Delta Air Lines has one of the best frequent flier programs in the U.S. Passengers who travel medium frequently will usually land Delta Gold Medallion (one step up from the lowest tier Silver), which offers numerous benefits. Among them, you can earn 8 miles per dollar, unlimited rollover MQM miles, waived baggage fees, priority wait list, a dedicated phone line and Skyteam Elite Plus status, which allows entrance to any Skyteam business class lounge when you travel internationally. Perhaps the most enticing perk for frequent fliers is complimentary, unlimited upgrades to Delta Comfort and First Class — but depending on where you live, these upgrades can be rare to non-existent. Here are your chances of getting a first class upgrade as a Delta Gold Medallion member.
First, I should point out that I was Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion member for years before the pandemic, and most recently, I got Gold again through Delta’s status match — though I decided not to take the required flights to keep the status all year. While Delta Gold Medallion perks are great, my main interest was the upgrades, but I learned time and time again that it is hard to come by. My last flight as a Delta Gold Medallion member was the nail in the coffin.
As a Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion member for 6 years, I can literally count on my fingers the number of times I was upgraded to First Class. The main drawback I had to deal with is that I live in New York City. Whether I was flying out of LGA, JFK or Newark, my chances of getting upgraded to First Class were slim because A) NYC is a huge hub for business travelers who are already booked in First Class or Delta Comfort, limiting availability and B) I’m competing with thousands of frequent fliers who are higher tier than me, meaning they get first dibs on the upgrades.
One perk as a Gold member is that you can receive a complimentary upgrade to Delta Comfort (notification window 72 hours before the day of the flight). However, if you book Main Cabin, and you do get the upgrade, it will likely be one of few middle seats in Delta Comfort. I am speaking from experience. Because I was Gold, I did have dibs on exit row seats in Main Cabin, so I would book those for more leg room, so I always turned down the Delta Comfort seats if it was a middle seat (nobody wants a middle seat!).
In the past few years, I got in the habit of just booking Delta Comfort, which should increase my odds of getting First Class upgrade. My odds would increase because Delta selects upgraded passengers based on many factors, but the main ones is what tier they are in SkyMiles, and how much money they spent on their ticket. Even with a booked Delta Comfort seat, it was rare for me to receive a First Class upgrade — and I blame a lot of that on the city I live in.
Now, I won’t tell you that it’s impossible to get upgrades. Your chances of getting upgraded may be a lot better if you live in, say, New Orleans or Louisville, which isn’t chockfull of corporate business travelers taking up all the seats or having a higher tier status than you.
On my last Delta flight in April 2021, I deliberately booked a flight from LGA to Atlanta on an early Saturday afternoon to increase my odds of getting a first class upgrade. Chances of an upgrade are a lot higher on off-peak days, and Saturday afternoon is definitely off peak. I also booked Delta Comfort to increase my odds. Not only was the flight completely full, I was No. 10 in getting an upgrade.
If you really want to know the trick to getting a free flight upgrade, check out my Youtube video.
Remember, when it comes to upgrades, you have to assume passengers will already book and pay for First Class, so you can’t expect more than 5 or more available First Class seats on a flight from a major hub like New York City.
I also booked Delta Comfort on my return from Atlanta to LGA. Obviously, I knew my chances were slim again, considering Atlanta is Delta’s hub, and there are likely tons of higher tier passengers, but I was again far from being upgraded.
If you’re shooting for Delta SkyMiles Gold, don’t get your hopes up for upgrades if you live in a major hub, like NYC, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, etc. You already decrease your chances by living there. I would suggest just buying Delta Comfort tickets to increase your odds, but you’ll see that it doesn’t always work out. I’m now going to just buy First Class tickets because I’ll be traveling a lot less than before, and my travel budget remains the same.
I’m not trying to discourage you from trying to attain Delta Gold. The perks are amazing. But if you live in a major Delta hub, you may not have the best odds of receiving First Class upgrades!
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