Chris at TravelSkills reported yesterday that Delta has quietly introduced an upgrade benefit for Platinum and Diamond Medallions on its premium BusinessElite trans-con product from JFK. I did not say “re-introduced” for a reason – this isn’t the same as before. While I was not directly impacted by the change, you might remember the little dust up that was created when Delta removed traditional upgrade benefits for Medallion SkyMiles members on these routes a few months ago. Now, as The Weekly Flyer notes, Delta will add Platinums or Diamonds to the upgrade list 6 hours before departure, and you clear into BusinessElite, load factor permitting. Companion upgrades are not available.

I reached out to a Delta spokesperson for details and they replied “While the policy has not changed, we have now begun to award our top medallion customers upgrades on those flights during slower travel periods or as the operation permits.” I asked if this was an experiment and if there were plans for this to become a published benefit of the SkyMiles program, to which the reply was that there is no time limit and no plans to publish it as a benefit.

What happened? Airlines are numbers oriented, and you can bet Delta was monitoring what was happening on these flights. Further, as noted by Chris, jetBlue is rolling out a premium product on its JFK trans-con routes. I’d be leery of judging profitability of the premium cabin based on a sample of seat maps. I suspect the bottom line comes down to being competitive, and someone at Delta looking at the numbers and asking why high-level elite Medallions should not have priority for empty seats ahead of employee travelers? We’ll see how it goes.

-MJ, June 25, 2014