The Guy Who Got Upgraded On My Delta Flight Chimes In!

Filed Under: Delta, Travel

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled “Apparently Being A Douchebag *Can* Score You An Upgrade!”

It was about my Delta flight from Los Angeles to London on Friday, whereby someone was trying every trick in the book to get upgraded… and it worked… somehow!


As I explained, it started at the gate when 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.

Anyway, I won’t rehash it all here, so check out the previous post to see the entire series of events.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it seems like the guy is a blog reader, because he left the following comment on that post:


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.

Interesting situation, and thanks for chiming in! Rather than trying to hide the comment, I think it’s actually worth drawing attention to.

First of all, it seems like I was wrong on one front, in that I was watching pretty closely and never saw the gate agent come aboard to bring the new boarding pass. So I’m sorry about that. Clearly the guy didn’t upgrade himself, but rather his methods actually worked quite well! And kudos to the level-headed approach he’s taking in commenting here.

I do want to be clear about one thing, as I think it may have sounded otherwise when I wrote the first post. I do think there are ways to increase your odds of getting an operational upgrade. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with:

  • Asking the gate agent if they’re oversold and need volunteers
  • Telling the gate agent you’d be happy to help out if someone needed a seat swap
  • Asking the gate agent if they have any sort of upgrades available for sale

So while I don’t typically use any of the above techniques nowadays, I see the merit to them, and think they don’t cross any lines.

In my opinion it slightly crosses the line when you approach the gate agent with a bribe the second you get to the counter. But maybe I’m off base there, because it worked for Mr. 9A. Now, we’ll never know if that was the reason for the upgrade or something else, but ultimately he was the one who scored the upgrade for free, so he deserves credit for that.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the update and correct my assertion that I didn’t think he ever got a boarding pass for 9A. I never saw the gate agent come aboard, but clearly he got the boarding pass for 9A.

I’m still not sure that actually modifies my conclusion/the title of the previous post, though. 😉

  1. WOW! So the story is mostly confirmed then. Now I’ll know to start saving my global upgrades and just start bribing gate agents with thank-you certificates…

  2. Great follow up.

    But if they guy knew who you were…why didn’t he say hi during the flight?!?!?

    Though not sure if your photo matches your identity well in person.

    And the gate agent broke protocol if there were Diamond members back there. His ‘T’ fare was certainly not the highest back there.

  3. I saw seat 9A’s comment this morning and literally laughed at how quickly he responded. Small world that he is a blog reader. I did ask myself if you would acknowledge his response so props to you for being so transparent and engaging with your blog. As always, a great read.

  4. HI Ben,
    I’m a writer for, and I’d love to chat with you for a story I’m working on about credit card rental car coverage! Please email me and let me know if you’re interested! Deadline is Friday. Thanks so much.

  5. In that case I might try my golden ticket for my BA J flight from LHR to HKG later in the week!

    I very much enjoy your blog and publishing your addendum this is much to your credit!

  6. “Hypocritical” is the word that comes to my mind here…You have the moral high ground: his ways vs. your ways when it comes to travel hacking.
    I don’t agree with it and I would not do it, but we are all sometimes desperate when it comes to our personal comfort. Agree?

  7. Reading your previous post, i was about to comment that please do not jump onto conclusions so quickly.. and then you posted this update..

  8. Ben, I think you are totally hypocritical and sound like you are trying to make yourself look perfect. I’ve read your blog for years and your tone has changed only more recently as well as the things you used to do because you know have a lot more airline executives that pay close attention to what you recommend. I don’t think I would start throwing stones at your readers. I would say he’s a “chip off the ol’blog!”

  9. Come on now, Ben. Referring to an airline-provided “Job Well Done” card as a bribe is a bit far-fetched. At worst I’d call it very slightly tacky. It’s not as if he folded a twenty around his boarding pass as in the hotel memoir “Heads In Beds”.

  10. “I wonder if the gate agent is going to get in trouble because of this?”

    That’s exactly the point of these two posts and listing the exact seat number and flight.

  11. But I’ve gotten first class as a non-rev (standby) on Delta. On top of that that pass was from ANOTHER AIRLINE (employee benefits).
    Then again, it was a <2 hrs CRJ-900 flight.

  12. Does anyone know what a JWD cert is worth to the FA? I’ve wondered that for a while. Do they effect promotions, raises, bonuses, etc.? It might well be it was worth well over $20, especially since DL has reduced how many of these they give out.

  13. I think seat 9A showed remarkable restraint in the response he posted. Perhaps calling him a douchebag needs an apology. And a lesson to all of us in here………….

  14. Since it has been so long that I have forgotten, could you refresh us as to what level it takes to get those JWD certificates? Is it Platinum Medallion? And how many does the medallion get? IIRC, it is 6, maybe 8?

    I consider it completely over the line to show one of those when asking for a favor, clearly as a bribe. I’ve never seen one used that way, and it makes me rethink the entire JWD program. Now that I know this, I’d completely cancel the JWB certs if I ran Delta. Yes, I am serious.

    This reminds me of the old days when the “Mad Men” type businessmen would bribe/wink their way into first class, then when the flight landed take the hot stew to the expensive hotel airport and wine/dine/bang the heck out of her, all to be billed to the company expense report.

  15. Sorry to be a bit of an on-line prude, but I think “d*****bag” is a pretty vulgar phrase to use in the headline of your post….as opposed to just shooting the breeze with friends.

