branded pillars boarding gate Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

When Elite Status Is Absolutely Worthless.

Abandoning Delta for a new Frontier?

I flew as a passenger for the first time on Frontier Airlines last year one way from Montego Bay to Atlanta; and I flew as a passenger again on the airline earlier this year round trip between Atlanta and Las Vegas — even though I have earned and had Medallion elite status with Delta Air Lines for years.

Why would I do that?

When Elite Status Is Absolutely Worthless.

When I researched flights for both of the aforementioned trips, I found that the difference in cost between the flights offered by Delta Air Lines and those offered by Frontier Airlines was too great to justify simply going with Delta Air Lines.

Because I do not have the comparisons from my actual trip earlier this year recorded, I chose a random set of dates in the future: departing from Atlanta to Las Vegas on Wednesday, September 14, 2022; and returning to Atlanta from Las Vegas on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 to demonstrate what I experienced.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Google Flights.

Researching my options for flights reveals that the total cost for a round trip itinerary between Atlanta and Las Vegas on Frontier Airlines is $218.00; while the total cost for a similar itinerary with Delta Air Lines is $398.00 — which is a difference of $180.00…

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Google Flights.

…but I usually have a bag to carry aboard the airplane; so I selected one carry-on bag. The total cost for a round trip itinerary between Atlanta and Las Vegas on Frontier Airlines with one bag to carry aboard the airplane increased to $294.00; while the total cost for a similar itinerary with Delta Air Lines remained at $398.00 because the airline does not charge passengers an extra fee to carry most types of baggage aboard the airplane — and the difference in price has been reduced to $104.00, which can still be a significant cost to some customers.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Google Flights.

During the process of booking the itinerary with Delta Air Lines, the prospective buyer is met with a decision: choose Basic Economy at no extra cost — or “upgrade” to Main Cabin economy class for an extra $60.00, which entitles the passenger to choose an available seat at no extra cost; be eligible for priority boarding for a possible fee if elite status had not been earned; and change the ticket with no additional fee even though the customer still may be required to pay the difference in fare.

Are those options really worth an extra $60.00?

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Delta Air Lines.

When navigating from Google Flights to the official Internet web site of Delta Air Lines, an alert appears, warning you that you are about to book your ticket in Basic Economy and that you really should consider paying the extra $60.00 for a seat in the Main Cabin economy class fare.

Notice that in addition to not being able to choose a seat until after you check in for the flight; no changes are permitted; you will be among the last to board the aircraft; you are ineligible to be upgraded to a better seat of any type; that you can cancel your itinerary for a partial eCredit minus a fee for $99.00 per person which is deducted from the value paid for the ticket, you cannot earn SkyMiles on this flight; and you do not earn any credit towards achieving SkyMiles Medallion elite status for next year.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Google Flights.

If booking the itinerary through Frontier Airlines instead, I am not surprised with a change in the total cost in the itinerary — unless I want to add other options once I navigate to the official Internet web site of Frontier Airlines to book my ticket…

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Google Flights.

…but before I get there, I am informed that the one bag to carry aboard the airplane will cost $76.00, which is included in the total cost of $294.00.

Click on the graphic for an enlarged version. Source: Frontier Airlines.

Fortunately, that total cost of $218.00 before adding the carry-on bag was accurate; and that I was not first enticed in Google Flights by the fare of $188.00, which is only valid for members of the lowest fare club called Discount Den.

The schedules for the evening flights for both airlines were similar — including that they were nonstop flights…

…so I had to ask myself: with Delta Air Lines on this particular itinerary at the Basic Economy fare, I will…

  • Be one of the last passengers to board the aircraft
  • Not be able to choose a seat in advance
  • Not be able to change seats at any time
  • Not get upgraded to a better seat of any type
  • Not have elite status which I earned recognized
  • Not earn any SkyMiles at all
  • Not earn any credit towards SkyMiles Medallion elite status for next year
  • Not be able to change any part of my itinerary
  • Be able to cancel your itinerary for a partial eCredit minus a fee for $99.00 per person which is deducted from the value paid for the ticket

…so why would I pay a minimum of $104.00 extra simply for the privilege of flying as a passenger aboard an airplane which is operated by Delta Air Lines — especially as the schedules have been reduced; the service provided by the airline have been unreliable and below standard in recent months; and overworked employees give unacceptable responses to customers who may have legitimate complaints?

Moreover, why would I pay an additional $60.00 — which brings the minimum total cost difference between Frontier Airlines and Delta Air Lines to $164.00 — to enjoy most of the benefits which I used to enjoy in the past before Basic Economy was introduced on Delta Air Lines?

Interestingly — as a side note — I was able to change my seat from row 28 to row 8 at no additional cost on the return flight which was operated by Frontier Airlines from Las Vegas to Atlanta.

My First and Second Experiences With a Basic Economy Fare

Back in the spring of 2014, I tried the Basic Economy product of Delta Air Lines — an airfare which had caused a bit of controversy on FlyerTalk — as a passenger by purchasing a ticket; and I lived to tell about it…

…twice.

