going to pay for them.

  • Ben S

    This is why I’m a United elite. I don’t understand why anyone who lived outside of Atlanta, Detroit, or Salt Lake City would give their spend to Delta: you get nothing back!

  • Chris

    My guess is that there are two things in play here:

    1) Companies probably don’t care much about the class of service, but about the price of the ticket.

    2) Business elite seats will likely be cheaper relative to coach than they were in the past.

    So companies might be willing to swallow a modest price increase relative to coach if free upgrades are no longer an option.

  • Chris

    Why, what is your issue. I am simply astounded that people don’t get the simple economics here. Complaining about the fact that a company wants to increase profits; or not understanding that leaving some seats empty is a consequence of optimal dynamic pricing.

  • J

    Who’s the one making assumptions? It’s definitely not a good business decision if the strategy leads to huge attrition in high value customers to your competition. The vast majority of businesses will NOT/NEVER pay for a business class seat transcon. It’s inelastic in as much as the vast majority of elites travel for business. So if AA and UA continue to offer complimentary status upgrades + make it far easier to use their upgrade certificates and miles for upgrades (something Delta is atrocious at), they will benefit short term and long term. Consumers will switch. Which by the way, is already happening. Just go to the DL Diamond page on facebook and check out the conversation.

  • Chris

    I wrote “if people expect that they can get Business seats for free at the gate, then they are less likely to buy them.”

    That’s a fact, not an assumption. We can argue about magnitudes here, but not about principle.

    But I am totally willing to believe that you might be right. It all depends on how elastic demand for paid business class is. Let’s just wait and see what happens.

    All I am saying is that it is very naive to assume Delta is making a bad business decision just because some Business seats occasionally stay empty.

  • PHLF

    For the record, I responded to a post saying “if you don’t like it find another airline.” I said you couldn’t if you were in a hub city. Your response has nothing to do with the point. Having said that, Delta, like many airlines, has gotten a free pass from the DOJ. Why is it Delta’s problem? Because if they aren’t careful, they will run into an antitrust challenge.

    By the way, monopolies are why the unregulated free market theories are neither optimal nor what we should be idolizing.

  • Ed

    Those seats can be sold at the gate for a amount MORE than a glass of wind and a bag of cookies.
    My point is: it is better to sell those seats OR to provide them to your best customers 15 mins before departure (Diamond only?) then to let them go out empty.

  • PHLF

    Chris has pretty much shown himself to be a shill for Delta. His limited understanding of economics makes him necessarily right no matter what you say.

    Let me offer a counterpoint to whether people are more likely to pay for a seat. A lot of people will never pay for the business class or first class seat. Many of those people’s companies forbid it – regardless of the spread between coach and first. Many of those people fly a lot.

    So consider: if someone flies 50k, 75k or 100k miles a year, airlines want their business. If that person is no longer getting certain perks they find valuable (e.g., the chance at an upgrade), they no longer have the same incentive to fly ONLY that airline.

    For me, if i’m going to have to pay for upgrades with cash or miles instead of getting them automatically, I’m going to price shop between airlines and my airline of choice loses a sizeable portion of my business. It doesnt take that many elites to take that approach for the benefit of a few extra sold business class seats to disappear.

    In fact, as I said above, the ONLY thing that keeps a lot of people from making that leap is the monopolies that airlines have over airports.

  • Guest

    We’re astounded by your narrow-minded limited understanding of the economic theories you spout.

  • thepointsguy

    Agreed the market should decide and I wrote this blog post to educate people on what is happening. I wouldn’t call it complaining, but more so voicing my opinion that it is a bad policy for frequent flyers.

  • thepointsguy

    But they aren’t really selling them at the gate?

  • thepointsguy

    I haven’t seen BE pricing come down at all with these changes.. I guess time will tell, but I’m not holding my breathe (though JetBlue’s entrance to the market may shift prices down)

  • thepointsguy

    A business traveler whose company will not pay for BE is not going to shell out the extra 2k themselves to pay the change fee and fare difference. At least not most that I know

  • thepointsguy

    Agree.. which is why people should shift business away to discourage this policy

  • thepointsguy

    Exactly and that is the route (plus JFK-SFO) that is primarily affected by these changes

  • thepointsguy

    Delta makes it MUCH harder for people to upgrade to BE than United with higher fare class requirements and less instruments for top elites

  • thepointsguy

    It is more like if you gave that service for free for 15 years and then stopped one day and wondered why the customer left you. Was it worth it for you to lose the customer to free up the time to do that “free” work for someone else?

