Delta’s Move Toward Flexibility: Upgrade Any Single Flight at Any Time After Ticketing


If there’s one area where I think the low cost carriers have a huge advantage over the legacy carriers, it’s in the ability to tailor the inflight experience at any point before travel. If you buy a ticket on an airline like Spirit, you can pick and choose what add-ons you want at any time. Do you want the Big Front Seat? Sure. Extra bags? No problem. You have to pay, of course, but the options are there. For the legacies, that’s not generally how it works. Instead, they like to lock you in to specific products with only minimal flexibility. Of course, no experience has greater potential for frustration than Basic Economy since there’s no way out even if you want to pay. There’s no news on that front, but Delta IS making it easier to upgrade into Comfort+ or First Class. It’s a good step.

When airlines started selling extra legroom seating to the general public, it was just a paid standalone seat assignment. Are you in coach and you want Economy Plus on United or Main Cabin Extra on American? No problem. You just pick the seat and pay. Delta used to be that way with Economy Comfort, but back in 2015 it decided to start selling Comfort+ as a separate fare, just like First Class. If you bought a cheap fare, then that’s great, but you couldn’t pay to get extra legroom unless you changed your ticket and paid the fare difference. That sometimes resulted in a massive charge that wouldn’t make sense for anyone. It didn’t help that Delta only sold Comfort+ as a fare in some markets and not others, so people found there was, in some cases, no way to even sit in Comfort+ on certain connecting flights. It was ridiculous.

Now, Delta has a new plan. Once you purchase a ticket, you can go to (doesn’t matter where you bought the ticket, travel agent, etc), and you’ll be presented with options to upgrade into Comfort+ and First. Not only that, but the options are leg by leg. That’s huge new capability for Comfort+, and it’s an improvement for First as well. There’s no longer a need to upgrade to First on some tiny short flight just to make sure you have it on the long connecting flight as would have been the case before. You can pick and choose. This is particularly helpful for the corporate traveler who can only fly coach per company policy but wants to pay to upgrade into something better. Now he or she can just use a personal credit card to pay for the upgrade after ticketing.

Unfortunately, you can’t see any of the pricing on this before ticketing, so it’s not easy to compare to figure out what will be best in advance. But I have itineraries we’ve booked at Cranky Concierge that I can use to evaluate. For example, let’s look at a trip from Philly to San Diego via Atlanta.

This particular trip was booked just over a week ago for travel a couple months out. The price in coach was $235.80 at the time. If we were to try to book it yesterday when I wrote this, it would have been $315.55 for the same flights. Comfort+ today is selling for $536.55 (a $221 premium over coach) and First Class is selling for $731.30, a $415.75 premium over regular coach. If we log on to, what does it offer us?

Well that’s interesting and encouraging. Comfort+ and First Class are both significantly cheaper to buy this way versus paying the fare difference. Of course, not everything is likely to be cheaper.

It was common for Delta to offer upgrades into First Class for a fixed amount as a promotional offer before this. You couldn’t do it flight by flight, as mentioned, but if you were flying nonstop, then this is the same thing. One of our people here at Cranky Concierge had an offer to upgrade for $135 on his trip from Nashville to Boston this week. Today it’s $224. So there’s clearly some revenue optimization going on here as well. For some, it will be a positive while for others, maybe not. Regardless, the additional functionality is entirely welcome regardless of the pricing tweaks that could have been implemented anyway.

And wait, what’s this? Did an airline finally figure out how to use a carrot instead of a stick?

Notice on the pricing that you can buy individual legs for a certain price but you get a discount if you buy them both together. Knowing airlines, I’d have expected them to give you a single price for the whole trip and then tell you how much you’d be penalized for doing it on an individual flight basis. Baby steps….

As a regular traveler, I like this. It gives me more options to tailor my trip, and it’s about time the legacies have started to catch up to the ultra low cost carriers in that regard. (Can you believe that anyone can make a statement like that?) But now, let’s see what else Delta can do. What if someone bought a regular ticket and then decided money was more important and wanted to downgrade to Basic Economy? It could look like this:

Alright, maybe not. But anything the airlines can do to let people pick and choose what they want at any time before the journey is a step in the right direction.

