On the heels of their quiet devaluation of the Premium Select product earlier this month, Delta announced on last Thursday’s earning call that they plan to expand their Premium Select cabin, with all widebody flights to Europe offering those seats by 2021. According to USA Today:
Delta’s rollout of its Premium Select cabin comes as it projects a $350 million revenue gain this year from premium seats, as an 8 percent gain in seating during the second quarter led to a 20 percent gain in revenue, executives said Thursday.
The categories include Delta One suites, Premium Select and Comfort Plus, according to [airline president Glen] Hauenstein.
Expansion plans continue. Delta plans to offer Premium Select, which has been available in half its Pacific markets and is being added to trans-Atlantic flights this year, on all widebody flights to Europe by 2021, Hauenstein said.
The change is definitely being spun as a positive, particularly for business travelers who are limited to booking economy seats through their corporate travel policy. The article goes on to state that:
The move came in response to corporations limiting business travelers to coach seats, despite a willingness by travelers to pay more themselves.
“Quite honestly, we haven’t made it that easy for them,” Hauenstein said. “As we continue to roll out different ways to buy those products, we will see another explosion in demand as customers will use miles to sit in cabins where they want to sit.”
Delta expects to offer the option for upgrading seats with loyalty miles by the end of 2018.
So, is adding Premium Select seats a good thing?
Like any major airline change, it depends who you ask. While improvements to existing products can be a good thing, it really only matters if you get to use said products.
Premium Select seats, which are billed as their own separate cabin of service, serve as a replacement to Delta’s Comfort+, which is basically a souped-up economy experience with extra legroom (despite Delta’s best effort to market it otherwise).
For Diamond and Platinum Medallion members, this is likely a negative change under the current program. Diamonds and Platinums get complimentary access to Comfort+ seats on international reservations, but receive no such love for the Premium Select cabin.
Diamond Medallions can use their Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade into Premium Select where it’s available (but this is a horrible value for GUCs, so please don’t – unless they’re expiring, like, tomorrow).
So, unless this rollout is accompanied by other changes to the program, you’re likely to see more Delta higher-tier elites flying in the main cabin on international flights.
Upgrading with miles
This is a nice change in theory, especially since Delta award ticket prices are pretty bonkers these days. That said, their current policy on upgrading international flights with miles is pretty restrictive, with only expensive Y, B, M, H, Q and K fare classes eligible for upgrade.
And – I know this is going to come as a huge surprise – Delta doesn’t publish the costs for mileage upgrades, although you can read about the program in its current existence here.
So while I’m hoping that the number of miles to upgrade to Premium Select is reasonable, I’m not holding my breath.
It is nice to be able to book awards into Delta’s Premium Select, as many airlines (including United and American) don’t have premium economy redemptions available yet.
That said, the prices can be absolutely bananas, with Premium Select awards consistently costing 165,000 SkyMiles one-way from the East Coast to Europe:
And tickets to Asia costing even more, sometimes upward of 200,000 SkyMiles one-way:
For what it’s worth, the best theoretical redemption values for Premium Select these days seem to be 70,000 SkyMiles one-way to Asia, or 64,000 SkyMiles one-way to Europe.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, award tickets are no longer booking connecting domestic flights into first class, like they were last week. Sad.
A lot can happen between now and 2021 – the current SkyMiles program is vastly different than it was three years ago, and I’m certain it will change again in three years’ time. But anytime a change is made due to a projected $350 million dollar revenue gain in premium seat sales, it tends to mean good news for shareholders, and less-good news for those of us trying to maximize the value of miles and loyalty programs.
While I’d absolutely rather spend eight hours in a Premium Select seat over typical Comfort+ or Main Cabin, I’m not convinced that the fare differential or upgrade instruments will be worth the extra width and leg room.
So I’ll withhold judgment for now, but this Diamond Medallion is not breaking out the celebratory fireworks just yet.
What do you make of the expansion of Delta’s Premium Select product? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing?