Well, it looks like Delta is back at it again in their race to the bottom of the frequent flyer program pile. While Delta does have an excellent route network, a fleet with the amenities that business travelers look for and the best on-time percentages of the US legacy carriers, they are also the innovator for making air travel less desirable. So what is Delta doing now in their race to the bottom? Changing how economy Comfort+ seats are bookable.
Premium Economy vs. Extra Leg Room Seats
While international carriers have had premium economy cabins for many years now, the US legacy carriers have taken a slightly different approach. International carriers’ premium economy product is akin to domestic first products on most US airlines. In other words, you get a slightly bigger seat with a little more recline, slightly better food and free booze. US airlines on the other hand have offered their standard economy seats with a little extra legroom. The international carriers have offered their premium economy as a different fare class that you have to book at the time of purchase, whereas US carriers have allowed most anyone with an economy ticket to purchase one of their extra legroom seats.
Traditionally, US airlines have offered their mid-to-top tier elites complimentary extra legroom seats. As someone who is 6’5”, I cannot begin to tell you how much I value this benefit as an elite flyer.
Understandably, the airlines have been doing what they can to help monetize these extra legroom seats (they are in business to make a profit after all). Delta in particular has started adding additional benefits to their Comfort+ seats such as free alcoholic beverages and better snacks. And now it is all starting to make sense why Delta has recently been adding these items to its Comfort+ seats.
Delta’s Comfort+ Will Get Its Own Fare Class
Starting May 16, 2016, Delta will have Comfort+ seats as a separate fare class. Where you previously could purchase most any economy fare and then later pay to upgrade to a Comfort+ seat, after May 16th, you will have to purchase a Comfort+ specific fare class to book Comfort+ seats. And it looks like Delta has wasted no time getting the Comfort+ fare classes loaded into inventory:
It also appears that Delta will allow you to redeem your miles for Comfort+ seats. After several searches of random routes, it appears that Comfort+ seats will cost you ~5,000 more Skymiles. While that doesn’t seem like the best use of miles to me, I can honestly say that I would be easily persuaded to part with 5,000 extra
Skypesos Skymiles if I was booking a coach class award.
Implications Of Comfort+ Changes For Elites
True to form, Delta has not been very straightforward in publishing these changes to Comfort+. I had to read through the Delta Comfort+ FAQs to figure out the implications for this new system. Per the FAQs, Medallion members will need to formally request Comfort+ seats after booking their tickets. Under the current system, Medallions can assign Comfort+ seats at the time of booking by selecting their seats on the seat map. Under the new system, Medallions will have to select the “Request Upgrade” box on the passenger information page. Platinum and Diamond members will be able to have their “upgrade” to Comfort+ confirmed as soon as space is availability, while Gold and Silver Medallions will be able to clear into Comfort+ seats 72 hours and 24 hours prior to departure, respectively.
Possibly the worst part of this new system is that eligibility for “upgrades” into Comfort+ seats will be based on the lowest status in the reservation.
That means that if you are a Diamond and are on a reservation with a Gold, you will not be able to clear into a Comfort+ seat until 72 hours before departure. Even worse, if you are a Medallion member with any status, traveling with someone with no status on Delta, you will not be able to clear into a Comfort+ seat until 24 hours before departure. Furthermore, instead of Diamond or Platinum members being able to confirm up to 8 non-elite companions into Comfort+ seats at the time of booking, they will only be able to confirm 1 companion into Comfort+ seats, and only 24 hours prior to departure.
My Thoughts On These Changes
To be quite frank, I think these changes are horrible for the semi-frequent traveler, while being excellent for the airline. I also think these changes are negative because it is going to have a domino effect wherein more and more Delta elites defect to American (which will make my upgrades even more difficult to clear). I also think this represents an opportunity for Delta to eventually phase out their complimentary first class upgrades for Medallions.
It also remains to be seen whether the new Comfort+ fare class will offer a class of service bonus for mileage/MQMs accrual. I tend to think that Delta will offer a small class of service bonus (I’m guessing between 125-150% of distance flown) for Comfort+ fares as that seems to make the most sense for awarding those that are willing to pay for a Comfort+ fare.
I am not ultimately surprised by Delta changing Comfort+ to its own fare class, but I am surprised that they are taking away the Medallion benefit of being able to book into a Comfort+ seat at the time of booking. This is a huge perk to business/frequent travelers and cutting it can really only be seen as a horrible move in the eyes of the consumers/elite members. Lastly, United is never far behind after Delta implements a new program like this, so I am willing to bet you will see a similar program rolled out at United in the coming months.