Delta announced this week that it will be rolling out a new service that allows its SkyMiles Medallion members to purchase an upgrade on its fleet of private jets. Delta Private Jets is actually the fourth largest operator of private jets according to the airline, and I’m surprised they didn’t make this move earlier.
A large number of private jets fly empty on repositioning flights. Tahsir explained yesterday how he was able to snag a discounted ticket because someone needed to move the plane from Los Angeles to San Diego for another customer. Those offers appear at the last minute, and I know I would rarely use them because I have to plan many trips around my wife’s work schedule. And although I know of several operators if that weren’t an issue, most people have only vague recollection. Buying a seat on a positioning flight is simply not something an average traveler remembers to consider.
But Delta has an advantage most private jet operators don’t: They already have a huge customer base and they know their travel plans in advance! Delta isn’t just offering the chance to fly on a private jet for a couple hundred dollars. They’re going to the people to whom they already sold tickets for a flight from New York to Atlanta, whose schedules line up with that particular repositioning flight, and telling them, “Hey, we have this plane that’s going from the same place you are to the same place you want to be. Are you interested in paying for a better experience?”
United and American can’t copy this move. Doing so would require buying a fleet of regional jets. Other private jet operators can’t copy this move. They don’t have scheduled operations from which to pull interested people to fill their empty planes. Delta has its feet in both worlds may have found a way to make operating private jets more profitable. (Airline Reporter has a review of Delta Private Jets if you want to learn more.)
This is good news for average Delta customers, too, even if they never pay for the private jet experience. A first class cabin only has so many seats. Imagine a few of the people who bought first class tickets — or who were hoping for an upgrade — instead decide to take up an offer from Delta Private Jets. That reduces competition for first class seats and hopefully makes additional upgrades more likely. The new plan not only fills empty private jets but also increases satisfaction on scheduled flights.
Who Gets Upgraded
Upgrade offers will be for $300 to $800 and targeted at customers with SkyMiles Medallion status. This includes Silver Medallion members, who must earn a minimum of 25,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles and spend $3,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars in a calendar year. Customers will receive an offer as early as 48 hours before departure.
Where You Can Get Upgraded
Delta has regulatory approval for 160 domestic routes. However, it plans to roll out the new offer with flights between New York, Atlanta, and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. How quickly it expands will depend on its popularity, but I don’t expect to ever see it on transcon routes. Remember that these are meant as repositioning flights, and there’s probably a plane closer to Los Angeles than flying it in from New York. I would be surprised to see such offers on flights longer than 1,000 miles.
What If You Want a Private Jet Every Time?
If you’re not interested in chancing an upgrade — or sharing your private jet experience with strangers — Delta Private Jets does sell memberships like almost every other private jet club. Plans start at $100,000 pre-purchase amount that can be used as needed. The cheapest jet at that level costs $5,500 per hour and seats 6-8.
That’s actually not bad if you plan to bring the family. As an added bonus, members receive Diamond Medallion status and a 20% discount off full-fare domestic and international flights with Delta Air Lines.