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Reader guest post: Ever been upgraded & then downgraded by Delta? Lee Ann’s story!

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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.

Delta 767-300 new business class seats - Delta Points blog review (6)

Upgrades. Medallions are rather, shall we say, interested in them. One very frequent flyer coined the term “tapgrade” to describe the feverish tapping of the Fly Delta app to see if we have moved up or down the upgrade list and if we have at last cleared.

Cleared. That is when the sense of relief and at the same time a wave of excitement hits you; you will be riding in first class on the next flight. Your stress is over and it is time to look forward to your pre-flight beverage and all the other perks that go along with your upgraded seat. But is cleared just what it says it is? Maybe not.

Boarded. Ahhh.. the sense of relief is now mixed with delight as you relax in your seat, drinking a cool refreshing beverage. You feel great anticipation of the wonders to come in your first class cabin seat which is now yours for the duration of the flight. What if, at this moment, the gate agent comes onboard with a worried expression and heads in your direction? What could this be about? Did you leave something behind at the gate that the agent is kindly returning to you? Your mind races with the possibilities, but would being asked to now forfeit your prized first class seat be among them in your mind?

Something just like this happened to a reader, Lee Ann. Think how you would have reacted as she tells us her adventure:

Hi Rene & Delta Points readers.

On Friday of Labor Day weekend I flew from LAX-MIA. I am a Gold Medallion & I was upgraded at the airport (saw my name go off the upgrade list and they gave me a new boarding pass) from Economy Comfort into First. I boarded the plane. I started to enjoy a glass of wine, and settled in.

Then, right at the end of the boarding process, when everyone was on board and the gate agent is closing the flight, she stepped in front of me and confirmed my name. Then she told me that a family of three had purchased the first class seat she upgraded me into and showed up at the last-minute, despite having had their names called several times.

She then moved me and another gentleman into different seats. I was put into a middle seat while the other guy got an aisle because that’s all she had left. We were both put in Economy Comfort. All she did was apologize – even when I expressed that I had lost my original seat, which was a window.

It wasn’t until I got up to use the bathroom that the flight attendants recognized me and apologized further, and offered me wine and snacks.

When I wrote to Delta, they gave me 7,500 miles. I was surprised at this “gesture” considering that they have given me more miles for dirty tray tables and poor service from flight attendants.

The flight was a red-eye and I barely slept because I was in the middle seat and not prepared at all for this. The gate doors should have been closed at the point where they revoked the upgrade and moved my seat.

I really don’t understand why they wouldn’t just rebook those people on another flight. Actually, I do understand – they paid and I didn’t. I’m just a GM.

Have you ever heard of this happening? The flight attendants were surprised and said they had never experienced this before.

PS – Delta did follow up with me and I was offered another 7,500 miles as an apology and shared in part with me:

“Our gate agents have many responsibilities and tasks to perform prior to departure and the last thing we ever want to do is provide a customer a complimentary upgrade and then soon thereafter have to ask you to move to another seat in coach.”

Thank you Lee Ann for sharing your experience. Had this have been me, I would have reacted differently. I would have pushed it. I was boarded and upgraded. I was in my seat. I would have said that announcements are made all the time that 1st has checked in full; to me sitting in my seat, boarded, gives me the right to that seat. I realize that refusing to comply with crew instructions carries a HUGE risk, but I would have said if you are pulling me off the flight now out of my assigned seat I will expect compensation and a 1st class seat on the next flight. Bottom line I would not have just caved and taken whatever seat was now open. At least I would have demanded my old seat back and have that flyer moved as well!

What do you say dear readers. Was a token 7,500 Skymiles enough compensation for this event? Was 15,000 enough and what should have been offered the first time? Would one of Delta’s 1 year free upgrade certificates been the proper compensation? Would you have caused a “ruckus” or just followed the gate agent’s instructions? Delta does read the blog so chime in and tell them what you think! – René


Did Delta do the "right thing" or make it right?

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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. Wow this is a tricky one. I think if I were in Lee Ann’s position I probably would’ve ended up in that middle seat stewing over what I should have done. This happening right before takeoff would’ve been so confusing and it wouldn’t have crossed my mind (until during the flight) to say that I expect the UG on the next flight. I think that call is the right one and no, I don’t think 7,500 skypesos are “sorry” enough. 15k from the beginning is better.

    I’m more confused as to how this could have happened at all. If the seat was already claimed by a paid passenger that had checked in, then how could it have cleared so (seemingly) early? Seems like it should’ve been a situation where someone was moved up from coach after the boarding doors were shut and the other passengers were guaranteed to not make the flight. If she followed standard protocol then I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often.

  2. I had booked 1st class seats from MYar-SEA and the return flight was in lie flats.

    That flight canceled and we were told we had been given coach seats from SEA to SLC to ATL to MYR instead. The DM rep basically said they didn’t HAVE to honor the class of ticket, they just had to get us to MYR.

