I flew Delta for the first time since the airline stopped blocking seats and saw how much easier it was for a frequent flier to get upgraded to first class

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

  • Delta Air Lines ended its seat-blocking policy on May 1, and it’s elite status holders are among the ultimate winners.
  • More open seats on Delta flights means better chances for upgrades to premium cabins.
  • I flew Delta on the first day that seats were opened up and received more than $500 in upgrades.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Having elite status on Delta Air Lines just got a whole lot more lucrative.

Delta Elite Status Day Trip
Delta’s Sky Priority check-in area.

Delta’s most frequent flyers enjoy special privileges, chief among them are complimentary first class upgrades. But they’ve been harder to come by during the pandemic.

Delta First Class

The airline’s seat-blocking policy also applied to first class seats on narrow-body where the configuration is 2-2. A 16-seat first class cabin, for example, became an eight-seat cabin.

first class Delta Air Lines

It made getting an upgrade especially hard for Silver Medallions like myself, the term for members on the lowest rung of Delta’s Medallion elite status program.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The seat-blocking policy ended on May 1, however, opening up all seats on Delta’s aircraft, including those in first class.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats.

I flew Delta on the first day that seats were filled. Here’s what it was like as an elite status holder.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats.

Flying home from Phoenix to New York, I picked my flights very carefully to have the best chance of an upgrade while spending as little money as possible.

Delta Air Lines website

I chose a flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis on a Boeing 767-400ER wide-body aircraft connecting to a New York flight on an Airbus A320. Both had first class cabins that were pretty empty when I booked, so I was confident I’d get an upgrade on at least one flight.

Delta Air Lines Airbus and Boeing aircraft
Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 and Boeing 767-400ER aircraft.

Delta has been deploying more wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 767 on domestic routes, and they offer the best chance of an upgrade.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats.

With the flights booked, all I could do was wait. Silver Medallions don’t get upgraded until the flight is within 24 hours from departure.

Flying Delta Air Lines first class
Flying first class on Delta Air Lines.

Fast forward to the departure day, I checked into the first flight and was number four of five on the upgrade list with five seats available. It was looking good that I’d get one of the coveted seats but Delta wasn’t going to give it up that easily.

Flying Delta Air Lines first class
Flying first class on Delta Air Lines.

I was almost immediately upgraded into Delta Comfort+, an extra legroom section of the plane that also comes with complimentary alcohol. Delta was selling seats in the cabin for $84.93, so the value of my trip had instantly increased with the upgrade.

Flying Delta Air Lines first class
Flying first class on Delta Air Lines.

A Comfort+ upgrade would’ve been fine on its own as Delta uses larger recliner seats in the cabin on its retrofitted Boeing 767-400ER planes. It’s basically the equivalent of a first class seat on a smaller plane, and the cabin is arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The flight from Minneapolis was also looking surprisingly good for an upgrade as the cabin hadn’t filled up. Minneapolis-New York is a business traveler-heavy route and this was a Saturday night, so I had a better shot.

Flying Delta Air Lines first class
Flying first class on Delta Air Lines.

I arrived at the airport the next morning with no confirmed upgrade for the first flight, even though I was still in good standing on the upgrade list. This didn’t affect my airport experience much, though, as elite status holders still have access to many of the same airport perks as first class flyers.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

Not even the gate agent could tell me if my upgrade had cleared when I inquired before boarding. It was clear that it was going to come down to the famous boarding-time upgrade for which Delta is known.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats.

Lo-and-behold, I scanned my boarding pass and out came a little slip of paper with my new seat number, 9D.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

Just like that, I turned left into the aircraft and the entire flight changed for me. The value of my trip shot up to more than what I paid for my economy ticket.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

Delta wanted $385.93 for this upgrade just a few days before departure, which is more than what I paid for my economy seat. The new value of my $221.80 ticket was now $607.73.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

And in terms of upgrades, this was like hitting the jackpot. The Boeing 767-400ERs are intended for long-haul international flights and as such, its first class cabins feature Delta’s newest seats.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

The seat had fully lie-flat capabilities, no seat neighbor, and a direct line of sight to the window. It was my own personal cocoon for the three-hour flight to Minneapolis.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

If it wasn’t for the passenger across from me, it would have felt like I was the only one on the plane. That’s how private these seats are.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

But flying first class during a pandemic is a far cry from normal times. Delta, for example, has cut services like the pre-departure hot towel and beverage. Purell wipes are given instead.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

The in-flight service soon started after we got airborne. Flight attendants took orders individually for the drink and snack service.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

This flight would’ve normally yielded a hot meal but only snack boxes were on offer, as part of Delta’s modified service.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

A larger selection of drinks was available, however, including soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer, wine, spirits, and mixed drinks.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

A choice of two snack boxes was available and I ordered both, for the purposes of this story.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

First up was the bistro snack box. It was packed with goodies like gummy bears, potato chips, a meat stick, Tic Tacs, a cheese spread, Oreo cookies, a Kind bar, and crackers.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

The market snack box then included popped chips, almonds, beef jerky, a protein bar, a Ghirardelli chocolate,

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

Both had some great items but didn’t impress me much. Similar snack boxes were sold in economy for around $10 before the pandemic.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats.