  • Chris

    Oh, if you only knew… :-).

  • The Gnome

    Elites that act elitist are the turds of air travel. I’d rather see empty seats up there than self absorbed business travelers assuming its their right to sit there. Let Delta start to make money off those seats or give opportunities for others to upgrade in other ways.

  • mpkomo

    Chris is absolutely right on the face of things.

    Delta is taking this approach because anyone who *might* pay extra for the upgraded class wouldn’t bother when they know they can get it for free most of the time. BUT – this assumes that there is a percentage of customers who can either get their companies to pay for the upgrade or are affluent and will do so themselves. That percentage may be 0%, 100% or anywhere between (obviously more likely). Delta can’t know what that percentage is unless it completely stops giving free upgrades to prove to these people that if they want it, they’ll have to pay for it.

    With that said, I absolutely agree with most of you that I think the number of people willing to pay the extra won’t make up for the lost business (in people changing to new airlines AND the loss in standby fare for the empty seat created by the upgrades)… but Delta is basically taking the theoretical out of it and seeing how it actually works in practice.

    If it doesn’t work, things likely go back to how they were sometime down the line. If they’re making at least close to the same amount (or more), then it’s likely here to stay.

  • Chris

    Unnecessary personal attacks aside: if what Delta does is so horrible, why do their profits keep increasing? It cannot be their dominant position in places like ATL, because what we are discussing essentially only affects the NYC/LAX-SFO routes, where there is plenty of competition.

    Sure, if you cut benefits some consumers will switch. You think that thought never occurred to the marketing department of a multi-billion dollar company?

    I agree that the new policy is bad for some people. If that is what you think then say so; complain that your benefits are taken away; you have every right to be upset. But don’t pretend that it is a bad business decision just because you are no longer getting your beloved freebies.

  • Kevin

    My company does care about the class of service since our travel is billed to the customer. I could probably make the case on a J class ticket if it were within $100 or the flight over 8 hours, but it wouldn’t be worth the time spent doing it. Not a problem of course if I get an upgrade due to status, it’s the invoice from the travel dept showing anything other than economy class that would raise the ire of our travel overloads.

    I’ll just stick to AA and my EXP domestic upgrades and 8 SWU I get for international travel.

  • hopkinstani

    You would think that if Delta over sold their coach seats, they would have to upgrade their elites to make room for the non-elites to at least get on the plane. Anyone who just needed to get from JFK > SFO,LAX, SEO and didn’t really care which cabin they are in would be really upset to see all those empty seats on a flight which was “sold out”.

  • PHLF

    Because no business has ever, EVER made a bad decision, right? Great argument.

    Your next is even worse. “They made profits in the past, so every future decision must always be the right decision that will lead to even more profits.”

  • salamacuse

    Flew my last Delta Transcon this past Sunday evening. 15 of the 26 seats were empty prior to takeoff (and on their website seating map) but something funny happened prior to take off – the economy comfort area got much thinner… (they secretly funneled a few top DM’s up front) — regardless, they still had 5-6 empty seats up there. The PM sitting next to me was furious. I talked to the flight attendants who said the complaints from loyal flyers is ALL they are hearing these days on the trans-con routes. Oh well, I’ve moved on – Delta’s economy product is no different from American’s new planes. (though American has a lot less economy seats on their planes)

  • Bart verbeke

    As I am flying only coach on international routes, this is about the only change as a Diamond Medallion I did like. I just booked a flight on ATL DXB and used global certificate to upgrade to Business Elite which for a 14 hrs. overnight is pleasant. But again that must be the only change of the 2014/2015 program I do like.

  • Suzanne Gwinn

    Why don’t they just start selling them like US Airways does to all passengers?

  • Lee

    Chris, one piece of the puzzle you are forgetting is the cost. The discount coach fare is about $200 each way and the business class fare is about $2000 each way. I doubt that too many people are going to pay $2000 instead of $200 because the upgrades went away. I think the fairest solution would be to make an upgrade available within a short window before the flight if a DM has paid for a higher coach fare class (say something in the $400 range each way) and is willing to use miles (say 15K each way). This will get Delta some extra revenue and allow it to take miles off the books without sacrificing the ability to sell seats to travelers willing to pay full fare business class.

