Delta Introduces Latest Commercial Airline Perk: Upgrades to Private Jets

Delta's latest upgrade is even better than first class.

— -- For a few very frequent fliers, an upgrade no longer means a seat in first class. On Delta, the very best customers will have the option to fly private instead.

The airline calls the option to fly private "a new surprise-and-delight program" limited to Medallion members traveling on select commercial Delta flights. Being a Medallion member on Delta requires a minimum silver-level spend of $3,000 per year and 25,000 miles or 30 flight segments. The highest level of membership requires a $15,000 spend per year and 125,000 miles or 140 flight segments.

But by opting to travel in a private jet, “you are removed from the airport aggravation,” Delta Private Jets COO David Sneed told ABC. “You’re whisked away onto the airplane, the door closes, and we taxi toward the runway.”

The private upgrade opportunities will be limited to select passengers in specific markets where an available Delta Private Jets aircraft is otherwise not in use, the airline said. Customers will be contacted by Delta Vacations via email and offered the upgrade for a fee, which includes transportation to the airport’s private aviation area and complimentary on-board catering.

The cost of the upgrade is presently set between $300 - $800.

Delta hopes that once passengers experience private travel, they won’t want to go back.

“If you’ve never been on a private jet, it’s very difference from what you experience in the commercial space,” Delta Private Jets president Erik Snell told ABC. “You’re essentially buying the entire plane, whereas on the commercial side, you’re buying a seat.”

“Private travel offers concierge-level services that Delta’s premium customers are sure to appreciate, and Delta Vacations is pleased to offer opportunities for these experiences,” said John Caldwell, president of Delta Vacations. “This is an innovative way for us to thank valued Delta customers for their loyalty.”

The upgrade option also solves an age-old industry problem: monetizing so-called “empty-leg” flights. According to Snell, 20 to 40 percent of a private jet’s fly time is spent re-basing, sans passengers. By matching commercial passengers with rebasing jets, the company can cut down on empty leg travel.

The new program, which the airline said is patent-pending, is a joint effort of Delta, Delta Vacations and Delta Private Jets.

Because Delta is the only U.S. airline that also owns a private jet company, Snell said, it’s uniquely positioned to offer the upgrade.