  16. I’m very new to this blog and the whole concept. I’ve never been a “frequent” flier – I’ve shopped around for the deal I could afford and accrued whatever miles I could until they expired (kudos to the former TWA, whose miles back then did NOT expire – I got a free trip to Vegas out of it. Too bad I never got to use the other trip I’d earned before they went belly up.) Anyhoo…

    I also consider myself one of those overly polite people. I don’t complain about things on the flight (probably robbing myself of coupons, upgrades, etc.) and if someone needs to swap, I’m generally amenable. I would be the guy to wait for the next flight if my trips weren’t so tightly scheduled that I’d miss the purpose of my travel if I did so. So as I read this, I kept thinking a) yeh, this guy would seem like a douchebag to me if I observed all this, and b) he probably learned it all from this blog. Either be proud of your student for learning so well and own his success, or think again about having created the “douchebag”. Either way… it takes one to know one. 🙂

  17. There have been reports of success with the “Job Well Done certificate” upgrade trick. I tried it a couple of months ago after boarding and confirming empty seats in DL1. The purser found it amusing. After the door closed she went to the back of the plane to move two non-revs up to DL1. Maybe I’m just one of those over entitled diamond medallion paying customers, but that seemed wrong.

  18. This coming from the guy who is banned from MileagePlus for gaming the system. I’d say what he did here is .1% as bad as what you’ve done in the past bud.

  19. Not even gaming the system, Tyler.

    Just straight up fraud. Could have been a criminal case had United decided to push for it.

  20. Power of the Internet – it lets douchbags like lucky pretend to be brave. You had the opportunity to say this to his face but you decided to hide behind your blog. Pathetic

  21. Tried hard not to chime in on this one, but there is NOTHING wrong with this guy’s hustle. It certainly worked for him. Any Monday morning quarterback casting judgement (perhaps jealousy) just doesn’t have the chutzpah or charm to attempt the schmooze themself. “Everything in life almost happened”: The world is run by takers.

    So I commend you 9A. Message me on Facebook so I can buy you a well-deserved free drink.
    -Justin Ross Lee

  22. @lucky – I gotta say, this is the first time I’ve felt like you were a bit out of line with your post, and I’ve been a reader for years now. This guy scored a very hard to obtain upgrade without doing anything illegal or blatantly against Delta policy (sure, he offered a JWD certificate – but hey, if I got upgraded on that flight I would have given one to the gate agent as well). Sure, maybe it was tacky to grin and straight out ask for an upgrade for free. But you know what, it worked. Not everyone has the balls to do that. And as long as Mr. 9A was courteous and professional, I think his tactics were a lot more palatable than the average DYKWIA who tends to show up at the counter for every flight. And you know what, I bet the gate agent felt the same way. Now that we know he did indeed have a boarding pass for that seat, I believe you owe him an apology. I think calling him a “douchebag” was a little over the top, regardless. And given how widely this blog is read, I think making posts like the previous one when you do not have all the facts is a bit unprofessional and unnecessary, unless your goal was to seek some vigilante justice and have Delta open an investigation of the passenger and the gate agent…

    @JRL – Glad to see your comment here. Sounds to me like he took a page out of your playbook and successfully executed. Bravo 9A.

  23. @joseph N. I’m assuming the rwo young ladies the purser brought up to DL1 were non-revs because of where they were seated, plus I think they boarded late. The biggest clue was one looked like she was in her late teens at best. I doubt if she was even an employee. I could be wrong.

  24. What strikes me here are all the folks who are upset at Ben for one reason or another. You do realize it’s a blog and not the Constitution? Ben could have never made this post basically shooting himself in the foot.It took some courage to make this addendum to his original post especially considering the responses here. I don’t travel for work but I enjoy reading this blog and while I don’t always agree with Ben I like his writing style and I get an insight to what travel is like today. Finally, I will say what I always say “If you don’t like what Ben has written and it offends your sensibilities stop reading the blog” 🙂 Good report Ben keep them coming!

  25. Kind of harsh to call him out as a douchebag for doing this, and while I give you credit for being transparent in sharing new developments, I think you should come clean and admit this tag is wrong. What’s the difference in the way he gamed the system compared to the way others game it in other ways? It doesn’t appear that he did anything unethical per se, right?

    No worries, though. You only prove that you’re not perfect like the rest of us. It’s ok to be right 99% of the time. 🙂

  26. This article is very interesting. As a “delta kid” of a delta airlines retiree, i understand that upgrades on domestic and international flights are never free. If you want a business seat, you have to pay the difference between coach/business seat. On an international/domestic flight, the cost of a business seat is extraordinary. A passenger can pay the difference at ticket counter and money is NEVER exchanged at the gate. Please know the rules and never put an employees job at risk because YOU want to sit in the front without paying! Delta one seats are for full fare paying passengers, employees/retirees. If you want an upgrade in business class, you pay the difference. Free is gone!!

  27. After reading the Rolling Stone article, the whole “douchebag” thing is like calling the kettle black. Because someone does something similar to things you have done in the past, requires that person to be labeled? Goes back to “I did it for the experience”…..time to grow up and take responsibility for your words. Bloggers want to say they are part of the “media”, then act responsibly! Otherwise you are overpaid, over-entitled wanna-bes!

  28. -1. The guy’s still a douchebag.

    Bribing the employee is tacky, puts the employee in a bad position, and possibly threatens the employee’s job. Now, if the guy wanted to file a compliment/JWD form afterwards, fine, but to present it beforehand is just wrong.

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