The seat itself did most of the work on this flight, and I used the lie-flat capability to its fullest. After finishing the meal, I reclined all the way flat and got some well-needed rest.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

The Twin Cities shortly came into view after an incredible relaxing flight, and my time with the seat soon came to an end.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

After a four-hour layover spent in the Delta Sky Club, I headed to my next gate. Minneapolis airport was incredibly quiet, and that had tracked with my flight being empty.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats.

A total of 79 seats went empty, with 10 empty seats in first class alone.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Minneapolis to New York.

My upgrade had cleared at pretty much the 24-hour mark before my flight, and I had my pick of seats.

Flying Delta Air Lines first class
Flying first class on Delta Air Lines.

These seats were nothing like the modern lie-flat seats on the Boeing 767, but they were as comfortable as they looked.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

Delta wanted $192.43 for this upgrade meaning the value of my $221.80 ticket was now $800.16.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

After an hour-long delay, we took off into the Minnesota sky. There was no pre-departure service, just like the previous flight, but the service started quickly after takeoff.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

The cabin was less than half full so it didn’t take long for the flight attendant to reach me. I ordered an old fashioned and both snack boxes.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

The mixed drink came first and this time, it was pre-poured but still in a plastic cup. I really enjoyed it.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to New York.

Ordering both snack boxes again, I got to pick and choose from each which snacks to eat. If Delta is reading and decides to add this hybrid snack box to the menu, please call it “Tom’s snack box.”

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

The rest of the flight continued uneventfully as we progressed towards New York. I was the epitome of relaxed as I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment from the comfort of my oversized recliner.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

But the flight soon came to an end, and the experience was over.

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
Flying Delta Air Lines in first class from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

In total, the value of my $221.80 ticket ultimately shot up to $800.16, and I didn’t have to do a thing.

Delta Air Lines First Class Minneapolis to New York Airbus A320
Flying Delta Air Lines first class from Minneapolis to New York.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I recently took 3 flights with Delta as an elite status holder and managed to snag $800 in free upgrades despite seat-blocking policies – here’s how

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

  • Having elite status on Delta typically means free first class upgrades for the most frequent flyers.
  • Fewer seats are available in premium cabins, however, thanks to Delta’s pandemic seat-blocking policy.
  • I took three flights on Delta and still got seven times worth the value of my ticket in upgrades.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Loyalty has its perks, even during a pandemic.

I earned elite status on Delta Air Lines in late 2019, just a few months before the pandemic grounded even the most frequent flyers. My first experiment flying with status in February 2020 earned me hundreds of dollars in free extras like upgrades to first class and more legroom seats.

Enjoying the perks of the status during the pandemic, however, has been harder as Delta is blocking middle seats and adjacent seats in first class. It’s an easy trade-off to make when it comes to safety but means fewer upgrades to the premium cabins.

Delta, like most major US airlines, extended its members’ elite status for an extra year and gave frequent flyers like me more time to enjoy the perks. On a recent trip, I took three Delta flights to see how far having status would get me, even as a lowly Silver Medallion as those in the first rung of the program are called.

I flew from Houston, Texas to New York via Salt Lake City and Los Angeles on a variety of aircraft to see just how much more I’d get from my fare by sticking with Delta during the pandemic.

Here’s what I found.

Having elite status on Delta comes with a variety of free perks ranging from first class upgrades to checked bags.

Delta Silver Medallion
Welcome email for Delta Silver Medallion status.

And as any elite will likely say, the upgrades are the most sought after as they can be the best bang for you buck and can instantly elevate a trip. Even Silver Medallions can get upgraded to first class, as I found on a February 2020 trip to Orlando.

first class Delta Air Lines

Read More: I took 3 Delta flights in one day after finally getting elite status to see if it’s really worth having — here’s what I discovered

Coming home from a trip in February, I booked three flights on Delta for a total of $139.50 which meant three opportunities for upgrades either into first class or Delta Comfort+, an extra legroom section of economy.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The real prize, however, would be to get an upgrade on the longest of my flights, from Los Angeles to New York. Delta classifies this route as “Delta One” and the Boeing 767-400 operating the flight featured brand-new first class seats.

Delta One

The upgrade window for Silver Medallion opens 24 hours before departure for each flight. But that didn’t stop me from checking the seat maps on my flights every day leading up to the flight to check my odds.

Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.
Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic

My first flight was from Houston to Salt Lake City on Delta’s Airbus A220-300, the newest aircraft in its fleet.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

With the new seat-blocking policy, the normally 30-seat Comfort+ cabin was reduced to 16 seats…

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

And first class was down from 12 seats to only six. I might’ve had a good chance to get upgraded into first class in normal times but it was seemingly impossible now.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

My flight was departing at 7:50 a.m. so I made sure to check in exactly at the 24-hour mark to see if I had scored the upgrade. The odds were quickly stacked against me as I soon found myself number nine out of nine for a first class upgrade with one seat available.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

I was able to snag a Comfort+ upgrade, however, valued at $45.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The upgrade yielded me a window seat in the second-row of the cabin. This normally would also mean being one of the first people on the plane but Delta now boards from the back to the front due to the pandemic.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

These seats offer 34 inches of pitch, giving me some extra room to stretch out during the three-hour flight to Utah.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Once airborne, flight attendants began the in-flight service. Comfort+ typically receives “premium” snacks but all economy passengers now receive a snack bag, with mine featuring Biscoff cookies and Goldfish.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Complimentary alcohol, however, is a perk that’s surprisingly survived the pandemic service cuts. It was a bit early for me so I held off but was shocked that I could order a beer and not a soda.

Delta Elite Status Day Trip
The alcohol menu on a Delta flight from Raleigh to Orlando.

While it wasn’t first class, the Comfort+ upgrade combined with the empty middle seat made for a great flight to Salt Lake City. And come time to deplane, I was off relatively quickly.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

My $139.50 ticket was now worth $184.50 thanks to the $45 upgrade.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

My next flight was from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, a quick one-hour hop on a slightly larger Boeing 737-900ER. The total number of available first class seats on this aircraft is 10, and 14 in Comfort+ under the seat blocking policy.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

I thought I had a better chance of a first class upgrade on this one but I was sadly mistaken. I was number five on the upgrade list out of five with three seats open.

Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.
Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic

I did manage to get another upgrade to Comfort+ pretty quickly after departure, valued at $24. Once again, I got a window seat with the middle seat open.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The aisle seat also ended up staying open, as luck would have it, giving me an entire row to myself. This upgrade was almost proving to be equal to first class.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The quick flight to Los Angeles meant only an hour to enjoy the upgrade but I did take advantage of the complimentary alcohol.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

And naturally, I was one of the first to “hop off the plane at LAX.” The total value of my $139.50 ticket was now $208.50 thanks to the $24 upgrade, with one flight to go.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The next flight was the big one, Los Angeles to New York on one of Delta’s largest jets.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

I was already upgraded to Comfort+ and that would’ve been a fine consolation. Comfort+ seats on this jet were the equivalent of domestic first class seats on Delta’s smaller jets.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

But I was striving for Delta One and the odds were in my favor as no seats were blocked for social distancing in the 34-seat premium cabin. I was 16 of 19 on the upgrade list leading up to departure.

Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.
Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic

I was hoping to get an early upgrade so I could use the Delta Sky Club, which is open to domestic Delta One passengers, but it was looking like I’d get the infamous gate upgrade.

Delta Sky Club
A Delta Sky Club at JFK Airport Terminal 4.

Delta sometimes tries to wait until the very last second to sell an upgrade and those on the upgrade list won’t know they’ve been upgraded until they literally scan their boarding passes.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

And that’s exactly what happened to me. I was assigned seat 8D in Delta One.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

First class was allowed to board first and I turned left into the immaculate cabin. Delta primarily uses this jet to fly to Europe and South America but the pandemic had luckily relegated it to primarily domestic routes like this one.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

My seat was away from the aisle and offered additional privacy.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

I immediately got to work playing with all of its features, including the big in-flight entertainment screen.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Among other amenities, the seat came with a pillow and comforter…

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Noise-canceling headphones…

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

And power outlets.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

It was safe to say that this was going to be a good flight.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

We quickly departed from Los Angeles and it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a typical first class flight. Even in Delta One, there were no hot towels, meals, or champagne, par for the course during the pandemic.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Flight attendants instead offered us the standard snack bag and some snack boxes. I chose the meat and cheese kit.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Complimentary alcohol was also on offer but nothing more than beer and wine.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

I settled in for the flight just fine and did my best to stay awake after an already long day so that I could enjoy the experience. Day quickly turned to night and the mood lights in the cabin activated, making for an incredibly relaxing ambiance.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

The in-flight entertainment screen had no shortage of selections and I watched Tenet and Citizen Kane all the way to New York.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Delta was charging $799 extra for this seat and I was able to get it for free. The new value of my $139.50 ticket was $1,007.50.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Would I have snagged this upgrade in normal times? Almost certainly not.

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

Getting a first class upgrade as a Silver Medallion proved to be harder during the pandemic than in normal times but getting at least one flight in the premium cabin made it all worth it.

Delta is “upgauging,” or placing larger aircraft, on more domestic routes that increase a frequent flyer’s chance of an upgrade but getting bumped to first class is few and far between for those lower in the program thanks to the seat-blocking policy. 

April 30, however, is the current expiration date for that policy (unless Delta extends it again) at which point it may be easier for elites to snag a first class seat. Until then, the best way to first class is to either buy a ticket in the cabin or seek out the airline’s largest aircraft. 

Read the original article on Business Insider