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AGAIN! Delta Basic Economy Passenger Gets 1st Class Upgrade (including their +1 with them)!

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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.

Delta Basic Economy Ticket Yields 1st Class Upgrade

I really wish I could say I was surprised by this email from a reader we will call “CB.” I wish I had enough confidence in Delta’s IT and gate agents to follow both the published rules and the guidance from Delta CEO Ed Bastian . But all too many times I see things like:

  • Delta IT that costs elites upgrades – HERE
  • Delta IT that upgrades out of order – HERE
  • Gate agents shena events that cost elites upgrades – HERE and HERE
  • Gate agents sending out 1st class seats empty – HERE

And the new one that we saw go viral all over Twitter was that of a flyer with NO MEDALLION STATUS flying in 1st class on an officially non-upgradeable BASIC Economy ticket. Now we have yet another data point – at least this time reader CB is a Gold Medallion.

Sorry whoever was #1 – No Upgrade for YOU!

In most of these “types” of cases I tend to feel it is a “TeamBoardLast” type of event; that is, everyone has boarded and thus “officially” the medallion flyer has given up their “right” to the upgrade. This was not the case with CB this time. He shared with me:

I can’t say for sure when the upgrade cleared. I wasn’t paying close attention because I was not expecting an upgrade. However, we checked our bags approximately 40 minutes before departure via the Sky Priority lane, and the agent handed me the paper boarding passes. We boarded early with the remainder of the first class cabin when boarding was announced. Being upgraded at least somewhat in advance, we were not on #teamboardlast.” – CB

*Sigh.* I am so sick of Delta, day by day, destroying the value of the Medallion program. They sell upgrades for a bottle of “2 buck chuck” on the one hand and do not follow the rules on the other. Why even bother with loyalty when things like the above can happen on a fare class that, per, is NOT upgradeable. Why don’t we all just buy BASIC fares and look forward to 1st class upgrades I ask you?

I thought about reaching out to Delta corporate folks on this event for a comment but I just did not have the stomach to read another canned PR response about some kind of “IT” issue that would be looked at i.e. nothing would really be done and we can simply expect more of this going forward.

What do you think? Do these kinds of events matter to you? Does it change how you feel about chasing status with Delta Air Lines in 2020? – 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. As a gold and silver medallion for the past 10 years, I can count on one hand the number of upgrades i received. I have now stopped chasing status. If I want to fly first, I’ll pay for it. Typically it’s not much more. Short haul I don’t care, long hauls are worth it. In fact, I just booked first-class from East Coast to Palm Springs for $120 more than coach.

    This year I have flown on all three majors some in coach And some in first. No more loyalty. I go after the best value and timing for the flights I need.

  2. The opportunity for the AA board of directors will never be better. Key changes to airline dependability, employee relations, and customer facing support would put AA as serious alternative. Otherwise, we take solid Delta dependability and suffer with eroding SkyMiles programs and benefits.


    These things are definitely frustrating, but I’ve tended to get my upgrades when I use RUCs to upgrade on transcon MRs, so it’s still fun for me. When taking my normal place on the upgrade list as a Plat, I haven’t noticed whether or not I have missed out on upgrades or not. Since I tend to fly on the slowest days of the week, I have also been lucky with a few upgrades a few days in advance.

  4. Troubling to say the least. I’m planning a mileage run to maintain PM as I’ve had two major surgeries this year and will only be GM. I know they have that reclaim your status but I’m not sure I want to deal with the hassle factor. These situations give me pause if it’s even worth it since now about 50% of the time if I want first I just buy first. However we are going planning our bi-annual trip from Ohio to Maui and I have RU’s to burn. Maybe a quick trip to Seoul on the Korean Air 747-8 upper deck combined with the 10k MQM boost from the Amex platinum will get me to 95-100k MQM and one more year to decide.

  5. I went to LA from ATL last week and tried to use an RUC. I was number 2 on the UG list for 2 open FC seats. I waited until the very last second to board. The flight left with 2 FC seats empty. So sad as my 4 RUCs will likely expire unused and I spent 4.5 hours in a middle MC seat.

