[UPDATE, May 25, 2016: ￼￼￼Delta now is selling Comfort Plus as a distinct fare type to, from and between certain Asia/Pacific and Latin America markets. For itineraries including those markets, Comfort Plus fares also are available for any associated domestic segments. Exclusions include Argentina, Brazil, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In excluded markets, Comfort Plus remains a post-purchase add-on. The airline noted that Comfort Plus “is most easily purchased” when booking in a direct channel, though Delta “remains engaged with distribution partners” to enable such purchases through travel agencies. The airline indicated that these fares are being sold neither through the Amadeus global distribution system in Asia/Pacific markets nor the TravelSky GDS at any point of sale.]
[UPDATE, April 14, 2016: ￼￼￼Delta announced that corporate clients and travel agencies now can apply ticket designators to Delta Comfort Plus fares (which take effect for travel from May 16), First Class F-Upsell and Basic Economy bookings. “Agency and corporate incentives can now be easily applied to these branded products,” according to the airline. “Corporate Priority and recognition benefits will also apply.”]
Delta’s premium-economy product no longer will be an ancillary item that travelers only select after purchasing a regular economy ticket. For travel from May 16, 2016, Comfort Plus is its own distinct fare at the point of sale for domestic U.S. flights and services to Canada. That makes it easier for agents and travelers to find and book. It brings premium economy into the corporate discount discussion and prompts another look at class-of-service policies.
Delta says Comfort Plus is for sale in global distribution systems “in the same manner as other fares and will not require updates to travel agency systems.” Corporate travelers using a self-booking tool can find Comfort Plus fares when shopping for premium economy services.
Travelers will know the cost upfront rather than adding on the upgrade fee after purchasing an economy ticket. Some loyalty program members still get complimentary upgrades to Comfort Plus (lots of info here) — if there’s any space.
United Airlines and American Airlines don’t sell their premium-economy products as distinct fares. American provides free upgrades to Main Cabin Extra for customers purchasing full-fare economy fares and those in higher loyalty program tiers. Some other loyalty program members can upgrade at a discount. United, too, gives free upgrades to Economy Plus for high-ranking frequent flyers.
By making the product a fare (W class), Delta can tinker more with the price. Managing director of merchandising Andrew Wingrove said the Comfort Plus cost always had been variable, with route-specific prices that differed during peak versus non-peak times, for example. Compared to thoroughly revenue-managed fares, though, upgrade pricing was “not that scientific, which is one of the beauties of making it a fare,” Wingrove said. “It enables it to be a bit more dynamic.”
Does that mean it’ll cost more than before? The Cranky Flier checked out some pricing, and wrote: “So far, it’s mixed.”
Advito vice president Bob Brindley said it may be instructive to look at how airlines price a first class fare versus a first class upgrade. “The first class fare is priced much higher than what the upgrade would be priced at,” he said. “The difference is, you bought the first class fare that’s fully refundable and can have a corporate discount, or you buy the upgrade from the economy ticket that’s not refundable and you can’t discount it.”
In the initial phase, corporate discounts don’t apply to Comfort Plus fares as Delta sorts out ticket designator codes (though they do count for agency incentives and commissions). Wingrove sad the airline is working with GDSs and online booking tool providers to fully apply its new fare basis code structure, which will allow for premium-economy corporate discounts (and wrap in Corporate Priority recognition benefits).
Delta also is working to “properly merchandize” its branded fares by bringing seat maps, product images and descriptors to more points of sale. “We have been working actively with Travelport, Amadeus and Sabre,” Wingrove said. “Later next month Concur will be offering something similar.”
At the same time, Delta’s sales team is preparing to discuss with customers how Comfort Plus ‘W’ class could fit into corporate programs.
Comfort Plus provides priority boarding, dedicated overhead space and more legroom (but not free Wi-Fi). Now, travelers can book it once for the entire trip instead of securing separate upgrades for each direction. Travel agencies don’t need to process separate transactions for the ticket and the ancillary fee. Refunds now are based on fare rules; Comfort Plus as an ancillary had been nonrefundable.
Up to this point, travelers without sufficient status to get free upgrades to premium economy might have received them through their company’s preferred relationships. Under the waivers and favors umbrella, it had been a manual process before airlines starting bringing in new automation.
“Now that it’s being sold upfront, its good for the corporation in that they can more effectively manage this the at point of sale,” said GoldSpring Consulting partner Neil Hammond. “Introduce it as a policy or not.”
Advito’s Brindley said companies with policies stipulating economy class for flights below a specified length and business class above now have “a third level that you might have to factor in between.”
“When do they allow those fare classes to be booked?” he asked. “In almost all cases, upgrades are not reimbursable. Will they block W class same way they block first class?”
Delta had been using W class for international bookings in joint-venture partners’ premium-economy class. Will Delta extend Comfort Plus as its own fare to routes beyond the United States and Canada? “I’ll never say never,” Wingrove said, “but there are no plans to share at this time.”