Apparently Being A Douchebag *Can* Score You An Upgrade!

Filed Under: Delta, Travel

At least once a week I see an article with tips for scoring an upgrade. Most of them are full of tips which might have worked a couple of decades ago, like dressing nicely, bringing gifts for airport staff, saying it’s your honeymoon, etc.

Here’s a hilarious video a “body language expert” made about how to get free flight upgrades, which I think demonstrates the point perfectly:

The reality is that frequent flyer programs have significantly changed the ways in which upgrades work:

  • There are fewer empty premium cabin seats nowadays thanks to how many ways there are to upgrade, redeem miles for seats, etc.
  • In the event that economy is oversold and operational upgrades are required, airlines typically have policies as to the order in which they upgrade (based on status, fare class, etc.)

So the truth is that 99% of the time you’re not going to score a flight upgrade using charm, persistence, 0r nice clothes.

On Friday night Tiffany and I flew Delta from Los Angeles to London, and witnessed someone actually score an upgrade by being a total sleazeball. I was amazed!

Tiffany and I were at the gate getting our travel documents checked, and there was a guy next to us at the counter talking to the other gate agent.


He took out his Delta Platinum Medallion card, a “Job Well Done” certificate (which can be used to recognize employees who go above and beyond), and his boarding pass for a Comfort+ seat.

With a complete $hit-grin on his face, he said to the gate agent “so, how do I exchange these for seat 9A?” Clearly he had done his research, because that was a business class seat that was still showing as unoccupied on the seatmap.

At first the gate agent was confused, thinking he just wanted to change his seat assignment. But then he realized the guy was actually trying to score an upgrade.

The guy certainly proceeded to say the right things, in theory. He said that if they were oversold in economy he’d be happy to switch seats, though again, he did it with the most ridiculous grin on his face, as if he knew he was being ridiculous.

The gate agent explained they weren’t oversold in economy, and that if they were, they’d upgrade by status, so he might be near the top of the list.

He responded by suggesting that surely there weren’t many other Platinum members on the flight.

Fast forward to boarding. I settled into 9B, and I saw the guy walk past me to his economy seat. The boarding process took about 50 minutes, and during that time he must have walked to business class at least five times to survey seat availability and chat up the crew.


On one hand he was clearly trying to be charming and smooth, but the reality was that he was doing it all with such an “I’m gonna get you, suckers!” grin on his face. I figured that surely no flight attendant would fall for it.

So I was shocked — shocked — when five minutes before the door closed he sat down in 9A. The crew seemed okay with it, since they recognized he was seated there. And for what it’s worth, economy wasn’t oversold and the upgrade wasn’t processed by a gate agent, since at no point did a gate agent board to bring him up.

For that matter when we landed he didn’t have a business class boarding pass, as the crew forgot to hand out Fast Track cards, and he only had an economy boarding pass, and was therefore denied access to the Fast Track lane.


Bottom line

I’m not sure what to make of all this, and ultimately it’s none of my business. That being said, the situation amused me, which is why I’m sharing it here.

It’s one thing to try and be charming to talk your way into an upgrade, but I thought his approach was pretty off-putting from the beginning, as he started his “negotiation” with a bribe, by trying to give the gate agent a “Job Well Done” certificate. And it only went downhill from there.

Still, I guess the moral of the story is that being a persistent jerk can pay off… sometimes?!

Have you ever scored an upgrade (or witnessed someone scoring an upgrade) in a similar way?

  1. Holy crap. Delta needs to investigate this. They have the flight manifests, so everything is trackable. And he’s a DL PM, so that shouldn’t be hard. I’d turn a blind eye for domestic but this is an international long-haul flight in a premium market. A normal upgrade would be over a thousand dollars.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong – and I’m sure someone will – but I didn’t think DL did status-based international upgrades. Unless you’re Diamond, with certificates.

    The only legit way for him to have moved up would have been to pay the fare difference, or use miles if a miles upgrade was available. And in my experience, as a lowly DL Plat, they rarely are.

  3. No. Fortunately.

    I presume a query to Delta is in order. The crew has made a huge oversight to put it very mildly.

    Would be good if u have photo of an occupied person sitting at 9A.

    I am sure ur Delta readers will appreciate ur follow-up as it appears that guy may have gamed it more than once given how he approached the situation with a prepared modus operandi.

