Delta Upgrades Policy — and how I missed out on too many free upgrades

I recently started traveling heavily on Delta. Something that has admittedly seen its ups and its downs, but definitely more ups than downs. One of the reasons I enjoy flying Delta so much is because of their “unlimited complimentary upgrades” policy. Read from the website:

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Image courtesy delta.com

So the “unlimited upgrades” policy is pretty self explanatory — if you have Medallion status (Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Diamond) you are eligible for an upgrade as many times as you request it. *NOTE* that the new Delta One and Delta Premium Select on certain flights are not eligible for complimentary upgrades.

As the above picture already alludes, there is a certain advantage to having a higher status. Silver Medallion members get only the 24 hours before to request the upgrade, while Platinum and Diamond members can request an upgrade 5 days ahead of time. So how are the upgrades distributed?

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Image courtesy delta.com

There is sure to be more Medallion members than seats available, and certainly many would rather upgrade to First Class if available. But the above hierarchy shows how Delta orders their upgrades to determine which members get First Class vs. Comfort+, and possibly who misses out on an upgrade (for many of the busier routes simply having status does not secure you an upgrade).

Breaking down the hierarchy, your status is most important. So the Diamond and Platinum members will be cleared first, and rightfully so! From there it is broken down by Fare Class, with members of the same status being cleared in order of fare class groupings. On top of fare class, it is also important to book refundable tickets vs. non-refundable. Refundable fares usually are a bit more expensive, but they bring a lot more benefits. The next categories are relatively self-explanatory, with the ultimate tie-breaker being the time of the upgrade request. And this brings me to my mistake story.

While the date and time tie-breaker seems insignificant, Delta is a large corporate travel carrier. So a lot of people requesting for upgrades will be booking the same class of seat, and unless they carry a Delta credit card, will be succumbed to the date and time tie-breaker. I am only Silver Medallion (only two flights away from Gold!), so my upgrade request is processed 24 hours prior to departure. As someone who has occasionally flown Southwest (hint at checking in to get the best boarding position), and checks-in as soon as I get the notification, I knew the timing would not be a problem. So as soon as I started flying again I made sure on delta.com I still preferred an automatic seat upgrade request. My mistake came in that I only requested for First Class–which at my Silver Elite level was usually not successful.

It deserves some question as to why someone would want a First Class upgrade and not a Comfort+ upgrade, but nevertheless, you must select both on the app. And that is one of the main reasons I bring this blog to you today, to ensure that if you have any kind of Medallion status with Delta, make sure your preferences are updated:

Delta App — My Delta — Profile –Preferences — Ensure both are checked

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There is really no reason not to have these checked, but I believe that way too many people don’t know the policy exists. Delta is by far, in my opinion, the most generous with giving away upgrades. The policy also states that one travel companion, on the same reservation, will get requested for an upgrade just as the member has. So I am hoping that my trip in a few weeks gets not only me, but my girlfriend and travel companion an upgrade. While the extra legroom is nice, I’ll be looking forward to the complimentary beer, wine and spirits selection!

NOTE: American Airlines only gives away complimentary upgrades on flights under 500 miles, and United offers a similar program to Delta.

The final leg…

If you are fortunate enough to gain Delta Medallion status, go into your app right now and ensure that you have set your preferences to request automatic upgrades. While a lot of people won’t be able to take advantage of this perk, if you are in the select few you should make sure you aren’t missing out.

Tucker is an avid points and miles enthusiast. Being fully involved in the world of credit cards and frequent flying for only a few years now, he brings a very fresh and unique perspective to the world of travel.

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