What Are Delta’s “Preferred” Seats & Should You Pay Extra to Sit There?

by SharonKurheg

Once upon a time, we were flying on Delta and I knew we’d be on an MD-88 aircraft (well, before Delta retired the MD-80s for good in 2020).  I didn’t mind this plane for shorter flights because it had a 3-2 seating arrangement. With that, I could choose to sit on the side with two seats and then Sharon could have the window (her favorite) and I could have the aisle (my favorite). We’d also have the bonus of not needing to worry about who’d sit in the middle seat. One of the downsides of that plane was the overhead bin on the two-seat side was smaller and didn’t fit many carry-on bags. Everyone had to put their larger bags on the side with three seats since those are larger bins and those who boarded later usually had to gate check their bags because all the space was taken.

I didn’t want to have to gate-check a carry-on bag if I didn’t absolutely have to, so I found a way to board the plane with one of the first boarding groups. Here’s how I did it:


Delta MD-88 seating chart – larger image

As this was a short weekend trip, we only had our roll aboard carry-on bags. On previous trips, we’d found that while these bags were well within the airline’s size restrictions for carry-ons, we were still asked to check them if the overhead bins were all filled. What made us irritated was when we were told that the bins were “all full,” but there was still plenty of space when we got on the plane. We should have been told we needed to gate check our bags because “we don’t want to waste time when boarding because we’re graded on leaving on time, so we will gate check your bag to speed things up, but we might end up breaking things in your bag in the process.”

When I originally printed boarding passes for our flight, we were in Boarding Group 2. That might not sound bad, but according to the Delta boarding chart at the time (it’s since changed), that was the next to last group getting on the plane. We were just ahead of people who booked basic economy, or the cheapest of the cheap fares. What to do?

Well, one way to ensure you get earlier boarding with Delta is to have one of their co-brand American Express cards. At the time, we didn’t have a Delta card because we weren’t flying on Delta very often. Since then, we saw some big sign-up bonuses and applied for both the Delta SkyMiles cards. If you would like to apply for either of those cards, I’d appreciate it if you’d use our referral links for the Personal Card and the Business Card. We do earn a referral bonus when you sign up for a card using our links, which is always appreciated.

So how else could we board early? Well, let me tell you a story…

When it comes to picking seats, I’m the one who cares if the seat has legroom:


Knees, may I introduce you to seat

while Sharon doesn’t tend to care so much.


WHEEEEEEEEE! Legroom galore for Sharon

This is why I’ll typically ignore the airlines’ attempt to upsell me on larger seats. While I’ll enjoy the room, it would mean I’d have to upgrade both of our seats so that I could get extra legroom. I can deal with limited legroom because my entire childhood, I spent summer vacations cramped in the back seat of a car with a front bench seat and a father who was 6′ 3″. I’ve become an expert in contorting my figure into whatever space is available and my cheapness keeps me from paying for extra legroom most of the time.

I knew that Delta’s Comfort+ seats provide increased legroom, dedicated overhead bin space and priority boarding but I didn’t want to pay extra for a flight under an hour. However, when I checked in for this flight, I was offered to upgrade to a preferred seat. Not being familiar with this category, I found out that Delta describes these seats as:

Prefer an aisle seat? Looking for extra room in the Exit Row? Select your Preferred Seat ahead of time, with no charge for Medallion® Members.

Preferred seat assignments are free for these passengers:

  • Passengers that have purchased full Y, B and M fares
  • Diamond Medallion
  • Platinum Medallion
  • Gold Medallion
  • Silver Medallion
  • Joint Venture Elite, SkyTeam Elite and Elite Plus partner members
  • Companions (up to 8) traveling with a Medallion SkyMiles member when they are booked in the same reservation. If traveling on the same segment(s) as the Medallion member but in different reservations, please contact Global Sales Support or Delta Reservations for assistance
  • Agency or Corporate accounts due to contract negotiations

That didn’t tell me much, but it appeared these are the seats behind Comfort+. I’m not a Medallion Member but for my flight, they were offering preferred seats for only $9 each. Now, this was not for the exit row seats, nor did they have any extra legroom; they were just further up in the plane. That wasn’t a selling point for me, but I paid the additional $9 because booking this seat bumped me up to Boarding Group 1. I knew that we’d be able to stow our carry-on bags (on the side of the plane with the larger overhead bins) and we’d also be seated closer to the front of the plane.

It was money well spent. As it turned out, we found space for our carry-on bags in the overhead bins when we boarded with Group 1, and sitting closer to the front of the plane came in handy since we had an extremely close connection because of a flight delay due to weather.  The 5 minutes we saved by getting off the plane might have kept us from missing our connecting flight and having to spend the night in Atlanta.

Trust me; I’m not thrilled that I have to pay the airlines so I can board earlier to ensure the carry-on bag I’m allowed to bring on the plane with me won’t have to be gate-checked. However, paying $9 to ensure that I’ll have space in the overhead bins seemed to be a small price to pay. It’s just another case of the airline’s base service being so unfriendly to the passengers that you’ll pay extra to get the same services that used to be included in the price of your ticket.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


jMike June 4, 2019 - 1:23 pm Reply
joeheg June 4, 2019 - 1:39 pm

There may be some updates from the original post. At the time, we were having issues with posts duplicating instead of updating.

OR97 September 22, 2019 - 10:51 pm

“my entire childhood I spent summer vacations cramped in the back seat of a car with a front bench seat and a father who was 6′ 3″. I’ve become an expert in contorting my figure into whatever space is available”
That’s Awesome. I feel your pain being the youngest of 5 getting crammed in last

John Smith September 23, 2019 - 12:10 am

This post offers no value… One interesting observation is that from my experience, selecting seat 33 BC will get your boarding pass labeled as exit row and along with it free Main Cabin 1 boarding.


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