A Comprehensive Guide to Delta Air Lines’ Same Day Flight Change

Mar 19, 2019

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Airline tickets are generally non-changeable and nonrefundable, but life is full of curveballs. For business travelers in particular, it’s not uncommon to wrap meetings up early, or have them run late. If you’re put in a position where you could stand to get home earlier, or you really need to catch a later flight to finalize a big deal, you’ll want a good grasp on Delta’s same-day flight change rules.

If you’re flying with Delta Air Lines and you have the luxury of getting to the airport earlier or later than your original departure time, you can leverage the airline’s Same Day Flight Change policy to change your flight at the last minute for a $75 fee. Better still, that change fee is waived for Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members. Even if you don’t have elite status on Delta, the $75 fee can be a steal when compared to its standard $200+ flight change fees.

As you’d expect, regulations surrounding the program are complex. In fact, Delta has two levels of its same day change program: Same Day Confirmed and Same Day Standby. Let’s go over these complexities so you know how and when to use this perk or pay for this service.

In This Post

General Rules

Let’s start with a basic overview of the carrier’s policies. As the “same day” part of the name indicates, your new flight(s) must depart the same calendar day as your original flight(s). Say you’re booked on a midday flight on Tuesday; you’re only going to be able to change to another flight that departs on Tuesday.

While the new flight has to be on the same day as your original departure, you can phone in the request up to 24 hours in advance. For example, you can call in at 3:03pm Monday to request a change on an originally ticketed flight scheduled for 3:03pm on Tuesday.

I’ve had agents tell me that the request has to happen on the same day as the original flight, but Delta’s official policy allows the request to happen anytime within a 24-hour window leading up to your original flight. If you get an agent that won’t budge, hang up and call again.

delta-airplane-jet-plane-msp-airport
Particularly when bad weather is looming, changing to an earlier flight is a godsend (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Due to stricter rules implemented in recent years, you can’t switch to any flight with an open seat. Instead, there needs to be specific availability on the new flight to make the change. More about how to find that availability below.

Unlike American Airlines, Delta does not force you change to flights on the exact same routing as you originally booked. So, if you’re booked from San Francisco (SFO) to Charlotte (CLT) via Atlanta (ATL), you can request to change to a flight that routes through one of Delta’s other hubs like Detroit (DTW) or Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). However, you can’t swap from a connecting itinerary to a nonstop one.

Delta’s policy covers travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Basic Economy fares and tickets for international travel are not eligible. You should also know that while standby is permitted by multi-segment flights, passengers must stand by for each individual flight segment, and standby fees are not refundable once you are assigned a seat on the first standby segment. Beware of connecting itineraries: You may clear for your first leg and pay the $75 only to have your second leg not clear. You’ve now spent $75 for a longer layover and the same arrival time as you originally had.

delta a220 business travel laptop tray table
Is it worth giving up your upgrade to fly home earlier? Your call.

If you’ve managed to score a Complimentary Medallion Upgrade — you can read more on Delta’s upgrade policies here — be aware that those do not transfer over to a rebooked ticket. If you move flights, realize that you’re giving up that upgrade, and you’ll have to requalify for an upgrade for the new flight. That’s pretty unlikely given that you’ll be joining the upgrade list with mere hours before departure, but it may be a price worth paying to get home earlier/later.

Trip Extras, seats purchased or upgrades purchased for the original flight also do not transfer to your rebooked ticket.

Confirmed vs. Standby

delta-jets-planes-plane-airplane-atlanta-atl-jet
Pick a plane, any plane!

Delta has two options within its Same Day Flight Change policy: Confirmed (best) and Standby (not as good). You’ll want to request a same day confirmed change when you call in. If an agent finds a better flight for you where your originally purchased fare class is still available, they can automatically confirm you for that flight.

If that originally purchased fare class isn’t available or the flight you desire is already full or oversold, they can add you to the standby list while you retain your original ticket. Standby is a much riskier proposition. Assuming you’re on standby for an earlier flight, you’ll need to be at the airport and at the gate ready to board should your standby seat clear. If it doesn’t, you have to wait until your original flight departs, and you’ve wasted that time by arriving early for no good reason.

In such a situation, you’ll want to make sure you’re welcome in Delta’s network of Sky Club airline lounges. You can gain access by holding one of the below credit cards.

