January rings in a new year, and in this coming year of 2024 a new Delta system for tie-breaking upgrades. You read that right, when people are eligible for complimentary upgrades, a series of “fun” status tie-breakers determine who gets the coveted seat.
Amid its recent changes, Delta is also changing the upgrade priority and which parts of the buying and loyalty process determine the winner for each seat. Intriguingly, there are lots of winners and a fair few losers here too.
In some cases, you might be both a winner and a loser on the whole, but actually come out ahead. Here’s a breakdown of which fliers should see more upgrades in 2024, and which might be talking a longer walk down the aisle.
Delta Complimentary Upgrades
First, as a quick refresher, Delta allows complimentary upgrades to SkyMiles members on domestic US flights.
As noted by View From The Wing, almost 75% of domestic first class seats get sold by Delta anyway, compared to a fraction of that decades ago with a larger share going to complimentary upgrades. There’s added scarcity to upgrades now, while many more people have gained some form of status. That’s a tough situation to untangle.
Delta is clearly trying to do that, by adding increased priority to people its determined are more valuable in the loyalty scheme and lifetime cycle of a customer.
To be clear, the number one factor for complimentary Delta upgrades is still the elite status held: a gold still beats a silver, a platinum still beats a gold and a diamond still beats a platinum member as the first face-off tie breaker. After that, these new distinctions kick in.
Clear Delta Upgrade Winners
Here’s a breakdown of people who should be entering 2024 with a little pep in their step, thanks to a new boost in how their elite status relationship and buying patterns will unlock more upgrades.
Delta Million Milers
Delta is making Million Miler status a trump card in the new year. What this means is that considering all things equal, like a Diamond Medallion going against a Diamond medallion who booked the same cabin, if one has Million Miler status with Delta, they win.
That Delta Million Miler status now matters more in a head to head than credit cards, corporate accounts or qualifying dollars in the year. The way I see this, Delta is creating appeal to lifetime value.
People On Normal Fares
Delta previously factored in which fare type you purchased when breaking a tie, which meant people traveling on fares that very few “normal” people buy would often win.
Think of a $1000 flexible economy ticket from New York to Washington DC, which a corporate traveler may often fly on, but very few leisure or non-corporate travelers would ever purchase. The fare type no longer matters, but the cabin type does.
Delta SkyMiles Reserve Cardholders
There are Delta Amex Cards, and then there’s the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card. The Reserve Card is what Delta hangs its hat on for loyalty and it’s their most premium airline card.
Overall Medallion metal status remains the the top factor, but the Delta SkyMiles Amex Reserve Card is now in the top 4 factors, so if you are booked in the same Delta cabin as someone, have the same status level and they don’t have Million Miler status, if you have the Delta Amex Reserve Card and they don’t, then you get the upgrade.
Being that so many people have Medallion status of some kind and most people would not be in a Million Miler position, this is a powerful lever in securing complimentary flight upgrades just by holding a credit card that has other useful perks.
Potential Delta Upgrade Losers
There are some very fair positives around what determines an upgrade in 2024, but with all changes there will be some former tie-breakers and levers for complimentary upgrades which become less effective. Here are a few scenarios where upgrades may be harder to get.
Do remember, your overall Delta SkyMiles Medallion status, such as Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond or 360° will still matter more than any of these tiebreakers below, so the main thing is the higher you are, the better the upgrades will be.
People Paying More For Tickets In The Same Cabin
This one is a bit harder to dissect and the nuance matters, but basically it no longer matters if you buy a more expensive economy ticket than I do.
The only way that buying a more expensive ticket does matter, is if you move to a higher cabin product, like a premium economy before hoping for the complimentary upgrade to first.
If we’re both Delta Gold Medallion and you book economy and I book Premium, or upgrade to Premium, I’ll get the upgrade ahead of you, even if you’re a Million Miler.
People Who Start Their Status Earning Year Late
Assuming you get through a long list of tie-breakers and you and your competition are still even, Delta will consider how many Qualifying Dollars have been spent this year.
If your travel patterns see a quiet first and second quarter, but a sprint in Q3 and Q4, you might miss out on upgrades in the first half of the year to people who start the year heavy and get the annual Qualifying Dollar amount up.
Work Travelers With Tight Travel Policies
Delta, along with many other airlines, has brought new differentiation to the domestic flying experience. Sure, we’re all used to economy, premium, business and on other air carriers also first, internationally, but now we see some of that on domestic routes.
If someone is traveling on a tight corporate policy where they fly a route that offers Premium Select in addition to Main Cabin (economy) and First Class or Delta One, a flyer who is able to buy or upgrade to premium will have priority over all other factors if they and their competition have the same elite status.
Put simply, even if you’re a Delta Diamond, Million Miler with a Delta Amex Reserve Card, if you are booked in economy and I am a Diamond booked in Premium, I will get the upgrade, even if I am nowhere close to Diamond and don’t have a Delta Amex.
GSTP Opinion: I Like It?
Corporate travel continues to be an important factor for airlines, as airlines earn more in exchange for flexibility and other considerations. But — no one likes to feel like they can’t win, because they as an individual are competing against mega-corp.
Delta seems to have done a good job in balancing value for corporate travelers while also freeing up more priority for individuals who have proven loyalty over time and who continue to engage beyond the flying experience with Delta co-branded credit card products.
I love the nod to Million Miler status and the recognition that a lifetime of loyalty is always better than a short sprint. I’m curious (for once) to see how many of you who regularly fly Delta feel about these changes. I might even be nice in the comments!
Of course, Delta could and some would say, should, be creating more space in their premium cabins like first class and Delta One if so much demand exists.
The counter reason to such a move would be an economic downturn, where these seats largely go un-purchased again, and end up being a liability for the airline, albeit one that makes people who like complimentary upgrades very happy.