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32 comments on “Delta’s Move Toward Flexibility: Upgrade Any Single Flight at Any Time After Ticketing

  1. I strongly believe that’s the future of purchasing airline tickets. Secure a seat a few months out, and then once nearer to the flight (and with more certainty you’ll fly), purchase additionals !
    Great from Delta to lead the way (well, if you can say it like that for something that has existed elsewhere for a long time ! ).

  2. Sorry if this is offtopic to this topic about Delta, but just wondering your thoughts on this:

    Philippine carrier Cebu Pacific is suspending flights from Manila to Kuwait, Doha, and Riyadh starting in July, leaving Dubai and Sydney as its only remaining long-haul routes. They use A330s for long-haul, also using them on routes like Singapore, Bangkok and Seoul (starting in July), Hong Kong (seasonally), Cebu, and Davao. They have seven A330s with an eight on the way, but in July, with eight aircraft and only seven or eight routes using the aircraft (only two of which are long-haul, though they apparently do plan to add capacity on said routes), is that something to be worried about? Are those suspensions a sign that the carrier’s long-haul operations are struggling?

    1. MK03 – Well it would seem indeed that this means long haul operations are struggling since they’re dropping more than half their long haul routes.

  3. Delta’s moves are an attempt to drive incremental revenue thru ancillary services which incidentally are taxed at a lower rate than air transportation, something the ultra low cost carriers have figured out. Customers make the choice to fly based on the lowest price but often want to be able to add on extras the closer they get to departure. and it does require significant advances in automation and also incentives passengers to come to Delta; there are certainly passengers that buy elsewhere and will upgrade their trip at but more and more passengers will figure out that they can just buy with Delta from the beginning and customize their travel. I don’t know if Delta is sending push emails offering upgrades and ancillary services but I am certain that will happen. This type of control of distribution and the total product is exactly what airlines want and some of the GDSs, including Sabre as you noted, have been so slow in delivering. This will also raise the question of whether the single-price model that the low cost carriers use is best or whether the legacy/ULCC of breaking the trip into bite sized pieces generates the most revenue. I suspect the answer will be that breaking a trip into bite-sized pieces with frequent opportunities for upsell generates more total revenue.

  4. Great opportunity, but must not be available on the app.  I am no longer a road warrior and hold no Airlines status. We just returned from a trip to Salt Lake City for a work conference. Two or three days before our original flight in the app I could upgrade for $900 per passenger, Philly to Salt Lake. After a particularly rough flight on the way out, I contemplated trying to upgrade to comfort for the return leg and only looked on the app and there was nothing there that allowed this

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  5. Obviously, I’m a bit older than most, but this “it gives me more options,” is a bunch of crap. It gives airline people more ways to separate you from your cash for what all these years you just took for granted.

    Just give me a nice seat, one with a decent pitch, a pitch that comfortably covers just about anyone who boards the plane, with the seat location something one can choose from the seat map when I buy the ticket.

    Let the ticket cover the transport of me, my clothes, anything I need to get into or out of the airport, be it Fairbanks or Key West, something I carry and amuse, bemuse myself during the flight and which I will stow at my feet, some en route liquid refreshment, like water, coffee, tea, etc., maybe a sandwich or some snacks I can pull from the airline’s bag at boarding, the cost of my carrying my luggage–one suitcase, to be CHECKED. Options? Try NetJet.

  6. Cheers to Delta for offering more options. I’ve never understood why upgrading on a multi-leg trip required it on every leg. While it’s nice to sit up front all-the-time it’s much more a priority to me when I’m on the long haul flight OR trying for a quick connection. The latter is something that really matters to me especially when doing an illegal connection to get home on a Friday afternoon. That is when I’d gladly pay $$$ to buy myself valuable time that isn’t wasted waiting for 35 rows of people to deplane in front of me.

    Now the drawback is that being someone with Delta status I’ve often been able to count on getting upgraded to the C+ seat. I’m not diamond so F isn’t very often but now that they are offering more upgrade options to the masses is my FF status even further devalued? I’m guessing yes, albeit marginally. Still like more options than less.

    Any word this will work on reward flights too?

