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By Harriet Baskas

Delta Air Lines will soon begin offering a new upgrade option to select fliers that will literally land them outside the plane: a seat on a private jet. With the perk, Delta Air Lines has leap-frogged the competition in the contest to offer innovative frequent flier perks – and earn more money.

As first reported by Bloomberg News, Delta will begin offering the private jet upgrade in the coming week to select members of Delta’s SkyMiles program at the elite or “medallion” level. The program will offer private jet upgrades for between $300 to $800 on planes in the Delta Private Jets fleet that are not otherwise in use, Bloomberg said.

During the roll-out phase, a very limited number of upgrades will be available on private jets based at the carrier’s east coast hubs. But Delta notes that when available, the “surprise-and-delight” upgrades will include transportation to an airport’s private aviation area and complimentary on-board catering.

A Delta private jet. Select members of the airline's SkyMiles program will be eligible for flights aboard the cushy aircraft when they aren't otherwise booked.

Delta has 66 light, midsize, super-midsize and large jets in its private jet fleet, which are usually only available on a charter basis, either on a pay-as-you-go rate or at a “reduced” hourly rate that starts at $5,500 for those who have pre-purchased at least $100,000 worth of flight time.

As with other private jet fleets, planes often sit unused or fly empty on one or more legs when they are being repositioned after dropping off paying customers.

The new upgrade option will offer those “empty legs” to Delta’s top customers via email up to 48 hours before a scheduled commercial flight, and include those who have reached the lowest “medallion” SkyMiles frequent flier tier with 25,000 miles, 30 segments or a spend of $3,000 in a year.

Rewards in Delta's SkyMiles Will Soon Depend on Demand

“This is a win for Delta in that they gain modest revenue on otherwise empty flights and a win for passengers who get a brief taste of extreme luxury,” said Jason Rabinowitz, data research manager for Routehappy, which rates commercial flights according to amenities and data that influence a passenger experience.

“If you're flying on a private jet, you're probably going to be pretty happy,” said Rabinowitz. “Plenty of legroom, no TSA to deal with, personal attention. Some first class cabins may feel like a private jet, but this actually will be.”

The new program also offers a potential “win” for another set of Delta’s passengers who won’t have the option of purchasing a private jet upgrade, said Scott Mackenzie of the Travel Codex website.

“When some customers accept this offer to fly on Delta Private Jets, it could make it easier for others to purchase or receive a complimentary upgrade on Delta’s scheduled flights,” he said.