Where's my Upgrade? - A Guide to Complimentary Delta Upgrades

Discussion in 'Delta Air Lines | SkyMiles' started by shane, Feb 9, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. shane
    • Original Member

    shane Silver Member

    Where's my Upgrade?

    The Delta complimentary upgrade program is fairly complex and raises a lot of questions among travelers. Please read this thread first if you are having any questions about how upgrades work.

    How Upgrades Work

    Delta offers unlimited complimentary upgrades to all SkyMiles Medallion members traveling on most economy fares on DL and some DL codeshare flights traveling within the United States (Hawaii Excluded) or between the US and Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South American destinations that are not serviced by the Business Elite cabin.

    When you book your itinerary online or on the phone, you can request a complimentary upgrade. There are a limited number of upgrades that can be awarded, and they are offered to Medallion members at the as early as the following upgrade times and in the following priority (highest priority first):

    Clearance Time: Time of booking
    • All Medallion members traveling on a Y class fare
    Clearance Time: 5 Days Before Flight
    • Diamond Medallions on B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T followed by Award Tickets and Pay with Miles
    • Platinum Medallions on B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T followed by Award Tickets and Pay with Miles (after Diamonds have been upgraded)
    Clearance Time: 3 Days Before Flight
    • Gold Medallions on B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T followed by Award Tickets and Pay with Miles
    Clearance Time: 1 Day Before Flight
    • Silver Medallions on B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T (Award Tickets & Pay with Miles not upgradable)
    • Companions traveling on B, M, H, Q, L, U, T (Award Tickets & Pay with Miles not upgradable)
    Fare classes are listed in the order of priority from greatest to least: Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T


    Just being within your upgrade window does not guarantee that you will be upgraded, even if you see first class seats for sale or unoccupied in the seat map. Delta uses different fare classes for upgrade seats than revenue seats and upgrade slots are released gradually (and by some mysterious algorithm) until the time of your flight.

    At the time of booking, if you are within your clearance window and there are upgrade slots available you will be upgraded immediately. If you purchase your ticket within your upgrade window and there are not upgrades available, the system will upgrade the highest individual in the above list as upgrades become available.


    As mentioned above, upgrades are prioritized based on Fare Class and Medallion Level. In the event that there is a tie, the following tiebreakers are used:
    1. Medallion Level
    2. Fare Class
    3. Delta Reserve Cardholders will receive highest priority among travelers of the same medallion level and fare class.
    4. If there is still a tie (DL Reserve, Same Fare Class, Same Medallion Level) time of booking will be used to determine upgrade priority.
    Upgrades at the Gate (Gate Lotto)

    Automatic upgrades continue up to 3 hours before your flight. If you have not received an upgrade at that point, you will be placed onto the airport standby upgrade list using the same upgrade priority and upgrades will be cleared manually by the gate agent. You can track your progress by watching the GIS screen at your gate, or by checking online. The gate agent can also tell you how you are doing, just try not to bother them if they look busy :)

    Upgrades should be manually cleared by the gate agent prior to the start of boarding. If you are upgraded at the gate you can board with the first zone (PREM) and the scanner will print out a new boarding pass for you.

    Battlefield Upgrades

    In some situations, confirmed first class passengers will miss their flight, opening up last second upgrade slots. This is handled differently depending on the gate agent. It usually goes one of three ways:
    1. The highest priority passenger in Coach who did not get upgraded will be pulled from coach after boarding. (Called a battlefield upgrade)
    2. The gate agent will decide to upgrade the highest priority traveler who has not yet boarded, even if they are not the highest overall.
    3. No one receives an upgrade and the first class seat will fly empty.
    Because of the risk of options 2 & 3, some people will advise that you do not board the airplane if you are close to receiving your upgrade. If the first class cabin has not checked in full boarded full (thank you MSPeconomist) and you are high on the list there is a small chance you can still get the upgrade so you may wish to hold off on boarding.

    [​IMG] If you choose to do this, make sure the gate agent knows you are present as some people have reported losing their seats because the agent thought they had not checked in.

