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Is there a way to “game” the new Delta C+ “upgrade” mess? What are the pro’s & con’s?

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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.

mass of people at delta air lines gate RenesPoints blog
Now boarding – the MOB!

Have you flown Delta this year? You know we have a bit of an issue. That is, our gates are a total mess when it comes to boarding. Delta has been, at different stations (or airports) experimenting with ways to make it somewhat better with the given space at each gate but there are physical limitations to what can be accomplished.

tons of luggage renespoints blog
Yeah, expect us to FORCE you to check that.

This gate area mess does not tend to result in a “calm” and organized final minutes before boarding. Then we have the other obvious 500 pound gorilla in the room, that is, the carry-on luggage mess. I don’t think I have been on a flight this year (well over 40 of them) that has not included gate agents FORCEFULLY instructing folks that they will run out of overhead space for bags after or by Zone 1 and they will be happy to check your bag to your final destination for free if you bring it up (and can get past the mass of people ready to board).

delta dual upgrade GIDS list Atlanta airport RenesPoints blog
C+ SideGrades – what a joke!

But now we have a new mess for the stressed and harried gate agents to deal with thanks to the mothership. We now have dual upgrade lists. One of them can “SideGrade” you to a Comfort Plus or C+ seat (often to a middle seat at that) and then the next list that can truly upgrade you to a business class seat (called 1st class, but it is not).

Now here is the deal about today’s post. It is not nice what I am suggesting to these fine folks who work the gates at Delta but it is not like Delta consulted us about these changes and if we would enjoy the chance to “upgrade” to a middle C+ seat. I am reasonably sure Delta has just informed the gate agents of their new responsibilities they have to enjoy.

So on to our options to get the most out of the situation for us. The first thing to consider is if you want to even go for C+ at all. Depending on the length of the flight it just may not be worth it and the risk. What risk? Well the system is supposed to work so that you could, as an elite, upgrade to C+ and then to 1st class and all of this could happen at the gate. In practice, I see issues with this. So it is one thing to already be in C+ when you get to the gate but another to hope for a “double” upgrade at the gate. See the difference? So what is my plan from here on out?

I will take a C+ seat if I can secure it up to 7 days before flight. I do NOT want to have C+ “upgrades” check marked in my reservation once we start to hit the real 1st class upgrade windows of 6/5/3&1. I see too many chances to end up in a middle seat or to have some kind of IT bug prevent me from a real upgrade that I want.

Well that is not really gaming anything this is just smart planning. But what if you are still stuck back in your exit seat in coach at the time of boarding but have not yet upgraded to 1st? As before, #TeamBoardLast for the win and even more so now that gate agents have so much more to deal with. I have been told they are to “protect” if you will the “sanctity” of the C+ cabin and not just put Delta people in these upgraded seats as they have in the past. No, these are such a great perk it is for elites to enjoy the upgrades. So, there may be some remaining at the end (granted mostly middle ones elites do not want). But if all these seats are being preserved it could be an aisle or window opens up that was filled with someone who did not make the flight for whatever reason.

In other words, much like the hope that 1st class has checked-in full but has not boarded full can mean the last man (or woman) standing can snag that last 1st class upgrade at the gate and the chance to grab a decent C+ seat also exists and you do not risk losing a very good exit (or other) seat you had before.

Are there any risks with this seat “game”? Oh sure and the obvious one is this once kind and now stressed out gate agent can get nasty with you and force you to gate check your bag because space ran out 50 people ago. I get this but normally there is always room for one bag somewhere and if you don’t have a steamer trunk you can press them to ask the lead flight attendant to check if there is space before you go to that step (btw the gate agent will NOT like this suggestion).

The bottom line from all of this today is Delta has created layer upon layer of mess. They are gaming us by offering upgrade sales for under $10 and we have proven that day after day they “play” with the price to upgrade to first class often dropping it in half. They have created an entire new cabin class and now we have to deal with dual-upgrade zones. It is all too much when you stand back and look at it. But when there is chaos for others – if we are smart and careful – we can use that to our upgrade advantage. I know I will! – 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. Santastico Reply

    My way to game the system is to move most of my flights to AA and UA. I am sick of playing games with Delta since they are the ones that always cheat.

    • @Santastico – I do agree with you that the new mess will mean more and more SHENA events. I have seen more FAs in 1st class boarding last than ever. Sad really when you think about it. The word loyalty that Delta thanks us for does not mean what it once did.

  2. Santastico Reply

    @rene: Delta has destroyed their loyalty program. They are loyal to our wallets. I am a PM that got 115k MQMs in 2015 spending $35k on Delta. What do I get from that? Almost nothing. Yes, I can board right after first class but that is about it. I used to book my flights and was able to select a Comfort+ seat FOR FREE and never a middle seat. My family flew Comfort+ with me for free. Now I am lucky if I select an Exit row seat and do not want them to move me to Comfort+ since I will almost always get a middle seat. I used to fly Delta for the convenience. Being at MSP, Delta saves a lot of time since they have non stop flights to many places. However, if I have to have a connection with Delta I can also have a connection with AA or UA. Then it comes their terrible price structure. I am flying to SFO tomorrow. Non stop with Delta at $1,250 and non stop with UA at $443. Well, it is really hard to justify why I would chose Delta. Last, I am flying my family to Brazil later this year. Back in January, I looked at 4 tickets MSP-GRU-MSP. No matter what airline I fly I have to connect somewhere. Delta was pricing $1450 per person. AA was $550. I have lifetime Gold status with AA and the Citi Prestige card which allows my family of 4 to go to Admirals Club for free. I cannot bring my family to a Delta lounge without paying. Thus, it was an easy decision. I dumped Delta and won’t look back. They are greedy and I’ve see this story before. When the economy turns bad again (it will sometime since it is a cycle) they will came back begging for people to fly them but I will remember how I was treated. They are definitely shooting themselves on their foot.

