If there’s one area where I think the low cost carriers have a huge advantage over the legacy carriers, it’s in the ability to tailor the inflight experience at any point before travel. If you buy a ticket on an airline like Spirit, you can pick and choose what add-ons you want at any time. Do you want the Big Front Seat? Sure. Extra bags? No problem. You have to pay, of course, but the options are there. For the legacies, that’s not generally how it works. Instead, they like to lock you in to specific products with only minimal flexibility. Of course, no experience has greater potential for frustration than Basic Economy since there’s no way out even if you want to pay. There’s no news on that front, but Delta IS making it easier to upgrade into Comfort+ or First Class. It’s a good step.
When airlines started selling extra legroom seating to the general public, it was just a paid standalone seat assignment. Are you in coach and you want Economy Plus on United or Main Cabin Extra on American? No problem. You just pick the seat and pay. Delta used to be that way with Economy Comfort, but back in 2015 it decided to start selling Comfort+ as a separate fare, just like First Class. If you bought a cheap fare, then that’s great, but you couldn’t pay to get extra legroom unless you changed your ticket and paid the fare difference. That sometimes resulted in a massive charge that wouldn’t make sense for anyone. It didn’t help that Delta only sold Comfort+ as a fare in some markets and not others, so people found there was, in some cases, no way to even sit in Comfort+ on certain connecting flights. It was ridiculous.
Now, Delta has a new plan. Once you purchase a ticket, you can go to Delta.com (doesn’t matter where you bought the ticket, travel agent, etc), and you’ll be presented with options to upgrade into Comfort+ and First. Not only that, but the options are leg by leg. That’s huge new capability for Comfort+, and it’s an improvement for First as well. There’s no longer a need to upgrade to First on some tiny short flight just to make sure you have it on the long connecting flight as would have been the case before. You can pick and choose. This is particularly helpful for the corporate traveler who can only fly coach per company policy but wants to pay to upgrade into something better. Now he or she can just use a personal credit card to pay for the upgrade after ticketing.
Unfortunately, you can’t see any of the pricing on this before ticketing, so it’s not easy to compare to figure out what will be best in advance. But I have itineraries we’ve booked at Cranky Concierge that I can use to evaluate. For example, let’s look at a trip from Philly to San Diego via Atlanta.
This particular trip was booked just over a week ago for travel a couple months out. The price in coach was $235.80 at the time. If we were to try to book it yesterday when I wrote this, it would have been $315.55 for the same flights. Comfort+ today is selling for $536.55 (a $221 premium over coach) and First Class is selling for $731.30, a $415.75 premium over regular coach. If we log on to Delta.com, what does it offer us?
Well that’s interesting and encouraging. Comfort+ and First Class are both significantly cheaper to buy this way versus paying the fare difference. Of course, not everything is likely to be cheaper.
It was common for Delta to offer upgrades into First Class for a fixed amount as a promotional offer before this. You couldn’t do it flight by flight, as mentioned, but if you were flying nonstop, then this is the same thing. One of our people here at Cranky Concierge had an offer to upgrade for $135 on his trip from Nashville to Boston this week. Today it’s $224. So there’s clearly some revenue optimization going on here as well. For some, it will be a positive while for others, maybe not. Regardless, the additional functionality is entirely welcome regardless of the pricing tweaks that could have been implemented anyway.
And wait, what’s this? Did an airline finally figure out how to use a carrot instead of a stick?
Notice on the pricing that you can buy individual legs for a certain price but you get a discount if you buy them both together. Knowing airlines, I’d have expected them to give you a single price for the whole trip and then tell you how much you’d be penalized for doing it on an individual flight basis. Baby steps….
As a regular traveler, I like this. It gives me more options to tailor my trip, and it’s about time the legacies have started to catch up to the ultra low cost carriers in that regard. (Can you believe that anyone can make a statement like that?) But now, let’s see what else Delta can do. What if someone bought a regular ticket and then decided money was more important and wanted to downgrade to Basic Economy? It could look like this:
Alright, maybe not. But anything the airlines can do to let people pick and choose what they want at any time before the journey is a step in the right direction.