  4. Do you think he actually had permission to sit there, or did he just cleverly create there illusion that it was his seat? After he learned they weren’t oversold he had a pretty good idea that there would be no contention for the seat. By spending time in the forward cabin during boarding and prep he may have made it easy enough for the crew to believe he belonged there that anyone who thought he might not belong would be disinclined to check.

  5. Lucky, I apologise for how Tudeh is question is, but I’m just so curious to know: how much does this blog earn you a year. As I don’t understand how you can sustain your living if you’re not on 100k+ a year

  6. “Apparently Being A Douchebag *Can* Score You An Upgrade!”

    Isn’t that pretty much Justin Lee Ross summed up? OK he is a charming and well dressed Douchebag, but still a Douchebag.

  7. @lucky
    Regardless of my status with @Delta, I am appalled with this behavior, and the fact that it was allowed to happen.

    I implore you to please provide the flight number and date of travel asap. I will gladly contact folks at @Delta to have them investigate.

  8. Ya I don’t think he belonged in J, just pretended he did and no FA noticed. It sounded like Delta followed all protocols for seat upgrades and he found aa dirty loophole. I would recommend myself or anyone else doing the same since it’s a pretty bad and disrespectful way of getting a seat upgrade.

  9. Surprising. On two occasions this year with seat unsold (JFK to NCE) and (JFK to FCO) I paid 200 dollars at check in to upgrade to business. Considering the 1500 dollar price difference (each way), its worth paying it than taking the low route. I was surprised to get offered that deal (gold medallion). It pays to be a gentleman sometimes.

  10. Sorry ignore my post above. Typing on my phone has resulted in so many typos:

    I meant I WOULD NOT recommend doing what he did.

  11. Nothing you described made him sound like a douchebag. Taking something out of turn and not “morally” yours, well that sounds like you and most everyone that does ms, plays games with opening cards and pushing cards without full caveats.

    I was expecting the guy to be racist, condescending asshole. You say he was charming? Fake and untrustworthy maybe but not douchebag. Sorry don’t see it.

  12. @credit – Someone willing to lie and taking something he’s not entitled to pretty much is the definition of a douchebag.

  13. @Brian that sounds like a lot of people in America then. People cheating on taxes, lying in marketing, and sales. In fact most finance sales people would be in that category. Most politicians. The list is endless.

  14. I don’t understand – a crew should have a passenger manifest, especially in J cabin they should know how many passengers they have, which seat is occupied and which isn’t. I don’t believe he just sat in J without proper boarding pass.

  15. While I’ve never gone ahead and sat in business class without doing the proper upgrade procedure, I almost always do the grin face smile trying to be a smart ass, and I did get upgraded through it: three times from economy to business, once from business to first, all on a certain gulf carrier. I think as long as you are being polite, respectful and witty/charming/funny, you can get many things in life for free (or close to free!)

  16. He was an opportunist plain and simple. Since the dawn of time people have been finding ways to get more miles, fast track to elite status and get upgrades however they can. It’s no different, if it works great! If it doesn’t, take the risk and go back to Y. He didn’t “sneek in” 1st class the head purser has the list. Whether the GA or FA made the call, it’s their call to make, if someone lost an upgrade opportunity because of this then of course they have a gripe. Good for you Mr. PM! It won’t always work in your favor, but when it does, how sweet it is.

  17. about a year ago I was on AA flying the red eye LAX-JFK, seated in MCE on the 32B. The seatmate to my right (middle seat) was a young woman who, immediately upon boarding, loudly whined (to no one in particular) about how crappy the seats were, how hot it was in the cabin, etc. All I could think was “deal with it” but I said nothing, of course.

    Over the next 15 min, I watched her approach two different FAs various times and repeatedly ask them if she could move up to business because she had “a very important day” tomorrow. Because you know, the rest of us didn’t, I’m sure.

    Right after the boarding door closed, an FA came and whisked her away to the J cabin. I was floored. And as an AA elite (didn’t have enough stickers for the upgrade though — d’oh) slightly pissed off.

  18. The best resolution thay I have seen to this type of issue was on Air Canada

    The head FA did not catch a passenger who moved up to business class until the end of the flight. At the destination, a gate agent boarded and asked the passenger to pay the $1500 upgrade or be arrested for theft of services. He paid, only after first arguing that he thought it was open seating.