  6. Michael R Karpiel Reply

    Rene aren’t these aberrations rather than the norm?

    • @Michael – You make a great point. How do we know? Do you think Delta is going to fork over how many times a flight goes out with a BASIC booked passenger in 1st class while those one the UG list are back in coach? This may be the “norm” as you say but we just do not know. If there are a hand full of events that tells me this is a big issue that Delta needs to fix.

  7. I’m not surprised at all, and wouldn’t be surprised on any airline. Anything can and will happen when they are trying to get the flight out.

  8. You choose to fly Delta, they owe you nothing other than the service you have paid for, all medallion upgrades are based on availability and at Deltas discretion. If you think there is a better program switch. But you and I both know Deltas program out classes all the others so they dont have to bend over backwards for you. If you want first class seats buy them.

    • @Atlanta1: Delta themselves writes, “As a Medallion Member, we know upgrades are important to you.” (Based on your verbiage and IP address, I’m guessing you’re very familiar with Delta corporate policies.)

      If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know we give Delta credit when it’s due, too.

      But when people give Delta business — and their SkyTeam partners business as well because of their Delta loyalty — only for Delta to play upgrade shenanigans, it seems deceptive, disingenuous, and poor faith on Delta’s fault.

  9. Throwing more fuel on the fire…recently i was in delta comfort middle seat. Near end of boarding gate agent visited my row and offered traveling flight attendant first class seat and then seated traveling Delta pilot in another first class seat. I am DM and 3MM which doesn’t feel very valuable anymore with DL. I called next day and complained and received apology but no assurance this would be fixed via IT system or training of gate agents.

  10. Mark Harrington Reply

    A few weeks ago flying from BZN to MSP my wife and I were 1 and 2 on the upgrade list at the time we were checking our luggage. I asked the luggage agent if she would upgrade us and she replied she couldn’t “because someone might purchase those seats.” I went through security and went right to the gate agent. Maybe 10 minutes had passed. I asked the gate agent if she would upgrade us and she informed me the seats were not available. I asked her why not and she wouldn’t give me an answer. I’m a multi-year Platinum.

  11. Rich people problems – vote with your feet if you don’t like it.

    • @Fred: You mean like this guy? 🙂

      Really, though, I’m willing to bet there are plenty of Medallions who aren’t rich (although that’s a subjective term) but earn their status because of work travel.

      • Lol, that’s people who are going to fly regardless if they want to or not because of work.
        Now imagine people like me who actually earn-earned my medallion. As in I pay out of my own pocket for all my flights.

  12. I flew from BOS to DTW last night. As Diamond, I was upgraded. Doors closed with an empty seat next to me. I asked the attendant to have my friend (Gold and doubt next on list) if she could have it. They talked among themselves, saying the next person on the list was “not there”. They said my friend could come up after up in the air. At that point, I thought the flight attendant made a good choice for damage control.

  13. Chris thank you for being one of the few bloggers that responds to commenters (Atlanta 1 & Paul) who respond to EVERY legitimate grievance with the overused, lame comments:
    “Delta has no obligation to blah, blah blah” and, my favorite, “rich people problems.”

    Clearly these people have nothing of value to add to the conversation yet feel the need to weigh in with their tripe. Thanks again for calling them out.

    Delta has had a really bad stretch over the past few months and is rapidly getting to the point that the “risk / reward” for obtaining status on this once reliable airline is seriously in question. They need to do better by their loyal flyers, not worse.

