Upgrades

DISTURBING Delta FCM trend with 1st class up-sells. Medallions upgrades will suffer more than ever!

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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.


one leg upsells on delta-com

Last year we saw the sad and frustrating move by Delta to begin to sell, both via the Fly Delta App and online, 1st class seats as an upgrade and the impact on medallions. This was done segment by segment or leg by leg for your trip. Initially the price was very high and I think most choose not to spend the money on these types of upgrades.

On a personal note I have never nor will I ever pay for one of these upgrades. I find this effort an absolute slap in the face for the loyalty of those who spend the most with Delta on tickets to have upgrades likely snatched away by someone who understands that their upgrade chance is very low (or non-existent) so the only way to get one  is to buy up. The result, clearly, is less seats for complimentary medallion upgrades.

Now even these leg by leg efforts have yielded results as the “money” folks at Delta have crowed about at each of the latest many quarters of financial result meetings. They are pushing the up-sell percentage ever higher and want more more more (yeah, one day upgrades will be gone, me thinks). And just take a look at what we  NOW are seeing on Delta.com (in case you have missed it):

delta now selling entire trip 1st class upgrades

Yep, you are not seeing things, Delta is selling, not just leg by leg cheap upgrades, but entire trips for one low price for the “entire trip”. Oh joy!

I hope you fully appreciate just what a blow this is to elites and loyal frequent flyers. I have been told that the vaulted Delta360 highest Delta Diamond Medallion flyers always get upgrades as they are often manually pushed into first at the 6/5 day window. But if the seats are sold out, there is no space to push any elites into first class, even those who spend north of $50,000 MQDs a year with Delta!

Honestly less upgrades is nothing new to Delta elites this year. Most readers here on the blog have expressed that is the case for them. Delta has even started, in a targeted fashion, giving out more upgrade certificates to placate this growing trend in 2015.

We know things are only going to get worse and now we see one more of the reasons why this is the case. I was really OK when FCM first came out because Delta was keeping prices rather high and, as already talked about, selling them leg by leg. This one price for a round trip is a game changer. Gosh I hate being right some days!

What do you think? Does Delta selling round trip upgrades for one low price impact your choice to stay loyal to Delta as an elite flyer? – 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.

39 Comments

  1. Yes horrible to elites, even on DL Connection flights.

    On a JFK/LAX r/t itinerary, DL Fly app offered $900 for D1 upgrade for both ways on my $400 coach (C+ as PM) seat. That’s pretty much the same price as buying D1 initially, so I didn’t opt in. That offer wasn’t presented on the desktop website. Do you know why?

  2. I don’t understand the mentality why someone will “never purchase FCMs.” You can really game Delta’s system and predict which flights will offer FCMs. If you’re willing to spend $150 more per flight, you can get upgraded approx 75% of the time.

    • @William – As an elite, yes, I will NEVER EVER PURCHASE FCMs! This is nothing about gaming and it is insulting to compare an IN PRINT PUBLISHED BENEFIT as an elite flyers to “game Delta’s system”.
      .
      “We know, as a Medallion member, you want to sit up front. Those cushy leather seats are, well, cushy. So here’s how the Medallion Complimentary Upgrade program works.
      Complimentary Upgrades

      The following markets are eligible for Medallion Complimentary Upgrades:” – Delta.com

  3. Yup horrible for elites, even on DL Connection flights. DL Fly app offered $900 for D1 upgrade on my JFK/LAX r/t econ $400 ticket (C+ as PM) once but obviously I didn’t take it because $1300 is the usual fare on this transcon route anyway. But DL website desktop version didn’t offer any FCM at all. Do you know why?

  4. Don in ATL Reply

    Yes, I am sure their goal is to fill every last D1 (FC) seat with a revenue person paying extra for that seat. The question is how low does that upgrade fee have to be to fill all those D1 seats. I’m sure it’s different on every itinerary, but they just lower the upgrade fee to that sweet spot where they get people to reach out and grab (pay for) every last D1 seat. In a way it’s brilliant, but it also stinks for us, the loyal customers used to an UG on most flights. I’m sure there is point where this curve peaks, and no longer maxes, but starts a descent because loyal customers no longer are loyal to DL. But if the other airlines follow this model, there is no where to go. It was a much different ballgame when there was true competition, i.e. 6-8 major carriers. When the government allowed all those mergers, it really screwed the flying public, because there is no real competition in the sense that Adam Smith envisioned. Just ask any consumer guru, such as Clark Howard. Three players in a sector does not make for competition in today’s economy.

