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What really is the Delta rule on “upgrades” after boarding? Is there a written rule for gate agents?

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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.

from Noah Mark on twitter renespoints blog
Kind offer Noah, but no thanks! 😉

Above you see frequent blog contributor, Noah Mark poking a little fun about upgrades and alluding to the fact that he, and most of us who are smart elites, are members of #TeamBoardLast. This is not a real group or membership it is just a tongue-in-cheek way of saying we will be the “last man (or woman) standing” at the gate if:

First class has checked-in full, but, not boarded full.

You see there is a huge difference. There can be situations where folks have checked in for a flight but never made it to the airport. Or, they did a “hidden city” ticket and will not be getting on this flight. Or, the connecting flight may not make it. Or a long list of other reasons that there is not a body in the seat that is officially checked-in.

from flyertalk about delta boarding
Yes, this IS the rule. You board, you lose!

And that leads us to the rule for Delta gate agents. Now you are not going to find this on nor are you going to find the “exact” wording on FlyerTalk or other sites as Delta (the company) takes a very dim view of employees publishing on blogs official company wording that is NOT already listed on the official website of (or other Delta sanctioned sites).

So, we have folks who say they work for Delta posting general information of what they are looking at on the Delta computers. And, we have literally hundreds of confirmed reports from flyers that the policy in fact that if you board you officially lose your chance for an elite medallion upgrade as you can see from the screen shot above.

are they a good agent if they break the rules delta
Does a “Good Agent” break the rules?

But then we also have just as many situations where a gate agent comes on-board the flight and “pulls” if you will the “number one” person on the upgrade list who HAS boarded into 1st class because there was a seat open. RenesPoints twitter follower Eric even used the hashtag #GoodAgent to commend them for doing this. But is this right? The agent, after all, is officially breaking the rules by doing this. Is that good?

The bottom line is that if someone else had been standing and waiting at the desk and had NOT boarded, that person would have got the upgrade not the person who went on-board and was pulled up by the “good agent”. That is the rule.

I talked yesterday, and got outstanding feedback, about just how hard it is going to be to score complimentary Delta upgrades in 2016. Even holding the Delta AMEX Reserve card <-LINK as a fare class tiebreaker for upgrades may not help you that much since after 1JUNE16 it is going to get even harder than it is now. If you want to improve your upgrade chances, trust me, you want to play along with those of us who know and join #TeamBoardLast. I know I will (and do)! – René

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. Always, always, always look at the GIDS. If you see something like “number of seats assigned” as 16 on an MD88 for example, but the next line says (and I may not have the exact wording) “number checked in – 15” that means someone has not yet checked in for the flight. If that is the case, I always wait to board and monitor the list. About 20 mins prior to departure, I’ll chat with the agent and say hey…I’m #1 on the list and I see you might have one person not checked into First Class. On at least 5 occasions in the last year, I’ve gotten an upgrade that I would not have gotten If I had not joined #teamboardlast.

  2. Santastico Reply

    Boarded ATL-MSP yesterday and monitor showed first class had 0 seats available. My upgrade did not clear and I was seated on the first row of Comfort+ and could see an empty seat on first. Once the aircraft door was closed they moved a Delta FA (flying off duty) that was seated on the back to the empty first class seat. If I were the #1 on the wait list I would be very pissed.

    • @MJ – Txs for your experiance
      @Santastico – Shena happens all the time. That is why we play #TeamBoardLast!

  3. Santastico Reply

    @rene: But how are you supposed to act if you see 0 seats available on first? Should I still go and talk to the agent to only hear that first class has checked full?

    • @Santastico – Yes exactly. You wait till they make the announcement that 1st has checked-in full and they tell you to board with your original seat assignment. Then I ask if 1st class has BOARDED full when they call for SKY and I let them know I am happy to be the last man standing to get a seat from a miss-connect etc.

  4. Santastico Reply

    @rene: I get your point but aren’t they supposed to follow the wait list for first class upgrade in case it does not board full? Let’s say I am #5 on the wait list and I do what you described above. Would I stand a chance to get that seat of someone that did not board or it would go to the person on #1 in the wait list?