    If this is true or not is not my point here. My only point is how am I supposed to play a game when the rules are not set?

    Either they honor the class of ticket or they don’t. Which one is it?

  3. PS: No compensation was offered either…

    The difference was I didn’t take no for an answer and had a DM supervisor override the system to get us 2 seats in 1st class. Unfortunately, none of the flights had power or offered anything more than a snack. That ended up as a 7 hour day with almost zero connection time until we got to ATL to get a meal.

    She gave up to easy!

  4. I think the total amount of 15k miles is just compensation. Getting 15k miles for basically moving from a window seat to a middle seat in coach is pretty good when you think about it! With just 7.5 total, I would have been upset, but doubling it is enough to put this behind me if I was in that situation.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. 15,000 miles is fair compensation. But I think they never should have downgraded you. The late arriving family should have been offered seats in coach, or to be accommodated on another flight. If Delta was still willing to let the family show up and sit in first, then they shouldn’t have given away their seats.

  6. Flying Chief Reply

    Yes, it happened to me on a flight from DCA to SLC. upgraded, then as the door was about to close, I was moved to a middle seat in the last row. I’m 99 % sure my seat was taken by a FAM. I know that Delta has no control over them, so I didn’t expect much and got nothing.

  7. I wonder how SM2015 will affect giving SMs as compensation for stuff like this. In 2015, for the vast majority those SMs will be a lot harder to come by through flying in terms of the money that will be necessary to get them.

  8. While I haven’t been pulled out of first class back to coach, I have had this happen when getting a standby seat on several occasions only to be pulled off the plane after having been in the seat! Now that’s embarrassing! Of course, when boarding as a stanby at that point there is no overhead space, so I ended up having to gate check my bag. When being asked to get off, I asked for my luggage and the agent acts suprised! Since this has happened more than once, I stand in the jetbridge while they retreive my luggage. First time it happened gate agent gave me a confirmed first class seat on my next segment. (May have gotten anyway as I do have DM status), next time it happened was Atlanta… and I can say I never have any luck with getting an Atlanta gate agent do anything but argue!

  9. Life happens. I think this customer has too high expectations and 7500 miles were too many! They not only gave her economy comfort, miles and wine, and apologized, she wants more? Its unfortunate that she lost her window seat and there was some inconvenience.
    Every wonder why miles are being devalued? Too many people complaining about little inconveniences like dirty tray tables and thinking 7500 miles aren’t enough.

  10. As I posted in a a previous thread, something similar happened recently on husbands flight. DM guy was first on the upgrade list and there was one unclaimed seat in first. He waited until the very end to board and walked by the open first class seat. He asked the flight attendant if he could take that seat since boarding was finishing up. She said, “let me check” and must have gone out to the gate agent to enquire. In the interim, somebody came and sat in the first class seat. Flight attendant came back and got DM, moved him to first class and the other guy to the back. The gate agent came back, expressed her displeasure, DM was embarrassed. My husband asked the guy who was bumped back why he thought he was bumped back. Turns out he was the husband of a friend of the gate agent. Not good, delta, not good.

  11. If the family showed up late, then they should face the consequences. My husband and I once showed up 5 minutes late to check-in and missed our flight. It was our fault. We did not fight it one bit. I was just kicking myself for not getting there just a bit earlier.

    In Lee Ann’s scenario, I probably would have protested, but I probably wouldn’t have pushed it too far b/c don’t want to make a scene, although I think anyone who does choose to push it further on the spot would be perfectly justified b/c what the GA did was wrong if in fact the family missed last call and boarding window.

    With such close quarters and everyone (except that family) boarded, I probably would have waited until after the fact to raise a well-deserved stink with Delta. And the 1st offer of 7,500 miles is not nearly enough for the inconvenience and humiliation. But I applaud anyone who would stand their ground on the spot.

  12. I would say 15,000 miles was fair compensation. If you have a Delta Amex that’s worth $150 towards another flight, probably more if she used them for an award ticket. While I would have been steamed it would have made it a little more tolerable.

  13. agree 15000 was more than just – plus she is just a GM so she was fortunate to get an upgrade. Also agree request for miles for a dirty tray table is pushing it

  14. @ Christine a very similar thing happened to my wife and I (both GM’s). It just so happened my brother a PM was in 2B. We were sitting in 1A & B when GA came on and said there was a mistake and we had to take seperate seats in coach. We had EC seats together prior from MSP-LAS. I asked about our original seats but GA said no. Upon landing we meet up with my brother and he’s telling us about the 2 people in 1A & B. They talked about how their friend the GA got them 1st Class on stanbdby tickets!