  5. Delta Segment flyer Reply

    Not every trip but I have been getting these offers for over 9 months. I take screen shots sometimes as I like how the fares will keep changing. Yes I think it stinks. However, they are winning on this front as one great benefit is the SDC policy. If you buy this upgrade you can change to any other flight that has FC open not fare class. Also you get 50% MQM Bonus. So yes it sucks but if the price is right can be better than a mileage run for those that also value time. If we could go back in time it would be great but since we can’t sometimes you make the tough choice.

  6. Forgive me, but a company like Delta selling product to make money is not a bad thing regardless of what it does to elites. You’ll still get upgrades that your company is earning for you – don’t worry. It gives others a chance to actually PAY for the upgrade, which is never a bad thing.

    I’m all for benefits to those that are loyal to an airline but sometimes I think you believe you are owed a bit too much. If upgrades are becoming guaranteed for elites that means someone at Delta isn’t doing their job.

  7. Couple things..
    JD is spot on. Delta is in the business to make money.

    • @Bill – I like you comment from a year ago that said:
      “Whittling away at the perks will definitely make it easier to settle for gold level on a couple different airlines. Back in the day, when silver actually had a value it was easy to maintain it on a couple of airlines. Degrade of the status pushed me to focus. Reduction in perks will once again become a leveling effect. DAL, UAL and AA are all options and I’ll start using if the degradation continues.”

  8. Why on earth should Delta be blasted for selling first class upgrades? In case you have forgotten, Delta is a FOR PROFIT business not a non-profit.

    • @Bill J. – Because medallion UGs is one of the main reasons big spenders fly Delta. Simple as that.

  9. The real big spenders are buying the seats anyway. Though I suspect that my idea of “big spender” and what Delta sees as one are different. Granted, I gripe as much as anyone about next to no upgrade success as a Platinum Medallion. I live in Atlanta, and my # 1 city pair is a high revenue, premium traffic market. It is what it is.

    Delta managers have made more than one public pronouncement that they are focused on selling premium inventory, and they are doing so. They’ve made their business decision and it appears to be working. Frequent flyers can make business decisions of their own too. Based on the financials, it appears that many are making the decision to continue flying Delta. Others, like myself, are experimenting. But I gladly book Delta when it makes financial and business sense, knowing they are solidly dependable transportation between points on a map with usually friendly service and the ability to take care of you when things go wrong.

    • @MJ – Tell me again your AA upgrade percentage this year and how many AA flights vs DL you have taken 😉

  10. I get the make more money thing. What is puzzling is seeing the FCM price go up 54 to 200 and down back to 54 and up again for a 1.5 hr flight. C+ was more than adequate for a short trip. As a bonus they don’t always fill C+ so some of us got European business class 🙂 ( no one I the center).

    • @Andrew – Don’t forget most times C+ gets service before 1st does and could be all done by the time they get to the last row of 1st. 😉

  11. How glorious. All the people who get paid business travel and don’t contribute any of their own money to Delta will lose their upgrade to me, the high school teacher who was willing to pay $150 for the ticket and $79 more to fly in F.

    This makes me happy.

    • @James K – Thanks for your comment and for making my point. If I were spending my or my company’s money on Delta I too would think twice over your comment.

  12. A couple of notes:
    1. I was offered F for $79 or 7,900 miles (o/w ticket) when I was shopping on Saturday. I declined as I think the old A320 F seat with only snack service isn’t even worth $79 or the points vs. my free exit seat on a sub-2 hr flight. But, be on the lookout for more passengers being offered the UP via points offer (valued a one cent, most likely).

    2. As a Delta Silver likely to move to Gold this year, I can understand some of the frustration, but I also think that Delta has the right to price F however they want. For years, they priced domestic F at a level that few people bought.

    They figured out that they were flying planes with very high load factors but few paid F pax, and have adjusted prices accordingly. The F product turns out to not actually be valued that much by the traveling public, even otherwise-HVC customers, and the prices you see for the F column on the Delta.com booking results page now often reflect that, even before offering UPs.

    So here is a question for you related to that: I have been buying F fares sometimes in the past year+. Not a buy-up after purchase, but outright buying F. MSP-DEN is often not that much more, maybe 30%, and the Y fare is very competitive to start with. You could call it FCM, but is Delta cheating a DM of their UG if I search and buy first class fares in the initial shopping process, but the price is a relative bargain? I guess I don’t think so. I’m buying the product I want at a price I am comfortable paying.