Eligibility Rules

(Photo by Lisa Weatherbee/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Lisa Weatherbee/The Points Guy)

As you’d expect, there is a fair amount of legalese to digest, so I’ll let the policies speak for themselves.

Same Day Confirmed (SDC) Eligibility

  • You can use the Same Day Confirmed option for travel within the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands on Delta and Delta Connection flights. It is not available for international flights.
  • You may request a same-day flight change within 24 hours prior to the departure time of your original flight; however, changes are limited to flights departing on the same day of ticketed departure.
  • If you have a refundable ticket, you may be able to change your itinerary without a fee.
  • If you have a Main Cabin ticket, you can only standby for a seat in Main Cabin — not in First Class or another premium cabin.
  • If you have a premium cabin fare like Delta One®, Delta Premium Select or First Class you may make a Same-Day Confirmed change as long as a seat is available in the cabin purchased or a lower cabin.
  • If you are traveling in Delta Comfort+, you may make a Same-Day Confirmed change as long as a seat is available in Delta Comfort+.
  • If there is not a seat available in Delta Comfort+, you may be eligible to make a Same-Day Confirmed change in a Main Cabin seat, if available
  • Origin and/or destination changes are not available for a Same Day Confirmed change.
  • Same Day Confirmed changes from connection to nonstop flights are not permitted.
  • Basic Economy fares (E) are not eligible for Same-Day Confirmed travel changes.

Same Day Standby (SDS) Eligibility 

  • Same Day Standby is only offered if Same Day Confirmed is not available.
  • You may request a same-day flight change within 24 hours prior to the departure time of your original flight; however, changes are limited to flights departing on the same day of ticketed departure.
  • Silver Medallion Members, General SkyMiles Members and non-members may only fly Same-Day Standby for a flight that is earlier than their original flight.
  • Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion Members may standby for a flight any time on the same day as their original flight.
  • Basic Economy fares (E) are not eligible for Same-Day Standby travel changes.
  • You can use the Same Day Standby option for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands on Delta and Delta Connection flights. It is not available for international flights.
  • Origin and/or destination changes are not available for a Same Day Standby.
  • Officially, same-city/co-terminals (e.g. LaGuardia Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport) changes are not available for a Same Day Standby, but this is relaxed for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members.

Co-Terminal Swaps

Delta aircraft at New York
Ticketed out of JFK but inching to snag an earlier departure out of LGA? That’s possible on Delta

Unlike American, Delta will tolerate co-terminal requests for its top-tier elites. Generally speaking, you’ll have better luck if you’re a Platinum or Diamond Medallion member. Officially, same city/co-terminals (e.g. LaGuardia Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport) changes are not available for a Same Day Confirmed change, but that’s relaxed for Delta’s most frequent fliers.

Delta as an airline does a laudable job of empowering its customer service agents to do the right thing when its passengers are in distress. There’s no set definition of what a co-terminal is, at least in my experience. Here are a few examples of co-terminal swaps I’ve utilized during my tenure as a Diamond Medallion.

  • New York (LGA/JFK/EWR)
  • Miami/South Florida (MIA/FLL)
  • Central North Carolina (RDU/GSO)
  • Eastern North Carolina (FAY/EWN/OAJ)
  • San Francisco Bay Area (SFO/SJC)
  • Los Angeles (LAX/BUR/LGB/SNA)

I’ve found that Delta will entertain a co-terminal request if the two airports are within a reasonable distance from one another (I use 50 miles as a rule) and if the new airport has a flight that works better with your schedule and/or has availability in your purchased fare class.

Remember Winter Storm Avery? I do. I was ticketed to fly from Miami (MIA) to New York-LaGuardia (LGA) at a time which would have me touching down precisely as a blizzard was raging in the Big Apple. Given that I needed to record a podcast with my boss (hi, Brian!) and film an episode of To The Point, dodging the impending snow was of importance.

Enter the co-terminal switcharoo. I knew I could make an earlier flight to New York by leaving from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) instead of Miami (MIA), so I rang the Diamond line a day prior to my flight and combined the weather waiver that was in effect with my Diamond co-terminal change privileges in order to secure a fee-free change.

Cost

If you designate Delta as the carrier for your Amex airline fee credit perk, you could get a couple of these changes covered every year.

For Same Day Confirmed, a $75 fee applies for Silver Medallion Members, General SkyMiles Members and non-members. This assumes that your flight is eligible and an agent is able to confirm you on your desired flight. If they can’t, you won’t be charged. Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion Members will have this fee waived entirely.