  • Pot

    You have claimed others have no understanding of economics multiple times yet you complain about personal attacks? Pot, meet kettle.

  • Adam

    Is DL flying these seats empty?

    I’m a DL Diamond who took my first transcon flight since the changes took effect and had an odd experience. I called an agent and asked if any seats were available using my (old) Systemwide Upgrades (I selected my benefits before Global Upgrades were announced so I’m stuck with these). I was told there were not any available but she’d add me to the wait list. Well, I shouldn’t have been eligible for an upgrade since I wasn’t flying U or higher…DL rep said it wasn’t a problem. When I called back to check on the status of the upgrade and was told I’d now need a supervisor approval for the upgrade, which they kindly granted.

    Point is this…I’m now the only person listed on the upgrade list at check-in with 9 available seats. She calls my name 30 min before departure…I board as usual. The flight fills up and there isn’t an empty seat in BE. There were 9 available when I boarded and I was the only one on the list…so how did the other 8 fill up? Do they make an offer at the gate to upgrade using miles or cash? I can’t imagine that 8 people suddenly decided to cash in a Global Upgrade.

    Anyone have any thoughts?

  • Chair Guy

    I’m a DL Diamond who flew 135k with DL last year and had a $25k total spend. My company covers intl biz but I pay for domestic travel. I’ll be moving all of my business to UA because of all the recent DL changes. If you’re not going to reward my loyalty with upgrades (what I value most) then your airline no longer has value to me. If I’m going to be in a coach seat no matter what, JetBlue and Virgin America have a better transcon product.

    Delta did many things I didn’t like in the past 2 years (changing the same day confirm policy is at the top of the list), but stripping upgrades on this route means I’m switching airlines.

    No matter how you explain the economics, I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who will feel this way.

  • blanca


    No one likes to sit in a packed cabin even if it is in first class. I paid for BF to Australia on United and I resented the two dorks that got upraded at the last minute and stared at me the whole 14 hour flight. I was wishing so bad that they had not been upgraded and those seats would have gone empty.

  • Julia

    Sounds like one for Flyer Talk!

  • spencer b

    Op ups or non-revs

  • Albert

    Times could not be better as a Delta or other airline nonrevver

  • Paul

    You assume their decision is maximizing profits. There is a long stream of decisions made by airlines to maximize profits that did the exact opposite. Pretty sure alienating customers and making them voice negative opinions by not generating any extra revenue is NOT maximizing profits.

  • Paul

    Anyone buying a $2,500 fare is NOT buying a coach seat in “Hopes” of getting upgraded. That’s a completely absurd thought.

  • Paul

    Delta “Cough” sucks

  • Ed

    Emigrate. Move out of Atlanta.
    And when Atlanta goes the way of Detroit, tell the city council they can thanks Delta.

  • wwittman

    You keep implying that that economics isn’t complete bollocks… when we all know it is.

  • Jimmy

    Chris is a troll

  • Lee

    TPG, I have made that point to exec levels of customer service and they don’t have any intelligent responses. They also have no answer as to why Delta won’t try a middle ground (maybe higher fare class and miles for DMs to be eligible for upgrade at gate). I, and I assume many other transcon flyers, are sticking with Delta this year because I chose 10 SWUs as my PM/DM benefits. Once I have used those, I will do a status challenge somewhere else and move on.

  • Kevin

    Don’t FAA rules specify that if a plane has passengers on it (any passengers) then it must fly an amount of FA’s according to how many seats are on the plane (whether that are filled or empty)?

  • Leslie

    I just switched- I have been flying Delta for 4 years. I just found out the hard way that they are not doing these Trans-Con upgrades– and I have 2 RT flights every month to do for the remainder of this year. I have also told the other 5 members of my family to boycott Delta. It’s unacceptable behavior on Delta’s part. Bye-bye Delta

  • Kevin S

    I wonder if they’ll follow a similar policy to Virgin America where, if seats are open you capay a small fee to upgrade. Higher status elongates the open window you have to purchase said upgrades.
    I don’t have a dog in this fight though, I fly AA.

  • AMPfromBNA

    I wonder how many of those FC seats end up going to nonrevs now, similar to transcon flights.

  • AMPfromBNA

    But most flights have nonrevs. Those nonrevs typically fill the empty seats.

    Next time you fly, rather than board first, wait to the very end. They always call for a few people and issue boarding passes. These are employees or family/friends traveling for leisure, at no cost (other than taxes).

