Delta Is Changing Their Companion Upgrade Policy

Filed Under: Delta

As much as I rag on Delta SkyMiles, it’s almost entirely based around their mileage redemption program as opposed to their elite program. I find it ridiculous that Delta eliminated award charts and doesn’t value transparency.

However, I have to give them credit for their elite program, which has been improving lately, at least compared to their peers. For example, in 2017 Delta will be improving their Diamond Medallion upgrade options.

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Delta Diamond Medallion members will have more upgrade flexibility in 2017

It looks like Delta SkyMiles is making another change to their elite upgrade program, as it pertains to companion upgrades.

Under the current policy, the companion of a SkyMiles Medallion member only receives complimentary upgrades day of departure. Furthermore, if an elite member and companion are on the same reservation, upgrade chances are significantly worse, since the elite member can only clear at most 24 hours out. Here’s how Delta describes companion upgrades:

  • You and companion have different reservation numbers:
    Your upgrade will clear based on your individual member status and confirmation window. Your companion’s will clear no sooner than 24 hours prior to the flight’s departure.
  • You and companion share same reservation number:
    Both your upgrades will clear no sooner than 24 hours prior to the flight’s departure.

Delta elite members don’t see very many upgrades when traveling with companions

This will be changing soon. As of this fall, elite companion upgrades will clear based on the higher of the two status levels, for both first class and Comfort+. Per the SkyMiles News & Updates page:

We recently surveyed our Medallion members about our companion policy for Complimentary Upgrades, and a majority of you voted that Medallion members traveling with a companion should clear for Complimentary Upgrades based on the higher of the two status levels.

So, we’re investing in making things better. Starting this fall, Medallion members traveling with one companion will clear for Complimentary Upgrades to both First Class and Delta Comfort+™ based on the status of the higher-tiered member. Diamond and Silver traveling together? Your upgrade will clear at the Diamond level, when available.

It’s one of the many ways we’re striving to offer the best elite travel experience for our most loyal members. Be on the lookout for more details and the official start date for these changes that will be announced this summer.

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These changes will apply to Delta Comfort+ upgrades as well

Objectively this is a positive change, and matches the policies of American and United, which also clear companion upgrades at the elite window of the higher status member.

I commend Delta for making this change, because I truly believe it’s based on member feedback. At the same time, I have to point out that companion upgrades are a double edged sword. I suspect how you feel about companion upgrades differs based on your status level and how often you fly with companions.

Keep in mind that there are fewer and fewer first class seats to upgrade to. In 2011, only 31% of first class passengers paid something to sit there. Meanwhile in 2015, 57% of first class passengers paid something to sit there. By 2018 Delta is hoping that number reaches 70%.

The point is, there are fewer seats to upgrade to, and it’s ultimately a zero sum game:

  • Should a Diamond Medallion on a slightly higher fare with a companion clear ahead of two Diamond Medallions on slightly lower fares?
  • Should a Diamond Medallion on a low fare with a companion clear ahead of two high fare Platinum Medallions?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, and it totally varies based on your travel patterns.

Bottom line

I commend Delta for this change, because I think they’re trying to do something good for members here. It is a good change overall, though I think it’s worth looking at both sides. There are only so many first class seats to upgrade to, and everyone feels differently about the order in which those upgrades should occur.

Overall I like this change, as it sort of sucks to have top tier status with an airline, only to be treated poorly when you’re traveling with a loved one. But it also sucks to miss an upgrade when you’re alone because someone else has a companion. 😉

Which system do you prefer — companions clearing at the highest elite member’s upgrade window, or companions clearing after all other elites?

(Tip of the hat to Rene’s Points)

  1. Like occasional guest blogger Nick, I am a fan of Delta. DL gets all of my domestic travel business.

    This change doesn’t affect me as I usually buy up to first class given Delta’s remarkably reasonable domestic premium fares. But I would be totally pissed-off if a Diamond’s companion got upgraded over me, a lowly Platinum.

  2. I’m diamond since diamond exits. Still, the Delta boarding process equates to Soviet bread line pushing, elbowing, shoving from the 70’s 80’s. I envy southwest civilized,simple and relaxed boarding. I swear, I rather board as line B position 25. Single line. yes, I’m the 75th boarding. At the same time, I know that B 26 is behind me and I’m behind B 24. No lost toe. No stress. No pushes and cursing, just a simple line. Actually seeing 100-200 people huddle in 20sq meters box at delta gate, ready for the “big” race is a site to see from outside of the WWW ring.

