We all want it, that is, to sit in the big nice 1st class / business class seat (no, C+ “fake” upgrades do not count). In fact I think if you asked most elite flyers what the one single best perk an airline can extend to you it would be “FREE” upgrades. I would argue that as a Delta Diamond Global Upgrade certs plus Sky Club membership (as well as all the other bits) are possibly as valuable as free upgrades but that is for another post.
But the shot at an upgrade is a lot harder nowadays and when you take the time to look at all the ways a 1st class seat can be snapped up it may make you reconsider if status is worth it or to at least look at what you need to do to improve your shot at the coveted 1st class seat as well as the upgrade order that Delta uses.
The first one is a “duh” but I have to include it. Simply buy the 1st class seat. This sounds stupidly simple but keep in mind Delta now allows split class of service tickets (a relatively new thing on Delta.com but old news if you use Kayak.com). This means you could buy coach outbound and 1st class on the return all on one ticket.
The next one, if you don’t like the price of the 1st class ticket, is wait until you have purchased the ticket and see what happens. There can be times Delta will, for MUCH less than the published “buy now” 1st class ticket to instantly buy an upgrade. Yes, it is crazy (and maybe immoral) but I have given up trying to understand airline fare logic.
Then we have buy-up roulette. You see once you buy a ticket you can many times day by day login to your reservation and see a 1st class buy-up offer jump up and down day by day. It is totally crazy.
After all of this you may be presented with a buy-up offer at check-in online or at a Delta kiosk at the airport. Not saying it will be a good deal or value but you never know.
Next up we have the chance to upgrade with SkyMiles and let me warn you 99.99% of the time it is an utterly horrid value and you might as well have just purchased an award to begging with as it may have been cheaper. But, someone may not be smart and burn their miles this way ahead of you.
The above is a LOT of paying and paying-ish for those seats we want for “FREE” as an upgrade. But there are more that will go away before your flight if space opens up for either Global or Regional upgrade certificates that Diamonds and Platinums get and the GU can be used on any flight but RU only domestically. If the seats are not upgraded before the “window” then at the gate you are on the top of the list for the free upgrade.
So what are your chances then for the comp’ed upgrade. It goes like this, in practice.
Delta starts with the lowest flight numbers a.k.a. DL1, DL2 for example and works up the flight numbers and at:
- Day 6 before flight Diamonds can upgrade
- Day 5 before flight Diamonds and Platinums
- Day 3 before flight Diamonds, Platinums and Golds
- Day 1 before flight Diamonds, Platinums, Golds and Silvers
- Day of flight Skyteam and SPG Crossover Rewards Platinums
You may be starting to see why it is so hard for you, depending on where you are on this long list, to score the coveted “free” upgrade. What about the last few shots.
If you have not cleared before check-in time you could still clear as Delta will continue to clear folks up to the 2-4 hour mark automatically. After that we have “gate control”. That just means it is up to the gate to process the upgrades. The can mean that an hour before flight you DO upgrade as they may need your coach seat due to coach being oversold so they “push” the upgrades sooner than at the gate just before boarding.
Now there is still one more chance for all of the above. The gate agent may bellow out that “First Class has checked-in full so please board with your current seat assignment”. Well if you do you could miss an upgrade. There could be some who have checked-in for first class but will not make the flight for some reason. The last elite standing at the gate often times scores that upgrade or what I call #TeamBoardLast.
Are we done? Nope. There is a remote chance Delta will return to “show me the money” and offer to sell an upgrade onboard but to C+ not to first class. We will see if that changes with the new PE seats.
There is one last way that can and does happen on International flights where you cannot normally get a free upgrade that is when coach is oversold and they upgrade you to Delta One rather than bump someone from the flight who was in coach and had no seat (but paid for it).
So there you are. I know many elites / readers have seen their upgrade rates sharply plummet in 2016 and the above is why. The best way to help your chances are make Diamond. Another is to hold the AMEX Delta Reserve credit card either personal or business (does not matter which) and then judicially use upgrade certs and be ready to have flexible travel plans and even be ready to SDC or same day change flights if need be to score an upgrade. Also avoid Monday mornings and Thursday nights as your shot on those days will be all but impossible.
Any question on any of this and how to score more upgrades? Please fire away in the comments section below! – René