Delta CEO Reaffirms Commitment to Offering Free First-Class Upgrades

Oct 18, 2017

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

We value Delta’s Diamond Medallion status at a whopping $7,850 per year. Of that amount, complimentary upgrades account for some $1,500 — and, depending on which routes you fly and how often you travel, it’s easy to draw even more value from the perk.

Of course, like all carriers, Delta would prefer to fill those first-class seats with paying customers, even if that means letting them go at a fraction of the regular price. That doesn’t mean airline executives overlook the value of complimentary upgrades, though.

In between chatting up the Airbus A350 and revealing upcoming routes at Delta’s Airbus A350 media day, CEO Ed Bastian acknowledged that offering free upgrades is “very very important for [Delta’s] customers,” saying:

Five, six years ago before we started selling first-class upgrades we would only sell maybe 15% of the cabin in first class. Today, we’re somewhere between 50 and 60% of the cabin. It depends on routes; some routes are a little less than that some routes are a little more than that. So there’s a substantial amount of available inventory for free upgrades to first that we think is very very important for our customers.

Obviously, 15% to 50 or 60% is a huge jump, and there’s no question that free upgrade opportunities aren’t what they used to be. Bastian has an answer for that, too:

One of the reasons why we moved into the paid upgrade opportunity, not only does it allow customers to provide certainty by being able to buy the experience, but we also have a very good product in our Comfort+, which we didn’t have in the past, so that for many of our loyal customers that were unable to upgrade, they now have a place where they can actually have an enhanced experience, versus prior years where you’d be in the main cabin.

Is Comfort+ the same thing as first class? No, it’s not even close. But enhanced service and free food and drinks definitely count for something, and help take the sting out of missing out on a premium-cabin upgrade. It’s refreshing to see that Bastian recognizes the value of complimentary upgrades, though, especially considering the regular devaluations we’ve been seeing with the SkyMiles program.

Do complimentary upgrades impact your decision to fly a certain airline?

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.