Delta Boarding Zones: What They Are, How They Work, and How to Board Earlier

Learn about the Delta boarding zones and what it takes to board your plane sooner.
Last updated Sept. 30, 2022 | By Lee Huffman
Passengers boarding flight

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Waiting to board your plane can be frustrating. Everyone is standing around and some people block the gates, even though they're probably in the last boarding group. If you have bags for the overhead compartment, you might feel anxious about finding bin space near your seat. Understanding the boarding zones for the airline you're flying with can help minimize your frustration during the boarding process.

If you're curious about the Delta Air Lines boarding zones, here's how they work and some strategies to help you board earlier.

In this article

What are the Delta boarding zones?

Airlines want to get passengers onto planes as quickly as possible in order to get the plane to its next destination. By segmenting passengers into boarding groups, it eliminates a mad dash to the gate and enables an airline to recognize loyal customers. Delta also offers priority boarding to passengers in select airline partners based on elite status.

Delta Air Lines has 10 different boarding groups. Customers needing assistance, active military, and those with top-tier elite status board first. Travelers who purchased a premium ticket and have a Delta credit card also move up in the boarding order. Those who bought the cheapest tickets, Basic Economy, typically board the plane last.

Delta boarding zone Passenger eligibility
Preboarding
  • Passengers who need special assistance when boarding
  • Members of the U.S. Military (active duty)
Delta One
  • Delta One customers
  • Diamond Medallion Members
First class or Delta Premium Select
  • Delta Premium Select customers
  • First class customers
  • Diamond Medallion Members (if aircraft does not have a Delta One cabin)
Traveling with small children
  • Adults traveling with small children, car seats, and strollers who need extra time boarding
Delta Comfort+
  • Delta Comfort+ customers
Sky Priority
  • Platinum Medallion members
  • Gold Medallion members
  • Flying Blue Platinum and Gold members
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold members
  • Virgin Australia Platinum and Gold members
  • GOL Smiles Diamond members
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus members
Main Cabin 1
  • Silver Medallion Members
  • Delta Corporate travelers
  • Priority Boarding Trip Extra customers
  • Gold, Platinum, and Reserve Delta SkyMiles cardholders
  • Flying Blue Silver members
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Silver members
  • Virgin Australia Velocity Silver members
  • GOL Smiles Gold members
  • Sky Team Elite
  • SkyMiles Select Members
Main Cabin 2
  • Main cabin customers
Main Cabin 3
  • Main cabin customers booked in T, X, and V fares
Basic Economy
  • Basic Economy customers (E)

How to get priority boarding on Delta

Travelers have four options to get priority boarding when flying on Delta. You can pay a fee, carry one of the best airline credit cards from Delta, earn elite status, or upgrade your ticket.

Pay the fee for priority boarding

Delta offers the ability to pay for priority boarding for your flights. The cost is $15 per flight segment to buy priority boarding.

To purchase priority boarding, go to My Trips on Delta's website. If you're logged into your Delta SkyMiles account, your upcoming trips should populate. For all other flights, enter your first name, last name, and confirmation number.

Once your trip is found and selected, pay the $15 for upgraded boarding. Remember to pay with your Delta SkyMiles credit card to earn additional miles on the purchase.

Apply for a co-branded Delta credit card

Not only will applying for a co-branded Delta credit card earn you more Delta SkyMiles on your purchases, but you’ll also receive travel benefits. With the right Delta card, you can get free checked bags, priority boarding, and discounts on in-flight food and beverage purchases.

Priority boarding is a benefit of some of the best travel credit cards that are co-branded by Delta:

To receive priority boarding and free checked bags on your flight, purchase your ticket with your Delta credit card. The benefits will automatically apply to your linked Delta SkyMiles loyalty account.

With an annual fee of $99 (waived first year)(terms apply), the Delta SkyMiles Gold Card is a great choice for the average traveler. It earns 2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases. You'll receive the first checked bag free for you and up to eight companions traveling on the same itinerary.

Travelers receive priority boarding and a 20% statement credit for in-flight purchases of food, drinks, and headsets. There are no foreign transaction fees with this card, and you can earn a $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year.

The Delta SkyMiles Blue Card does not offer priority boarding as a benefit.

Earn elite status

The higher your Delta elite status, the earlier you can board your flight. Passengers with Delta Silver Medallion status can board with Main Cabin 1. Gold and Platinum Medallion members can board Sky Priority, and top-tier Delta Diamond Medallion elites are the first to board after active military and passengers needing extra assistance.