    Companion Upgrades

    Medallion members traveling with non medallion skymiles members can request a companion upgrade. Companion upgrades receive lower priority than normal upgrades. These upgrade will clear no sooner than 24 hours before the flight.

    If the travelers are on the same reservation number the upgrade will clear using the Medallion member's upgrade priority. If they are on different reservation numbers the upgrade will be the lowest possible priority.

    With companion upgrades, either both travelers get upgraded, or no one gets upgraded.

    Additional Information

    Delta Upgrade Priority Tool
    Delta Airlines Fare Chart
    Delta.com: Unlimited Complimentary Medallion Upgrades
  2. Sean Colahan
    • Original Member

    Sean Colahan Gold Member

    Thanks for that breakdown. I am considering status matching to DL at the end of 2011 from US and this is good information to know (written in a clear and easily understandable way) in helping to make my decision.
  3. monitor
    • Original Member

    monitor Gold Member

    Invaluable advance upgrade assistance can be found at sites like expertflyer.com (paid subscription necessary) where the number of V and X (upgradeable classes) seats are to be found. Unless one of them exists when your window comes around, you will not get the upgrade and will need to wait at the gate in case something opens up.
    Gargoyle likes this.
  4. DiverDave
    • Original Member

    DiverDave Gold Member

    Cool. You actually have the correct definition for battlefield upgrades!

    Do we know for sure where pay with miles tickets rank in the upgrade order?

  5. shane
    • Original Member

    shane Silver Member

    That's one thing I'm not sure about, and would love if someone could provide some data, although it will be tough to figure out.

    Delta's verbiage is "...L, U, T followed by Award Tickets and Pay with Miles"

    So does that mean they lump Award Tickets and Pay with Miles together and the regular tiebreakers apply, or is it Award tickets followed by Pay with Miles? I would think that if either would take priority it would be Pay with Miles, which makes my hunch that they are weighed equally and the time of booking tiebreaker would apply.

    The odds of having an Award Ticket and a Pay with Miles passenger both with the same Medallion level on the same flight seems slim, but I'm sure it happens.
  6. DiverDave
    • Original Member

    DiverDave Gold Member

    Sounds like a recipe for "shenanigans" [​IMG]

    Thank you,
    alpinesoccer and shane like this.
  7. MSPeconomist
    • Original Member

    MSPeconomist Gold Member

    In practice, upgrades tend to clear a bit earlier than these published guidelines. For example, as a DM, if space in the correct bucket is available, my upgrade clears at the end of the business day six days in advance of the flight. For example, for a Monday flight, the EUA algorithm runs starting at about 5 pm in ATL on Tuesday and is typically finished by abnout 5:20 pm ATL time IME. (There's some evidence that lower flight numbers are upgraded first.)

    On delta.dumb, you can watch the upgrades happen in real time. Note, in particular, that FC seats are assigned on the seating map before the upgrade is indicated in one's itinerary. In particular, if it looks like upgrades have happened but your reservation hasn't been touched (still shows coach seat with upgrade requested), don't panic; wait until about 5:30 EST/EDT before starting to worry that something is wrong.

    For last-minute gate upgrades, what matters is not whether FC has "CHECKED IN" full but whether FC has BOARDED full. This is not shows on the gate displays and many GAs will simply say that it has checked in full, which doesn't reflect misconnects or those who have done OLCI but will miss the plane.
    shane likes this.
  8. mersk862
    • Original Member

    mersk862 Gold Member

    Any elite using a Systemwide upgrade has priority over anyone requesting a complimentary upgrade. Upgrade order is as follows:

    UP1 - Any passenger with a first class reservation without a F seat assignment (might be in coach due to an IROP)
    UP2A - Any passenger using a SWU to upgrade. Tiebreakers of status, fare class, time of request, etc. come into play.
    UP2B - Any passenger on a full Y using complimentary upgrade. Tiebreaker of status then time of request.
    UP3D - Diamond Medallion using EUA
    UP3 - PM using EUA
    UP4 - GM using EUA
    UP5 - FO using EUA

    Could go on but I won't.

