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CAUGHT – Delta Medallion Upgrade Shenanigans (OR) Massive Upgrade Priority Change?!

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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.


Only 62% got this right – Or did they?

As a Delta Medallion, when it comes to upgrades, we have to “trust” the Delta IT is working the way it is published on Delta.com. That is, we have to hope that when the 5 day window opens up for complimentary upgrades the below will be followed:

Priority Complimentary Upgrade Hierarchy1

1 Medallion Status

2 Fare Class Groupings: higher-priced fares are ranked above lower-priced fares

3 Delta Reserve Credit Card (learn more) Members. 

4 Delta Corporate Travelers*

5 Card Members who earned the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD) Waiver in the current calendar year1

6 Date and time of upgrade request

1 – “Upgrade clearance priority for all Medallion Tiers will continue to be based on spending at least $25,000 in the current calendar year on all Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards from American Express that count toward the MQD Waiver regardless of the increase in the Diamond MQD Waiver requirement.” – From Delta.com

Also

“Members at the same Medallion Tier will be cleared in order of fare class groupings for paid tickets, Award Tickets and Pay with Miles tickets, with higher fare classes among all ticket types holding higher priority.” – From Delta.com

This is very cut and dried. You can plug all of the above into any ticket and it should work as posted (or even use this useful non-Delta tool). But we just trust that it does as there are few times we can “test” and see if this all works just as it is published as we can not see behind the scenes. Also, well at least 62% of those in my twitter poll above, also understand that Delta gives priority when you have revenue ticket vs. a SkyMiles award ticket (more on this soon).

Recently I did have just such a chance to test the above. You see another Diamond Medallion and I were on the same flight but our tickets were a bit different. Take a look:

  • My ticket: I am a Diamond. Paid cash “U” class ticket. Delta Reserve card. Not a corp traveler. Spend over 25k on Delta Reserve card 2019. Purchased before my friend.
  • My friend: Also a Diamond. Cheap SkyMiles coach award ticket. Delta Reserve card. Not a corp traveler. Spend under 25k on Delta Reserve card 2019. Purchased award ticket after me.

Under the above conditions who do you think should have cleared the upgrade at the 5 day window? Under the rules – clearly me! But that is not what happened. My friend cleared and I had to wait to attempt to clear at the gate (full disclosure I did clear at the gate just before the flight).

I reached out to Delta about this and what went wrong with the Delta IT and was told the following:

“It appears this is an anomaly that we’re looking into.” – Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Corporate Communications Representative

An anomaly. Sigh.  If you are like me this is opening up about 1 billion questions and all of them are bad. Like, is this a systemic anomaly that happens all the time (and we just do not know it) or was this just a one-off situation I happened to get caught in. How can I trust you, Delta that this does not happen all the time? But there is also a larger issue that frightens and frustrates me.

Revenue Search

Delta often makes massive changes and never tells us, that is, we have to sleuth them out. Could it be that Delta has changed award tickets to upgrade above paid revenue tickets if the underlying fare class is higher? If so, how in the world do we find the fare class of an award (it is not always clear). Look at the above example. It is a paid ticket from Detroit to New York. Simple. On the search for Delta.com it shows the fare class direct or connect. But what if we look for an award ticket?

Award Search

Notice in all the same searches all we see is an “N” fare class for the award ticket either direct or connecting. You may say, “all you have to do is click on the ‘Changeable / Nonrefundable” to see the real award fare code”. Oh really?

Changeable / Nonrefundable

Well yes if you look at the letter just in front of the mileage total in the fare code you do see a “K” fare but on the connection flight it shows “Q” not “K” like in the revenue ticket. Bottom line is sometimes this works to see the real true fare code – but not always.

Also keep in mind that that Delta has not officially told me (I asked – many, many times) if Delta has made a change and award tickets could now be above revenue tickets. I don’t believe anything has changed but “anomalies” like mine could be a warning to us something has in fact changed. If it has, it will be much harder for us to compare the real fare code and where we should be on the medallion upgrade ladder. – 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.

27 Comments

  1. bdetransit

    The full award fare class for each segment (e.g. NV, NK) appears in the booking/app after you buy it.

  2. We all appreciate your attention to detail on how Delta is handling upgrades, award tickets, and Medallion status in general. Given the uncertainty of it all, I do not even try to predict if I will get an upgrade and consider any that I get a gift. Keeping expectations low results in more joy when the reward arrives.

  3. A similar situation happened to me on 4/6, I was traveling on the same flight (LAS-ATL) with a colleague. We are both Platinum, purchased our ticket within days of each other and paid nearly the same fare. However, I have the Delta Amex Reserve credit card. At 24 hour check-in, he was higher (5) on the upgrade list than me (7) for this flight when previously, I was always higher than him which I assumed was due to me having the DL Amex Reserve. One of the reasons I keep the DL Reserve credit card is due to the higher upgrade listing it provided in the past. I must have experience the same “anomaly”.

