Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Is $50 Worth “Upgrading” From Basic Economy to Main Cabin Economy Class?

Delta Air Lines is betting that it is to you — and the airline could be right.

When a new official policy from Delta Air Lines was announced on Thursday, December 9, 2021 that tickets which are purchased at the Basic Economy fare will no longer be eligible to earn miles in the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program — nor will they be eligible for earning Medallion Qualification Miles, Medallion Qualification Segments, or Medallion Qualification Dollars towards towards earning Medallion elite status — the general response was two types of reactions: frequent fliers who basically did not care because they never purchase the least expensive tickets anyway so the policy did not affect them; and frugal travelers who wanted to save as much money as possible but still earn SkyMiles and elite status.

Is $50 Worth “Upgrading” From Basic Economy to Main Cabin Economy Class?

The new policy became effective on Thursday, December 9, 2021 for flights which depart on or after Saturday, January 1, 2022.

Now that the policy is in effect, how is it affecting the purchases of tickets?

For the purpose of this article, the word upgrade pertains to spending the extra money yourself for what is supposed to be a better flight experience.

A random itinerary was chosen for departure on Wednesday, February 16, 2022 from Atlanta — which is the home of Delta Air Lines — and either Newark or Los Angeles, with the return flight on Tuesday, February 22, 2022. The prices quoted below are for round trip flights.

Source: Delta Air Lines.

A Basic Economy fare between Atlanta and Newark costs $88.00. You can instead “upgrade” yourself by purchasing a Main Cabin economy fare for $138.00 — but what do you get for the extra $50.00?

Delta Air Lines is not subtle about convincing you to pay the extra money.

Source: Delta Air Lines.

For that $50.00, you can have access to the following benefits:

  • Select seats and change seats at any time
  • Change your itinerary without paying fees — although you would still be responsible for any possible difference in airfare
  • Cancel your itinerary for a credit which is equivalent to the value of the ticket to be used towards the cost of a flight operated by Delta Air Lines in the future
  • Earlier access to the overhead storage bins
  • Eligibility to purchase upgrades
  • Earn SkyMiles — although not all that many of them
  • Earn credit towards Medallion elite status

Similarly, a Basic Economy fare between Atlanta and Los Angeles costs $270.00. You can instead “upgrade” yourself by purchasing a Main Cabin economy fare for $319.00, which is an extra $49.00.

Source: Delta Air Lines.

Final Boarding Call

In the past, I would have absolutely said that the $50.00 was not worth the price of “upgrading” from a Basic Economy fare to a Main Cabin economy fare — especially when only three restrictions differentiated the two fares when I was a passenger on a Basic Economy ticket back in 2014:

  • 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

At that time, Delta Air Lines charged fees for changes to most restricted itineraries; so the policy of no permitted changes was not much of a deal breaker — but most of the fees for changes were eliminated on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 with the exception of Basic Economy fares.

Today, an itinerary with a Basic Economy fare is more relaxed, as it can be canceled — but that cancellation will cost $99.00 per person, which would significantly surpass the aforementioned extra $50.00 which was initially saved by choosing a Basic Economy fare, as the value of Main Cabin economy fares will be credited for the future purchase of a tickets with Delta Air Lines. If you rarely cancel flights — or never cancel flights — this will likely not effect you.

As for the earning of SkyMiles and credit towards Medallion elite status, the earnings with a Main Cabin economy fare are:

  • Newark: 620 SkyMiles; 1,506 Medallion Qualification Miles; and $124 Medallion Qualification Dollars
  • Los Angeles: 1,345 SkyMiles; 3,892 Medallion Qualification Miles; and $269 Medallion Qualification Dollars

Unless you are very close to a meaningful threshold, I do not believe those earnings are worth an extra $50.00.

If you travel light and carry only one bag, earlier access to the overhead storage bins may not mean much to you — but if you are pushing the limits of what is permitted to carry aboard the airplane, that value may suddenly increase.

Purchasing upgrades may mean nothing to you if you never do that anyway.

Also, the difference in price between the Basic Economy fare and the Main Cabin economy fare will not always be approximately $50.00, as such factors as distance, markets served, and limited time sales all can vary that difference in price.

I will likely consider the purchase of a Basic Economy fare in the future with Delta Air Lines — and I would also consider spending the extra money for a Main Cabin economy fare under the right conditions and the combination of value and return on my investment — but I will also first shop around with other airlines, as most of the benefits of Basic Economy with Delta Air Lines have been eliminated…

…and Delta Air Lines usually has better schedules with more frequencies of flights than the ultra-low-cost carriers with which Basic Economy fares compete, which does give Delta Air Lines a competitive edge…

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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