    In the past, they got those crappy middle seats in row 40. For TATL flights, they often get BE seats if they are available, since they are not sold. I bet they get FC/BE seats now on Transcon flights too. Therefore, they weren’t selling more seats before, and they are not selling them now.

    What is sad, though, is that Delta is failing to reinforce the value proposition of medallion status and loyalty.

  • AMPfromBNA

    What you are talking about is the monetization of FC/BE inventory. I agree that they are trying to maximize the earned income from these seats.

    But if they were truly interested in that income, wouldn’t they offer to sell those seats at a discount right before the flight?

    Or better yet, follow their interrupted travel voucher bid system… Lets medallions put in a “bid price” at check in for the upgrade? Some may bid $100, some more. The highest bidder gets the upgrade, if available. That creates income every flight.

  • Steve JFK

    United doesn’t upgrade on jfk-lax/ado either. Delta is just copying them.

  • Guest

    I hate to say it but it comes down to a bit of snobbery, especially for those VIPs and celebrities that fly between NY and Los Angeles. For customers that actually pay to fly business elite class from JFK to LAX for example, do not want to see people get moved up there for free when they had to pay about $3K (give or take a bit each way) round trip for the flight.

    It is more of a private club setting up there now and those who are more than happy to pay to sit in those seats do not want others up there unless they pay too.

  • Oldsmoboi

    The evidence is the empty seats in first class. That is the point of the original blog post. Delta would rather fly an empty first class while shoving loyal customers in the back. Delta already lost the sales in first class and they aren’t getting them back, why not let the most frequent flyers sit in the bigger seats and *keep those customers happy*.

  • Oldsmoboi

    How are they maximizing profits by encouraging elites to find other airlines? For business travel, I am not allowed to buy Biz/First tickets unless the trip is over 6 hours. Yet because I’m Gold with US Airways, I get to sit in first on any trip that has a first class section (I’m about 95% upgrade rate with them this year). How much is it really costing US Airways to put me in first on a 1 1/4 hour Embraer flight where that seat would otherwise be empty? Pretty much nothing…. yet because I actively seek to maintain my status with them, I have flown over 50 segments for 2014 on US so far even if Delta had the cheaper fare.

    That’s how US Airways is maximizing profit by moving me up.

  • Oldsmoboi

    It doesn’t matter if I can buy them at the gate or not…. I can’t buy them ever. T/E rules say so. But because I get upgraded for being loyal to one airline, I stick with the other airline.

  • M

    I am a multi-year diamond member who has switched his business to American. Moreover, I have changed our corp travel policy to exclude Delta. F you delta!!!

  • Max

    It’s simple. I pay a premium exclusively for Delta flights. And I only fly Delta. I never price shop. I do this purely for the upgrades and medallion status. I don’t even use my miles for free tickets because then I can’t earn miles on that flight if I use miles as payment. I literally just saw for the first time that LAX – JFK is not upgrade eligible. And I’ve been to NYC multiple times already this year!! My next move was simply to go to Kayak to look for a cheaper price. It was only after a moment I realized I had miles I could burn for free flights before I needed to price shop. Needless to say, purchased my flight with miles. Will burn through my miles. And then will either price shop or find another frequent miles program. But while it’s a big decision in my life, I think it’s clear the new Sky Miles program doesn’t bring any value to me. And that can’t be good for Delta at scale.

  • paul sullivan

    If the benefits of flying are reduced to the point where they’re not meaningful, there is no point belonging to a rewards program. You might as well sign up the most convenient flight. I think this is a bad decision by Delta and alot of other airlines.

  • IBWT

    I just found this post because I am planning a JFK-LAX trip and vaguely recalled this policy change. I have been PM since 2006. In the short run, I’m just going to avoid these flights. In the long run, this will motivate me to look at what other airlines are offering.

  • IBWT

    If elites were not profitable, then Delta would just get rid of its FF program, no? It is more likely that the loyalty and repeat business is good for the bottom line. The question is how cheaply can Delta run its FF program before customers leave for the competition.

  • Tokyo based

    I’ve been a Delta PM for over 4 years now, and just hit these latest changes on HND-LAX, LAX-JFK a regular run for me. After 20+ yrs with Delta I can only support their changes. If they want to fly empty seats, I’ll give them one more! The last straw was my layover at LAX, I went up to the lounge prior to my LAX-JFK leg where they politely informed me that because I built in a 3 day layover at LAX as a PM I didn’t have lounge access…only within 24hrs of intl. flight.

