Delta Airlines changes upgrade algorithm for international flights

In late May, Delta Airlines changed its algorithm for upgrades on international flights, making it nearly impossible to clear mileage upgrades for ticket purchases that are made fewer than 14 days from the travel date. This largely unannounced adjustment changes the way Delta handles mileage upgrades to fill empty premium cabin seats. In the past, upgrade inventories would usually be available two weeks, one week or even just three days before a flight’s departure for higher economy fares in the M, B, and Y classes.

This detected change in Delta’s upgrade algorithm now blocks just about any upgrade request made within 14 days of a flight, irrespective of how many seats are sold.

Take a look at the following example: On June 8, Delta flight #34 between Los Angeles and London departing on July 22 had 13 out of 36 business class seats remaining. With only a 67% load in the business class cabin, seat upgrades were shown to be “available”, as expected. Flights departing on the same route, but just one day earlier on July 21, had 20 out of 36 business class seats available – even more than the July 22 departure – except this time, the upgrade was shown to be “not available”.

Delta’s new algorithm update blocks the July 21 travel date because the departure is fewer than 14 days from the request date of July 8. The recent change in Delta’s rules now means that business travelers may no longer be able to access their mileage upgrade in the final weeks leading up to a flight as they once could.

With so many business class travelers booking flights on short notice, this change may prove to be a much bigger deal than anticipated.

Extreme discounts to business class travel – such as fares that were as low as $474 from New York to Paris in April and early May – are subsidized by last-minute business class travelers who pay a premium for their tickets.

As of July 1st, these new upgrade restrictions apply to Delta flights originating in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York and Los Angeles. Travel to and from Philadelphia are currently exempt. Requests for upgrades on Delta made fewer than 14 days before one’s date of travel from any of these cities are unlikely to clear before a flight takes off. At the time of writing, American Airlines was positioned to follow suit with a new algorithm change of its own restricting these last-minute upgrades as well.

Lars Condor is the Managing Director of Passport Premiere.

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