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Delta Passenger with NO Medallion Status on Basic Economy Ticket Upgraded to 1st class!

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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.

The fare rules say NO upgrades!

Delta has a nasty fare class called Basic Economy. They say they have it to compete with low cost airlines. Really it is a way to charge more and get you to pay more. They even have the above pop-up that you must click on to confirm you are accepting all the “rules” with the Basic Economy ticket when you book on But does Delta always follow the rules? Take a look what happened last night via Twitter:

From Twitter post by Mr. Bergman

Ben Bergman is currently a contract business reporter for NPR and producing an investigative documentary for public television“, he states he was granted an upgrade with no elite status and on a Basic Economy ticket.

Err what? Really?

How could this happen?

I did not reach out to Delta to confirm the above but I trust what this respected journalist has tweeted (unless his account has been hacked that is). So let’s assume it is true. What went wrong because my guess is on just about ANY flight to LA there is at least ONE SINGLE MEDALLION stuck back in some seat in coach on the upgrade list that would have liked the upgrade.

My guess what happened.

There are a bunch of reasons why this likely happened but all of them stink for us loyal elites. First off, Delta gate agents do not always follow the 40 minutes before flight upgrade clearing guidance from corporate that I broke the news about years ago. What else?

We know Delta is holding back upgrades for sale via any means as long as they can rather than rewarding loyal elites. That, plus the fact that the upgrade tech has real and proven issues. But once you get to the gate it is up to the agent and we know Delta gate agents can make up their own rules no matter what the computer says and upgrade (or not upgrade) anyone they want.

And that is likely what happened here.

The flight needed to be sent on it’s way ASAP and rather than take a moment or two to go get an elite, who was say 1st on the upgrade list when boarding began, and pull them to 1st class – the rep just put Mr. Bergman in 1st class – because it was simply quicker!

Hate empty 1st class seats!

Loyalty #FAIL

What do you think about this? Does getting the flight out on-time matter more than following policy? Have you ever been upgraded on a Basic Economy ticket like this to Comfort Plus or 1st Class? Does it bug you when “Shena” comes for a visit? I would love to know! – 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. The Common Man Reply

    Oh I think it’s great, equalizer for the common people vs your elites

  2. FNT Delta Diamond Reply

    My flight from JFK to DTW on Sunday went out with two empty seats in first-class and four people on the upgrade list.

  3. I often buy BE and most of the time I get assigned a Comfort seat at the gate. The other times I always get a good preferred window or aisle seat. Never ever a lousy middle seat. I am a Platinum.

  4. Had a similar thing happen to me once, although I am platinum and was not on a BE ticket. It was the lga-dca shuttle and I was the absolute last to board, was maybe 15th on the upgrade list, but when I scanned my ticket a receipt popped out and I had been upgraded. Guess it was easier than moving someone already on the plane. Surprised they did it on a longer flight like that though.

  5. So is it better not to board if you have a shot at an upgrade?

  6. Never forget: Gate agents can make it rain.
    I too am a common man. But when approaching gate agents, my smile, friendly disposition, and boxes of peanut M + M’s often set me apart from my fellow commoners giving me a leg up on a seat at the pointy end of the plane.
    And when all else fails it’s #TeamBoardLast

  7. Santastico Reply

    I am a Delta360 and booked a main cabin MSP-ORD 1 weeks before my flight. I was too busy and never paid attention on my assigned seat. Never got upgraded. Got to the airport and ended up on a middle seat next to the bathroom on the back of the plane. I did not asked or complained since it was a short flight. Interesting that as soon as I got to my seat the FA came to me and asked: “How did this happen?” I did not connect the dots and asked what was he talking about. He replied: “How come you did not get upgraded?” In sum, somehow he knew I was a Delta360 sitting on the back of the plane in a middle seat. Go figure!!!!

  8. I witnessed first hand a MCO gate agent tweak the upgrade list. I only wish I would have taken screen shots of the before/after. One minute there were 2 PAXs on the upgradelist, next, we were gone. I went up to ask, and then they updated the list and now there were 3. Funny, the person now at the top of the list was a friend of the gate agents. That pax got the one seat available. It’s amazing what you can observed the gate agents doing, who they are talking to, etc. I even heard the agent tell their friend not to worry, they would take care of them.