  3. +1 here saying kudos to Delta. similar to Imperator and Nick, I’m a minority of your readers who flies Delta! I actually only fly Delta in domestic business but Imperator is right. Depending on the route, Delta’s domestic first fares are quite reasonably affordable starting 2-3 years ago. I’d say that’s one of the reasons why their prediction of 70% of passengers in F paid something to be there is realistic.

  4. Who and how people get upgraded seems to be a hot topic for Delta and their customers. On a related note, I have witnessed not once, but twice this year on separate flights, that a Gate Agent upgraded a Delta employee (Flight Attendant and a Pilot). I think they are doing it to support and do a favor to their fellow employees. However, with ability for paying Customers to see the upgrade list, see the available seats, etc at the gate, the Delta Gate Agents need to be careful with this practice. As a Diamond, I got my upgrades, but I know others on the list did not, and I felt bad for whoever was next on the fairly long list as I watched the Delta employees sit in the first class seats.

  5. If you don’t like Delta’s boarding process, the obvious solution is to board last. It’s extremely relaxing and civilized.

  6. Flight from MSP to SEA on Delta two nights ago on a domestic 767. There were 30 people on upgrade list yet the plane left with two empty first class seats. I had cleared at the five day window but my traveling companion who was platinum was left in coach. This wasn’t the first time I have been on a crowded plane and the gate agents do a lousy job making sure the upgrades are done correctly. It’s not that hard to come down and find two passengers to rescue from coach.

  7. With FCM this change will be non-material for the majority of elites. Still, It’s positive for those of us who travel with a companion. In regards to Comfort+ this is a VERY positive change – although that part of the change was done before. A number of (us) Delta Elites did not like the original Comfort+ change that didn’t include a traveling companion, which seemed VERY shortsighted by Delta.

  8. As a Diamond, I advocated for this and am so happy Delta listened. Normally I fly solo for business, however the few times I do personal travel it is rather annoying that my travel partner doesn’t enjoy all of my benefits or I am jumping through hoops to get upgrades. I think it is reasonable that elites get ONE travel companion that is treated with the same priority.

  9. I prefer the old system of upgrades. I do not like that non – status companions have priority over other Diamonds who may have a lower fare. Is Delta even going to have Platinum, Gold, or Silver anymore considering they will no longer be upgraded? Delta has so many planes with only 12 seats in first , upgrades are difficult as it is to get on certain routes ,now we have to compete with companions. It is my understanding Delta implemented the new changes to please the Diamonds who complained that when they bring their wives on trips two times a year that she gets stuck in coach . Really ? So the majority of us who travel by ourselves should miss out on upgrades because the complainers don’t want to pay for , use miles, or regional upgrade certificates to upgrade their wives! I have also been told that a certain few were sent a survey about upgrades, I did not receive one, not sure how accurate the survey is if Delta only sent it to the complainers. I do not understand why Delta would want to alienate the majority of their most loyal customers. The only worthwhile benefit is the upgrades to first class, if they are eliminated there will be no incentive to fly exclusively on Delta. I guess the new way to fly will be shop for the lowest airfares. Has anyone noticed the rediciously low air fares that the other airlines offer that Delta does not match?

  10. According to the delta site they were supposed to have a date set for this change by end of the summer. Summer’s over. Anyone hear anything about when this change takes affect?

  11. I guess you are relying on the Delta Companion Charity to give your companion a free first class upgrade.
    One Diamond gets 2 free upgrades , the other Diamond gets the middle C- seat because the other Diamond may have paid a little more for his ticket.
    Delta is sending out the message that Delta does not want or appreciate Platinum. Gold , & Silver customers.
    I believe it is a bad move for Delta to give PRIORITY to non-status companions over other Diamonds and ALL Platinum Medallions.
    Anyone who flies frequently on popular routes knows how long the upgrade lists can be. Now Delta’s majority of most loyal customers will be replaced by non-status companions traveling with Diamonds who believe it is of most importance to sit with their companion & be upgraded but are too cheap to pay for their companion.

  12. If you have separate roundtrip reservations from your companion, and you two are only on the same flight for the first leg, but are returning on different flights – can you request a companion upgrade for just the one-way when you are flying together?

  13. With regards to the last comment, on different legs, I would think, its up to the gate agent, or priority desk, as computer won,t do it. Also I fly with my kids, I,m soon to be a Diamond, so I feel its good, Most diamond,s dont fly with others, so i feel it won,t make a big difference to Gold , or Silver, as most Plts can get Comfort seats at time of booking?