    • @Santastico – Thanks for your clear comment. I hope Delta reads it. Then again, I don’t think they really care. 🙁

  3. Nothing makes me angrier than seeing Delta employees upfront. Unless they’ve use either cash or their own miles and happen to be in uniform, it’s insulting. I have nothing against non-rev employees taking up a (coach) seat, but only AFTER every paid(cash or miles) customer has been seated.
    We went to LHR back in March and saw employees placed up front on both TATL legs. Of course, I don’t know all the facts on this particular situation but given how often it seems to happen this makes me very suspicious.

    • @Geoff – on international flights ONLY employees get those upgrades free unless coach is oversold and they move elites up from the back.

  4. Santastico Reply

    @Geoff: It is indeed disgusting!!! Every time I fly out of GRU in Brazil I can tell you that most of the business class is occupied by Delta employees and their families. Yes, you can see people there that are definitely the mother or father of a Delta employee enjoying business class for free.

    On domestic flights I’ve seen many times Delta employees sitting on first class. The questions is: don’t Medallions have preference over them? I am pretty sure there are Medallions seating on coach that should be eligible for that upgrade.

  5. @Geoff – Why are you angry with employees riding up front? Many companies give perks to employees. In Delta’s case, free or reduced cost flights and upgrades are part of employee compensation. Add to that, nearly every employee is more valuable to Delta than nearly any customer. While I hope for and enjoy upgrades, as long as I get what I paid for, whether a coach, C+, or business class seat, I don’t begrudge employees sitting up front.

  6. I have witnessed not once, but twice this year on separate flights, that a Gate Agent upgraded a Delta employee (A flight Attendant and a Pilot) on a domestic flight. I think they are doing it to support and do a favor to their fellow employees. However, with ability for paying Customers to see the upgrade list, see the available seats, etc at the gate, the Delta Gate Agents need to be careful with this practice. As a Diamond, I got my upgrades, but I know others on the list did not, and I felt bad for whoever was next on the fairly long list as I watched the Delta employees sit in the first class seats. I’m not sure how I will respond if I see happen, and I don’t get an upgrade, but I know I’ll be frustrated.

    Also, I have a friend who is a flight attendant for Delta. When his partner comes along on trip, he regularly upgrades his partner to Business class on international flights. They even boast about it. I try to avoid talking about it with them because it angers me. Hopefully he is able to do this only after all of the customers on the waitlist using Global upgrades have cleared. But I kind of doubt it. I get the idea from listening to my friend that there are a lot of favors going on between Delta employees regarding upgrades.

  7. What worries me most about this is the possiblity of getting C+ instead of first due to a glitch!

  8. @Santastico. I got into a quasi-brawl with @DeltaAssist(now @Delta) over this issue.
    They kept making the same lame excuse that it is part of their “benefits” and “no medallions were put out” etc…
    No medallions put out? Really? From ATl-LHR on a Thursday night before spring break? Or from ATL-LAS on a FRIDAY night? All kettles on both flights?? Really?

  9. Some Delta one flights to South American are not upgradeable and so the front of the plane all lay flat is less than 50% occupied. I’ve been on such flights. Family of 20 employees could have been upgraded and there still would have been empty seats.

  10. I do not care that employees get perks. These are the folks that do work hard to help us everyday. IMHO Delta has the hardest working folks, they don’t set the policies and they usually try to make things as easy for me as they can. So good for them to get a perk or two.

    As far as the new fare class goes it has made a huge mess. It has complicated my travel and the agents can’t make it easier either. If i get over the W class issue, the bulk of the mess could be fixed if I didn’t have to select it as an upgrade to select it when I want it. As a DM I should be able to just select it at will upon ticketing like before. If I don’t pick a C- seat then I didn’t want it. Just give me access to the whole back of the plane like before.

    Today was a good example, leaving boston, I had to change fights at three hours out to a different destination. This made a mess of things (my doing or BCD’s doing). But once fixed, I was given 38B. The Delta ticket agent tried to fix this but was thwarted by the fact its an upgrade request and it had not processed so I was stuck. Before, I’d just pick the different seat with out getting the “you can only select seats in your purchased fare class”.

    Just fix this part and it might be ok, or atleast better.

    Again, another set of great Delta employees today, worked hard to fix my mess and did a great job.

  11. Here’s another unintended consequence of the new C+ ules I just ran into booking a RT ATL:MIA. I selected the C+ ‘W’ fare in order to increase odds for an upgrade as a Plat Med with 11 open seats a week out in 1st. Well things looked fine for the fight down only to discover on the flight back the only C+ seat was a middle bulkhead. I tried to instead book an Exit Aisle only to get a pop-up that I could only select a seat corresponding to my cabin class. In the past as a Plat it wasn’t a problem to select a C+ seat in one direction on a RT and coach in the other…no more. This is absolute insanity!

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