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Back in December 2014, Delta announced some cabin overhauls, including the rebranding of BusinessElite to Delta One, a revamp of its domestic first-class product, and the rebranding of Economy Comfort to a new premium-economy product it would be calling Comfort+. While this change mostly amounted to new seat covers, there are still some practical effects flyers will start to feel this month.
For reference, here’s a chart with the new classes of service and what they entail:
The main changes when this went into effect were that Comfort+ customers would receive complimentary beer, wine and spirits, and premium snacks on flights over 900 miles, along with SkyPriority boarding (though no other SkyPriority benefits). The other major updates were that, while Diamond and Platinum Medallion flyers would receive access to Comfort+ seats for free at the time of booking, Gold Medallions would only get free access starting 72 hours out (instead of at time of booking), and Silvers would get access 24 hours out.
Now, Delta has made a few more changes to Comfort+ that will affect mileage earning, upgrade eligibility and award ticketing that go into effect May 16, 2016. The details are on an FAQ page, but here are the basics you need to know.
When you search for tickets on Delta.com for travel on or after May 16, 2016, you’ll see more booking options, including a whole separate column for Comfort+ instead of just booking an economy ticket and then paying extra to select a seat in that section. So this sort of streamlines the booking process and makes it a little less confusing.
You’ll find this feature available for flights within the US and Canada. You’ll also be able to purchase a regular economy ticket and upgrade to Comfort+ later (as you can do now) after that date as well, so you don’t have to make up your mind at booking if you don’t want to.
Here’s what that looks like for round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Detroit in June:
As you can see, Comfort+ is about $150-$170 more round-trip than regular economy on this route (and about $200-$220 more than Delta’s basic E economy fares).
If you’re booking flights internationally that are operated by Delta outside the US and Canada, you won’t see Comfort+ in the search results, but will just have to upgrade to it as you have to date, by selecting economy then choosing and paying for a Comfort+ seat on the seat map during the booking process.
Medallions who want to upgrade to Comfort+ can select a regular economy ticket first, then on the passenger information screen they’ll see a box to check for a complimentary Comfort+ upgrade. If and when your upgrade goes through, you’ll be notified by an email and a message in the My Trips section while logged into Delta.com. That’s different than the current setup, because instead of just selecting a seat during your booking process, you have to make sure your “upgrade” to Comfort+ clears, which is an extra step.
Medallion Access and Eligibility
Now for a big negative change. Per the FAQ, whereas before, Medallion members could bring along up to eight companions on the same reservation into Comfort+ with them, now, they can only take a single companion with them for free.
Clearance priority is based on the priority of the lowest-level Medallion member in your reservation. This is a bit confusing since, if you’re a Diamond member but your companion has no status, this would seem to imply that you won’t have any access to Comfort+ if you’re on the same reservation. Hopefully Delta will clarify, and since it’s restricting the number of companions you bring along, access will hopefully be based on the highest Medallion level of travelers in the same party.
Fares and Awards
In terms of award tickets, Comfort+ will be its own booking class and level. As you can see, the same round-trip itinerary from LA to Detroit priced out above would be 20,000 more miles in Comfort+ than in regular economy. That amounts to a per-mile value of about 0.86 cents.
For another example, here are round-trip fares from Minneapolis to Chicago in June. As you can see, the difference between regular economy tickets and Comfort+ is just $58.
By contrast, award tickets are 30,000 miles round-trip in economy and 45,000 miles in Comfort+, yielding a per-mile value of just 0.39 cents per mile!
So you’re really going to have to look at all the factors and prices from now on, including Delta’s various award levels (saver to full-cost) in order to determine whether mileage redemptions will be worth it.
Booking Class and Mileage Earning
The other major question mark is how much elite mileage Comfort+ tickets will earn. As you can see from the sample bookings above, these tickets seem to be designated as the fare class booking code W. That W fare class entitles you to Medallion Qualifying Miles totaling 150% of mileage flown — the equivalent of full-fare economy or discounted business or first class.
But you’ll also see that Delta calls it “premium economy” and there’s a footnote in the chart. The footnote says: “Available on flights operated by Air France, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.” So while, for now at least, W fares will only be eligible for this mileage-earning rate on Delta’s partners, it seems like it’s possible that once these pricing schemes go into effect on paid tickets on Delta itself, that mileage earning might be upped on its own flights as well. That would make sense considering the price differences between regular economy and Comfort+ tickets showing so far on Delta.com.
You’ll still earn Delta SkyMiles (award miles) based on the cost of your airfare, your elite status and whether you use a co-branded Delta American Express card to pay for your ticket.
While these changes may seem cosmetic, they have deeper implications for Delta flyers. On the positive side, at least Delta has made the Comfort+ booking process more transparent for average, non-elite flyers looking to book seats with more legroom. It’s also now possible to book these seats as awards, which is a big plus.
On the negative side, elites now have to jump through extra hoops to secure these seats, and the number of companions they bring along has been restricted.
Thanks to its new multi-tiered award charts (which it stopped publishing!), Delta has also made it much more difficult to predict the number of miles you’ll need to book a ticket. In any class of service.
All in all, these changes are probably for the worse for most flyers, including many elites. It’s going to be harder to secure Comfort+ seats; more expensive in many cases; and chances are we’ll see upgrades and eligibility shrink even further. What’s worse, we’ll probably see similar changes from American with its Main Cabin Extra seating and United with its Economy Plus seating. So hang on because it’s going to be a bumpy flight!
What do you think of these upcoming changes?
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