/Economy: 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
Economy: 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

Economy: 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

Economy:

Economy: Delta Air Lines Boeing 717Economy: Delta Air Lines Boeing 717

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 717.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty


  • Elite status is the endgame for most frequent flyers as it offers high-end perks such as free first-class upgrades.
  • I recently attained elite status on Delta Air Lines in the lowest level of its program and took a trip to see if I’d get upgraded despite my low seniority. 
  • To my surprise, I was upgraded on every flight and over $800 of value was added to my trip because I had the status. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When most travelers shop for flights, factors such as price and schedule are usually the key determiners as to which one will be selected. For frequent travelers, however, the process involves more loyalty thanks to frequent flyer programs.

Each airline has its own loyalty program that keeps its most valued customers coming back for a few reasons, but normally chief among them is the desire for elite status and all the benefits that accompany it.

Rising to the top of any loyalty program has its perks in the form of freebies and special treatment, which is no different for airlines. As opposed to getting a free coffee at Starbucks, however, airlines can offer greater incentives such as first-class upgrades, lounge access, and other perks that make traveling easier, more enjoyable and luxurious.

Even at the lowest levels of an airline’s elite status hierarchy, a frequent flyer can book the cheapest economy seat and still be sitting in first class without paying a penny more.

I recently attained elite status on Delta Air Lines on the lowest rung of its frequent flyer program for the entirety of 2020. As a SkyMiles Silver Medallion member, I would be entitled to all the trimmings of elite status including upgrades and priority access at airports, according to Delta.

But given my low seniority, I wanted to see just how many benefits I’d be able to take advantage of on a given trip, so I booked one specifically to find out.

Here’s how having elite status changed my travel experience.

Economy: Back in November, I received an email from Delta informing me that my excessive travels had paid off and I achieved Silver Medallion elite status in its SkyMiles program.

Economy: Delta Silver Medallion

Welcome email for Delta Silver Medallion status.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: As this was the first time I’d achieved elite status on any airline, let alone one of the world’s largest, I was very excited to give it a go. The list of perks included upgrades, free checked bags, and priority check-in.

Economy: LAX Day Trip Alaska Airlines

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The chief among those perks is the first-class upgrade as it’s often the most valued and elevates the in-flight experience to a new level.

Economy: Delta Airbus A220 First Class DS

A first-class Delta seat.

David Slotnick/Business Insider


Economy: With Delta, however, all elite status holders can request an upgrade on any domestic flight, regardless of length. As a Silver Medallion, I’d be the last in the pecking order and the least likely to be upgraded, I thought.

Economy: Delta 757 Comfort+ Plus Iceland

Checking in for Delta in the Sky Priority lane.

David Slotnick/Business Insider


Economy: On most Delta flights, there are two possibilities for upgrades. One into first-class….

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - First Class

First class on a Delta plane.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: And the other to Delta Comfort+, an enhanced economy product offering extra legroom, premium snacks, and complimentary alcoholic beverages.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Comfort+

Delta Comfort+ seats.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: I wanted to know just how much easier having the status made flying and whether or not I’d get upgraded, I booked a trip to find out, flying from New York to Raleigh, North Carolina and onward to Orlando, Florida before heading back to New York for $157.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Flying on a Delta aircraft.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The flights were a mix of leisure and business routes on medium to small size aircraft, so I’d have a good sample size for my experiment.

Economy: Delta Airbus A320



AP


Economy: The first flight of the trip was from New York to Raleigh, a route flown primarily by business customers, a group that tends to have elite status.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Airport Departure Board

A departure board at JFK Airport.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The flight was operated by a Delta Boeing 717 aircraft, which features a 12-seat first-class cabin and a 20-seat Comfort+ cabin.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Boeing 717

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 717,

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: A few days before departure, both the first class and Comfort+ cabin were showing as having open seats, meaning it would be likely I’d at least get upgraded into Comfort+.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

The upgrade list for my flight to Raleigh.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The day before my trip, the going rate for an upgrade Comfort+ on the flight was $9.68…

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Delta Comfort+ upgrade from New York to Raleigh.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: And for first class, it was $474.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

First class upgrade price on the New York to Raleigh flight.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Fast forward to the day before departure, I checked in for the flight 24 hours on the dot in advance and was notified shortly after that I’d been upgraded to Comfort+. My $157 ticket was now giving me a value of $166.68 and I was number one on the first-class upgrade list.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Checking in for my Delta flight.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: When I arrived at the airport the next day, I was still number one on the first-class upgrade list with one seat open. Delta’s revenue team was working against me here, hoping that it would sell the upgrade.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Airport Check-in

A Delta check-in kiosk at JFK Airport.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Despite having elite status with Delta, I wasn’t able to access any of the airline’s check-in areas dedicated to elites as I was too low in the status hierarchy. Keep in mind, to even get Silver Medallion status, flyers must spend $3,000 and fly 25,000 miles or 30 flights on Delta or some partner airlines.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Delta’s Sky Priority check-in area.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The same was true at security where Delta’s priority lane was only available to those in the highest tiers of elite SkyMiles status.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Delta’s Sky Priority lane at Terminal 4.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: I wasn’t too phased by either, however, as I had checked in on my phone already and could use my TSA Precheck to get through security without having to wait too long.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - TSA PreCheck

