Will you lose your upgrade chance if you board a Delta flight?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Upgrades. #TheReasonToBeDiamond (or any medallion level for that matter). If we do not clear before the trip most of us stalk the “GIDS” or Gate Information Display System that shows where we are on the upgrade list or we use the Delta phone app to see where we are and if we have cleared.

Much of the Delta upgrade system is automated. That is until it is handed over to gate control at the 3 hr mark. This is when things are subject to many factors including what many call “Shena” moments or shenanigans!

Now to be fair, an upgrade is a gift from the airline. They can do anything they want with them. If you paid for a coach seat you should get a coach seat. If you want to fly in first then pay for first. I know this argument well. But, the airline does promote the fact that medallions can get “unlimited complementary upgrades” so it is not like we are asking for something not offered already.

Delta would not comment if there is an official policy on gate upgrades. What often happens is you will hear:

“The flight has checked in full please board when your zone is called”.

However, that is different from:

“First class has BOARDED FULL”.

I have seen many times and it has happened to me, and I think this is the right call, when first class seats open up that a medallion from the back is moved up. But as you can see from this FlyerTalk post, there are also times that the gate agents’ “discretion” comes into play.

I have in the past always boarded expecting the gate agents to do the “right thing”. After all, if you wait to board till final call you may not find overhead space. However, if you wait, you will not lose your place on the upgrade list and may just get one of those open seats that “had checked in full”.

Here is how I am going to play this. I am going to wait. There is always someplace for a medallion to put one bag. Even if it has to go in the coat locker there will be space. I would not want to risk giving up an upgrade when I could, for waiting a little bit, get that last seat. What do you think? Do you wait? I would love to know! – René

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. I wait also, but I always make it a point to find a lull in the activity at the gate and ask (very politely and patiently) if there’s any chance at an upgrade. Sometimes I just point out my height and say I could use a little extra legroom. Once when flying on my birthday I was given a “birthday upgrade” (is this DL policy?). I once asked because I was flying with my younger daughter and it was her first flight. Even after boarding the flight (and with NO status at all), I noticed there were open seats up front. I asked the FA, and she put me up there. Hey, it never hurts to ask, and most times I just get a chuckle – but it has paid off for me in the past.

  2. Unless my upgrade is cleared, I always wait to board as long as I possibly can. This is easier for me as I fly alone and always have a carry on that fits under the seat, so I don’t need overhead space. But, if I’m not in 1st Class with a predeparture drink then why on earth would I want to get on a plane packed with people for any longer than I have to be? As a medallion that could mean I spend an extra 30 minutes or more sitting in an uncomfortable airplane seat shoulder to shoulder with other people. No thanks. Boarding as close to last as possible is always my favored strategy. I always say my goal is to be the last one on, first one off.

  3. Don in ATL Reply

    I like Russ’s modus operandi. As to shenanigans, I can attest to them because I hear about them from DL employees I know. For instance, a DL employee friend of mine who was flying non rev was seated near the front of coach. When a seat in First turned into a no-show, the gate agent simply tapped the DL employee to go up, leaving all the DM and PM’s back in coach. My friend (who is also a gate agent when he works) explained that it happens a lot because it is a lot easier to do that than to go back to the computer and find the next Medallion on the list and then locate him/her and move them and all their bags from the back up to the front.

  4. I never wait to board and have always been pulled up front by fa or GA when I have been next for the upgrade.

  5. I always board and have been pulled up by the gate agent a number of times. I even refused an upgrade once as I was all settled in and in a good seat. I am running 90% plus in upgrades this year as a Diamond and maybe I am losing my desire to fight for the extra upgrade…economy comfort once in a while is just fine.

  6. I would wait only if I am #1 on the list and it is a long flight or some other circumstance where the upgrade makes a big difference. For me, waiting and getting the “upgrade denied” speech from the GA just adds to the humiliation of the perp walk back to coach:)

  7. I go ahead and board, even travelling often, first class doesn’t matter for me on most flights due to the short duration (under 3-4 hours)

  8. Chris Bastian Reply

    On my last flight back from San Francisco, the Gate Agent pointedly advised the upgrade list NOT to Board until the available seats cleared, or else they would lose their opportunity.

  9. Andre Dowdie Reply

    Here’s my firsthand experience just this week. This Tuesday 10/22/2013, I had a flight to LAX connecting in JFK. There were 4 seats available in BE on the JFK leg. JFK doesn’t clear ahead in my experience so I knew it would come down to the very last minute at the gate. However when I got to the SC in Term 4, I was advised that they had 1 seat in BE and I was #2 on the list so at that point I totally accepted the reality that I would be flying in EC. I decided to work a little later than usual in the SC since there was no rush to plead my case for an upgrade and I only had a small carry-on. To give you a sense of my timing: they were announcing last call as I was walking to the gate. When I showed my ticket out came 5A. My previous seat was 14B! This was the 76W. So I will always wait unless I have my regular carryon where bulkhead space can be an issue.

  10. I do not wait, although I might for a longer flight if I’m #1 on the list. No sense standing around waiting if you’re not at the top because it’s highly unlikely more than one person would miss. I’ve been happy at the number of upgrades I’ve gotten this year just as a GM. I’m flirting with PM for next year and am working on making that a reality. If that happens, I’m definitely getting the Reserve card to get up to the top of the PM list.

  11. Simple solution: ask the gate agent! She will tell you whether they will upgrade the next person on the list regardless of whether you boarded (as any good GA should) or whether you’ll lose your place if you board. I only bother asking if I’m close to the top of the list

  12. I’m with the group above that does not wait. Just last week, I was flying from LAX to JFK. I was #11 for 10 avail upgrades. I went ahead and boarded my EC seat, and a few minutes later, fa pulled me up front.

  13. I’ve been waiting to try the “wait” strategy when I thought it might make a difference and when I had enough time after landing to not care if I had to gate check my suitcase. Today I got my chance. I had been in position +2 (that is, #9 when 7 seats were available) all weekend before my Monday morning flight, and that was the case when I arrived at the gate. Gate upgrades cleared, and then 1st class boarded. After most were boarded and before Sky Priority boarding began, I was paged to the desk, and the GA told me to stand by as I might be upgraded. In fact, one reserved seat in FC was not showing as checked in. At about 15 mins before takeoff, the GA called me again and gave me the seat of the no show. Worked like a charm. Thanks for the advice.

  14. Pingback: The guessing "games" on the JFK elite upgrades to LAX/SFO/SEA continues! - Delta Points - Delta Points

  15. Flying from MSP to SFO on a 767-300 last month, I ended up with an empty seat next to me in 1st, even though there had been 17 people on the upgrade list before I boarded.

    I was appalled, and delighted. But I’m not planning on boarding any time there’s a shred of a chance I might get an upgrade

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