Delta wants more passengers to pay for first class

Delta first class. Source: Delta Air Lines.

Delta first class. Source: Delta Air Lines.

If you’re hoping to get a free upgrade to first class on your next flight, don’t get your hopes up.

Delta Air Lines is moving away from giving frequent fliers the big seats in the front gratis, and instead wants customers to pay for them.

It’s a point driven home by Delta CEO Ed Bastian at a recent travel industry conference.

“Any business where you give the majority of your best product away for free doesn’t work,” Bastian said at the Skift Global Forum in New York last week, according to Skift.

But it’s far from the first time the airline has focused on getting paid for first class.

  • "Monetization" of first class: Delta's then-executive vice president of revenue management Glen Hauenstein, now president of the airline, said back in 2010 that monetization of first class would be a big initiative for the airline.
  • Upgrades for less than $50: Delta began testing discounted upgrades in 2011, ranging at the time from less than $50 to more than $500. That increases the number of first class seats sold, frustrating frequent fliers hoping for upgrades.
  • 70 percent: That's the goal Delta said in 2015 it has for the percentage of first-class fliers buying a seat, as opposed to using a free upgrade. Delta said then that the rate of paid-for first class seats had already jumped from 13 percent to 57 percent.

The second-largest airline in Atlanta, Southwest, doesn’t have first class. All other airlines at Hartsfield-Jackson each have less than 3 percent of the market in Atlanta.

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