  4. At least you got upgraded. My companion got upgraded and I didn’t. 3 seats in F went out empty including the seat next to him. This was 14 months ago and was my last flight with Delta.

  5. I have the DL Amex Reserve Card also and I have been on several flights where there have been at least 2 to 7 opens seats in First Class. I was never upgraded.
    I do notice on occasion when I catch the 0530 flight from FLL to ATL, I’ll rarely sometimes get upgraded. And sometimes I see open seats in First Class and I’m still in the back.

  6. Similar happened to me, except I was platinum and had met $25k, and my co worker was silver and nothing else. He cleared in advance of getting to the gate, and I never cleared! Delta said “it was an anomaly they couldn’t explain”

  7. Rene, this really does make sense. As DL moves to $.01 per mile for redemption and the reward ticket is not really a set value anymore, the ticket would reflect the fare bucket it is pulled from. So, I’d say there is really no such thing as a “reward ticket” as much as I’d say your reward ticket is actually a “U” class fare ticket you used miles to pay for. (not the same as the *pay with miles program)

  8. rene

    @Dr John – I would be ok with the change (if there is one) but I want simpler to find fare codes on Delta.com for awards (i.e. the real code per-purchase).

  9. Me personally, being a GM with a DR Amex take whatever upgrades are given to me, unless it is C+ and I already have an ER seat. I know that Plat and Diamonds will always trump me. I have already hit the 25 K spend and am waiting for the 15K MQMs to hit for spending 30k on the DR. Going to PA this weekend with my GF, who has no status, using PWM, we got an upgrade to c+ on PBI-ATL and First from ATL-PHL. Changed to standby on the way back, but at last check, we were very high on the C+ from PHL-ATL and in range for the 9 seats for First from ATL-PBI.

    On the Standby list we jumped to the top on both flights, leaving people behind. So I was happy with that.

  10. Is Delta able to see everything you spend with the Delta AMEX card? That would provide a lot of data that they could use to skew upgrades. For example, if a PM also flies a lot on American, and a DM flies almost exclusively with Delta, it would make sense to give an upgrade to the PM and hopefully get some of the custormer’s business that is going to American.

  11. As a million miler and Diamond member who has a Delta Amex Carr I have been placed in the last row, non recline, and on another opposite a bathroom on a CRJ all within a week. The flight attendants who come by to say thanks for your loyalty and were so apologetic for the seats I was assigned. They were genuinely surprised. I wrote Delta and they offers 9K in Sky pennies. I rejected the offer and have written both American and United for some equivalent status. I have had enough poor service from Delta.

  12. The reality is DL makes all sort of convoluted changes on a regular basis. And with each new “improvement”, things become even more complicated because of the new factors. My view: some recent college grad working in SkyMiles come up with these messy complicated changes…and excitedly explaining all of this in a meeting, and a group of senior software engineers sitting around and rolling their eyes like “what the heck…” Seriously, as an engineer, I can’t even follow the English explanation/disclosure to write out clear logic with one go… It’s not all that surprising upgrade is like a roll of dice… If DL can’t explain this clearly to us DMs, PMs & MMs – how do they expect to explain to this their software engineers that have to implement this…

  13. Santastico

    Rene: One thing that is becoming obvious is that more and more people are buying first class tickets. That leaves very few options for Medallions to be upgraded for free. Look at my upcoming trip from MSP to SFO. When booking it last week there was no availability to book first class. I booked main cabin and as a Delta360 I knew I would be first in line to get upgraded. Well, guess what? I was not upgraded mainly because all seats were taken and since it was over 1 week ago I don’t think anyone got upgraded before me. Now looking to book MSP-SEA-MSP. Main cabin price is $649. First class price is $784. So, for $135 more round trip I can book myself on first class and guarantee first class for sure and get more miles for my flight. I think at that price difference it is worth it. Thus, upgrades will become way more difficult as people buy first class.

  14. RedTailFlyer

    In addition to this, the standby clearing is very broken. E class that don’t get seats at checkin go on top of standby list. Gate agents clear those into seats including F and C+ even if there are diamonds with status unconfirmed.

    Two weeks ago I was #1 of 5 unconfirmed on standby as DM, with ten BE showing in front of me on the mobile standby list. Empty upgrade lists, 3 available in F, 9 C+. Gate agent gave all the F to deadheads that were behind me on standby list, all the C+ to the basic economy pax – if they hadn’t been given op-ups there would have been plenty of room for me. Sat in back. On the flight immediately after I got the personal FA “delta says thanks for your MM business and wants your feedback”.

    Does anyone remember the NW “Platinum Upgrade Guarantee”? Those were the days.

