What’s The Longest Upgrade List You’ve Ever Seen?

Filed Under: Alaska

If you’re a geek like me when it comes to figuring out “systems,” one of my guilty pleasures is looking at the upgrade lists for flights. Even if I’m already confirmed in first class or not requesting an upgrade, I always still look at the upgrade list (when it’s published), just so I have an extra data point for planning my travel in the future. Heck, for airlines which publish upgrade lists on their website, I sometimes even check the lists for flights I’m not on, just out of curiosity.

The truth is that American upgrade lists aren’t generally that long. In my experience there are typically a handful of people on the first class upgrade list for most American flights I take, after first class is checked in full. That might partly have to do with the fact that I mostly fly routes like Tampa to Dallas on Saturdays, and not New York to Dallas on Friday afternoons. The longest upgrade list I’ve seen on American has been ~35 passengers.

But comparatively I still find upgrade lists on American to be relatively short, which is probably largely a function of Gold & Platinum members having to redeem “stickers” in order to upgrade, so many elite members won’t add themselves to the upgrade list, since it’s not unlimited complimentary upgrades.

Back in the day I remember seeing 100+ person upgrade lists on United on more than one occasion, though that was usually on San Francisco to Chicago widebody flights on Monday mornings.

This is totally random, but today I was pointed to the longest upgrade list I’ve ever seen for a 737. Specifically for Alaska’s Seattle to Newark flight this morning, which was operated by a 737-900, featuring 165 seats in economy.


95 of those passengers were on the upgrade list (94 didn’t clear)! Yow, that’s probably the longest upgrade list I’ve ever seen for a narrowbody flight on any airline.


Meanwhile the evening flight from Seattle to Newark had 54 people on the list… still a ton, but I suppose comparatively not a lot.


Alaska elites automatically get added to the upgrade waitlist, so that was basically the number of Alaska and Delta elites on the flight.

With that many elites, at some point extra legroom seating will become as elusive as the first class upgrade used to be.

What’s the longest upgrade list you’ve ever seen? Am I the only one who frequently checks upgrade lists out of curiosity?

  1. Back when I still flew United, I saw a 70+ upgrade list on DEN-SFO. I was 1K at that time and ended at #15 or 16. I remembered the equipment was A320…

  2. I don’t understand why AS doesn’t add another flight on the SEA-EWR route. It is always packed, with long standby lines and huge upgrade queues.

  3. Lucky. Recently on Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale I was 26/50. As a Platinum. On a K fare. Once traveling to Dallas I was 1/1 with 3 seats and since I was traveling with 2 children I didn’t get the upgrade. It made me laugh, looking at the upgrade list via the inflight wifi

    1. MCP/A


  4. I saw a list of over 50 for DFW-HKG last year on American when they were selling those cheap economy tickets.

    I have also seen similarly sized lists for SFO-ORD/ORD-SFO back in 2012 when AA was running the triple EQM promo.

  5. This is nothing compared to some of United’s upgrade lists. Before p.s. moved from JFK, I occasionally saw 100+ people waiting for upgrades on EWR-SFO.

  6. I fly Delta to/from Seattle multiple times to/from ATL/DTW/MSP. It is absolutely crazy. Always oversold, weekend, weekday, morning, evening, packed as sardines. Usually narrow body 757 or 737/900.
    The upgrade list on these flight are absurd, laughable. Being Diamond and having the Delta Amex Reserve, I’m averaging between 10 and 15 on the list at the time of boarding!!!

    A bit different subject, one thing I appreciate that Delta allows Diamonds to board with first class. When it was first class followed with SKyPriority, 100+ people rushed the gate.

  7. I was doing DFW-IAH every week in November. Typically 60-70 people on the upgrade list for the Thursday afternoon MD-80. More than half the plane as elites! Most of the time no one cleared as it was booked full in F in the weeks before Thanksgiving.

    Saturday night I did DFW-DCA. 2 on list, both cleared, as did all non-Rev employees. And we still pushed back with 4 empty F class seats! Saturday night travel on a business route, no problem!

  8. I’ve been on a 737-800 where there over 90 people on upgrade list (included those who cleared). I was 1K and was all the way down at 22.

  9. I think the SEA-EWR the day before went mechanical, so a lot of rebookings onto these flights which means 2X the number of elites.

