Delta’s “basic economy fares” and their upsell offers are coming under heavy criticism.
Carriers grab your attention with a low fare but then try to sell you a roomier seat, early boarding privileges or a refundable ticket, among other extras.
A passenger rights group says Delta Air Lines has pushed the tactic to new levels by shaming travelers into buying expensive upgrades.
When you choose a basic economy fare on Delta’s website, the final page before you confirm the purchase now lists several restrictions you face if you buy the cheap ticket. It warns that you will be last to board and last to access overhead bin space. It says you will get no seat assignment, no refunds, no ticket changes, no early boarding and no stand-by travel changes.
I was on MSNBC talking about this issue yesterday morning. With a little bit of context Delta actually seems pretty reasonable here (and I’m a huge Delta SkyMiles critic overall, as regular readers know, but have to call each issue as I see them).
Delta introduced these ‘basic economy’ fares to compete against Spirit Airlines where Spirit is offering super low fares on non-stop routes Delta is flying. Spirit doesn’t offer included seat assignments, and charges myriad fees that Delta does not (like for carry on bags, and Delta still serves free soft drinks in economy even to passengers on these fares which Spirit does not). So Delta offers cheaper flights with fewer inclusions.
The fares don’t have to be limited to routes where the airline competes with Spirit, they can take their planes and mimic Spirit as well. There’s nothing wrong with that, other than the potential for customer confusion and dilution of their brand.
But that’s also why it’s important for consumers to know and understand what they’re buying since these fares are different than what you’d normally expect/get from Delta.
Spirit Airlines has some of the highest consumer complaints in the industry. Most of those complaints are said to come from people buying those tickets through online travel agencies where they don’t get the really clear disclosures Spirit offers on their website. When consumers are told in advance what to expect really clearly they’re happier with their choice.
Of course Delta would like customers to spend more on their tickets. And in fact they do, I’m told that they have a 65% upsell rate to higher fares from people who start out at basic economy. But customers need to be presented with the choice of which product to pay for.
I don’t really think there’s that much “shaming” going on when someone is alone at their computer screen buying an airline ticket. Or when their boarding group is called last. Everyone else has already boarded, so early boarders aren’t staring at you over it, and someone has to be last to board by definition – that’s always been true.
If Delta didn’t make it abundantly clear what features ‘basic economy’ fares don’t include they’d be getting hammered. We should applaud them for their dedication to transparency. And we should insist they apply it consistently across their business. Like with SkyMiles.
What does strike me as dirty pool about these fares is that elites don’t get upgrades. With Delta there’s a minimum revenue requirement on an individual trip for elite benefits, not just minimum revenue across the year to earn status.
Delta has minimum revenue requirements for elite status, so presumably customers fly on these fares are doing so only occasionally. Delta sees the customers as profitable enough to reward — just not all the time.
Delta’s elite frequent flyers need to shout from the rooftops, “I am not my fare.” I am a valued customer, or I am not, and how welcome I’m made to feel should not change between Tuesday on a full fare and Thursday on a discount one when I’m buying a ticket pretty much every week.
For the rest of customers though Delta is (for the most part) probably doing what they ought to do.