Transcontinental Series: Delta
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This is a post in my new Transcontinental Series aimed at helping flyers choose the best options while flying coast-to-coast, as well as strategies on leveraging elite status and miles to get the most valuable upgrades possible. Other posts include: American Airlines, United and Virgin America. Today I’ll be talking about Delta’s transcontinental routes and the best ways for you to get upgraded on them.
Delta is making a big push to “Win NY” and have upped their flight frequencies between New York JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco. They currently have 8 daily flights to/from LAX and 6 daily flights to/from SFO. Delta is also in the midst a $1.2 billion expansion at Terminal 4 at JFK.
This route is flown exclusively by Delta’s 757-200 ETOPS certified (75E) which used to be operated by TWA. These planes are equipped with 16 BusinessElite seats, 11 Economy Comfort and 147 Economy seats, with Audio Video On Demand at every seat. Delta’s entire domestic fleet also features Gogo in-flight WiFi so you can surf the web while crossing the country.
In Business Elite, these seats are well padded and are 20.5 inches wide, with 55 inches of pitch (legroom), a 150-degree recline, are WiFi capability (paid) and have power plugs at each seat. The seat itself is not the most cutting-edge business class (especially considering American’s recent announcement of its forthcoming fleet enhancements, which include lie-flat seats) but still better than most domestic first class seats.
While Delta generally runs all JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco flights with BusinessElite cabins, they do sub in other 757’s without them from time to time, as well as 767-400’s with lie-flat seats.
Economy Comfort seats are the same exact width as normal coach seats, except they have up to 4 inches more legroom and 50% more recline and Zone 1 boarding. Delta recently installed Economy Comfort on its entire domestic fleet with two-class cabins. Diamond (125,000 MQM’s), Platinum (75,000 MQM’s) and Gold (50,000 MQM’s) Medallions, and Y, B & M fares receive these seats complimentary while Silver Medallions (25,000 MQM’s) can purchase them for 50% off (price varies) or Silver Medallions can choose for free within the check-in window.
Award travel on Delta’s transcontinental routes start at 25,000 miles for coach for low availability, 40,000 miles for medium, and 60,000 for high. For BusinessElite, low awards start at 60,000 miles, medium is 110,000 miles and high is 140,000 roundtrip. Since Delta doesn’t offer one-way awards, they are the same cost as a roundtrip.
While Delta allows customers to upgrade with miles, this is nearly impossible. The reason is because there is no upgrade space in advance and mileage upgrade requests do not carry over to the day of departure so if you are not upgraded in advance you would be out of luck on these routes making mileage upgrades not an option.
However if upgrade space ever opened up, passengers would need a coach fare booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, or K class which are higher- and full-fare coach fare codes. Discounted fares are not eligible for mileage upgrades on these routes. The cost to upgrade from those would be 12,500 SkyMiles each way with the exception of those booked in a Y fare class, which would only require 5,000 SkyMiles each way.
While this route is eligible for Medallion upgrades, they don’t clear in advance like most other Delta flights. Delta normally uses an automatic system to process Medallion upgrades – if seats are available for upgrades (some algorithm which only gives out as many seats as Delta thinks they won’t sell) then Diamonds get them 5 days out (before Platinums), Platinums at 5 days, Golds at 3 days out and Silvers at 1 day in advance.
For the JFK-LAX/SFO routes, however, Delta does not release any advance upgrade space. I think in all the time I’ve been flying these routes, there have been only a handful of reports of any advanced upgrades. This means it’s a battlefield upgrade all the way – at the mercy of the gate agent, which is always bound to be a stress-inducing down-t0-the-wire type situation. The reason why I hate gate upgrades is because they usually process minutes before boarding begins, so it’s very difficult to plan ahead, especially with regards to eating a meal before you board. I personally like the BusinessElite dining experience, so I try not to eat shabby airport food if I know the upgrade is going to happen. Luckily there are tools, like Expertflyer.com and Delta.com to help determine the upgrade likelihood, though many things can happen to upgrade space leading up to the list getting processed. When on Delta’s site you could make a mock booking to look at the seating map. It’s not always accurate, but it will give you a decent idea of how many seats are open.
Other Upgrade Strategies
Platinum and Diamond Medallion members may choose Delta’s systemwide upgrades (4 for Platinum, 6 for Diamond) as a choice benefit, and use these as another way to upgrade on this route. Passengers must be on a published economy class fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, or K class. Systemwide upgrades may not be used on Delta’s discounted coach fares or award tickets. When requesting a systemwide upgrade, you should be at the very top of the upgrade list since these take priority over all Medallion upgrades including anyone booked in a full Y fare, so be sure to ask about your placement on the upgrade list when you check in. JFK-LAX/SFO routes could be opportune to use a SWU since it is almost guaranteed that you will be upgraded as long as there is a seat left when the plane comes to the gate. And while these routes rarely have any upgrade inventory in advance, don’t let that discourage you from using a SWU since it should clear at the gate.
Delta oversells this route a lot in both directions and is frequently looking for volunteers willing to take a later flight in exchange for a Delta travel voucher. When they ask for volunteers to take later flights, in addition to a Delta travel voucher, often especially if you are a mid- or higher-level Medallion member, they may re-book you in to BusinessElite on the next flight. If they don’t mention booking you into business, say something yourself – it never hurts to ask!
Another way to increase your upgrade chances is through Delta’s Same Day Confirm program. Same Day Confirm (SDC) is when you are booked on one flight and want to change to another flight the same day. This program is free for Gold Medallions and higher status holders. You can use this in your favor to look at flights that have more BusinessElite seats open, which means more upgrade opportunities. I often do this when my upgrade chances don’t look good – bumping lower ranking Medallions down the upgrade list. However, you can only Same Day Confirm three hours before the new flight you want. As long as the same class of service you’re booked into, not the actual fare class, is available then you are allowed to switch.
The one thing to be careful about is let’s say you are booked on a 8am flight and want to SDC to the 7pm flight: you wouldn’t be able to do this until 4pm, since you can only can do this three hours before the new flight . So you run the risk that the later flight could fill up and you might not get on – but Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallions could still try to standby for those flights.
Other Perks If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and discounted Delta Sky Club access.
Delta gives SkyClub access on its transcontinental routes to customers traveling in BusinessElite or on a full Y-class ticket. In addition to JFK-LAX/SFO it also extends to most west coast cities Delta serves from JFK such as Denver, Las Vegas, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle. It doesn’t mention that upgraded passengers are excluded and I’ve never been turned down when I’ve been upgraded. In addition to the four SkyClubs at JFK, BusinessElite passengers are allowed to use the Oasis Lounge in Terminal 4 which has serves hot food items and doesn’t charge extra for premium drinks.
If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and discounted Delta Sky Club access.