  19. Curious about Richard Anderson’s reaction to this…anyway, was there any drama of your mate across the aisle?

  20. Why is it assumed that the flight attendants didn’t do an “unauthorized” upgrade? This guy could have been related to, friends of (more likely), some crew member and they upgraded him. It really doesn’t happen much anymore, but I have seen it done in the recent past.

  21. I was on a Delta JFK-LAX flight a few weeks ago and several people were upgraded as the door was being closed. On routes that are not available for complimentary medallion upgrades, I’ll bet it happens somewhat regularly.

  22. More than 10 years ago, Singapore Airline upgraded my business class seat to the first class for free. The agent told me that my seat was upgraded because of overbooking, but I didn’t realize what it meant until I sat down at A1 seat on the second floor. It was my first business trip and my ticket was lowest J fare available. I didn’t even have a mileage account. All I remember was that I didn’t expect anything and I was smiling all the time with excitement of going abroad on business trip for the first time.

  23. Doesn’t sound like he actually scored an upgrade, per se. He just walked into a cabin he wasn’t allowed in and sat in an unoccupied seat. Very poor of Delta to let something like this happen. As a frequent British Airways customer, this will simply not happen on a BA flight.

  24. First, what the guy did was wrong. It is a perfect example of social engineering as he gave the appearance is was his seat. This happens in a lot of places, like those parking in handicap when the handicap person is not in the vehicle. We’re engineered to not question things.

  25. Gutsy move. People ask me all the time “how to score an upgrade.” I tell them: use your miles or pay cash. Sure, you can work the system and play the numbers, but who wants to do the walk of shame after being called out in business and being walked to the back of the plane?

  26. This is a normal side effect of Delta’s most odious ff program policy. While AA and UA would like to upgrade pax with miles+copay or with certificates and fill the J cabin, Delta prefers to fly most of its J seats empty or filled with non-revenue pax.

    Your chances to upgrade to J on AA and UA are pretty good if you’re trying. Most UA fares and almost all AA fares are eligible for upgrading with some extra cash and there are a lot of upgrade certificates available for high mileage flyers. Pulling in the $750 or more each way that miles and cash upgrades put in the airlines’ pockets makes it worth it to fill the cabin.

    AA collects $350 and 25k miles typically and those miles produced about $400 in credit card revenue and fare profit when they were earned, so the cash benefit to the business is real. It’s a little less than an ordinary fare business ticket but AA only offers these deals when it hasn’t been able to sell the regular tickets. Quite a lot of overseas upgrades are sold by the gate agent only just before boarding to pax that have been on waiting lists for weeks.

    DL has a different philosophy. Keeping the J cabin exclusive and prices high is a more important goal than immediate revenue. DL loves to send out J cabins mostly empty because it proves their product is exclusive and valuable. Of course, DL employees have the right to stand by and clear directly into J. Very often a nearly full J cabin might have only a few paying pax, but no one who might ever be able to afford J is getting any kind of deal, it’s just NRSAs. No amount of copay will get you what they get for free. Of course, DL publishes mileage upgrades but they require full fare coach tickets that cost as much as J cabin seats (Y,M,B class).

    That leaves plenty of space for being-a-douchebag upgrades also.

    DL has really improved DM benefits lately and now offers 4 SWUs. For most of a decade there were no SWUs for DL top elites. There was something called SWUs, but they were worthless. Things have really gotten fancy on DL with the 4, but UA offers 6 and AA 8 for lower mileage thresholds.

  27. come on, seriously people? this whole blog is about travel hacking. The author is a self-professed fan of JRL.

    you’re just complaining because you haven’t succeeded with (or tried) what the guy in this post did. Pretty lame of Lucky to post the date and flight details precisely…the airlines read this blog, and the guy and crew will probably be found out. Classy.

    I have no doubt half the people on this blog and Lucky himself have done plenty of things more in the grey zone than this. Doubt any of you (or Lucky) would’ve liked a famous blogger making a big stink about something you very well would’ve done yourself.

  28. Airline employees at check-in often work as the gate agents. By being nice, complimentary and/or funny in a sincere way, upgrades are possible. Hopefully, having ff staus or a history of paying up for 1st or business with a given carrier has influence too.
    Agents and FAs seem to have tremendous leeway in granting upgrades; however, no likes too see a greedy, self-absorbed, entitled douche get it in this way.