    Deciding on the return (NOT UG elig) who I will move my 80-100K miles per year to…..most likely ANA/JAL or Korean Air, all of whom fly the same routes I use. Have VERY attentive FAs and still treat their FFs with respect!


  • R

    We were upgraded on an ATL — DUB flight when they scanned our tickets to board the flight. There were no seats available in BE by takeoff, even though no one was on the waiting list.

  • goducks1

    I used to be diamond with Delta and due to lack of flying the last two year. This year when I started flying again without status. I felt they are trying to nick and dime you even for simple things like seat assignments. I hate them for trying to milk simple things like that and let passenger to anticipate what seat to get. I will stop flying delta

  • AnnoyedDeltaPlat

    It’s even worse than just this. Shortly after Delta forced expert flyer to stop displaying their upgrade availability they have started screwing with their release of seats. I’m Delta Platinum and I fly off peak days and times on T and below fares. I used to have 75% upgrade percentage and I am barely at 25% now. I have been waiting anxiously at the 5 day mark several times for red eyes on with completely empty 767 first class cabins and they didn’t upgrade a single medallion until the 24 hour window when they filled all but a few seats in one shot. I am on a smaller regional jet flight tomorrow early AM that had a nearly empty first class cabin and they upgraded the entire economy comfort section other than me at the 3 day mark with several seats still left available in first. The flight leaves in 12 hours and I’m still sitting alone in Economy Comfort… I am getting the strong suspicion that they are screwing with me because of the low fare classes I book. They are obviously up to no good because they demanded that expert flyer stop letting us see what they are doing!

  • jonsparks0

    My wife and I both have 10 transcons a year. We are both Platinum and never even thought of using another carrier for LAX-JFK because of the frequent upgrades. The line that has been repeated to me by all DL employees is that the lie-flat is “too good” to “give away.” Frankly, I think the lie flat usually overkill for a transcon that is not a red-eye and truth be told the food service doesn’t approach the foreign carriers (Cathay, Virgin, etc.). It’s too good to permit our best customers to enjoy is not a good reason to have business class half empty on most flights.

    The good news for LAX-JFK…on June 15, 2014 Jetblue rolls out lie-flat service on the A321 (same aircraft AA is using). The cost on a restricted ticket…….$1200 round trip. A large monitor, pre departure cocktail, specialized food service, etc. By year end 7 non-stops a day adding 15% capacity to business class on the very profitable LAX-JFK transcon route. I’ve written to Delta and advised in my small family they just lost 20 transcon trips. Can’t imagine that AA or DL will be able to sell their biz class for $3300 once the Jetblue product enters service. It will be interesting to see how DL reacts given how they have irritated all their medallion members on a very heavily traveled route for no real business benefit?

  • IBWT

    Delta CS just told me I could use a Regional Upgrade for LAX-JFK. I chose not to do it, so I can’t verify whether this is actually allowed, but it’s definitely what the rep said.

  • Where’s my pot of gold?

    As a gold medallion I’ve experienced this. 11 open seats and I’m not even eligible to pay with miles or dollars to upgrade.

  • Tom S.

    Delta just blew it with me; what is a customer loyalty rewards program without the rewards?

    I’ve gone out of my way for years to maintain status on Delta (at 6 months into the year, I’ve already earned gold for next year, and would have surely hit Platinum by year end). I did it because I appreciated the perks, such as reward travel and the occasional upgrade. If they are stripping those, then I really have no reason to be loyal anymore.

  • savini

    I am a Medallion member, and fly JFK-SFO frequently. I have been loyal to Delta and have told all my friends how wonderful I think the airline is. I have always flown Delta, their perks were the best. Now, I am tempted to switch back to OneWorld, which I used to use when I lived in Hong Kong (due to Cathay Pacific)… I am just so disappointed in Delta dropping this service, as it really made a difference, and was a perk for loyalty. I have always paid more money for flights on Delta to get more MQMs… that little bit more paid off with a few long-haul ‘bumps’ to first/business class. I am happy they are ‘weeding out’ so-called elites that had elite status due to Delta credit card use… the fact is that frequent fliers that choose one airline over another should be treated as an ‘elite’ more than a credit card holder. But the coveted elite-perk was the dreadful transcontinental route… and they just screwed us all over. I was on a recent flight and many Medallions were huddled together, just so pissed.