The TSA PreCheck lane at JFK Airport’s Terminal 4.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: If I had been checking bags, though, I would’ve have had to wait in the regular line.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Delta check-in lines at Terminal 4.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Although my upgrade hadn’t cleared by the time I got to the gate, all hope wasn’t lost as there was a possibility Delta was waiting until the last possible second to upgrade me in a last-ditch attempt to sell the upgrade. I was still number one on the list.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

A Delta gate at JFK Airport’s Terminal 4.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: I still had my Comfort+ seat so I couldn’t complain, especially on an hour-long flight. As I waited to hear the gate agent call my name and tell me that my upgrade had cleared, I looked up to see that all first-class seats were full.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

The information display screen at my gate.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: But when I boarded, I was given a surprise by Delta in the form of a new boarding pass with my new seat, 1D. Despite being the lowest of the low, I’d managed to get an upgrade on what is normally an elite-heavy route for Delta on one of its smallest planes.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

A Delta first class boarding pass.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: And even got a window seat!

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Delta First Class seat

Seat 1D on a Delta Boeing 717.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The value of my $157 ticket was now $631 with two more flights to go.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Delta first class.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The next flight on my itinerary was another quick hop from Raleigh to Orlando.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Delta boarding gate in Raleigh.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: This time on a Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 with a 16-seat first-class and 18-seat Comfort+ cabin.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Airbus A320

A Delta Air Lines Airbus A320.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Though a non-standard route for Delta, the airline has been growing in Raleigh and even operates a transatlantic flight to Paris from the North Carolina city.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

The main terminal at Raleigh Durham International Airport.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: When the upgrade list was revealed 24 hours before the flight, I was near-dead last in the list for first class. It wasn’t looking good for this one.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

First class upgrade list for the flight from Raleigh to Orlando.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Complimentary alcoholic drinks,…

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

The alcohol menu on a Delta flight from Raleigh to Orlando.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: And premium snack offerings on longer flights.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Snack offerings on a Delta flight from Raleigh to Orlando.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: But Comfort+ is really a consolation prize for elites since an upgrade is nearly guaranteed.

Economy: Delta 757-200 Comfort Plus



David Slotnick/Business Insider


Economy: After landing in Orlando, it was time for the final and longest flight of the day, Orlando to New York on a Delta Airbus A321.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

A Delta Air Lines Airbus A321.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: As one of the largest narrow-body aircraft in Delta’s fleet, the A321 would feature a first-class cabin with 20 large recliner seats.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

The upgrade list for my flight from Orlando to New York.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The longer flight would also mean more time to enjoy the service so I was hoping I’d get an upgrade on this one.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

A Delta Air Lines boarding gate in Orlando.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The day prior, the upgrade list was showing 12 open seats and I was number one on the list so I was hopeful.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

First class upgrade list for the Orlando to New York flight.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Delta was only selling the upgrades for $159, however, so it easily could’ve filled up. A single upgrade cost more than the price of my day trip.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

First class upgrade price from Orlando to New York.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: Much to my surprise, I was upgraded straight into first-class just after I checked in for the flight! Delta must have known it wouldn’t sell the upgrades.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

First class on a Delta Airbus A321.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: I even managed to get a window seat.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Airbus A321 first class

A first class seat on a Delta Airbus A321.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The upgrade wasn’t too surprising since I was flying against the grain on a leisure route, but it was a nice treat, nonetheless, and I was surprised at how quickly I was upgraded.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip - Delta First Class In-flight Entertainment

In-flight entertainment on a Delta Airbus A321 in first class.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The value of my ticket was now $824, more than five times greater than what I originally paid.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

First-class drink on Delta Air Lines.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: The flight was late at night so no meal service would be offered, but a snack and beverage service offered sustenance and the large seat allowed me to get some well-needed rest, especially with the pillow and blanket provided at each seat.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Pillow and blanket on a Delta first class seat.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


Economy: I landed back in New York having been upgraded on all three of my flights, with two of them in a first-class cabin.

Economy: Delta Elite Status Day Trip

Baggage claim in New York.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


After only spending $157 for an economy ticket, not only did I spend only one flight in (premium) economy but was given an additional $824 value on my ticket through the upgrades to Comfort+ and first class based on Delta’s upgrade prices. 

The flights showed me that even in Delta’s egalitarian system where all elites can request upgrades on any domestic flight, I still had a shot at getting upgraded as a Silver Medallion, which is arguably the greatest perk of elite status. 

I didn’t notice a difference in the airport experience, though it didn’t bother me as I primarily carry-on my bags and don’t usually need to visit the counter. TSA Precheck also made any benefits at the security checkpoint pointless as the lane offers amenities that Delta can’t, even with a priority line. 

I know I may not be as lucky on future flights, but this was a great first trip as a Silver Medallion. 

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