You earn elite status based on a combination of how much you spend with Delta and miles or segments flown. Your miles flown are calculated as Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and the segments are known as Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs).

For example, you reach Gold status when you earn 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs). Certain Delta credit cards waive the $6,000 MQD requirement, such as the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card.

Your path to elite status can also be accelerated with the right Delta credit card. For example, you can earn up to 20,000 MQMs with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card each year.

Upgrade your ticket

If you upgrade your eligible Delta ticket to Delta One, first class, or Delta Premium Select, you will receive priority boarding. The cost to upgrade your seat varies based on the original ticket purchased, the fare class you want to upgrade to, and seat availability at the time of upgrade.

The price of upgrading with miles also varies based on the same factors mentioned above. Typically, though, you’ll see an average value of 1 cent per mile when you use miles to upgrade your seat. Because we value Delta SkyMiles higher than that, you may be better off saving your miles to book an award flight instead of using them for a seat upgrade.

FAQs about the Delta boarding zones

If you're interested in learning more about Delta Air Lines, these are some of the most common questions our readers ask about the airline.

What is the boarding order for Delta?

The boarding order starts with active U.S. Military and passengers needing assistance. Then, first class, Delta One passengers, and Diamond elite members board. Passengers traveling with small children board next. Mid-tier elites of Delta and partner airlines, plus travelers with a Delta credit card will board after that. Next, three tiers of passengers in the main cabin board. Basic Economy passengers board last.

Can you upgrade from the main cabin to Delta Comfort+?

Yes, you may upgrade from the main cabin to Delta Comfort+, first class, or Delta One. This is considered an add-on product, which does not require your ticket to be reissued.

How much does it cost to upgrade on Delta?

Costs vary depending on the class of ticket you purchased and the type of seat you want to upgrade to. Seat availability at the time of upgrade may also affect the upgrade price. Upgrade pricing is available in the Delta app, online at Delta.com, or by calling customer service.

Delta SkyMiles elite members could receive complimentary upgrades on eligible flights, depending on their status level.

Redeeming Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates is another way to receive a complimentary upgrade on an eligible flight. These upgrade certificates are provided to Platinum and Diamond elite members each year.

Basic Economy tickets are not eligible for any type of upgrade.

Is the Delta SkyMiles card worth it?

Yes. If you fly Delta even just a couple times per year, the savings on checked bag fees and in-flight food and beverages covers the $99 (waived first year) annual fee (terms apply) on the Delta SkyMiles Gold Card.

For frequent travelers who want to earn elite status and have Delta Sky Club lounge access, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card is the right choice. With this card, you'll earn up to 60,000 MQMs each year based on your spending and the opportunity to waive MQD requirements after spending $25,000 per year. The card includes an annual companion certificate, a Global Entry fee reimbursement, free first checked bag, and American Express Centurion Lounge access. Although the $550 annual fee (terms apply) may seem steep, it’s comparable to the $545 individual Delta Sky Club membership fee.

The final word on Delta boarding zones

Delta has a defined boarding process with 10 different boarding zones. Your boarding group is determined by your elite status, the type of ticket you purchased, and whether you have a Delta credit card. Delta also offers an option to pay for priority boarding on a per-flight basis.

The surest path to priority boarding and additional perks, such as complimentary checked bags and discounts on in-flight purchases, is to have a Delta credit card in your wallet. You'll enjoy these benefits and earn miles on your purchases toward future free flights.

Great Welcome Offer and Continuing Rewards

Intro Offer

Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 6 months (limited time offer ends 11/09/22)

Annual Fee

$99 (waived first year)

Rewards Rate

2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 6 months (limited time offer ends 11/09/22)
  • 2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta, restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights and enjoy Main Cabin 1 priority boarding
  • Annual fee is waived your first year
  • $99 (waived first year) annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
  • Best for frequent Delta travelers
Card Details
  • Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 6 months (limited time offer ends 11/09/22)
  • 2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

Author Details

Lee Huffman Lee Huffman is a former financial planner and corporate finance manager who now writes about early retirement, credit cards, travel, insurance, and other personal finance topics. He enjoys showing people how to travel more, spend less, and live better. When Lee is not getting his passport stamped around the world, he's researching methods to earn more miles and points toward his next vacation.