Does Delta’s New Boarding Process Hurt Elite Flyers?
The latest changes in Delta's boarding process went into effect on January 23. Now that enough time has elapsed for the branded boarding process to be fully rolled out, we're taking a look at how it's affecting Delta's Medallion elite members and how it may alter the loyalty equation for Delta's most loyal customers.
As a reminder, TPG maintains a current valuation list of all major airline elite status levels, including Alaska, American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Southwest.
The Impact for Platinum and Gold Medallions
The most notable shift in the new boarding process is the subtle devaluation for Platinum and Gold Medallion members. Platinum and Gold elites used to board directly after the Premium group (containing Diamond Medallions, Delta One and First Class passengers), but they're now relegated to boarding behind passengers seated in Delta Comfort+.
Of course, all Delta Medallions from Silver on up are eligible for free Comfort+ upgrades at varying time windows. And you're now able to opt only to receive Comfort+ upgrades for aisle and window seats, an option that was added after people complained about losing an aisle/window seat in an exit row for, potentially, a middle seat in the Comfort+ part of the cabin.
Choosing the Best Credit Card for Delta Flyers
Many Medallion members will wind up in Comfort+ anyway, but for those who either buy their ticket too late to enjoy a complimentary upgrade or simply prefer to keep their standard coach aisle/window seat, you're now boarding a bit later.
In practical terms, this shouldn't be terribly detrimental. Delta has added "Reserved for Comfort+" and "Reserved for First Class" labels in overhead bins near those cabins, so Platinum and Gold Medallions seated in coach and boarding just behind Comfort+ should have ample space for their luggage.
Show Me The Money
Delta now uses the cabin you're in as the key factor in determining how soon (or late) you board. This is a roundabout way of encouraging more passengers to buy into first class, Comfort+ and Premium Select ahead of departure. By linking boarding preference to a cabin, Delta is giving customers yet another reason to pay up early rather than wait for an upgrade that may never happen.
Revenue management surely loves it, but Delta's elites may receive fewer free upgrades to Comfort+ if an increasing number of non-elites opt to buy into the cabin in order to advance their boarding position (and nab added legroom and gratis alcohol). So far, though, TPG staffers with Delta Diamond and Platinum status have not noticed a significant pullback in complimentary Comfort+ seat availability.
Delta American Express Cardholders
We've long maintained that holding an airline's cobranded credit card is a phenomenal way to enjoy certain elite perks without having to grind your way to a given status level. Not only are select Delta Amex credit cards offering elevated welcome bonuses for a limited time, but holding one entitles you to board in Main Cabin 1 under the airline's new boarding hierarchy.
Delta reported a surge in customers opting for premium seating, meaning more and more passengers will be eligible for boarding in Main Cabin 1. On one hand, this devalues the Silver Medallion tier, as anyone with the right credit card can hop in the same boarding group. However, this also heightens the value of Gold, Platinum, Diamond and the invitation-only Delta 360 status, since achieving those levels of status with old-fashioned flying and spending methods guarantees you a better spot in line.
Why Stay Loyal?
Understandably, some within Delta's Silver, Gold and Platinum ranks see the branded boarding process as a slight, though there are still several reasons to remain loyal:
- Complimentary Upgrades: Delta's free-upgrade policy is fairly generous, and even transcontinental flights from one coast to another can see Platinum Medallions upgraded to a lie-flat seat if you fly during non-peak times. For more, check out our guide to getting upgraded on Delta.
- Refundable Award Tickets: For Diamond and Platinum Medallions, all SkyMiles award tickets (except for basic-economy award tickets) are effectively refundable tickets. You can change or outright cancel them for free up to 72 hours prior to departure, no questions asked. Given how pricey refundable tickets are when paid for with cash, I view this perk as one of the most valuable of all. For more, check out our guide to maximizing Delta SkyMiles award tickets.
- Waived Same-Day Flight Change Fees: For Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members, Delta's usual $75 fee for same-day flight changes is waived. For more, check out our comprehensive guide to Delta's same day flight changes.
- VIP Support Lines: Delta has dedicated customer support service lines for each of its elite tiers. Each tier has shorter wait times and is staffed with increasingly sharp personnel, capable of handling rerouting and advanced requests with a smile.
- Willingness to Bend Rules: You don't know how bad you need an agent with the autonomy to break or bend rules to get you home until you're in a pickle. They can't always perform miracles, but Diamond and Platinum agents in particular are routinely able to go well above and beyond stated rules to make your life smoother.
- Choice Benefits and Upgrade Certificates: Diamond and Platinum Medallions are entitled to exclusive benefits each year, including valuable upgrade certificates that cannot be earned or purchased via any other method. Learn more in our ultimate guide to Delta's Choice Benefits program.
As with most changes, Delta's new boarding process has pros and cons. On the plus side, at least there's less confusion about what "Sky Priority" actually means, and it adds a bit of value to those who choose to pay up to sit in a certain cabin. However, Gold and Platinum Medallion members now board one group later when they're seated in the main cabin (ample overhead space should still be available if they're able to board when called).
The extra perks associated with top-tier Delta status still make it worth chasing. Also, all Medallion levels entitle you to a free checked bag (as does the Delta Amex card) and there's a lot of freedom gained by checking your luggage and boarding at your leisure when overhead space isn't a concern.