|by Jason Steele|
My Atlanta based family craves their Medallion status. They will pay higher fares on Delta than their competitors to renew their status every year. They make a good argument for their behavior when you consider that they are getting upgraded on most flights. Certainly a dozen first class upgrades are worth the few hundred dollars a year extra they have been paying to maintain their status, right?
Introducing The Buy Up System
Under the current system, a Medallion member purchases a coach seat, and then is automatically upgraded to first class as space permits. The upgrades occur in relationship to the member’s rank in the Medallion system and with each rank, the edge is given to holders of the Delta SkyMiles American Express Reserve card. If you are not a Medallion, you don’t get upgraded.
At least that is how it works today. Last week, Delta released a report to their investors indicating that they would be rolling out a new system where coach customers would be offered an upgrade at check in. Many carriers, like Airtran, currently offer such system. It is not uncommon for me to be offered an upgrade for $60 or so when I check in for a flight between Denver and Atlanta. As a cheapskate, I decline, but I am sure there are many takers.
This is all good news for Delta’s investor’s, who are probably happy that Delta is not just “giving away” their first class seats, but selling them off at the last minute. If you are a Delta Medallion member, you probably will not be too pleased. If every Joe Shmoe from Sheboygan can upgrade at check in for $50 or so, how many of those first class seats will be left over for those ATL based Delta Medallion members? The answer is: A lot fewer.
Where Will All The Medallions Go?
It turns out that the next major Delta initiative is introducing a premium economy class. This new area of coach will probably be similar to United’s Economy Plus. That is to say, same narrow seat, but several more inches of legroom. Once these two programs are in effect, premium economy is probably the closest a Delta Medallion will ever get to First Class without paying extra for it at check in, just like everybody else.
Oh The Irony
Ironically, Airtran is going the other direction. Just as we are about to the see the end of their first class section, in light of their impending assimilation with Southwest airlines, Airtran has announced that they will be offering free upgrades to their members, but only after people have been offered the option to up. Enjoy the possibility of an upgrade to first on Airtran while it lasts. The good news is that there are the same number of seats (137) on identical aircraft from both Airtran and Southwest. The difference is that there is a business class on Airtran and less legroom in coach. On Southwest, there is a single class and more legroom for everyone. Call me a Socialist, but I like the Southwest system better.