    1. A – Not sure about award travel but I doubt it. All the trips we have are already in the premium cabin, so I can’t test it. It would be surprising if that was an option though.

      1. I do have award flights booked on DL but it shows all the C+ and F seats greyed out and unavailable. I’m sure they aren’t all taken on all 4 legs so that functionality must not be there. Oh well, got r/t tix for 18k miles vs. $500+/ticket. Best use of skypesos yet.

  7. A smart business decision. But oh boy… if this leads to less free upgrades (seats taken already) for the elites, the complaining will be endless.

    1. Delta has been working to make complimentary upgrades to first harder and harder to get every since they rolled out their first First Class Monetization strategy a few years ago. They’ve been talking about driving the number of paid first passengers up to 80-90% of the cabin now, which moves like this will facilitate.

      It’s great for the ‘average’ traveler, but definitely not ideal for elites.

      1. Hi CF – I’m glad to see the improvements, but I have noticed on a recent trip with United for business I was offered a First Class upgrade to Orlando for cheap. However this was offered at check in versus when setting up a trip.

  8. Sounds like a great move! Happy to see it. Wonder if it will be system wide or limited to domestic only?

  9. This is a great benefit for those (Me) that are issued tix from a central account/travel agent. The big question is if the upgraded seats qualify for 1.5 MQMs as purchased first class tix receive? I have upgraded some segments for future travel so I’ll see what’s what.

    All in all I am happy with the change.

  10. I just found out about this change and have actually done a few upgrades to first on future flights. Do these upgrades qualify for “real” first class travel such as 1.5 Delta Skymiles vs 1? If I get rerouted/delayed/canceled will I be at the front of the line for an upgrade on the new itinerary?

    Also I agree that this will allow far fewer elites the opportunity to upgrade. I’m PM so I rarely get any upgrades but DM may be quite upset when this all unfolds.

    1. last week on DL i did a pd upgrade MSP-SLC, it posted the upgrade charfe too, including all the bonus miles for F fare

    2. I doubt it’ll count for extra miles, and I don’t know how the upgrade list would work in case of irregular operations.

    3. If you bough an upgrade to First in the old system it would go into either the G, A, or P fare buckets and they each have a 50% MQM bonus.

  11. Nice to see this, a definite improvement. Last December I purchased a SRQ-DTW-YYZ-SRQ itinerary and bought it in Comfort +, which was worth it on every segment except for DTW-YYZ; having the option to eliminate that short segment would have been nice.

  12. Alaska lets you upgrade to extra legroom seats {“Premium Class”) using their app until the gate agents have started assigning those waiting for any seat on the plane a seat (first class upgrades are done before boarding starts). It usually costs about $20 per flight hour and I do it once in a while if the middle seat next to me is not open and/or I can see that the waitlist for seats is long and that I’m going to lose my empty middle neighbor.
    I rarely do it SEA-DEN ($42) but often do it SEA-ORD ($64) or SEA-DCA ($80 but it’s often full because so many MVP 75+),
    I even once had a conversation like this at the gate on the SEA to DCA flight.
    Her: I really wish there was an aisle seat open
    Me: I’m about to upgrade to Extra Legroom, I’m in 18C, you can snag it in a minute if you move fast.
    Her: Great!
    Me: (Buying seat)… go!
    Her: (refresh refresh refresh gets it!) Hooray!
    Both of us were happy, her so much that she gave me $20. :-)

  13. I really like this…it never made any sense to me that airlines would discourage upgrade changes by slapping on change fees. More money is always better for the airline, right?

  14. can i ask a questtion do you knoww why airfare is so expensivensive from NYC to pittsburgh for a short flight

  15. When I was in the US last month, I took the risk and booked one sector in Basic Economy BUF-LGA It was DL Basic Economy (which is better than the other legacies). It was also a single-sector itinerary. Still, the fact that you don’t get a seat assignment until the boarding gate is a bit nerve-wracking. This was also the last flight of the day on this route on DL, so that was a bit concerning as well. In the end, it worked out great. I got an exit row seat at no extra charge, and still got on board snacks. I can see that if anything goes wrong, you’re stuffed, but Basic Economy can work out well.

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