Delta once promoted themselves as the best airline for upgrades. Not only did they offer ‘unlimited domestic upgrades’ for elites before United or American but they even hyped upgrades to private jets but that program turned out not to be real.
In 2019 Delta largely eliminated mileage upgrades. Instead of costing, say, 25,000 miles each way (or 25,000 miles plus $500) they now cost the difference between coach and business class, paid in miles with miles worth just one cent apiece.
Delta’s top tier elites are no longer even able to upgrade from coach to business class on international flights, something that American and United elites can still do.
At Delta, business class is something you have to pay full price for (unless you’re on a corporate discount!) and miles are just a currency ‘same as cash’. And if you prefer to spend cash they offer financing.
Mileage upgrades at Delta are now available almost any time there’s a paid seat available in business class, but that’s almost useless. An upgrade on Delta can cost up to one million miles roundtrip. Here’s one way on an Atlanta – Johannesburg itinerary:
None of this should be surprising. Delta will charge 180,000 miles for a one-way business class saver award to Europe when partner Virgin Atlantic will charge 50,000 miles for that same exact seat.
The Vice President of the SkyMiles program explains how they’re able to get away with this: people still join the program, use their co-brand credit cards, and redeem their miles.
He acknowledges lower value that he calls ‘sustainable’ and ‘holistic’ and suggests they’re “not necessarily trying to play the game with customers” of delivering more value than competitors.
If you’re a top tier elite you now have to buy premium economy if you want to roll the dice on an upgrade to business class (they can still be tough to come by) and you will spend hundreds of thousands of miles for that upgrade as well. How that encourages customers to spend money on a Delta credit card, when they’d be better off at 2% cash back since they’d get twice the return on their spending even for Delta upgrades, I find it difficult to understand.