    • @Santastico – If those above you board they drop off the list and you move to #1 🙂

  5. My last 2-3 flights in December, I was told by the GA that if I boarded, I would lose the chance at an upgrade. She said remaining upgrades are finalized 10 minutes prior to departure. Since I never check bags, I am always torn between boarding early for overhead space, and the #Teamboardlast. To paraphrase Pres. Obama, these are changes we can “bereave” in 🙁

  6. Last year on a long haul I was number 1 on the list but no upgrade. I boarded and that very process (electronically I was told) removed me from the upgrade list all together. I took a screen shot ofvdfire and after, but that did me little good

    • @Kevin – Good point. If you are an elite there are few times you can not push them to let you board and “find space” if you will. There is almost always room in the coat closet if push comes to shove.

  7. On yesterday’s flight the GA had me board in my lie flat seat telling me they wouldn’t need my seat, then sent a FA to have me deplane as I had volunteered. I should have asked who got my seat as there were 50 on the upgrade list and all pax had boarded.
    On my way back to airport now and yes, I have volunteered again. 🙂

  8. What is your success rate with this tactic? People can run late for a variety of reasons. With flights so full, I’m afraid that boarding last, even if I get the upgrade to first, will mean it will be hard to find overhead space for my carry on. All the bins will be closed, and I hate doing the bin-flip roulette to find space, if any, 20 rows back. If there is no space, I don’t want to gate check my bag. If I’m travelling lightly without a carry on or the flight is not very full, boarding last is an option if I really want the upgrade. It seems that delta’s policy/rule just encourages people to board late and doesn’t improve on-time stats.

    If the elite who had the upgrade shows up and his or her seat has been given away… That won’t be a good scene.

  9. Today my seat went the the first person on the upgrade list. I asked while she was printing my vouchers. Tomorrow’s flight is over by 8. Wish me luck 🙂

  10. Maybe I’m not picturing this accurately, but I imagine this hopeful guy waiting until everyone has boarded and then reluctantly boarding with his (usually too big) carry on and we are now all waiting while the poor FA has to find somewhere for this elite guy’s bag. I think those who want to play this “board last” game need to either check their bags or get on the damn plane when they are called to do so. It’s no one’s fault buy your own that there is no easy room for your bag, and it’s not fair to us to wait while space is found/made.

  11. If DeltaOne has empty seats on JFK-LAX/SFO (and vice versa) flights, do elites have a chance of scoring them in a board last situation? Or are DeltaOne comp UGs without certs a lost cause no matter what?

    • @Chris C – NO! They will put Delta people in the D1 seats or let them fly empty.

  12. Randall Meullier Reply

    This past Wed my wife and I were flying Cle to atl to fll. She was on a companion certificate so I wasn’t if listed for an upgrade. After boarding and the door was shut a fa came back and asked if I’d like to move up front. I sent my wife up. I guess I must have been the only diamond on the plane. Nice surprise

  13. @rene Well…darn. Pretty much what I assumed but before I go on my LAX to JFK run, I figured I’d find out so no hope gets raised 🙂 (Thanks for the fast response!)

    • @Chris C – Yeah, you can let the head purser know how much as a DM big $$$ MQD that you are not please can could look to other airlines.

  14. Pingback: Rookie Wednesday: How to improve your upgrade chance with Delta Air Lines! - Renés PointsRenés Points

  15. Rene, does Shena manage upgrades online too? it is 1 day before and my PM has not cleared… In fact, the seats I am seeing in FC are the seats available when I booked the flight.

    • @Adam – Delta has changed the metrics on many routes to hold them until 20 min before departure. :=(

  16. Woah thanks for that quick reply… That really puts me down… But… Wish luck for my first # teamboardlast attempt!

  17. So, is this really just for DMs? How about plats? Should gold and silver not even bother? Personally, I wouldn’t do it if I had a carryon that didn’t fit under my seat. (Fortunately, I almost always check my bag, so I rarely need overhead space.)

    • @mbh – You can use #TEAMBOARDLAST with any status as if you are SILVER and no other medallions are waiting, you are then #1 on the UG list! See 🙂

  18. I am a gold that just became Platinum and boarding last has scored me a number of upgrades where I was way down on the list. I usually even tell the gate agent that my back is hurting and i want to avoid standing any longer than I have to. 😉

  19. Rene,
    As a silver I have gotten a fair number of upgrades this year doing this. But in the last month I’ve been getting a LOT of push back from gate agents saying they are going to go on the plane and pull someone up. It’s really frustrating. Has the policy changed or are they just being unhelpful?

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