    In other words, DL is in the market-driven process of price discovery of what domestic F value really is. As a shareholder, I could actually scold DL for not having done this basic market analysis years ago!

    • @RaflW – Thanks so much for your comment. I also do now and then buy Delta 1st class tickets. But I think you hit on the difference. They can price 1st class at any price they want and I do not think anyone feels snubed. The issue is the reduction of a perk. As mentioned in the post, when 1st class UG seats are priced high, as IMO they should be, then I have no issue with the practice. An all-in-one el’Chep’O RT UG price does make me and I would think other elites see red.

  13. Corbett Kroehler Reply

    Noticed the whole-trip purchase option for the first time last month. Didn’t see the impact until my most recent journey. I fly MSP-ORD quite a bit, especially on Sunday afternoon. Before this latest change, Diamonds ALWAYS upgraded. Yesterday, as the fares were quite low and upgrades now were much cheaper, 2 of 16 seats remained on the MD-90 at boarding. I had an L fare and missed upgrading by 1 spot.

    • @Corbett – Gosh when a DM can not UG via Chicago on a Sunday… well… things are worse than I imagined!

  14. Of course companies are in business to make money as many comments state. What galls me is when delta (or any other company) promises benefits in exchange for my purchases and then intentionally does everything in its power to reneg on the promised benefits.

    Let’s be clear. No matter what your status, if any, delta is out to gorge on you any and every way it can. So why not say that delta and stop this charade about loyalty and value. Delta views customers the way a vampire regards the living. And then delta has the nerve to be outraged when foreign competitors offer us lower prices and better products and services. Good grief!

  15. Upgrade percentage on AA is nearly 90 percent – as a Gold (lowest tier). But AA doesn’t do comp for all. One could be forgiven for opining that I’m participating in FCM by purchasing upgrade credits beyond what I earn, I suppose.

    Honestly, no complaints with AA so far, but the heavy lifting of the merger is still not done. We’ll see how it turns out, but I don’t hesitate to book an AA flight from Atlanta if the price is right and the jet is heading where I need to go.

  16. As one of those who spends corporate $$ and can only buy FC in limited international circumstances, free upgrades was one of the primary reasons I stayed with DL. As that benefit has eroded, I find myself less willing to force Delta metal for my flights. I am stuck as an Atlanta based flyer, but Southwest is pushing DL hard in this market. As someone who spends over $50k actually flying every year, that will make a difference to DL as more people like me move their business.

    • @Chris B – I think you should e-Mail Delta and tell them that. You also make my point. Thanks!
      .
      PS – Maybe you should think about a status match with AA and see if they want your $50k a year 😉

  17. Anybody know what booking class these “upgrades” book to when you pay this?

    How offensive for someone who (probably) paid way more for, say, an A or P class seat when someone the day of their flight can book the same fare class (and thus get more MQMs, etc.) for much, much less.

    …or…what a great opportunity to add a multiplier to your mqms for pennies on the mile.

    • @Taylor T – Hummm… you may have just struck on the ONLY reason I would ever consider this – more MQMs… humm…. I may have to run some numbers and check for a break even points on higher MQMs vs cost to UG! I may have to eat crow now if the numbers are good! 🙁

  18. @rene – Check comment 6. @delta segment flyer said exactly that–50% MQM bonus applies. Can we get confirmation?

  19. I recently took an upgrade offer before check-in, so I could SDC. Not sure if it was a “real” FCM offer, since it wasn’t day of departure, and was only the fare difference. I did get pushed up to an A fare, and received the 50% MQM bonus.

  20. Not exactly on point, but has anyone noticed Delta selling upgrades on international flights, or is this primarily (only) on domestic routes. I’m a PM and flying to Singapore from NYC in a few weeks, I bought a coach ticket and wondering if I’ll be offered an upgrade to Biz/First, either at check in or at the gate. Do they still sell upgrades at gate, and any thoughts on what it may cost? Thanks, as a new PM, guess I got into the status game late and missed all the fun, darn!

  21. All very interesting. My husband has never been offered the opportunity to buy an upgrade so I don’t know how he fits into deltas matrix. I used his miles to book an ATL-PDX first class seat for my son. Husband, 2 million mile usual platinum, bought his coach class ticket and waited to see if he would get an upgrade so they could sit together. I called and asked if he could purchase an upgrade, just I case, and was told that wasn’t ever an option. HUCB twice and got the same answer. So don’t know where these options pop up in the purchase process but we’ve never seen it.

