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Delta’s Banking on First Class Monetization to Calm Its Investors

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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.

Bad news if you were hoping maybe Delta would ditch first class monetization and Medallion complimentary upgrades become more frequent.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Kelly Yamanouchi wrote an interesting piece about Delta hoping business travelers pay for their own first class upgrades — even if flying on a coach fare paid by their employer.

Delta seems to proactively be calming its investors if a recession hits in the near future.

“Historically during recessions, airlines are hit by declines in business travel and are forced to lower their business airfares, while demand for coach class remains more steady,” Ms. Yamanouchi wrote.

So Delta is relying on customers to buy-up to first class. She points out that first class monetization (or FCM) is available post-purchase. This allows business travelers whose companies or clients won’t fork over for first class the option of upgrading separately — on their own dime or using SkyMiles.

The FCM prices we’ve seen range from crazy high to a couple of dollars. (But that assumes there are seats to be sold after some Basic Economy passengers are inexplicably upgraded…)

Do You Buy Up to First Class?

A friend of mine works for a company that flies him business class on trips longer than ten hours. He’s flown a combination of Delta One and Virgin Upper Class three times this year to Asia and Europe. If his company were to slash their budget, the $3000 tab for him to upgrade is a little steep. And the SkyMiles equivalent isn’t very appealing, either — but he said he’d consider ponying up. He wasn’t quite sold, though.

What do you think?

Business travelers: do you upgrade to first class using your own money or SkyMiles? Or are you a Medallion and hope against hope that your complimentary upgrade with clear?

Please tell us in the Comments section below!


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.


  1. Berk Thompson Reply

    I’m guilty as charged. My company only pays coach. If I am flying coast to coast and the upgrade is reasonable, then I will upgrade to first. I only fly enough to get gold medallion so my chances of complimentary upgrades are slim to none on a coast to coast.

  2. Guilty as well. My employer only pays for coach. If I’m on a longish (> 3 hours) flight, I always price the buy-ups. At least half the time, I buy.

  3. Yup, I’m Silver medallion (soon to be Gold) so FC upgrades unlikely, but when an affordable buy-up shows up I lean towards grabbing it ($70 vs $250+ on a 1.5 hour flight)…even better when I have miles to cover it….

  4. Guilty here as well. In the decade of the 2000’s, when upgrades were assured for top-tier flyers (which I was), I never flew in the back. You kinda get spoiled.
    When FCM started a few years ago, I saw the writing on the wall. I was using some of the zillion SkyMiles I had earned in the previous decade to buy up to F. Since “paid” F gets all of the class-of-service bonus perks for MQMs and the like, it assured me of maintaining status without having to do a mileage run.

  5. Well that explains the really low FCM fares that Delta is selling at the last minute even to E fares! Just a few dollars more in revenue is more important to Delta than an upgrade to a DM.
    Sad, but true.

  6. Is anyone seeing much Delta One monetization on international flights? If you are, what are the offers? If not, I expect this is coming and the GUCs will become harder to use.

  7. Guilty but only if it’s a reasonable price. Other than that I enjoy Comfort+ as best I can.

  8. I recently paid $450 to upgrade from PS to D1 on ICN-ATL. PS fare was $1200.

    Worth it.

  9. I am a platinum flyer and can’t remember the last time I even got upgraded to first but I fly out of Atlanta. Delta wanted $609 to buy me to first on an NYC to Atlanta flight yesterday. Hahahahahahah, not in a million years would I pay that. But, delta got me back because my pre-check number was missing on my boarding pass for the very first time ever. Shame on me but I didn’t notice until I got to the security line because it’s NEVER happened before. And, no, I don’t think delta really did that on purpose, but it does make you wonder . . .

    • @Sarah: The KTN thing happens to me sometimes when my clients’ travel agencies don’t use my full, correct name. Also happened to my dad once — that’s how he realized his Global Entry expired.

  10. As soon as I buy my C+ tik, I immediately ask myself what I’d pay to upgrade (it’s never as much as the ask by DL at the time). I wait to see what the buy up offer is later and if it’s close to my amount, I do it. Kind of like auctions. I’d say I buy up about 50% of the time. While it is sometimes really cheap, it is also frequently as much as the original tk in F would have been, so no go for me. (I’m only SL Med, and in ATL, so never, ever, ever get an upgrade. I can fly a weird leg at 5:30 a.m. on a Sat. and still there will be 14 Diamonds ahead of me. ; )

  11. Thanks Chris. Those are great data points.

    In two weeks I am flying from SFO to Sofia, Bulgaria. A round-trip coach ticket was about $1200, and I was able to get a confirmed upgrade using a GUC at booking if I flew from SLC to CDG. I was very happy to get this this upgrade since the SLC-CDG flight departs at 5:17 pm, which is perfect timing for a nice dinner in Delta One and then some quality sleep. It’s nice to see the Delta One buy-up offers at that level, and I hope it stays this way.

    I am still wait-listed for a DO upgrade for CDG to MSP on the way home, but that flight leaves at 10:15 am, it’s one a 777, and I already have a seat in the first row of EC. I give Delta a lot of credit for not going with a 10 row coach configuration when when they remodeled their 777s. EC seats on the 777 are 18.5 inches wide, and PS seats only add an extra .5 inches, so I am not inclined to use a GUC to go from EC to PS. I once watched a complete season of Game of Thrones during a daytime flight from Shanghai to SFO while sitting in a 777 EC seat, and it was not that bad.

    I have seen China Eastern offer buy-ups to First Class for about $450 once the flight had departed. I have been tempted to accept the offer to have the experience, but I was already in Business Class and it’s hard to justify when China Eastern’s Business Class seats and service are great.

  12. My previous company was J for international flights or those of us fly frequently but not my current company. It’s Y for everyone up to the CEO. I am at DM with DL and Gold with another airline. It would not make financial sense for me to use my own money to buy up. Most of my trips are last minute things, so the fare and buy up are not reasonable. I worked out an arrangement to allow me to stay with one airline, DL, for most my trips, even at a higher cost most of the times, or connect through multiple stops, to allow some extra perks like the occasional upgrades.

    It’s hard to tell if FCM will work out for DL in terms of loyalty. If upgrade opportunity is completely out, then why fly with DL for me – it would be lowest logical fare on every trip, and for SF Bay Area folks like me, UA wins price war with DL…over and over and over again.

  13. John Redmond Reply

    Have been a DM and MM for the past five years. No more. The only useful benefit I have seen is to use Pay with Miles to effectively upgrade and still get MQM (with Delta Reserve Card). There are no status upgrades since there are not empty front cabin seats. GUCs ( previously a DM benefit) are now impossible to book. Increasingly Sky Miles program is an “empty” suit. Too bad, it used to be a great program from a great airline.

  14. I just got what I thought was a killer deal. Flying JFK-LHR on Virgin. Work paid for premium economy. $1277. For 25,000 miles I upgraded to upper class on the new A350-1000 which I am super geekng out about! Completely worth it for the ride home after 3 days packed with work. No availability on the outbound bit it is a day flight so it should be ok and I literally call delta every day to see if any seats have been released. You never know. Plus since the VAT tax was already paid there was no extra charge with the miles upgrade.

  15. My offer from west toast to JFK is $969 for D1 but regular seats as plane sealed out

    • @Dot: “West Toast” = I love it! Considering how hot it’s been on our part of the crust, “toast” is very apropos!

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