  15. Perhaps I’m spoiled; however, flying United, this customer would have gotten a $500 voucher for a future flight because of this downgrade. Valuing miles at $.02 each, 15k miles equals $300. So, no, I don’t think 15k miles was sufficient. 25k miles would have been more appropriate.

  16. I think the poster should have received something in the area of 10,000 miles plus his original seat back. I do not understand why he was moved to a middle seat. The person in his original seat should have been moved. Upgrades are not guaranteed and definitely the FC seats go first to people who have purchased them. There is no guarantee.

  17. @Jim I hope you and/or your wife put in a complaint to Delta about the GA’s shenanigans?! It’s one thing to give the friends 1st class on standby, but it just takes it to another level to actually pull people out of their 1st class seats to put personal friends there!

  18. Corbett Kroehler Reply

    It’s a really tough call. Most of the time, I fly on business with a tight itinerary. If I had been in those identical circumstances, I would have done the same thing because I typically have little flexibility to take the next flight and because I’m risk-averse. That being said, 7,500 miles or even 15,000 miles is too little compensation. The correct compensation would have been, at minimum, 2 vouchers for free upgrades to first class on future flights. As to the important question of the relative compensation of 7,500 when Lee Ann had received more points for a dirty tray table, I’m right there with her. It’s pathetic. Last month, on a mileage run, my MD-88 landed in ATL with brakes in such disrepair that the aircraft shuddered to the point that I thought we’d lose rivets on the wings and maybe an engine. Yes, it was that bad. I complained via and, a whole month later, received a boilerplate response of pure pabulum which assured me that maintenance is a top priority at Delta and all aircraft are definitely safe. That was it, no contrition and even fewer SkyMiles, as in zero. The bottom line is that the discretion which Delta provides to its employees in order to keep customers happy is a pendulum. For proof, look no further than the flight attendant I had night before last in the forward cabin on DFW-ATL. She provided exactly zero service before departure and then, after a token run with the understocked snack basket, disappeared into the galley in order to chat with a coach colleague.

  19. @Jim,if you contact DL with the details, and the story fproves to be true, that GA would be fired. DL and UA both have zero tolerance policies on what they call “friends and family fraud,” and I’ve seen it result in terminations.

  20. All fine and dandy unless you’re the family of three (like me) who rushes through the airport usually because their child (like mine) has no sense of urgency and decides he has to poop right before take-off! The family paid for the tickets and they deserve them. As a Silver Medallion, I get ecstatic at the rare upgrade but regardless of the circumstances, Lee Ann is not “entitled” to the first class seat–that’s what gives Medallions a bad rep. On the other hand, she is entitled to the Economy comfort section–not necessarily the same seat (although the middle seat does stink). Delta should have definitely comped her more that 15K points–I agree with at least one voucher for a future first class seat.

  21. the amount of miles offered is paltry.
    A flight attendant once spilled part of a bloody mary on me. She was embarrased, I just asked for some napkins and water to clean myself off.
    I was already planning on purchasing a snack pack, when I did order it, she gave it to me for free. She also offered me free drinks, but I was on a work trip, and didn’t want a cocktail.

    Later on in the flight, she proactively offered me 7,500 miles.

    If I got 7,500, a free snack pack, and a free drink offer for about 1/4 of a spilled bloody mary, a complimentary upgrade then forced downgrade is worth waaaaaaay more than that.

    A free upgrade cert was in order.

  22. I have not had this happen to me, but it’s good to have a plan of what to ask, what to request and how to deal with the situation before it happens.

  23. I have received 15K for a wonky IFE on a cross-country Delta flight. Lee Ann should have been offered a choice of 15K miles, or a free UG Cert.

  24. Keith Thompson Reply

    I’m Delta Diamond – happened to me recently though fortunately only on a 1 hr flight. Wouldn’t have moved to a middle seat unless thats what I had originally – I’d have had them reshuffle everyone moved after my RU. As it was I just moved to my original seat, was offered a drink (just before C+ was introduced) and the FA told me it was a last minute purchase by a passenger just hearing of a family death. TBH that put everything in perspective and I didn’t even bother contacting Delta I just said a silent thank you that I wasn’t dealing with anything like that!

  25. Joe Chandler Reply

    This has happened to me twice. The last time, I was told to move and not asked to move – “you are going to have to move.” Not so much as a please or thank you. I no longer fly Delta. If you look at Delta management, you will find a lot of ex-McKinsey employees. McKinsey and customer satisfaction do not mix well – Leo Mullin was awful with his “no favor, no waiver” policy; the guy now running the Skymiles program (into the ground) came from McKinsey. Delta pilots want their piece of that $1 billion in profit – do you want to fly with a upset pilot up front? I now fly American after they gave me the equivalent of Gold Medallion status to switch. They have their issues but the lines are shorter and they seem to be genuinely happy to have your business. You can find happiness elsewhere, just give it a try. Remember, all US airlines suck, some just stink less than others.

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