  14. Last weekend I witnessed gate agent calling through the entire group of unassigned BE passengers from DAB to ATL and they were assigned from all empty seats (seemed like check-in order) at the gate. None of the Medallion flyers on the list were called for UG. Crazy

  15. Santastico Reply

    Rene: this is what I shared couple days ago with you under the “Upgrade”session of your blog. The Medallion upgrade system at Delta is broken and makes no sense at all. “This is what happened to me this week. I am flying with 2 other work colleagues from MSP to DEN. Colleague 1 is a Delta360, colleague 2 is a Gold Medallion and I am a Delta360. Colleague 1 books his and colleague’s 2 tickets so both are on the same confirmation. I booked mine separate couple days later. Remember, we are all booked on the same flight. Since they booked earlier the booked under a cheaper fare class. I paid $200 more and booked on a higher fare. Well, on the day of the flight I checked in online and noticed I was #3 on the upgrade list. Guess who were #1 and #2? Yes, my two colleagues. One a Delta360 and one Gold both flying on a cheaper fare than me. Apparently Delta treated my colleague that is Gold as the companion of the 360 but the agents could not figure out why they were ahead of me under a lower fare ticket.”
    BTW, I called the Delta360 desk and the agent had no idea what happened and she had her hands tied since she said all the upgrade is done electronically.

    • @Santastico – When a mega paying Delta360 can no longer trust the upgrade machine… I ask you who can? #Honesty #Integrity #Respect (maybe not so much Delta IT)!

    • 1. I recall it depends on your fare *class*, not necessarily your exact $ paid.
      2. Your friend had the same status as you, but he booked before you. The time at which you book (and hence auto request the upgrade) matters, but I don’t remember where that factor is in the hierarchy.

  16. Atlanta1 and Fred not NICE!!!!
    glad to see a jax traveler in Basic got the Upgrade! It’s a Schizo system and a crap-shoot at best.

  17. We have given up chasing Platinum or Diamond. We have spent thousands to maintain status, Diamond for at least 6 years and all recreational. The final two years we lost our GU certificates because there was nowhere we could fly that we wanted to go. And upgrades to First, what a joke! So we have branched out, are buying business class where we want to vacation on an airline that is affordable and has more servicesand amenities than Delta could dream of. We have “STOPPED CLIMBING”, it just was not worth it.

  18. @Santastico Your colleague was riding the coat-tails of the DL360 flyer. And on the day of travel, they are both DL360 passengers. As for your higher fare class, it’s based on the booking class. The same fare class may be $200 higher if you do not fall under the advance purchase fare rules. For instance, a Q-booking class purchased 9 days before flying is cheaper than the Q-fare purchased 6 days before departure (21-, 14- and 7-day advance purchase rules). I suspect revenue management tweaked the flight availability to a higher fare basis using lower booking class.

  19. I”m not an apologist for DL, but I have to point out that everybody needs to read/research further before jumping into conclusions. The booked fare was an NE-class. It’s a reward economy class, basic lowest tier award below the NN-class (previously the 25K roundtrip domestic award). Per SkyMiles rules, all Medallion members are eligible for upgrades on their reward tickets. They haven’t tightened the rules for Basic Economy (E-class fare) to include award tickets.

  20. @Chris – LOL. It seems KK does not fly very much to get something so obvious wrong.

  21. Folks, I guess I didn’t get my point across clearly. The ticket is an award ticket. The first letter of the booking code is N, not E. Bookings for N-fare award tickets are eligible for upgrades under the medallion program. The info can be found on the table on

    It says “All paid tickets (except E fares), Award Tickets, Miles + Cash, Pay with Miles tickets, and SkyMiles Companion Certificates” are eligible for upgrades. The photo of the boarding pass shows an N-class booking.

    • @KK – I worked with the reader before posting. This was a BASIC E class award ticket. The fact that it is an award (adding N in front of E code and clearly shown as BASIC on BP) does NOT change anything. The warning that you CAN NOT UPGRADE is even in the popup box on when you go to book. My point is you are wrong in both your comments.

    • @KK: You got your point across clearly. We know it’s an award ticket.

      Where I do see what you’re saying is the phrasing, “All paid tickets (except E fares), Award Tickets, Miles + Cash, Pay with Miles tickets, and SkyMiles Companion Certificates” makes it sound as though some E fares are eligible for upgrades.

      If Basic Economy award tickets are eligible for upgrades, why doesn’t this potential award reservation for a midweek LAX to DEN flight next May show the E fare as upgrade-eligible?

      So I asked @Delta about Basic Economy upgrades on award tickets. The rep’s answer? “Basic Economy award tickets are not eligible for upgrades.”


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