Will Comfort Plus Seat Marketing Result in DOT Issues or Fines One Day for Delta?

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kayak search options

I want you to take a look at the Kayak.com search above for direct flights from New York’s JFK to Los Angeles LAX airport. You have a number of seat choices. Let’s select Premium Economy seats since, under most circumstances, they are a much larger (a.k.a. wider) seat than a standard coach seat.

delta search for prem economy

Notice something strange? Delta Air Lines price are MUCH cheaper than the competition. Now let’s say we click on the “View Deal” link that sends us over to Delta.

results for prem economy search are w class fare but coach seat

This now has selected the flights and notice Delta.com does NOT tell us this is a Premium Economy seat but a W fare class ticket. But we searched for Premium. Why are Delta computers telling Kayak.com these are Premium? Let’s see what seats you can choose.

all the delta coach seats are the same size

The light blue ones are the Comfort+ seats that Delta is offering you in the W fare class. OK just how great are these seats? Notice what SeatGuru tells us:

same seat in comfort plus and coach width

So these seats are exactly as wide as every other seat in coach. They are not any different other than the fact that “pitch” is a little more. What Delta will tell you is that you are paying for the “experience” that Comfort+ gives you. But, as we all should know, that experience is not guaranteed and can be very different from flight to flight. Again, a wider seat you are not getting.

jet blue search for prem economy

Notice the default search for JetBlue and Premium Economy seats displays business class seats NOT coach seats. Why is this? What are the choices?

jet blue seats on web site

They have coach seats with “even more space” are these seats not a premium economy seat?

jet blue coach seats

It seems, according to SeatGuru again, that the JetBlue A321 coach seats are very similar to the size of the Delta seats (a tiny bit wider) and have similar pitch. But again, they are not a true Premium Economy seat, that is, a much wider seat than the rest of coach. Let’s look at one more example.

aa only seach for prem economy

Again here, when we search for a Premium Economy seat for AA only (and direct) we see the price is much higher but only business class is displayed.

aa jet on seat guru

And just like our JetBlue example, per SeatGuru, the AA coach seats are just about the same as the other two airlines but they are not called Premium.

delta c+ means more

Now you may say this is not Delta’s problem it is Kayak.com’s problem. Delta is not marketing this as a Premium seat just that it “means more” and not once do they mention a larger seat (because it isn’t larger).

priceline home page flight search

Well maybe this is just a Kayak.com issue with Delta since they are displaying airlines like Jet Blue and AA correctly. But notice a Priceline.com search.

priceline results for prem economy

priceline pop up about seats and price

They also CLEARLY display both in search and in second screen that you are getting a Premium Economy class but we know it is no wider than the rest of coach. Well are all of the OTAs or online travel agencies displaying the same results?

orbitz cant find any premium economy seats

Nope! At least one, Orbitz, is smart enough to realize that there are in fact NO true wider Premium Economy seats on any airline, including Delta, as of today’s post direct from JFK to LAX.

So what can we take from all of this? There is so much confusion in the travel space right now. Those of us who fly Delta know they ONLY currently have two types of seats, that is, some kind of business class seat called either Delta One or 1st class but again both are just business class. Then there is coach where all the seats are the exact same width despite being by wording alone segmented into Comfort Plus, Main Cabin and Basic Economy.

My point is who is responsible? Is it Delta’s marketing for leading an “average” passenger to believe they are getting something they are not, that is, a real premium seat when they are getting the same seat as the rest of coach? Clearly something in their IT is telling a number of the major online search sites that Comfort+ is premium when it is not.

As an example I talked to a golf buddy the other day. He said he paid for the Comfort plus upgrade on a Delta international flight. He said he wanted this to get free drinks and better food. I told him you get the same drinks and the same food in the rest of coach. All you get is a little more leg room and recline. He said: “Really? Now I feel ripped off“.

You tell me and vote in my poll below. Whose fault is it for segmenting and seat marketing? It is Delta’s fault or the Online Travel agencies’ fault or even the passenger’s fault for not understating the seat marketing maze we currently face as travelers? – René

Whose fault is misleading Premium Economy seat advertising

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11 comments

  1. I can only imagine the outrage when the UK starts assessing the premium APD on Comfort+ tickets.

    If DL is going to allow the marketing of C+ as premium economy, that’s the inevitable result.

    Just like how the Delta One branding has caused issues with some corporate travel policies which allow business, but not first. To the layman, the branding suggests that DL is now selling a first product rather than the same exact business product as before.

  2. Rene,
    I am not an expert, but I did work for Virgin Atlantic many years ago when they and EVA Airlines were the only ones with true Premium Economy seats. The travel agency computer systems, all of them, could not display by cabin name, only by class of service. Virgin decided to us W class as it’s class of service for their new Premium Economy. Unfortunately since UA and DL and AA did not have that, and they were the ones who also owned the computer reservations systems, but they still used W class regular economy. It was confusing and as a sales person for them, I had to help them get to the right inventory and promise them that W was indeed a premium seat. I cannot definitively tell you it was the fault of Virgin, but more the fault of Sabre, and Apollo not being able to translate such a new class of service back then as a different cabin with different seats, meals and experience. And remember also, that back then, First and Business Class, also were also displayed differently for different Airlines. Not blatantly so, but there were some nuances. All I am saying here is that Delta has decided to use W class to refer to Comfort +, when in reality, now, all the true Premium experiences for Premium Economy are also in W. Not a wise choice. They should have used another letter or letter number combination.

    Anyway, on another note, I just flew to San Diego from Atlanta on one of the older 757’s that used to have 7 rows of first class, then there was a bathroom behind that and then the door and then they started Comfort +. It seems they reconfigured those planes now with the brand new First Class seats, and reduced the rows to 5 and without a proper wall, instead put a hanging translucent divider, put 3 more rows of Comfort + back there and also put new bathrooms in. It was very nice, but I did not like the 3 rows of Comfort+ literally right behind, without separation. It looked very cluttered and forced. And the good news is, they were mostly empty. 13 seats went out empty. They seem to always be the last to sell now. I hope this backfires on them.

  3. I noticed C+ award tickets book in to W. DO you think that would affect the upgrade priority at all?

  4. We were under the impression that Delta had worked hand in hand with these OTA’s.

    In fact, per Delta’s own Press Release of November 16, 2015:

    “Delta is collaborating with its joint venture partner airlines to ensure customers can view availability on combined itineraries, and it’s engaged with distribution partners to allow Delta Comfort+ to be displayed and purchased through travel agents and in consumer direct shopping displays. ”

    So, any confusion goes to the results of that collaborative effort, in my opinion.

  5. The cause of the confusion lies with IATA. They should set guidelines. Next time use a ‘real’ travel agent.
    As always, buyer beware. If the price is much lower then find out why.

  6. Rene, For me Comfort + is not misleading. I’m tall and thin. I don’t need a wider seat. I need legroom. You seem to leave out the fact that C+ has more legroom. That is heaven to me. And, if I get free drink, it’s icing on the cake.

  7. Premium seats don’t have seats on either side of them. An “upgrade” from main cabin to economy discomfort middle seat is a downgrade. I love Delta, but these are not premium seats and this is false advertising.
    Enough said.

  8. I second what JohnHace said, to me the extra legroom is most important to me, especially on flights 5+ hours (never mind a 13+ hour flight)…..

  9. For those who like C+ for three inches more legroom, get an exit row seat. The have the most legroom by far.

  10. @John – Agree – other than on the nasty 737-900er’s that have, it seems, less room than a CRJ200 🙁

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