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Delta is officially back to selling flights at 100% capacity

May 01, 2021
4 min read
Delta is officially back to selling flights at 100% capacity
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Roughly one year later, and Delta's seat-blocking policy has come to an end.

The Atlanta-based carrier confirmed that it'll once again resume selling its flights to 100% capacity beginning on May 1, ending its year-long middle-seat block.

In recent months, Delta has extended the passenger-friendly policy in month-long increments. Now, armed with studies that suggest the risk of inflight transmission is low and combined with the rapidly growing vaccination rates, the airline believes that it's time to end the seat block.

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"The relationships we’ve built, together with the knowledge that nearly 65 percent of those who flew Delta in 2019 anticipate having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, are what’s giving us the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft, while also introducing new services, products and rewards to support the journey," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.

Delta will become the second to last airline to stop blocking middle seats.

Alaska will end blocking select middle seats in its extra-legroom Premium Class on May 31. Earlier in the pandemic, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest also capped capacity, but those policies were scrapped by mid-January.

Delta says it kept its policy around for additional passenger comfort. Leaving the middle seat empty was intended to remove anxiety about packed planes as a reason travelers might put off returning to the skies.

Delta's middle-seat block is coming to an end on April 30 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Now, with more travelers taking to the skies, the seat cap could have caused Delta to lose out on additional revenue. Just take a look at the data.

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American Airlines, which is selling planes to 100% capacity, recently said in an SEC filing that its seven-day moving average of net bookings is approximately 90% of the level experienced in 2019, with a domestic load factor of approximately 80% during that same period.

Well over one million travelers are passing through TSA checkpoints each day, and flights — especially to outdoor-friendly destinations — are going out full. Assuming infection rates remain low and the pace of vaccine distribution continues, experts are predicting a meaningful rebound in travel this summer.

With demand outstripping supply, Delta would lose a large chunk of revenue from those unsold seats unless it raised fares accordingly. But it’s not so easy. The current recovery is being led by leisure travelers – a typically price-sensitive group that may balk at higher fares, even with a blocked middle seat.

Going forward, flyers can select any seat during the purchase process, and travelers should expect many flights to approach 100% capacity as the ongoing travel rebound continues.

Those who'd like to purchase a second seat for added space can still do so. You can pay cash or redeem SkyMiles for the second seat, though SkyMiles rules are written to prohibit earning miles on “tickets purchased to carry excess baggage such as musical instruments and pets or to provide extra space for the primary passenger.”

Related: How to buy a second seat for yourself on U.S. airlines

Since Delta basic economy tickets don’t come with advance seat assignments, you’ll want to avoid that type of fare if you are booking two adjacent seats to have some extra space.

"We take great pride in the trust we’ve built with customers by listening and delivering on what they said was most important, and that is the approach you can continue to expect," said Bastian.

Although Delta's ending the middle-seat block, it's adding a new elite-status fast-track offer, extending voucher expiration through 2022 and restoring inflight food and beverage service.

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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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more