  22. A few thoughts on this. First, I do take advantage of buy-up offers from DL fairly often, particularly when I’m flying on an expensive economy fare for business, and the price to buy up to first is within my budget. Pretty much every time I do this, or even when I’m made an offer to buy up that I don’t take, the price I’m being quoted is the difference between what I’ve already paid and what Delta is charging for the cheapest first class fare at that moment in time on the exact same itinerary. Don’t believe me? Next time you get an offer, go search for the exact same flights – same days, same routing, same flight numbers – in first. Look at the cheapest fare. Take that number and subtract your original economy fare. I bet you’ll be pretty darn close to the amount Delta is asking for to upgrade the entire trip. That is my experience greater than 95% of the time with these offers.

    Second, I don’t buy this business that they’re charging more to Medallions for such buy-ups than non-Medallions. The only way you can know that is to compare a non-Medallion flying the exact same itinerary – same origin, same destination, same routing, same fare class, same dates, same base fare – to yourself. If any of that is different, then your argument doesn’t hold up. How do you know what someone else was offered for a buy-up? If you do, do you know what that person’s origin and destination were, their travel dates, their routing? All of those things factor into the fare that passenger paid. How do you that passenger, the non-Medallion offered a cheap upgrade, didn’t pay more than you to begin with? Or is traveling on the same flight but on an itinerary between and origin and destination that are cheaper than yours? If you don’t know those details, you really can’t judge whether the upgrade buy-up price is fair or not.

    I understand being upset over fewer upgrades, but it’s hard to fault Delta for selling first class. That’s what it’s there for. And my experience, as well as what I’ve seen from others, is that most of these buy up offers are simply offering the passenger the opportunity to pay up the difference in fare to what first class costs at that moment in time on that itinerary without a change fee. In that situation Delta isn’t really taking a hit or offering a discount; they’re simply giving someone the opportunity to buy that ticket in two transactions instead of one, something that appeals to a lot of us business travelers who can’t be reimbursed for first but may be willing to pay the difference out of pocket for first on certain itineraries. I know I’m certainly one of those. I’m sorry if I’ve taken away any of your upgrades, but I also think Delta is very smart in what it’s doing.

  23. I’ve been buying the upgrades with regularity. I get the boost on the MQMs and a lot of times my company will reimburse me for the economy ticket. I usually buy the econ ticket, print the receipt for my expenses, and then buy the upgrade on my own dime. I really hate economy cabin, even C+. And I don’t fault DL for going after money. It’s what keeps them in business. Having said that, I am now faced with a situation where I have to fly on airlines that are the least expensive, unlike my last company where I could choose. So, I may be on Southworst, or AA or (gag) United in the future. Perhaps I will spread the wealth and try to get some medal with all of them.

  24. As much as this irritates me as well, I do want to point out that the one time I bought this for my grandmother they actually just charged the fare difference between her class and G. I realized this because the offer dissapeared so I called delta and the rep offered the fair difference at the exact same cost as the online offer. When I checked online later sure enough it was the typical G cost for thr trip, although it looked much better as just a 240 add on for the trip. Point being, I’m not sure how much, if any, cheaper it is in total than buying the deep discount first ahead of time. Although last minute they are obviously not available thus this is better. I find it genius of them to offer this honestly. When I booked her ticket for 550 I wouldn’t have paid 790 for first, but two months later before the flight 240 didn’t seem so bad to treat her!

  25. Anytime I’ve ever bought a coach ticket and was offered an upgrade, the price offered plus the cost of my original ticket was never below what the normal F ticket was. I’ve seen times where the price to buy up + my original fare was upwards of 25% more than what the original F price was. And that’s 2-3 months out from the flight.

  26. Just tossing in my experience from this morning…booking SLC to OAK for Aug 12, I got an X class fare for $98.10 which is decent for one-way. Then moved on to purchase, and was offered $89 to upgrade. No thank you. Later went back in to change my seat, and the upgrade price was now offered at $59! Still didn’t take it on a 90 min flight with no real food…but I can see how some might jump at that price: $157.10 for First whereas if you purchased at booking, looking at $187.10…

  27. I remember being offered cheap FC upgrades (in the $100 range) at the gate years ago, prior to just last year. I never took them b/c I just don’t think domestic upgrades are worth it. You don’t get much more. If it were a significantly better experience, then maybe. But as it is, I don’t think medallions will feel much impact from us rabble purchasing cheap upgrades.

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