Under the old and still current method, travelers on the same ticket dropped to the lowest status on the reservation. A Diamond and a Silver would only clear as Silver. When I met SkyMiles representatives several years ago, they viewed this as a feature asked for by their top customers. The idea was that the 4 solo business travelers get upgraded ahead of a family of 4 that only has one elite status flyer.
To partly neutralize this you can ‘split the PNR’ so that each traveler has their own reservation and is upgraded on their own. My wife and I would split, I would be in a window, she in the aisle I want, I would be upgraded, she would be up front, and I would take her seat. The downside is in case of travel disruptions. A example was last summer New York – Charleston, I was Diamond, my wife Platinum, my mother-in-law no status. LGA had a power outage and before we knew of the change my wife and I rebooked on the next nonstop, while my mother-in-law was being routed New York – Boston – Detroit (overnight) – Charleston. We got it resovled by calling in time to snag a seat but if together the system would have put us all on the nonstop.
Now Delta, after implementing treatment of Comfort+ Seats as upgrades this week (beware the middle seat upgrade), is reversing its companion policy by this announcement to include up to one companion at the highest elite status on the reservation. Parties of more than 2 should split reservations, it seems.
I have mixed feelings on this. As both a Delta Diamond and United 1K, I am consistently upgraded on Delta while on United I have had 4 upgrades in the past 3 years. United’s upgrade list has several features that work against my travel, their inclusion of companions being one. Clearly I would prefer one policy when I am solo and another when with family in tow.
Last month Delta pushed fare class under elite status on the upgrade list, so there is a pattern of movement to increase importance of elite status. Makes sense since plenty of elites are earning significantly fewer redeemable miles under the revenue-based system, while those earning more are often indifferent to the heaps of miles they now earn.