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Will the NYC no medallion upgrade work for Delta and is it a sign of things to come?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


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NYC flyers all know the direct NYC->LAX/JFK/SEA complementary upgrades you have enjoyed are now a thing of the past. Delta is marketing this as such a premium experience that the price for a direct business class ticket is 2-3x as much as a connecting flight (that you can upgrade for free on). Not just this, but if you want to use one of the new upgrade certificates Delta offers you must be a Diamond and use a Global certificate rather than a regional one. Just the same as for ATL-HNL. They say this is because you get a full flat seat, a long flight and a superior experience so you get no free upgrades and again a Global upgrade cert to ride up front. Worth it?

4 flights

I thought I would take a quick peek at the load levels for this morning’s full last direct flights from JFK-LAX. I did not look at the std 1st class seat flights as if you are going to pay this much money I would want a full flat nice seat.

As you can see, other than one flight that is mostly sold, the others are 50%-60%-ish empty. Now if they are selling at 2-3x the price of the non-direct route, why not fly mostly empty. Remember only the $$$ matter from this point on with Delta.

Do you think it will be hard for them to keep running the numbers and as a result we will see more and more routes that are non-upgradeable? Maybe we will see the day that only sub-4 hour flights are ones that can upgrade. I have no inside info or knowledge about this just speculating what would could happen.

Now just as likely, if the other airlines are selling more seats on the competing routes and Delta is not filling the cabin enough we could see a swing back to free upgrades or a softening to say only PM & DM can upgrade on these routes. I mean we know it takes GM+ to upgrade on an award ticket so making the rules even more crazy is very possible.

What do you all think. Do you think the JFK non-upgrade experiment is going to work or not? Do you see it spreading or pulling back. – René
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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.

14 Comments

  1. Don in ATL Reply

    The winners in all this (on the JJK to West Coast routes) are the DL employees who can fly free as non-revs. They will end up in those unfilled seats up front. A second thing I’ve noticed recently living here in ATL, is that the goal of DL is to fill those up front seats with revenue passengers from ATL to the West Coast. For instance if you search for flight from ATL to the West Coast (esp LAX) say on 3/26, coach fare may be in the $400 range, with F and BE in the $700-800 range on many of the flights. DL lowers the price up front to get revenue people in those seats instead of giving them away free to PM and DM’s. Good business model, but a negative for the higher Medallions hoping for an upgrade. So I think, that’s where this is all going. They will keep bringing the price of the domestic BE and F seats down to fill them, instead of giving them away.

  2. They know their numbers. They know their corp contracts. They know their Hollywood contracts. On the other hand, I don’t know any of those numbers for Delta. Something tells me that Delta didn’t do this in a vacuum. Whether these moves remain or not are a factor of whether or not they “win” New York or not…and I think the jury is still out on that one.

  3. Simply put, those are highly competitive markets and people are NOT going to pay top $$ for Delta’s product when AA has true first class, even the JetBlue “mint” produce is better in some ways than Delta’s. Without Medallion upgrades, the cabin is going to be an “Employee Shuttle.” Delta ALREADY has this problem with their int’l business elite product which is one reason they are making those cabins SMALLER. They are just not SELLING those seats. My guess is that they will either bar non-revs, OR accept they can’t compete and reduce the price to undercut the other airlines so they at least fill the seats with revenue pax instead of non-revs. Long term they may even reduce the size of their transcon BusinessElite cabin…

  4. always found the existing system to be totally awkward … a no status pax could be waitlisting upgrade with miles, then at T-24 window, a DM using complementary upgrade would trump my priority

    they don’t open up saver space, and they don’t open up upgrade space .. what the heck would i use my miles for ? magazines ?

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  6. “Employee Shuttle” is harsh, but true. Of those three flights you found that had mainly empty seats does anyone think those seats are going to go out empty? Heck, if they don’t get filled by DL employees they will get filled by other non-revers, especially once word gets out. Most of the year, you just have to fly in a Delta int’l BusinessElite cabin (especially to Asia) to see that EASILY 1/3 of it is non-revers.

  7. I don’t understand why they don’t free up award space to fill these seats in the short term. There is no low level businesselite space available on JFK-LAX transcons at all through the end of the schedule. None! Surely allowing people to burn miles must be better than having empty seats. I have to say I don’t understand the logic here.

  8. DM here who flies JFK-LAX-JFK about once a month. I have written to Delta exec email address multiple times that they should offer mileage upgrades to fill empty seats for DMs only, as it will 1) build goodwill with DMs on these routes, and 2) allow them to get rid of mileage from DMs. I also said that it would be fair to require a K or above for these mileage upgrades, which would add revenue (with no upgrades, why not buy lowest possible fare?). No intelligent response yet.

  9. No Fly Zone Reply

    I think Delta is milking those ‘special’ routes for every dime they can get. They probably believe that flying them with a few empty seats will help to preserve the ‘value’ of the premium seats on their special routes. We’ll see…

  10. I think there is one small downside for DL in this. Let’s say 5 seats go empty on each flight; looks like there are about 8 flights a day JFK-LAX and about 6/day JFK-SFO; so roughly 28 flights/day counting both directions, right? If those 28 flights had the ability to sell just 5 more COACH seats (Because they maybe allowed only 5 PM upgrades to BE), that’s an added 140 butts-in-seats/day; let’s say at even a low fare of $150 OW; that’s a potential $21,000 revenue (before expenses) PER DAY; or $7.6M in annual revenue. OK my math is flawed because it assumes 100% full flights. But you get the idea. If I were a betting man… I’d say they will ride this strategy for 6-12 months; see “how high is high” and then get hungry for that added revenue; and figure a way (whether it’s a PM upgrade, Regional up, or whatever) to try and fill that BE cabin, allowing them to sell more Coach again.

  11. 29 out of the 56 empty FC/BizE seats yesterday went to NonRevs (only counted the 763 with lie flats)

  12. A recent experience- I got downgraded to a ratty old (dirty, no power at the seats, VHS/monitors in the aisle IFE) 22 domestic F seat airplane not once but twice in 3 days flying SEA-JFK and JFK-SEA. One flight had absolutely none of the BE soft product, the other had only the duvets but the snack basket wasn’t catered. From a three course gourmet meal to barely edible “chicken or pasta” domestic F meal, and no warning that you had to entertain yourself on a transcon flight without access to electricity to plug something in… And much to the chagrin of the wonderfully entertaining woman across from me- no champagne.

    Delta apologized after I complained with 3,250 miles for each flight. (You read that correctly) Both cabins seemed to be more than 50% employees based on lanyards and the FA skipping people when asking for meal choice.

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