For Same Day Standby, a $75 fee will be collected for Silver Medallion Members, General SkyMiles Members and non-members, but your card will not be charged unless you are assigned a seat on the standby flight you selected. Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion Members will have this fee waived entirely.

Paying a same day confirmed/standby fee with a credit card that includes an airline fee credit each year is a great way to eliminate an otherwise pesky charge.

American Express cards that award annual airline fee credits include:

Each January you can change your selected airline on each eligible Amex card by scrolling to the “Benefits” section of your online account.

Fare Class Restrictions

delta-departure-board-cancelled-flight-flights-departures-sky-club
You can move to an earlier or later departure, but you’ll need a certain fare class to still be available

The biggest limiting factor for leveraging Delta’s Same Day Confirmed and Standby options is a new rule implemented a several years back. For a long time, Delta allowed you to switch to an earlier flight if any seat was available in your class of service (first class or economy). However, Delta has since installed a new clause that requires the originally purchased fare class to still be available on the flight to which you’re attempting to move. This is troublesome, as close-in purchases rarely have anything but the highest priced fares left available.

In other words, if you purchased a flight between New York and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) a month or two ago, you probably purchased a lower fare class such as X, V, L, U or K. As a departure date draws closer and more seats are sold, Delta sells higher priced fares like M, B and Y for those few remaining seats. When you’re only a day away from departure (or less!), you can bet that most flights have only the most expensive fare buckets still available. You can get lucky if traveling off-peak or by avoiding popular business routes, but you should know that finding your original fare class on a flight that’s under 24 hours from departure will be a tall task.

The silver lining is this: On several occasions where my original fare class wasn’t available, I was confirmed on a different flight and placed on standby for the one I truly wanted, and 100% of the time I cleared the standby list as a Diamond.

The easiest way to determine whether or not the right fare class is still available is to call Delta. When you request a Same Day Confirmed change, agents are trained to look for that fare class space on the flight you request. If it’s unavailable, they’ll happily scan through other timing and routing options in search of the right space.

Award Tickets

All Delta award tickets for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands — save for “E” fare Basic Economy award tickets — are eligible for Same Day Confirmed and Standby. International award tickets are not eligible for SDC/SDS.

Same Day Standby Upgrade

TPG reader Nick settles in for a day of flying aboard Delta
TPG reader Nick settles in for a day of flying aboard Delta’s inaugural A220

The Same Day Standby upgrade option allows you to upgrade your flight for a fee, provided space is available and your ticket is eligible. This option applies to specific flights and routes:

  • Within North America (except for JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO)
  • To/from Aruba, Bermuda, Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands), Los Cabos (Mexico), Montego Bay (Jamaica), Nassau (Bahamas), Providenciales (Turks and Caicos), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)
  • Between Atlanta and Costa Rica, St. Maarten and St. Lucia
  • Between Cancun (Mexico) and Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis and Minneapolis

Delta is intentionally vague when it comes to that “fee” part, so you’ll need to ring Delta’s customer service line on a case-by-case basis for upgrade quotes.

When Same Day Change Can Be Useful

The most notable reason to leverage Delta’s Same Day Confirmed policy is to get to a destination earlier or later if your travel plans change day-of. There’s nothing quite as sweet as wrapping up a business trip early, switching to an earlier flight and getting home to your family more expeditiously.

Or, if a run-of-the-mill business meeting turns into an opportunity for something larger, being able to secure a ticket on a later flight could allow you to strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Just remember that SDC to a later flight is only allowed for top-tier Diamond Medallions, though Platinum Medallion members may find an agent willing to cooperate.

I’ve also seen SDC used as a means to better one’s upgrade chances. If you’re booked on a flight that’s full of elite flyers, but you’re willing to change to a 6am flight or the final flight of the night, you may find yourself amongst a smaller group of elites competing for complimentary upgrades.

Bottom Line

Delta’s policy for switching to an earlier flight contains a lot of nitty-gritty details, but if you’re even a somewhat frequent traveler with the carrier, it’s critical to know what to expect. Finding the same fare class of a discounted economy ticket may not happen all that often, but if you do, paying a $75 fee to get home several hours earlier may well be worth it.

All images by the author unless otherwise noted.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Business Card, please click here.

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