Delta’s Branded Approach to Selling Seats by Tiers Is Here to Stay
In Delta’s world, a seat isn’t just a seat, it’s a marketing opportunity. It’s a chance to brand something so that it sticks with you long after arrival, and it becomes easy to recommend to others. Delta has been quite intentional about its use of phrasing when selling seats. and according to the airline’s chief financial officer Paul Jacobson, you can expect even more segmentation in the years to come.
Jacobson, who presented this week at the Raymond James Institutional Investors Conference, said Delta’s branded fares initiative continues to exceed the company’s early expectations, and per a Raymond James report sent to investors, Delta “sees further upside as leisure travelers are still in the education/understanding phase.” In lay terms, that means Delta is raking in extra cash by creating new ways to do an old thing: sell seats on an airplane.
Delta also referenced this branding push at the J.P. Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Industrials Conference this week, noting it was making investments to “improve customer experience through new interiors.”
By going so far as to label exclusive overhead bins for first class and Comfort+ customers, passengers stuck with an economy ticket are injected with an additional dose of envy as they march to the rear. That kind of branding encourages them to pay up for a premium seat on their next flight without a Delta employee having to utter a word.
This correlates with another shift within Delta: Today the economy cabin generates less than half of Delta’s revenue (48%), compared to 63% six years ago, indicating more people are reacting to increased segmentation by coughing up cash or SkyMiles to get themselves out of the Main Cabin and Basic Economy segments. That also leaves fewer seats available for Complimentary Medallion Upgrades — a punch in the gut for Delta’s most loyal flyers.
A few years ago, Delta eschewed the vanilla “business class” term in favor of Delta One, a moniker it could own. It even went so far as to stitch or impress the phrasing in business class seats across its fleet.
Compare that with a Delta cabin from just over a decade ago. Overhead projector (!) aside, this Boeing 767-200 shows no branding whatsoever. It’s almost shockingly pure in its design, devoid of labels and other attempts at persuasion.
Delta’s branded approach has since trickled downstream, eventually hitting coach-with-extra-legroom (Comfort+) and even economy, which Delta dubs Main Cabin.
When Delta began to install premium economy sections on select international birds, it opted to sell those as Premium Select. I’m genuinely shocked that Delta has yet to brand Basic Economy, but I bet those discussions are ongoing.
Earlier this year, Delta extended its segmented approach to boarding. While its top-tier Diamond Medallion members were once invited to board alongside first or business class passengers regardless of where they were seated, I’ve been told on several occasions to wait until Delta One and/or first class boards to join the parade. Platinum and Gold Medallions now board behind Comfort+ passengers, assuming they aren’t seated there — a subtle move meant to encourage passengers to pay more for Comfort+.
Have you paused to notice that, despite airlines like Delta offering Basic Economy, ticket prices haven’t dropped substantially? Or that you now have to pay more for the same experience that used to come standard — tolerable legroom, a free checked bag, meals for everyone on domestic flights — a decade ago? That’s all part of the plan, and Wall Street loves it.
All this segmentation is still in the early innings, so don’t expect Delta to stop carving out new ways to hawk slightly different onboard experiences.
For passengers, this almost always means that they’ll be asked to spend more — or perhaps, just subtly encouraged to do so.
All images by the author unless otherwise noted.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
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.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- 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