  14. The Delta Diamond complainers got their so wanted companion charity approved yesterday, now all of the Platinum customers who were fooled & asked for this change will see their first class upgrade chances down to the bottom of the list where silver usually gets upgraded. I have already witnessed this, if you do not believe me just wait until next time you fly. So If you are platinum , good luck because a diamond with a friend, sister, aunt, uncle , whoever the Diamond is flying with who shows no loyalty to Delta will get an upgrade over you. Also be on the lookout for the C- game of two travelers who must sit together at all times, be upgraded, but refuse to pay for an upgrade taking the aisle & window seat in C- leaving the C- middle seat open hoping if the flight isn’t full that they will get the whole row. This is exactly the kind of customer that Delta is catering to & giving priority to. So if you are Platinum, Gold , or Silver, Delta really don’t care if you go elsewhere because you are not a valued customer & expendable , IMO

  15. I think the change is an improvement but I think the best way to offer companion upgrades is to do it the old way by giving each medallion member companion upgrade certificates they can use on any flight paid with miles or money.
    This way the medallion member knows how many upgrades he can use each year when his/her higher status allows the upgrade.
    Silver should get two companion certificate (enough for one round trip), Gold should get four , Platinum should get 6 and Diamond should get 10. Millionmilers should also be given an additional 2 upgrades for their long loyalty. (Silver + MM gets 4 companion upgrades, Gold + MM gets 6, Platinum + MM gets 8, Diamond + MM gets 12)
    Basically you should get 2 upgrades for every 25,000 MQMs so a roundtrip can be upgraded for a companion.
    You should also get 2 upgrades for every MM level you achieve.
    This allows the spouse or significant other that doesn’t travel to be given some appreciation by Delta and makes it easier for the frequent travelers to fly so many flights each year with their companion’s blessing.
    Hyatt does this for it’s platinum & diamond members so the few special times each year when the companion is traveling they treat the companion the same as their elite member. It’s just smart business.
    If they treat my wife well the one or two times she is with me each year then she is happy for me to spend as much time on the road to maintain the status that treats her so well the few times she travels.
    Conversely, if she never gets upgraded or just experiences the “herd mentality” when traveling then she is likely to complain that I shouldn’t travel so much.

  16. Economy Comfort upgrades are worse now that it has become a separate class.
    If you have an exit row aisle or window with extra legroom then being automatically upgraded to Economy Comfort in a center seat is a down grade for someone who is above 6′ tall with long legs.
    Economy comfort center seats should not be considered an upgrade.
    Elite members should be able to have their profile show a preference for aisle or window only in Economy Comfort for automatic upgrades.
    I’m a big guy and getting upgraded to a center seat in Economy Comfort is not only annoying to me but also annoying to the unfortunate passengers in the window & aisle seats on either side of me that are forced to sit next to a middle linebacker…

  17. I travel a lot, but nothing like what a diamond member travels. I am always comfortably in gold status, occasionally in platinum. I frequently travel on “popular” routes, and find myself on those routes (typically as gold) at number 19/40 on the upgrade list for first class. In other words, average gold status.

    Overall, I think that the change is good. The reality, as others have mentioned, is that companions may fly with an elite 1-3 times each year. That frequency doesn’t translate into many lost seats on any particular day/route. And, I personally love to travel with a companion sitting next to me. While I would rather be in FC than economy when I travel alone, I do not resent at all a diamond or platinum status member traveling in FC with a non-status spouse at the expense of me traveling in coach in the exit row. In fact, I sort of like the exit rows. Except that I don’t get free and unlimited alcoholic beverages there.

    Bottom line: experienced business travelers understand and appreciate efforts by airlines to make their individual experiences more enjoyable. Realize that upgrade seats already are limited, and will become more so, as more and more travelers, regardless of status, are willing to pay for upgrades offered at, or shortly after, booking. In my opinion, if I have to sit in economy 3 times for every 1 time that I get a companion upgraded, I’m happy and content. Kudos Delta.

  18. My husband and I are both diamonds, 1mil and 2mil milers. We are now being upgraded about 20% of the time where prior to this change it was more like 90. On flights this week, not even an upgrade to economy comfort with high cost tickets. It seems a little ridiculous non-status companions are getting upgraded before loyal customers. Give status to a family member or get upgrade certificates as your choice benefit. There is no point in staying loyal after you have reached the next year status, if we aren’t going to be upgraded.

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