Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades are Bad for Frequent Fliers? Not By My Experience
“U nlimited complimentary upgrades mean fewer upgrades for lower-tier and mid-tier elites” is what Gary Leff of View From The Wing wrote in this article about how unlimited complimentary upgrades are bad for frequent fliers.
My personal experience contradicts that statement.
Delta Air Lines once had an upgrade system similar to the one which American Airlines uses today; except at one point segment upgrades were expanded from 500 miles to 800 miles before the current policy of unlimited upgrades became effective on January 1, 2003. At the time that occurred, I had Gold Medallion elite level status — which is mid-tier elite level status in the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program — both before and after the change in policy.
Before the change in policy, I somehow always managed to have trips which were 810 miles in length or 1,635 miles in length. I never liked the idea of using a second 800-mile segment upgrade for ten miles or a third 800-mile segment upgrade for 35 miles.
Then again, I always despised when there is unused space left on a compact disc when I recorded songs from my music collection for my personal enjoyment when traveling — but that is me. My mind has always been hard-wired to completely and efficiently use whatever is available to me — whether it was wasted unused space on a compact disc or miles “left over” on a segment upgrade…
…so I would avoid using my segment upgrades unless I was able to use them as fully and completely as possible. It was frustrating for me — but I did eventually successfully use them.
In that aspect, Gary is correct when he wrote that “When elites are rationing their free upgrades or they have to pay some amount, they actually have to make a decision when they care about getting the upgrade.”
After the unlimited upgrade policy was implemented by Delta Air Lines, I found myself getting upgraded on flights significantly more often even though my elite level status had not changed. I was thrilled. To this day, I still like the policy of complimentary unlimited upgrades.
I do not have fancy statements, detailed analyses or crunched numbers to back up my claim. Just please take my word for it: I was able to enjoy more upgrades more often without having to think about how many segment upgrades I had left or whether I was using them efficiently. Moreover, the classes of service was expanded as well to include all classes other than the lowest four at the time: S, L, U and T classes, to be exact…
…and those classes were eventually included later on as eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades.
I am not saying that Gary is wrong. In fact, he may very well be correct. I researched discussions on FlyerTalk posted not long after unlimited upgrades were implemented. “Under the old points system, I always got upgraded”, posted FlyerTalk member opus17 back on December 4, 2004 in one of a number of examples which backs up Gary’s statement. “Now, not so much.”
All I do know is that according to my experience, unlimited complimentary upgrades are good for me. Perhaps my experience is an anomaly. Perhaps my situation is different. Perhaps my experience depended on the flights on which i was a passenger. Perhaps I have no idea what I am talking about. I do not know…
…so what are your thoughts? Is Gary correct in his assessment that unlimited complimentary upgrades are bad for frequent fliers? Is this simply a case where a blanket statement does not apply because it depends on the circumstances? What has been your experience?