  • Shayne Thomas

    I just got offered an upgrade on LAX-JFK today. I was traveling with my family so I didn’t take it (and gave it to a guy who had been given my economy comfort seat after I’d been upgraded). Do you think they’re switching their tactic?

  • tkell31

    Pretty mature for someone allegedly changing corporate travel policy i.e. liar liar pants on fire.

  • Eric

    Well, here’s the deal today … I’m Platinum Medallion and I just flew to San Diego with Biz Class half empty. The passengers in Biz Class compared notes. Half of us (1/4 of the seats) were Diamond or Platinum. The other half paid the full fare price. There were no Gold or Silver Medallion in the Biz Class cabin. I would have to argue that Delta is not getting more people to pay full price based on this. And I have seen this on half a dozen domestic flights in the past couple months. My next international flight is in a month thru AMS …. will update what I see there.

  • Please

    ugh if you want first class so bad just pay for it! Such a sense of entitlement.

  • brian

    I’m sitting in first class right now on an sea to jfk flight on an upgrade at the gate. I’m delta diamond, but i thought this didn’t happen anymore. Have the rules changed?

  • JR Reynolds

    What’s wrong with paying more for a way better seat? I fly delta first class non refundable once a year out of my own pocket and it’s about $800 roundtrip. cross country to seattle or vegas either one is about the same cost. That’s pretty reasonable for all that extra legroom and service. In terms of ever wanting to be a Diamond again? You all can have that! I have flown and traveled this country way too much and believe me I will never do it again with any airline in economy! my legs are too long and I keep hearing about them making the economy seats smaller and smaller now days.

  • Sara

    I have been a delta Platinum member for about 10 years and only once was able to use the complimentary overseas upgrade. I always book far in advance and there are never any available upgradeable seats. It was a loser gift as are most Delta gifts in my experience. I only get complimentary upgrades between Tampa and Atlanta, big whoop! Delta has gotten meaner, is often nasty when they take my points seats away sometimes and far less convenient for me and my family. I would love to find another airline to give all my money to!

  • Sara

    I called Delta to find out why they had discontinued all my direct flight, now I must always change in Atlanta. They’re response was” We go where we can take cargo. That is how we pay for flights. Paying passengers are just some extra cash” that pretty much says it all! The customer aka the passenger is no longer important to Delta and probably true for all airlines.

  • Alex

    flew from Atlanta to sao paulo the other day. i’m gold and a hair away from platinum. switched over to delta from united after flying 3mm miles with them because I couldn’t deal with them anymore. half the BE cabin was empty…great… thanks for my loyalty!

  • Kitty

    I have enjoyed reading all snobbish comments! Yes I fly coach and work in a job where I will never enjoy a business class ticket. So yes, if you are not willing to pay for the fair then I hope to see you as my seat mate. Such a since of entitlement that makes me want to vomit. Yes for me it would be satisfying to see the empty seats, providing I can see through the curtain. You are only entitled to what you are willing to pay. I am taking a flight that I booked 8 months in advance. This airline uses a “wiling to pay more” bid for business seats that are not purchased or mile upgrade. If I get an email for an opportunity to bid I will do so. See y’all in coach where, yes it cost more for window or isle sometimes.

  • MBW

    Reading all of the below, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. You whiners and hand-wringers need to get actual lives.

  • Flying Stinks

    Delta and US Air should go out of business the both are terrible and treat even their loyal customers like garbage. If there is Karma in the world these companies will both go out of business and SW and JetBlue will take over the market with superior service and a proper attitude for a customer facing business

  • benmarks

    Thankfully transcon upgrades have been restored for PM/DM. Call at T-6, but you may need to talk to GA or SC agent to get it entered.

  • DJTheDJ

    It was a great plan by Delta, I support it 100%. As a flyer who seeks out to buy business class seats, I no longer have to sit next to people who by regular tickets, pay a couple hundred bucks and fly in the same seat as me, who spent $2,000.

  • RD

    Yet another profit-maximizing move by DAL at the expense of its own customers. I am DEFINITELY cancelling my business class travel on DAL and moving to UAL.

  • I’m Right You’re Wrong

    Maybe if you talked to them, and got to know them instead of calling them dorks, you might have had a better flight you entitled C U N t.

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