Delta Airlines: Rules For Domestic First Class Upgrades Changed & Premium Economy Class Coming in 2017!

Delta Airlines announced some innovations during their press even last week which included the change of rules concerning domestic first class upgrades and the introduction of a real Premium Economy Class.

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Delta has tweaked their SkyMiles program frequently during the past few years and even months, mostly to the disadvantage of their members.

This time it appears that Delta did something that benefits at least their top tier SkyMiles members when it comes to the upgrades on full fare Y tickets.

You can access their recent announcement on the SkyMiles website (see here) regarding the new rules which came into effect yesterday, May 1st 2016.

For flights departing on or after April 30, 2016, we have simplified the clearance priority for Complimentary Upgrades as we strive to offer the best elite travel experience for our members. This new upgrade process better recognizes the loyalty of our Medallion members, SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express Card Members and Delta Corporate Travelers.

As a reminder, members will be eligible for Complimentary Upgrades to Delta Comfort+ within the U.S.50 and Canada for flights departing on or after May 16, 2016. For all international routes, Delta Comfort+ must be selected in the seat map.

The most significant thing that changes is that full fare Y Fares will no longer be upgraded at the time of booking. This previously benefited travelers of lower tiers who will now have to compete with Diamonds throughout the regular upgrade windows.

Is this a positive change? I guess that depends on the perspective. Travelers who will hate this change certainly include government travelers who often fly on Y or B fares and passengers who require high flexibility but are not allowed first class tickets. For Diamonds this is clearly positive as it eliminates some of their competition that takes upgrades away in advance.

Corporate Travelers (those with a Delta Airlines corporate contract) will receive a higher priority when compared to their SkyMiles tier peers.

Then the whole matter moves on to mention credit card holders and that holding a Delta Airlines branded credit card will also result in a higher priority (this is nothing new and has been the case for quite some time now).

Delta Reserve Credit Card Members will still have a higher prioritization within their Medallion peer set for upgrades. (Upgrade Priority within the same Medallion tier and fare class family is applicable only to Basic Card Members).

If all else is equal, Card Members who  earned the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) Waiver by spending at least $25,000 in the current calendar year on their Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express will enjoy higher priority.

Personally I don’t like this feature at all. Delta credit cards are not available in all markets and provide an unfair advantage to U.S. based members when it comes to competing with international SkyMiles elites for upgrades.

Another piece of exciting news was that Delta plans to equip their Airbus A350 with a real Premium Economy Class.

You can access a news piece of the Atlanta Journal Constitution here.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines plans to next year introduce a new premium economy class on international flights, with better seats and service.

Delta’s incoming president Glen Hauenstein said the international premium economy class will be distinct from its Comfort+ seats. Comfort+, previously called economy comfort, consists of regular economy seats with up to 4 inches of extra legroom.

The international premium economy cabin is expected to have different seats with a few inches more legroom than Comfort+, along with a leg rest and a different level of service, according to Hauenstein. It will be “very, very different from Comfort+,” he said.

Delta’s incoming CEO Ed Bastian said the move comes as international competition “has moved to premium economy as a cabin and a service and product itself,” also seen on Delta partners Virgin Atlantic and Air France.

International premium economy will first be launched on Delta’s new Airbus A350s to enter service next year, followed by installation on Boeing 777s.

All big international carrier have installed Premium Economy in the recent years, even those who didn’t take the product serious in the beginning such as Lufthansa. The cabins are often a well facilitated niche product between the more expensive Business Class fares and basic Economy Class with limited benefits and baggage allowance.

Conclusion

Delta continues to upgrade the brand while adding additional products / features to their portfolio. Interestingly this comes at times where their North American competition American Airlines and especially United are not really known for excellent products and customer service.

I think Delta is the best U.S. based airline at this given moment, at least for those who are willing to pay for it. The SkyMiles program has a big disadvantage however compared to AAdvantage and even Mileage Plus especially when it comes to redemption options. As I said previously AA/UA have leveraged their frequent flyer program for a long time to keep customers flying on their inferior product while Delta took the approach that the customer flies Delta for the product, not the miles. An approach that might have paid off in the end.

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