  15. I am Platinum Medallion and have the Business Reserve card. On March 24, my wife and I flew on award tickets MSY-ATL-IND. We were advance upgraded to C+. After checking in, I was puzzled that the Delta app didn’t show us ANYWHERE on the Upgrade List for 1st Class that day. From the MSY airport, I called the Medallion Desk to inquire. The Medallion rep said we should be on the lists and she would put us there. She did. We did not clear for MSY-ATL but did clear to 1st Class for ATL-IND.

  16. I have noticed when flying on a corporate ticket my upgrade percentage is about 90% as a platinum flying out of Atlanta!? On heavy business days as well. Last flight there were a whole lot of folks 20+ in the diamond/first class line to get on the plane so obviously Delta is not following their own rules.

  17. Demoted to GM this year. Flew Saturday at 12:30 this past weekend. Revenue ticket, Reserve card holder (final year) not at 25K spend yet….did not get an upgrade. Keeps me at 0% on complimentary upgrades for the year (21 segments). Oh, but when I did board, the ga did thank me for something or other. If I cannot score an upgrade from LGA-PIT on a Saturday at noon, it’s hopeless. Maybe I’ll use my useless miles to buy Dom in the club.

  18. This past Saturday, as a GM on a rev ticket purchased about 30 days in advance, could not snag an upgrade on a noon departure. Saturday…noon…no upgrade. Keeps me at 0% upgrades for the year on 21 segments. Delta can stick their “thank-you’s” in a sock.

  19. Let’s just say it. Delta IT is simply the worst for any corporation their size anywhere. If they wanted to grow Skymiles, which Delta seemingly does not, it could be much better. Just navigating anything on delta.com is a pain. Most of us learn by trial & error which is good because it keep changing. Ah for the NWA IT system of old that was so simple and worked,
    René, thanks so much for your efforts to hold DL accountable and keep the rest of us informed. I’m a DM with 2.5 M and read everything that you post.

  20. Cautionary Tale:
    I waitlisted with a RU. I checked into my flight the night prior for flight in the morning. I am #1 on the upgrade list. Boarding pass says “Check Agent” for seat assignment.

    Next morning I am on the shuttle from parking lot and I am no longer listed on upgrade list and boarding pass is voided and not checked in. GA reissues boarding pass but RU is redeemed without me being upgraded. I am #3 out of 2 upgrades available after fiasco. Person in front of me in line gets new first class seat assignment while I go sit in back of plane.

    I had to call Platinum line that evening to get my RU certificate refunded. For my inconvenience I was upgraded on my next flight for free.

    Don’t assume that IT works or that RU will be properly applied.

  21. Thegetawaygurl

    To change the tone a bit-
    I was flying back from London with my fiancé. I used
    My GU and he sat in C+. I had bought chocolate at duty free and gave it to purser. My fiancé is GM I am MMDM. Just before meal, I lightly mentioned the D1 seat across from Me was open. I politely asked if after mIn meal service my guy might move up to be across from me. To my delight he said YES and personally escorted him to D1! He was treated like. Regular D1 passenger from that point on !!!!

  22. Last summer, I flew LAX-SLC on a Thursday morning. I was DM, Amex DL Reserve card holder, met the 25k spend, etc. Plenty of seats open in business leading up to day of departure. I didn’t get upgraded until boarding started.

    Guy sitting next to me was GM. Held a Gold DL Amex. His upgrade cleared 72 hours before the flight.

  23. evan inatome

    Hey Rene, Ive been saying this for a long time, There are so many instances where Delta upgrades automatically outside the published rules. Here is what I believe is happening. Day of departure, and upgrade list, delta always goes by published rules because they dont want to be “caught” or have to have their gate agents untangle the mess. But I 100% believe Delta has a much more complex algorithm that awards upgrades automatically, and that is not published. I believe it takes into account things like, your previous upgrade frequency, recent delayed flights, and how often you purchase first. The reason I believe this is the case is not just because there are countless times on flyertalk where delta has gotten caught red handed like this case., But there is a lot of incentive to award upgrades outside the published priority. Diamonds would almost always take all of the upgrade slots, and platinums would rarely get any upgrades. Delta does want to keep platinums happy, and also reward flyers who have had recent delays etc, and so occasionally and by a unpublished rubric awards upgrades outside of the published priority. This is obviously just a suspicion, but a strong one.

  24. Rene, thanks for all the great info you post since I fly Delta almost exclusively living here in the Metro Atlanta area. One suggestion: I wish at the top of the comment section there was a cheat sheet for all the abbreviations. I have so much trouble reading and fully understanding the comments because I don’t know all of the abbreviations. I’m sure I can’t be the only one reading with the same issue. I’ve learned many of the abbreviations this past year and try to Google for others, but it would really help if there was a list of somewhere. Thanks!

  25. The getaway gurl

    Thank you Rene for opening up this can of worms -seriously
    We should all be alert and aware of that goes on. Reminds me of an old commercial I saw (the person sitting next to you paid HALF of what you paid for your ticket) I do t remember where I saw this

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