Delta first class upgrades should be even harder to get in 2015

Delta expects to sell more domestic first class seats next year. That means fewer upgrades for frequent fliers. Photo: Delta Air Lines. 

Delta expects to sell more domestic first class seats next year. That means fewer upgrades for frequent fliers. Photo: Delta Air Lines. 

If you're a Delta Air Lines frequent flier, you'll likely have more trouble scoring free upgrades to first class next year on domestic flights. 

Delta executives told investors this week that they want to achieve a paid first class load factor of 50% in 2015, five percentage points higher than this year.  That means only about half of all seats will be available to passengers who aren't paying for first class. 

As recently as 2011, Delta sold far fewer domestic first class seats. That year, Delta told investors, only about 31% of first class passengers actually paid for the product. The number rose to 36% in 2012 and 40% in 2013. 

This is good news if you're a Delta shareholder, and it makes sense. How many other industries essentially give away their best product for free? Yes, the seats go to the Delta's top customers, but I'm still not sure they should be free. 

It's not all bad news for frequent fliers, either. Many of them will still be able to find free seats in Delta's premium economy section, which is undergoing a brand refresh. And generally, domestic first class fares have come down. So if customers really want to sit in first class, they can pay for the seats.