Upgrade Coaching

Upgrade Coaching 2016-01-31T19:41:48-08:00

Hi Joel,

I just finished reading your article about getting upgrades and I am in awe of you and very skeptical.

I fly Delta simply because they are a primary travel partner for AMEX and I have a ton of miles. I typically do not pay for coach tickets over $300 opting instead to use miles and I never pay for 1st class again opting to use miles. As you may know, it’s become the norm that there are never sky saver (single miles) seats available even in a completely empty 1st class cabin, and there are always sky choice (double miles) seats which really burns me up.

I NEVER GET ANY COMPASSION, LOVE, UNDERSTANDING OR OTHERWISE and in the case of Delta, most of the agents are in India and next to impossible to understand! I have complained about the BS with regards to single vs. double miles, I have threatened to leave, I have asked nicely and demanded that all the BS fees be waived and on and on and the only time I was able to get anything done was when I demanded to speak to a supervisor and refused to take no for an answer.

I suspect you’re going to suggest I choose another carrier and the only direct partners to AMEX are Continental and US Air, neither of which have I flown on in years.

Frankly, the only incentive I had to stay with Delta was their Business Elite from LAX to JFK and now the only service they offer on that route directly is Song!


Steve Staitman


edited question

Answered by The Penny Pincher

Hi Steve,

I appreciate your skepticism and frustration with airline upgrades.

The main difference I see between my flight pattern and yours is that I purchase and accumulate my miles directly with Delta Air Lines. Even though American Express is a partner with Delta, and they manage the Delta SkyMiles credit card program, Delta places greater value on direct business versus secondary business channels, such as their credit card partners.

The way I see it you have two options for improving your service. The first is to use your leverage with American Express by contacting them directly and voicing your concerns. Since you’re a high volume spender with American Express they’ll listen to you for fear of losing your business. Keep in mind that they are earning 2 to 5 percent for every dollar you charge to their cards.

Your second option is to use your executive position and possible travel purchasing influence. Delta and most other major airlines offer top level executives who can influence purchasing decisions a special level of elite status that is based more on your position than the number of miles or times you fly. I know some executives with this status who fly once or twice a year with the airline. This would put you among the ranks of Platinum Medallions and make your upgrading a bit easier.

With respect to SkyChoice and SkySaver award tickets, it’s another airline program that I suspect the airlines executives don’t even understand. I must say that I haven’t had too much trouble getting the SkySaver tickets by being flexible. In addition, it’s often better to purchase your tickets and use miles for upgrades.

Regarding flights from LAX to JFK, being a west coaster I too know the frustration of Delta’s lack of direct flights. You can get Business Elite by connecting through Cincinnati, but that is a waste when both United and American Airlines offer choice direct flights on that route.

I am going to send you a copy of my book which hopefully will aid your travels and bring you more upgrades.

Along with my travel writing I have a doctorate in industrial organizational psychology and offer consulting services.

I hope this helps.

My best,

Joel Widzer