    I wrote Delta and they called me to apologize.

  9. I have seen someone upgraded when I knew someone else was higher on the list since they were the next name after mine.

    What I find frustrating is non-revs getting 1st class on US flights which reduces upgrade opportunities and Business on International and possibility to use miles at last minute.

    I know flight attendants know status as I have been asked too why I am sitting where my seat was and not in Comfort Plus or First.

  10. I’m a lifetime gold medallion. On a recent international trip, I called reservations three days prior to departure since there were seats in first available (domestic leg), but I was still in coach (not BE). Was told they hadn’t released all the first class seats. That they hold some for departure gate release.

  11. glad to see an NPR/PBS stringer was saving $ by flying BE at least. Maybe it was his good karma 🙂

  12. Phil in ATL Reply

    @The Common Man: I’ve never understood that argument that blog readers and/or frequent travelers are automatically grouped into the “well-heeled” socio-economic ranks. There are a lot of hard working, segment flyers here who might not wear alligator shoes LOL!

  13. Agree with D! Sorry to see this happen, but at least it was to the “right” common person, imo. And glad he was flying BE. I’m glad to know my contributions to NPR are not being wasted.

  14. I usually get BE with Delta(no status), and I almost always get an econ plus seat. I know it’s not first, but it always seems weird.
    I figure the upgrade comes out the same process which is the BE get assigned their seats last. If the rest of the seats are full/taken, the BE gets put wherever there is room. If that room is in first, then that is where they will go. Because Delta waits until the last minute to assign the BE seats, I would guess that the gate agents don’t want to go through the hassle of an upgrade and exchange of ticket, and preferred to just assign the first class seat to the BE guy.

  15. This This reinforces the practice that politely you should check in with the gate agent to inquire about any “changes” in the upgrade list to inform them of your presence.

  16. I can’t address the situation of Delta giving out seats to non-status or basic economy, but I wrote a rant to them earlier this year about empty FC seats. I sent a screen shot of the app showing me first on the upgrade list, and of the empty FC seat in front of me (I could see plainly from my Comfort+ seat). To their credit, they sent back a very detailed response. On that flight, there was a checked-in no-show for that FC seat. They don’t know that until the entire plane has boarded and the door is closing. They did suggest, that if you are first on the list but did not get an upgrade, you verify before you board that all the FC have boarded. Or hang out until the end of the boarding process. So it is understandable how one seat could be occasionally empty. Similarly, I have been upgraded to the only open FC seat when I was #2 on the list, several times. I can only assume #1 didn’t want it or switched flights at the last minute.

  17. Michael Giardina Reply

    I’ve been passed up by folks with less medallion status as well. In fact, I’ve been passed up by even my family which I booked the ticket for but weren’t on the same itinerary. Smarts to see that but still playing the Delta game.

  18. If you want to get upgraded as an elite, you should fly Alaska! I’m a frequent flyer on Alaska, but not an elite. I likely fly 12 to 24 times a year, and used to be able to do a last-minute upgrade for a few extra dollars. But since Alaska bought out Virgin America, they’ve tended to give any first class seats available or any comfy chairs in premium class to the elite flyers. The gate agents seem to stick to their rules, and they’ve told me that those seats will always be given to the elites in the Alaska program. My observations bear this out. I have been able to upgrade one time since Alaska bought out Virgin America. Whether true or not, one of the gate agents told me that there were so many more Virgin America Elites, who became Alaska Elites automatically, that they have to accommodate them. Now, maybe it’s just a lot of bull, but that’s what I was told and that’s what I’ve observed. Having said that I do like Alaska Airlines, they do a much better job then United, American, Delta, or everyone’s darling Southwest Airlines.

  19. HuntingtonGuy Reply

    Non revs and out of order upgrades are annoying. No reason for an empty seat up front once the doors are closed. FA can move the top of the list or a Medallion up front very easily.
    Poor customer relations to keep treating the locals and the spenders like irritants.

    • @HuntingtonGuy – I agree with you on the FA idea but I think there would be too much push-back from FAs. They are already overworked during boarding and departure.

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