One of the biggest perks for many frequent flyers is the complimentary upgrades that come with elite status. At the highest end of privilege, members of legacy airline loyalty programs enjoy space-available, free upgrades to premium cabins in most domestic markets and certificates for the occasional international upgrade.

As loyalty programs have evolved over the last few years, however, those upgrades have been harder to secure. On the availability side, fewer upgrades are now open because airlines are now aggressively pricing premium cabins and actually selling the seats. When the seats do become available for upgrade, the process is also now harder.

Recently, American changed its upgrade policy to prioritize higher-spend travelers when considering two passengers at similar elite tiers. And both Delta and United recently took away complimentary upgrades for frequent flyers on the majority of premium transcontinental routes.

Now, Delta is reversing that policy. In a series of updates announced to its premium cabin customers last week, Delta said it would be bringing back same-day, complimentary upgrades on premium transcontinental routes — even those that operate with lie flat seats.

The upgrades will be limited to the day of travel and won’t clear in advance like typical elite upgrades. However, each premium seat will theoretically be filled with a paying or elite passenger under this new policy. Like typical complimentary upgrades, priority for the open seats will also fall to highest-tier Diamond elites first, so low-ranking SkyMiles members may find an upgrade unlikely.

Still, Delta’s move last week may be an indication that it is willing to start giving more perks to its premium SkyMiles members. As Delta’s loyalty program has shifted to a revenue-based model over the last several years, SkyMiles and the perks that it offers have contracted significantly to keep profits high. American and Delta too, have made similar moves.

Instead of profits, Delta now seems to be more motivated by competition. JetBlue’s premium Mint cabin has been making inroads with business travelers as many start considering product over loyalty. And all three legacy carriers have boosted catering options on transcontinental routes, largely in an effort to claim that they provide a marginally better product.

With free upgrades now in play for some SkyMiles members, Delta has a temporary competitive edge over JetBlue and United. American already offers the upgrades. Once the other carriers reach parity and provided profits stay strong, Delta would likely move onto the next small incremental improvement.

— Grant Martin

Skift Stories and More Expert Insight

IHG Partners With OpenTable and Grubhub to Reward Loyalty Members When They Eat Out — or In: InterContinental Hotels Group wants to make it more rewarding for its more than 100 million IHG Rewards Club members to book restaurants on OpenTable or order takeout on Grubhub.

Gulf Airlines Targeted by New Senate Tax Bill: American airlines’ assault on their Gulf rivals just stepped up a level.

UK Asks Wealthiest Flyers to Fund New Departure Tax Freeze: Travelers flying long-haul from Britain in private planes and the premium cabins of jetliners will foot the bill for freezing departure taxes in coach, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said.

Delta Puts a Better Business Class on Routes Where Travelers Will Buy It: This weekend, Delta Air Lines announced it will add flatbeds to several domestic routes this spring, while removing them from a few international ones.

EasyJet Increases Fares Thanks to Problems at Rival Airlines: EasyJet Plc said its fares are set to gain this winter, buoyed by the collapse of carriers including UK-based Monarch Airlines Ltd. and capacity cuts at main European rival Ryanair Holdings Plc.

British Airways’ New ‘Walk of Shame’ Boarding Policy Provokes Furious Reaction: You’re only buying the flying: That’s the deal when you book a basic economy ticket on British Airways. To qualify for BA’s lowest fares on domestic and European flights, you surrender the right to check a bag and pre-select a seat. And, starting December 12, you’ll be last to board the plane.

When Does It Make Sense to Book Delta Basic Economy? Basic economy as a concept is insulting and greedy. In a time when airlines are hugely profitable, they’re implementing even more customer-unfriendly policies, and then they have the gall to couch an across-the-board fare hike as a way to give passengers more choices. They can all afford to generate some much-needed goodwill among their customer base, and they’ve chosen not to. And the fact that they all seem to copy each other like mindless parrots actually robs us of meaningful choice.

Sign up for Skift’s Business of Loyalty Newsletter

Photo Credit: A man sleeping in Delta One on an Airbus 330-300. One of the biggest perks for many frequent flyers is the complimentary upgrades that come with elite status. Delta Air Lines