  10. On the AA Monday morning flights DFW-EWR i regularly see upgrade lists nearing 50 people, with the top 20 all being EXPs

  11. ORD – MSP, DTW, and JFK have recently had 40-60 on upgrade list. Sometimes even on Tuesdays. I’m now just buying the discounted F fares because trying to upgrade is useless unless you have the flexibility to be strategic with your dates and airports.

    Am completely reconsidering where to put my loyalty, but price seems to be who I am loyal to.

  12. I’ve seen 63 on an A320 from IAD to ORD….flight oversold, my friend is a 1K and he wasn’t getting upgrades to F….I’ve seen ONE upgrade by taking a super early flight from ORD-IAD…and that was while sitting in my seat already. (I fly it weekly, fyi)

  13. There were 75 people on the upgrade list on my Delta flight from ATL-IAH today. That was on an MD88. I was #21 as a Platinum.

    I’ve been flying DTW-IAH on Delta a lot recently, which is flown by a CRJ900 and is always full. The total capacity of the aircraft is 76 seats, and every single time I’ve flown the route, there have been at least 35 people on the upgrade list, or nearly half the plane.

  14. Three weeks ago Delta DFW – LAX Friday midday had 88 on the Upgrade List.

    Thank goodness I got one with 86 people behind….

  15. I recall a US flight (BDL-PHL) a few years ago where pretty much the whole plane was on the upgrade list. I was 101 on the list as a Gold.

    I’d come to US from HP, where being a Gold meant my upgrades cleared better than 75% of the time. In my first year of flying US on the east coast, I cleared less than 25% of the time.

  16. So next year, when the confort+ kicks in at Delta as separate class, and people must hope for upgrades to it like for first /business class now, will they have two lists? One upgrade list for first / business and another for comfort +? If you on the confort+ upgrade last, can you also be on the first class upgrade list? What if comfort + all sold out but first class has seats?

  17. @Endre –

    Precisely! That’s what I have been writing about and trying to raise awareness on my blog. Delta is going to muckk up everything

  18. If there are 16 FC seats, shouldn’t the list be maximum 16 pax long? What’s the point of 120 people standing in queue for 16 bottles of water at a theater?

  19. I regularly see 35+ upgrade lists on DFW to IAH American flights. On a recent flight, I was like 54th on an upgrade list of about 65 people…. Not the best route for upgrades if you’re gold status because of all the business travelers.

  20. I’m surprised you haven’t seen longer lists on AA. I probably fly 5% the amount that you do, and a few weeks ago I saw a list of about 35 on a Thursday flight from PIT to DFW.

  21. Last year on a AA DFW-HKG. 70 people on the list, I was a platinum using miles to upgrade and was 53rd on the list. Only 3 cleared….

  22. Let’s face it. Long upgrade lists are a product of a much more mobile society combined with elite requirements (in mikes) being effectively the same as a decade ago.

    Then there’s the issue that upgrades are now few and far between. That is a function of airlines selling F seats very inexpensively these days. On UA, the fare difference between Y and F can iften be less than the baggage fees would be for non elites.

    This is a new world, but upgrades are an illusion these days. I find it best to buy F or fly the most convenient and direct schedule in Y. Anything else is futile, IMO.

  23. I was number 1 of 45 on AA137 to HKG last year – and I didn’t make it – apparently a CX flight canceled and those people were flown from LAX to DFW to get them back to HKG…

  24. “Well, UA has two upgrade lists on their 3-cabin flights. Many of the people can be on both lists.”

    I have been a UA 1K for a long time and I have never seen this, and I think for a good reason: two-cabin upgrades are not allowed on United flights, therefore, it is unclear to me how one person can be on both the business- and first-class upgrade waitlists. One would think that those on the business-class upgrade waitlist would have booked economy tickets, while those on the first-class list would have booked business tickets, no?

  25. @DCS for United if someone is on both the business and first class upgrade lists they are likely a non-rev traveler. They are also likely to be on the standby list or have been recently cleared onto the flight.

  26. IAD-SFO a couple years ago on United, I believe a 757, I was 132 on the upgrade list as a lowly Platinum. Ended up sitting next a 1K who was stuck in an E+ middle seat.

