Will the 2019 Medallion year mean more elite upgrades? (hint: don’t count on it)!

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For most elites, the ONE most important aspect of status is complimentary upgrades. It is THE reason so many stay loyal to Delta when they could be flying other airlines even at the cost of saving themselves time and money. Many work hard, knowing what choices have the biggest impact, to do all they can in the current environment to score those now very elusive upgrades.

With the above in mind, one of the most common questions I get from readers is something in line with:

“Rene, don’t you think we will see many more upgrades in 2019”?

This question is followed by mentioning things like the change to ¼ million spend for Diamond exemption and the fact that, it seems, more and more are giving up chasing status and simply buying tickets on any airline that gets them from A-B thus, in theory, reducing the number of Delta top elites. My answer is really simple:

“Don’t count on it. In fact, I now expect less than ever”!

Does this sound counter intuitive to you? It should not and if you listened to or read over this last week’s Delta DAL quarterly share holder conference call you would feel the same way (disclaimer: I never buy or sell any airline stock including DAL). For those who did not here are the cliff notes and my thoughts from it.

Clearly, Delta wants to grow the top line and all the executives stated it was a priority. They all focused on the fact that so called “branded fares” is one of the big ways they are doing this. Branded fares are the big basket of up-sells from a standard seat in a “better” location to one with some kind of perk from Comfort+ all the way to Delta One (and all the choices in-between).

What this selling means is simply less seats for “free” upgrades. Sure they are “up-gauging” to larger jets (think CRJ200 to CRJ700 etc.) that may have more seats and better seats but that slow growth does not offset the drive to sell these seats out from under loyal medallions working hard to stay loyal and earning an elite upgrade.

For example, Delta stated that the “payload in Comfort+ now exceeds 50%”. Now I do not consider C+ an upgrade (and nor should you) but either way with less and less C+ seats even getting one of those seats is becoming more of a challenge moving forward (really sad – right?)!

Plus they are driving technology, not to make it simpler for us to spend our hard earned SkyMiles at reasonable prices, but to work with partners to make sure these “fare bundles” are working seamlessly across the board. Delta priorities are not driven to reward those loyal to Delta.

The other mega issue is fuel. Delta even called it the “elephant in the room” but does not feel the price jumps this year will continue. They see “flat oil” but if it spikes up – oh my – not good. Either way, from a passenger and upgrade perspective side, the more Delta has to pay in “gas” then the more they must make somewhere else to make up for this added cost. The simple way is to adjust the algorithm of how cheap they sell upgrades to those checking-in, on the Fly Delta App and online to make up the short fall. The result is simple:

Less upgrades for you and me in 2019!

Folks, I give Delta credit. They have conditioned flyers to click buy rather that expect free upgrades and many are doing just that. I will not play that game and have to date only ever taken one 1st class upgrade buy offer and that was due to the end of the year when I had a credit about to expire that I had to spend.

So there you are. For me, my upgrade percentage for 2018 keeps dropping. It will be interesting to see what happens next year but I am still feeling that will be my last year as a top Delta elite. With upgrades slowly / quickly going away it just may not be worth it anymore for me. You?



  1. I’m now flying about 50% of my flights on Southwest non-stops. If you are not going to be upgraded, it is much better to go non-stop.

  2. I will no longer chase status. Becoming too stressful. If I want C+ or even FC then I will pay for it. As a gold for the past 4 years – 0% FC upgrade and 50% C+. I will fly the best priced airline for the fare I am willing to pay. Planning to reduce Delta Amx platinum down to basic. Already have the Saphire Reserve and Love it. It’s been a fun ride but I’m tired of it.

  3. Delta has done a great job forcing people to pay for upgrades. Upside: upgrades are reasonably priced and I often buy them (just what Delta wants) Downside: I fly Delta a lot less because I’m a free agent. I’ll buy the best flight at best price, even if it means United. (Well, no! Not United ha ha) The free upgrade is going to be extinct for all but a few Diamonds on low demand routes. And I’m fine with it.

  4. Given my circumstances, I will continue to fly Delta and reach Platinum. My upgrade % this year is 100% (as Diamond). I avoid going through Atlanta at all costs. I look for equipment that has a higher percentage of 1st class seats. I fly from LGA or JFK depending on what I believe is more likely to provide an upgrade. I am very fortunate that I live in NY and my main destinations are CLT and FLL. I also find the ability to cancel Award tickets without a fee very valuable. I realize that I’m in a unique position, but I am still very happy with the Delta program.

  5. I’m a fan of Delta for several reasons but mainly because they are the largest private employer in my region, they do a lot for the community, and because except for the SkyMiles program, they run a damn good operation.

    Fuel is one elephant in the room but I worry that the other is the long term cancer represented by the constant devaluation of Delta’s loyalty program. While the results to date have clearly been a temporary bonanza in revenue, I’m afraid that when the other shoe drops (with the next inevitable recession and/or fuel spike) Delta’s loyalist will have been burned so badly by their loyalty program, that they will choose other means of transport or worse choose not to fly.

    Just like low-cost airlines brought new customers to the skies, I fear dismantling the loyalty program by making it so hard to upgrade (and in other ways) will drive seasoned customers out of the skies. Maybe I’m the only one planning to cut back flying next year and closing a couple of Amex accounts but I don’t think so. 2019 will be a telling year.

  6. We are out of the game as of this year. A family illness affected our medallion quest travel last year, we could only use two of our GU certificates and half the flight was in coach plus the new spend rules and no upgrades. Decided spending our hard earned money to achieve Diamond with recreational travel just WAS NOT worth the $$$$, our time and the hassle. This is after almost 20 years of platinum and then diamond status
    starting when it was NWA—- a much more customer oriented program.

  7. I’ve done exactly the same thing as @Tim Grable. I’ve got 50k Southwest points so far this year and on my way to a Companion Pass without needing a Southwest credit card.

    I’ll still fly Delta when it’s convenient. But I’m no longer going to connect on any Delta flights when Southwest offers a nonstop at a convenient time.

    Too bad Delta, you had me playing your game for 3.3 Million Miles, but no longer.

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