I was not thrilled with the concept of the Basic Economy fare when it was first introduced by Delta Air Lines; but I thought I would try it in the spring of 2014 and subsequently report on it.

Also known as an E fare, the nascent Basic Economy fare offered by Delta Air Lines in 2014 became the least-expensive airfare you can purchase — even less expensive than a T fare, which was traditionally the cheapest airfare you can purchase — and three distinct components differentiated Basic Economy fares from other fares for seats in the economy class cabin:

  • No refunds at all under any circumstance, no matter what
  • No changes are permitted at all at any time
  • Your seat is assigned to you when you check in on the day of your flight — not even when you check in via the Internet before you arrive at the airport

Changes and refunds for domestic flights within the United States cost $200.00 on Delta Air Lines; so it really does not matter how restrictive is the policy for changes and refunds on an airfare of $200.00 or less in cost. In other words, if you paid $150.00 for your ticket and you need to change it, does it really matter whether or not you are able to change it for a fee of $200.00 or if you cannot change it under any circumstance? Either way, you lose your $150.00 if you cannot be a passenger on that flight you originally chose after all — so I really did not care much about the strict restrictions on refunds and changes on a Basic Economy fare ticket…

…and you still earn the full amount of Delta Air Lines SkyMiles and credit towards elite level status for the next year that other economy class fares will earn for you — based on dollar value, of course.

I did not like the idea of not being able to select a seat in advance — I still do not like that idea, as I would most likely wind up with a middle seat towards the back of the airplane — but I wanted to see what would happen when I purchased a Basic Economy ticket. Both purchases were for a one-way flight from Atlanta to West Palm Beach; and both times, the flight cost $89.00 — including all taxes and fees, which is what that flight used to cost with a T fare prior to the introduction of Basic Economy fares.

Basic Economy
Click on the graphic for an enlarged view. Source: Delta Air Lines.

This screen shot of two flights operated by Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to West Palm Beach on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 shows a comparison between the lowest economy class fare, the first class fare, and the Basic Economy fare. If the $32.00 difference in cost between the lowest economy class fare does not convince you to choose the Basic Economy fare for Delta Air Lines flight 1134, then perhaps the difference of $168.00 for Delta Air Lines flight 2014 might cause you to reconsider your stance — or spend the extra $247.00 and splurge for an A class fare, if you believe that a wider seat, a couple of chances at the snack basket and that extra drink before departure is worth the cost.

Both times, I qualified for and enjoyed using the Pre✓ program by the Transportation Security Administration; and passing through the airport security checkpoint at the international airport in Atlanta was effortless and took me all of five minutes — if that.

The first time, I received an aisle seat in the approximate middle of a Boeing 757-200 aircraft. The seat next to me was empty — but then again, the aircraft itself was not full. I was quite pleased.

The second time a few weeks later, the flight was initially oversold. When I attempted to check in for the flight at the official Internet web site of Delta Air Lines, I received a message on how much I wanted to bid to be voluntarily “bumped” from the flight. I entered an amount higher than the three amounts which were offered and continued with the ticketing process, knowing that the flight was full and I have no seat assignment.

When I arrived at the airport, I received my boarding pass — and sure enough, it was a middle seat on a Boeing 757-200 aircraft packed full with passengers…

…but wait — it was in an exit row seat which reclined. Leg room! I had more leg room than if I was seated in a seat in the Economy Comfort section of the aircraft!

While I felt sorry for the people in the aisle and window seats in my row across the aisle who had to contend with a male passenger whose girth did not allow him to sit comfortably in his seat and therefore spill over into the seats on either side of him, I had seat mates who minded their own business and left me alone.

All in all, I was pleased with both of my experiences — but the Basic Economy experience of 2022 is significantly different from that of 2014.

Final Boarding Call

The point of elite status is not so much to reward the customer for past business; but to entice the customer to be loyal to the airline for future business…

…but in this particular case, elite status with Delta Air Lines became absolutely worthless — to the point where miles cannot even be earned on the lowest fare anymore. It is not as though people who fly as passengers on Basic Economy fares earn a windfall of miles, as Delta Air Lines ensured in 2015 that that would never happen when the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program became based on revenue spent instead of distance flown. The airline somehow could no longer justify rewarding a passenger on a Basic Economy fare the few hundred SkyMiles they used to earn on flights in the past.

Had the benefits which were once offered with their Basic Economy product not been further gutted by Delta Air Lines, the airline would have been in contention for my hard-earned dollars, as being based in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area, Delta Air Lines had been my primary choice of airline for years…

…but unfortunately — due to all of the aforementioned reasons — Delta Air Lines is sadly no longer number one for me; and that is because of both all of their negative changes in policies over recent years and the overall sad state of commercial aviation in general.

What is the point of elite status when it is absolutely worthless?

In my opinion, this is a classic example of a business cutting too much — foolishly, some people might say; and especially with no prior warning or advance notice — to the point where its customers look elsewhere for what has become a similar product or service among competitors with little to no differentiation…

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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