Delta’s Newest Upgrade Puts First Class to Shame

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Forget first class. Delta’s latest upgrade puts its best customers on a private jet.

The new upgrade program is reserved for Delta’s select, high-value frequent fliers. Only passengers who have earned elite or medallion status in Delta’s frequent-flier program are eligible, Bloomberg News reports. Delta’s elite fliers travel 25,000 miles and spend $3,000 annually. Delta passengers earn diamond medallion status if they travel 125,000 miles and spend $15,000 a year.

“This is an innovative way for us to thank valued Delta customers for their loyalty,” said John Caldwell, president of Delta Vacations.

The private jet upgrade offering, which costs $300 to $800, will initially be limited to a small number of flights based on availability, the Atlanta-based carrier said.

“This is truly a groundbreaking new approach from both industry standpoints,” James Murray, vice president of operations at Delta Private Jets, told Bloomberg. “Nobody else can do what we’re talking about doing.”

Bloomberg said Delta’s new upgrade is indicative of the carrier’s “relentless focus on finding new revenue or squeezing more from existing customers, which is why carriers now appear to nickel-and-dime passengers for everything from snacks to movies [that were] once free of charge.”

Delta will use its subsidiary Delta Private Jets, which has a fleet of 66 aircraft, to provide its most elite fliers with private jet upgrades.

Delta Private Jets currently targets Delta’s corporate and wealthy fliers, USA Today said. The new upgrade option will give Delta’s best customers an opportunity to travel high-class, while also helping defray some of the costs of Delta Private Jets. USA Today said:

… [Planes in Delta Private Jets’ fleet] must frequently fly “empty leg” repositioning flights that have no paying passengers on board. The ability to shift elite frequent fliers to such flights helps Delta promote a premium brand image. But it could also give the company a unique method to court corporate fliers – some of whom might have the means to at least occasionally consider paying for travel on Delta’s private jet unit.

“The hope is that once someone flies private, and they don’t have to go through TSA, and they have the experience, then they may determine that they want to fly private more often,” Cyril Turner, Delta Private Jets’ chief executive officer told Bloomberg. The goal is “not necessarily to break even but to at least get some type of income” from the empty flights, Turner explained in a June interview.

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