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Delta just made basic economy tickets fully flexible once again, but why?

July 28, 2021
4 min read
Delta just made basic economy tickets fully flexible once again, but why?
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This is shaping up to be an amazing week for Delta flyers.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Atlanta-based carrier became the first U.S. airline to extend all Medallion elite status for another year, through January 2023. The airline added some perks, like a higher upgrade priority, for frequent flyers who manage to requalify for status the "hard way" this year.

But buried in the news was a major change to the airline's fare structure and change-fee policy. Effective immediately, all basic economy tickets for flights through Dec. 31 can be changed or canceled for free.

Before the pandemic, these deep-discount tickets were the most restrictive you could find — they were "use it or lose it." If you needed to modify your flight, you'd be forced to purchase a whole new ticket.

When COVID-19 came stateside in early 2020, all major airlines adopted global travel waivers that allowed all tickets, including those booked in basic economy, to be modified without the standard $200-or-more change fee. (You'd still be on the hook for a possible fare difference though.)

Those global waivers lasted just over a year. In recent months, all major U.S. airlines have replaced this unprecedented flexibility with a new, permanent policy — there are no longer any change fees on most tickets, with one major exclusion: basic economy fares.

When the airlines transitioned to this "new normal," one of the goals of the policy was to seemingly convince flyers to buy up to a standard coach ticket. With concerns about the pandemic and changing entry and testing regulations, there's been an increased emphasis on flexibility. So, instead of sticking with the cheaper, unchangeable basic economy fare, carriers expected more people to upgrade to coach tickets that include fee-free changes.

Well, on Tuesday, Delta totally upended this buy-up strategy.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

By allowing free changes on basic economy tickets through the end of 2021, there's much less of an incentive to upgrade to a main cabin ticket. Sure, you'd get a free seat assignment and be eligible for first-class bumps as a Medallion member, but for many passengers, that's likely not enough of a reason to shell out an additional $20 (or more) per person for the upgrade.

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As for why Delta's throwing in the towel on its fare bands, the carrier cited increased call hold times — which have stretched over a day in certain cases — as the reason for the move. Ed Bastian, the airline's CEO, wrote on Tuesday that the goal is "to help address call wait times as we increase staffing."

By allowing travelers to make changes to basic economy fares, the airline's hoping it'll free up call center agents to handle other inquiries. In the memo sent to flyers on Tuesday, Delta even linked to a how-to guide on changing or canceling a reservation using the mobile app or website.

In Delta's case, the airline clearly made the calculation that it'd be worth losing out on a potential upsell opportunity in exchange for a better customer experience.

As for Delta's competitors, it'll be interesting to see what happens next. Earlier in the pandemic, it was a game of "monkey see, monkey do." Every time one of the Big Three extended the global waiver, the others quickly matched within a matter of days.

This time, things might pan out differently. If American, United and the other major U.S. airlines want to continue improving their yields and maintain the integrity of their fare bands, then they might not match Delta's unprecedented flexibility.

If they do, well, then we're right back to where we started in March 2020.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023