Getting upgraded to first class when you’re hopelessly at the bottom of the list

Thanks to our reader Dany for contributing this article to our website:

“I was recently on a Delta flight from Philadelphia to Atlanta. As a Delta Gold Medallion member, I get my fair share of complimentary upgrades, but on this particular day it wasn’t looking good. The flight was completely full, and I was # 18 on the upgrade list, with only 3 seats available. Since upgrade chances were looking slim, I figured I would not board with the Sky Priority group just to sit for an extra half hour in a narrow coach seat before taking off. I never use the overhead space since I always put my backpack below the seat in front of me, so I told myself “I’m going to be the last person on this plane”. My thought process was that I would board the plane, take my seat, and the plane would leave the gate. I waited patiently for the half hour of boarding to finish while I stretched my legs in a chair near the boarding gate. Once the final announcement was made that the boarding gate was closing, I walked up to the counter to scan my boarding pass and what prints out?… my upgrade!

So how did it happen?

Noticing my confused look, the nice Delta agent explained how I got my upgrade. When people that do not clear the upgrade list board the plane, their complimentary upgrade request is automatically forfeited and they are taken off the list. Since I was the last person to board, everyone that was in front and behind me on the upgrade list was removed, leaving only me. On that day, it turns out that someone in first class did not show up for the flight, making me the first person in line for an upgrade. If I had boarded with the Sky Priority section, a flight attendant would have just given the upgrade to whoever was originally # 1 on the list, leaving me stuck in coach. A few weeks later the same thing happened to me on a flight from Tampa to New York, going from #22 on the upgrade list to sitting in first class.

This is just one of the little tricks that can help increase your chances of being upgraded (at least it works this way on Delta, but I can’t vouch for the other airlines). If you don’t really need the overhead space, I recommend that you wait until the final boarding call (about 5 minutes before they close the boarding gate), and hope someone in first class doesn’t show up. Remember though, you have to be on the upgrade list for this to work. They won’t upgrade you just because you are the last person to board. If you want to find out if everyone in first class has already boarded the plane, just ask the Delta agent at the boarding gate. You can tell them that you want to wait and see if you can get an upgrade via a missing traveler on first class, and they can have an eye out for you when the time comes. Remember, Delta agents are way more powerful than people give them credit for.”

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