Delta starts filing Comfort+ as separate premium economy fare

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Delta Air Lines plans to start filing its Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seats in a separate fare bucket to its other economy fares, and has selected the W fare that is used by many international carriers for their full international premium economy seats, RGN has learned.

The move comes nearly a year after Delta announced the rebrand of its international front cabin from BusinessElite to Delta One, renamed its extra-legroom Economy Comfort to Comfort+, turned Economy into to Main Cabin — and clarified the naming of domestic first class while also expanding its Basic Economy fares.

Last December, RGN suspected that there might be more to come when reporting on the initial rebrand, and that would seem to now have been the case.

The difference in filing Comfort+ as a separate fare bucket is an important one, and would be the first step in turning Comfort+ into a separate cabin — which would itself open a number of doors to Delta in terms of monetisation and the loyalty space. The airline has already become more aggressive in its marketing of Comfort+ seats as ancillary revenue both before boarding and once already onboard the aircraft.

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The Points, Miles & Martinis blog suggests that one option for Delta will be to transform Comfort+ upgrades into a similar upgrade list process to what passengers experience when upgrading to first class now. Frequent flyers on FlyerTalk are, however, concerned that this kind of system could end up automatically upgrading passengers from, say, a window seat in Main Cabin to a middle seat in Comfort+ — which is not necessarily an upgrade all flyers would want as those products stand today.

The move could also create an upgrade buffer for elites, potentially requiring them to have purchased a seat in Comfort+ to be eligible for an upgrade to domestic first class or Delta One. This tactic has been regarded positively by international carriers with a premium economy cabin, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic.

A new fare bucket and the existence of the upgrade buffer could also enable Delta to then turn Comfort+ into actual premium economy seats on its internationally equipped widebody aircraft, creating a two-tier Comfort+ system where domestic flights just get extra legroom and the soft product benefits for Comfort+, while international flights also get larger seats.

It would alternatively (or additionally, given the example of Air Canada) enable Delta to turn economy class on its Boeing 777 aircraft into a more densely packed 3-4-3 configuration, which American Airlines is already operating and United will operate with the delivery of its 777-300ER fleet. The additional value positioning of Comfort+ as a 3-3-3 configuration, like currently, might enable Delta to succeed where American Airlines (which is converting its 3-3-3 Main Cabin Extra section into 3-4-3) did not.

Comfort+ seats on an Airbus 330-300 (333). - These images are protected by copyright. Delta has acquired permission from the copyright owner to the use the images for specified purposes and in some cases for a limited time. If you have been authorized by Delta to do so, you may use these images to promote Delta, but only as part of Delta-approved marketing and advertising. Further distribution (including proving these images to third parties), reproduction, display, or other use is strictly prohibited.

Comfort+ seats on an Airbus 330-300 (333). Credit: Delta Air Lines

Further, global distribution systems like Amadeus and Sabre enable agents (including online travel agents like Expedia) to search for four classes of service: first, business, premium economy, and economy. If the new fare code for Comfort+ ends up being W, this could create some confusion for travel agents and passengers not intimately familiar with Delta’s unique set of products.

That confusion already exists with the Delta One product, the old BusinessElite that is Delta’s international business class offering. An anecdotal example: well-travelled retiree friends of this journalist’s family flew from New York to Rome in Delta One, and were absolutely adamant that they had paid for — and flown in — first class. They were then upset that their return flight via London was in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, which they thought was “just business class”, despite the fact that many parts of the Virgin Atlantic business class passenger experience are significantly more premium than those of its Delta owner. For Delta, this is both a blessing and a curse: if it is selling an experience that people think is international first class while they are making their pricing and comparison decisions, then Delta had better well deliver on the promise of international first class.

That problem exists too with Comfort+. If Delta’s extra legroom product is priced, sold and branded like international premium economy, and requires similar upgrade instruments to reach the front cabin, then passengers will fairly reasonably expect international premium economy seats and service. The trick for Delta will be delivering on that promise, or changing the expectation.

A woman using an iPad and a man drinking and using a laptop on a Boeing 737-900ER (739). - These images are protected by copyright. Delta has acquired permission from the copyright owner to the use the images for specified purposes and in some cases for a limited time. If you have been authorized by Delta to do so, you may use these images to promote Delta, but only as part of Delta-approved marketing and advertising. Further distribution (including proving these images to third parties), reproduction, display, or other use is strictly prohibited.

A key benefit of Comfort+ is the ability to use a laptop with ease, compared with the situation in regular economy. Image: Delta

 

5 Comments

  1. Interesting article!

    This is something would make things easier for passengers who travel Delta-Virgin Atlantic code shares not only to upagrade but to keep the same cabin when amending flights, even with european partner Air France, both already with Premium Economy W class.

    Delta Comfort Plus is not only an extra legroom seat but a package that includes priority boarding, free beers, wines and spirits and free premium entertainment on flights to/from Europe, in another international or in domestic flights the offer may be more limited. At around usd100 per flight is not to be considered expensive if you spent more than usd1000 in a return a flight, but it is true that some passengers wish the confort of a smaller, quieter separated cabin. Something that would increase the price for the “upgrade”.

    Confort Plus is an option available for international and domestic flights, if you are connecting with a domestic flight in the US you can purchase Confort Plus for the domestic flight or not. I suppose if you upgrade to new Comfort+ Class or W class you will have to upgrade all the flights that are in connection into your ticket, increasing the total cost of the upgrade.

  2. RaflW

    There are a number of drawbacks to the new C+ program as officially announced by Delta over the weekend. One of them, from a passenger value perspective, is that C+ now has to be booked for the entire trip, as a fare class.
    Gone will be the option to, for example, book MSP-SFO with the westbound day being regular coach, and the red-eye return as a buy-up to C+.
    The new WU ‘upgrade’ inventory that will be used to allocate C+ seats to Elite+ members will also probably be aggressively managed by Delta’s revenue algorithms, so that the seats now given free to Diamonds and Platinums will probably be held back for monetization, and only released days before travel, at which time as mentioned in your column, only middle seats are likely to remain.
    All of this will probably help Delta increase marginal revenue per flight. The question I have, as both a Delta customer and shareholder is this: will this latest devaluation of Elite benefits drive high revenue Delta loyalists to reduce their Delta spend and shop around for the best schedule+price+class of service? Delta’s management is betting it won’t. I think they may be in for a surprise.

  3. C+ turning into its own cabin may work. It aligns closer with Air France’s operations. Its all a matter of how it is valued and perceived by people who fly it. I know they’ve been giving it away for the past 2 years as a “preferred seat” but now as its own cabin will be tricky to see how/if it is profitable.

    I’ve outlined at the tricks to understanding Delta’s fare classes and cabins and what Medallions should expect. Link here: http://destinationunknown.travel/airlines/delta-airlines/fare-classes/

  4. Joe

    This change has left those having Delta Amex Platinum cards, which gives them a yearly companion ticket with an annual fee of $195 without the chance of upgrading to C+. In the past one could, for the extra cost, upgrade with this companion ticket.
    Now you’re left with only getting an Economy class ticket without the option.
    As a holder of one of cards, I feel betrayed by not only Delta, but also Amex.
    If one of the benefits of this card is the companion ticket, then Delta should have some flexibility in allowing their loyal cards holders (of course at the extra cost) to be able to upgrade when using it for this purpose.

  5. Pingback: Delta's Comfort+ product grows into Asia, Latin America - Runway Girl Network - Dectimes