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TPG reader Dennis flies Delta often and counts on getting upgraded for long flights:
“I am a Platinum Medallion on Delta and noticed that for certain multi-city itineraries I am upgraded 5-6 days before my scheduled departure for the 2nd leg of my trip. Why am I not upgraded for the 1st leg at the same time even though half, if not more, of the Business/First class cabin seats are still open? I’m trying to understand when and if I will be upgraded prior to departure. Am I forced to wait until the day of departure to find out if I cleared?”
Upgrades to first class are some of the best perks of elite status. When you buy a cheap economy ticket and get that email letting you know that you’ve been upgraded it’s a great feeling, though sometimes it doesn’t make sense. As Dennis has experienced, he will often get upgraded 6 days before his flight, but on multi-leg trips sometimes he will only get upgraded on one leg of the trip even when it looks like half of the business class cabin is still open.
Airlines have pretty sophisticated technology that tell them the likelihood of upselling economy passengers or selling first class seats on flights. Even if you are 4 or 5 days out and your upgrade doesn’t clear, Delta will look at past sales and trends and check out what’s going on in the area at the time to see if they can potentially sell those seats before putting them in the upgrade pool.
Apart from that, though, the airline does not have to give you a first class seat if it is available. Airlines control the upgrade space based on revenue and in my opinion, over the years they have become more and more stingy with how much upgrade space they release to their elite members. Instead of releasing that space early. they are now holding onto it until the last minute and trying to upsell customers when they check in. In the airline’s eyes, selling that upgrade for $150 or $200 instead of giving it away 5 days in advance is a chance to make some more money and it doesn’t seem to matter that it could alienate their elites and lose them business in the long run.
While it may not make sense to you, it makes sense to the airlines to try to make as much money as possible before giving premium seats away for free. Unfortunately there is no defined way to determine if and when you will get upgraded, you just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope that you get lucky. I hope that answers your question, if not then tweet me @thepointsguy!