  27. Al airlines such as QF and VA don’t use this system as you know. On departure upgrades are the responsibility of the business lounge for commercial pax. Only staff regrades are finalised at the close out of the flight and that’s done by a service desk allocator. I’ve seen LH using same procedure as the US airlines. It’s time consuming for one dispatcher to do all of this especially when you only have 22 min to board and get that flight out on time. Domestic flight that is.

  28. I was once number 44 on 70+ long list on DFW-HKG flight. And I bought the ticket 2 months in advance. All the mileage runners travelling on cheap tickets for no reason and with no purpose to HKG were before people that paid full price. I’m glad AA has changed the rules and ended this mileage running nonsense. Loyal business and leisure travelers deserve perks, not those who work the system.

  29. I’m AA ExPlat based out of PHX and probably get upgraded 70% of the time, even when going PHX – PHL, PHX – CLT, and PHX- DFW and vice versa. Having some control over my travel, I do try to pick the flights where my upgrades have the most chances to clear. If i’m lower than 3 on the list, i’m shocked.

    I flew PHX – DFW – HKG last week (on a Monday), and saw an upgrade list of 40+ to HKG, with only 5 clearing, including myself at the very last second, but i’m sure someone then enjoyed my premium coach seat after I moved to business class.

    Based on how EQM’s are calculated going forward on AA in 2016, mileage runs for status will still exist, and as I read it, buying lower class of fares actually gets you 1.0 EQM where it used to get you .5: http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/earnMiles/airlines/american.jsp.

  30. SFO-HNL during spring holiday. Literally the entire plane was on the upgrade list which consists approximately 200 members. I was booked in J..

  31. I saw 53 coming from DCA to DFW last week on the 5 PM flight. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Waiting for the year to flip and people to lose status. Might take another year to level out if it ever does.

  32. I flew EWR to SEA on AS in May. 40ish on the upgrade list. I’m an AA Plat. I paid ~$100 the morning of to upgrade. I think every AS flight I’ve had has been day-of upgradable, and every single time, I do it. If I was an MVP elite, I would hate that.

  33. AS has the federal govt contract for multiple routes out of SEA, including EWR and DCA. Those flights are always packed to the gills with govt employees/contractors, many of whom fly back and forth multiple times a month (e.g., representatives/senators and their staffs, regional agency people, military contractors (lots of bases around here), etc.). I remember being on a SEA-DCA flight that had at least 20 MVP Gold 75K in economy (you can tell who they are because they get offered free digiplayers before everyone else), and I’ve seen upgrade lists on that route with well over 80 people on it.

  34. AA 1647 MIA-MEX this morning had 52 people on the upgrade list. But whats more interesting is the breakdown of elites. According to the gate agent there were 32 Executive platinum’s and 29 platinum’s! Business class was sold out however and no one cleared.

  35. I live in Madison, the home of a large software company where 1500+ people travel to/from each week. Thursday night flights MSP-MSN on an MD-90 often have a 100+ person upgrade list.

  36. Saw 58 on the list for IAH to DFW on an evening flight on Thursday November 19th. Never seen one close to that long.

  37. I was on the AA inaugural 787 flight from DFW to ORD, and if I remember correctly, the were about 74 executive platinums on the upgrade list, with the total upgrade list reaching upwards of 90 or so?

    It was quite funny, as 97% of the plane was in Group 1 or higher.

  38. Thu 10:30 PM. Just boarded LAX-ATL Delta B737-900. Stand by list is 92! Im platinium 1 million miler with K class ticket. Im 17th on list!
    This plane has 168 economy seats. This means, if i calculaed it right, the stand by list is 54% of total evonomy seats. Why even boher?

  39. LH has an upgrade / standby list,
    Traveling from FRA-DXB on 30/12-2010, I recall being #132-#135 on the list, and we all cleared for the LH630 flight – however, based on how I know LHs systems, 50-80% of this could have been handled before the boarding process.
    As a former dispatcher of BA T1 and T4, most upgrades where handled by
    #See red-cap in lobby#, and then the glam-factor decided who was in F/J/Y….

  40. I was just on a LAX to Seattle and it was prime flying time… and I was number 64 of 64 on Alaska – and I’m a Delta Diamond.

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