  29. Ben,

    Well you got my story *mostly* right. But you did make one erroneous assumption. The gate agent actually *did* come onto the plane, back to C+ section, and handed me this upgraded boarding pass:

    Yes, I did originally smile and grovel. But I’m guessing that in the end, they probably had some standbys to accommodate, and I may very well have been handed that new boarding card even if I’d been totally silent. I’m not sure. I’m actually curious about that myself.


    – Douchbag

  30. I was able to get an upgrade from paid business class to F on a BAcflight from Heathrow to Miami, but I was far more charming than that grease ball. I simply smiled nicely to the gate agent about thirty minutes prior to boarding and asked about the chance of a first upgrade. She was polite but simply said that rarley ever happens. But did take note of my name. And what do you know, just before boarding commenced, she called my name and gave me an F boarding pass with the smiling comment “miracles do happen”.

  31. @credit – You’re right. And so what? The fact that other people are douchebags doesn’t make this sleazeball any less of one.

  32. @bobtrial: It seems to me like he didn’t ever really get a upgrade and just sat in the seat, in other words, “theft of services.” That’s not a grey area.
    While I agree that many people on ff blogs/websites use less than ethical means to get miles (the mint “deal” springs to mind) and probably all of us would be willing to try to charm the gate agent if we didn’t know how upgrades actually worked, outright taking/stealing is probably beyond most here.

  33. I’ve seen many times Delta crew help “people they know” to score an international upgrade. There are several destinations where Delta has just one flight a day and usually the same plane flight the same route over and over again. Also, they usually have two sets of crew that work on that same route all the time based on their language skills. On a flight to GRU or from GRU for example I’ve seen many times “friends” being upgraded to business class after door is closed or at the gate. It is all a matter of who you know. :))))

  34. You claim that this is none of your business and that you found the whole situation amusing, yet you call him a douchebag and find the entire exchange to be “off-putting”?

    Dude you are such a passive aggressive loser. Get a life.

  35. Wow. It’s amazing how many “yeah, let’s call the Delta Police!” comments there are. This whole hobby is based on finding loopholes or exploiting weak spots (aka sweet spots). You’re all hypocrites.

    Obviously Delta didn’t do its job enforcing these so-called upgrade rules, so he didn’t take anyone’s seat.

    The Cheshire Cat Sleazeball deserves a round of applause. CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP

  36. What a piece of work, loitering around. He should pay for his theft. And I’m stunned that Ben didn’t do anything or question it at all; it is OF COURSE your business that he stole the seat. If I either paid or used points to be in that seat I’d want him gone, why should he take something that I paid something for?

    I love the Air Canada response to similar behavior, too bad the DL employees didn’t have similar guts to confront him.

  37. Apparently the authors of the last 7 replies missed the fact the the Douchbag himself has left a reply.

    I say good for you buddy, managing to make it (legitimately) into a business class seat. LA-LHR is a long flight!

  38. +1 @Jason. Agreed.

    The only issue I had with Douchbag was if he had taken that biz seat without it being offered to him (as this article led us all to believe). If he had actually been issued a boarding pass (as he was), then that seat is his. Period.

    It’s sad to see the recent sharp increase in hate on this blog. Between this one and the one about the rapper who was called things that set us back to the pre-Civil Rights Movement, not sure if this is about travel anymore…

  39. Why do you all care if he got upgraded? You weren’t on the flight and nothing was taken away from you. Worry about what affects ou directly.

  40. To me the bribe was uncalled for. Being nice to airline employees should be your default until they give reason for you to act otherwise. Even then, as maddening as it can be, taking the high road and still being civil

    And yes, being an honest, genuinely friendly person rather than being an asshole can get you seat upgrades gratis, at least it has for me on DL & B6, esp. B6. I’d say about 30% of the time I get “Even More Legroom” seats on B6 even if I hadn’t purchased them. In addition, about 60-70% of the time the desk agent will slip me an expedited security pass if my tickets didn’t include it. Not that I need it with Global Entry, but still a nice gesture. It probably helps that I’ve flown some of these routes as often as, or more often than, the flight crews which operate them.

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