    (Edit is to give proper DM upgrade status.).
    Frozentech and DYKWIA like this.
  9. diver90
    • Original Member

    diver90 Gold Member

    Good thread. Good info. Thanks for starting this.
  10. MSPeconomist
    • Original Member

    MSPeconomist Gold Member

    I assume that someone trying to upgrade using miles would also be UP2A, although lower priority that those using SWUs?
  11. mersk862
    • Original Member

    mersk862 Gold Member

    Not sure. The internal definition of UP2A specifically states only systemwide upgrades.
  12. shane
    • Original Member

    shane Silver Member

    Thank you for that important distinction. The original post has been updated to reflect this.
  13. Indiana Delta Diamond
    • Original Member

    Indiana Delta Diamond Silver Member

    Except it's call Gate Lottery. :)
    shane likes this.
  14. bez7
    • Original Member

    bez7 Gold Member

    Watch out for NRSA passengers. On the higher traffic routes, esp between hubs, they'll snap up seats.
    Tenmoc likes this.
  15. MSPeconomist
    • Original Member

    MSPeconomist Gold Member

    In principle, this shouldn't happen. NRSAs travel on a space available or standby basis and should not be cleared into first until after all eligible elites have been cleared. However, sometimes shenanigans happens.
  16. dgreen12
    • Original Member

    dgreen12 Silver Member

    Might it be possible to add the Alaska elites into the summary? It's my understanding that they're in the 1 day category, after the Silvers but before the Companions.
    Tenmoc and MSPeconomist like this.
  17. iloveawardtravel
    • Original Member

    iloveawardtravel Silver Member

    This is a wonderful thread and thank you shane for starting it. From my experience, I know that on select routes, Delta will not upgrade elite members during the clearance time windows (Diamond 5+ days, Platinum 5 days, Gold 3 days, Silver 1 day) in hopes of selling higher fares to last minute reservations. Some of the routes makes sense to me (LAX <-> JFK) but others do not (MSP -> LAX). I think knowledge of the routes that don't follow the standard clearance window is beneficial for those who have options on which cities to connect from. Personally, I prefer to connect via DTW (and avoid MSP) on my cross country flights from LAX.
    Tenmoc and shane like this.
  18. Bigcountry
    • Original Member

    Bigcountry Silver Member

    Thanks for the info - this is great
  19. mersk862
    • Original Member

    mersk862 Gold Member

    JFK-LAX/SFO are the only two routes where upgrades are held for the gate 99.9% of the time (they did some advance clearing over the holidays...).

    On transcons between NYC and LAX/SFO, if you want the upgrade in advance you are better off going via a connection (LAS is best for LAX, followed by a mix of MEM/CVG, then SLC/DTW/MSP, then ATL).
  20. BondAir007
    • Original Member

    BondAir007 Gold Member

    Good information and very helpful.
  21. iloveawardtravel
    • Original Member

    iloveawardtravel Silver Member

    Mersk862, thanks for the info ... and agree with the order of the connecting cities you have listed. I'm just surprised that Delta did not upgrade in advance on my MSP-LAX flight last week. Just odd.
  22. mersk862
    • Original Member

    mersk862 Gold Member

    LAX flights were tough last week. Between quite a few events going on out there right now with good paid F demand, there was also the issue of United's 757 fleet being shut down for a number of days - United had to FIM a lot of people over to Delta under these circumstances.
  23. iloveawardtravel
    • Original Member

    iloveawardtravel Silver Member

    Point taken ... thanks mersk862!
  24. jw3711
    • Original Member

    jw3711 Silver Member

    Would anyone know whether #4 becomes "time of check-in", if the upgrade does not clear 24 hours before the flight? From personal experience, I believe that's the case?
  25. mersk862
    • Original Member

    mersk862 Gold Member

    Nope. Time of check-in doesn't matter. Time of upgrade request is what drives it; if it's the same timestamp, it's by alphabetical order.

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