A Guide to the Different Upgrade Types Available on Delta Air Lines
Upgrades on Delta Air Lines, like with most carriers, differ between frequent flyer program members and regular passengers, and between regular program members and those with elite status. This guide covers the different upgrades available to different types of passengers, explains how Delta standby priority is computed, and offers some tips on how to better your upgrade chances.
Some important points: Unless specified (“business class upgrade”, “single-class upgrade”), all upgrades discussed below are from economy tickets to first class. Also, with recent changes to SkyMiles, the only way to get a transatlantic or transpacific upgrade is to use miles or cash to buy it, or use Global Upgrade certificates (Diamond Medallion members). Delta no longer allows SkyMiles members to use Expert Flyer to search for award or upgrade availability.
Upgrades for Regular Passengers and Non-elite SkyMiles Members
If you’re not a member of Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flyer program, your upgrade options are somewhat limited. However, it is still possible to get an upgrade from an economy fare to a higher class of service without paying full price. Generally, you won’t be able to do so until 24 hours before your flight when you check in online, or in some cases not until the day of your flight.
If you are a SkyMiles member but don’t have elite status, you can upgrade using the options below for non-members, as well as using miles to buy an upgrade (see “SkyMiles and Medallion Upgrades” below).
Upgrade Delta Flights to First-Class Online
This is the simplest and quickest option. When you book your ticket or manage your itinerary on Delta.com, you’ll see an option to upgrade your flight in your Trip Summary. Select the option to purchase with money and follow the instructions. Basic Economy (E) fares are not eligible for upgrades.
Standby for Same-Day Upgrades on Delta Airlines Flights
You can request same-day standby for upgrades with payment of a fee, provided space is available on your flight. Only specific flights and routings are eligible for upgrade standby status:
• Within North America (except JFK-LAX, JFK-SEA and JFK-SFO).
• To/from Aruba, Bermuda, Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands), Los Cabos (Mexico), Montego Bay (Jamaica), Nassau (Bahamas), Providenciales (Turks and Caicos), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)
• Between Atlanta and Costa Rica, St. Maarten and St. Lucia
• Between Cancun (Mexico) and Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis and Minneapolis
The fees for standby for upgrades on Delta vary according to the distance to be traveled and the fare class you’ve booked. The following applies to eligible domestic flights on Delta Airlines in and between the contiguous 48 states and Alaska: For Y, B, and M fares (flexible and discount economy class), the fees vary from $49 if traveling 500 or fewer to $329 if traveling more than 3,000 miles. The fees for H, K, L, Q, and S fares (sub-discount economy class) vary from $119 to $369, and are between $169 to $399 for T, U, V, and X fares.
The following applies to eligible Delta flights to and from Hawaii: Fees to standby for upgrades for Y,B,M fares are $239 if traveling 3,000 miles or fewer and $329 for 3,oo1 miles and up. H, K, L, Q, S fares upgrade fees are $269 and $369, respectively. Upgrade fees for T, U, V, X fares are $359 and $399.
The following applies to eligible international flights and all other eligible flights on Delta Airlines: the fees to standby for upgrade status vary from $50 if traveling fewer than 500 miles to $350 if traveling more than 3,000 miles.
For a complete list of upgrade fees by fare type and distance traveled, visit this page, then click “Same-Day Standby Upgrades”.
To request an upgrade, select the option to change your upgrade status when you check in online. You can also do this at an airport self-service kiosk or at the Delta counter. For some flights, you may not be able to request an upgrade until you arrive at the gate. Elite status upgrade requests get priority over non-elite members and regular passengers according to a complicated scheme, but if there are premium seats left after they’ve been accommodated, you may be able to purchase the upgrade at the gate. Expect to pay at least $50-$100 or more depending on the route.
Buy Comfort+ Seating and Extras
Comfort+ is Delta’s re-branding of its old Economy Comfort seating, a step up from regular Economy class, but still in the main cabin. It remains a good option even though Delta has become less than transparent about the new pricing. Economy Comfort seating used to be priced as low as $29 each way for some domestic routes, but the old page that used to be on Delta’s website that at least gave some idea of pricing is now gone. In any case, you can easily see the price to upgrade for your particular flights when you book or manage your trip on the Delta website. Comfort+ is available on all two-cabin aircraft on Delta flights worldwide.
Here are the perks you get with Delta Comfort+:
- Priority boarding
- Dedicated overhead bin space
- Seats are in the front of the cabin
- Extra legroom (up to 4″ more)
- Up to 50% more recline on international flights
- Complimentary drinks on flights over 250 miles
- Complimentary snacks on domestic flights over 900 miles
- Complimentary meal service on most international flights
- Complimentary headsets on most flights over 250 miles
- Sleep kit on international flights and between JFK and SFO or LAX
- Complimentary sandwich wrap and frozen yogurt bar* between JFK-SFO or JFK-LAX
*AKA a cross between a snack and a meal (a mack? or how about a sneal?). In any case, I love how this “perk” is marketed on the Delta website – like it’s a super big deal, not something you can get at any convenience store.
SkyMiles and Medallion Upgrades
Delta’s recent changes to its SkyMiles frequent flyer program have made it more difficult to earn miles without spending a lot of money and reduced the availability of cheap award flights. These changes make having Medallion status even more important than it used to be, especially when you want an upgrade.
SkyMiles Upgrades – A Good Deal?
Is using SkyMiles to upgrade is a good deal or not? This is an age-old question, and Delta’s recent award currency devaluations and other program changes certainly don’t help to clear up the issue. Generally, there are better ways for Medallion members to get upgrades than using miles (see below for some ideas). If you have the SkyMiles in your account to upgrade but don’t have elite status, it’s a good bet you don’t have other plans for those miles. In this case, it’s generally worth it to use your SkyMiles to upgrade, especially to first class.
Upgrade Using SkyMiles #1: Upgrade with Miles
There are 2 ways to upgrade using SkyMiles: “Upgrade with Miles”, and “Mileage Upgrade Awards”. Generally speaking , the Mileage Upgrade Awards are the way to go. Neither type of upgrades using miles carries over to the airport standby list.
Upgrade with Miles is offered during original bookings on Delta (as shown below) or by calling Delta Reservations (1-800-323-2323). The cost is determined by taking the difference in fare between the original and upgraded classes and converting it to miles. You earn miles and MQMs (“Medallion Qualifying Miles”) based on the cabin flown. There must be enough seats available in the premium class to upgrade all passengers in the reservation for all flights in the reservation. International flights and Basic Economy (E) fares are not eligible to Upgrade with Miles.
Upgrade Using SkyMiles #2: Mileage Upgrade Awards
Delta Mileage Upgrade Awards are available on both international and domestic flights 24 hours before departure by calling Delta Air Lines reservations (1-800-323-2323), and in nearly every case cost fewer miles than Upgrades with Miles as described above. If a Mileage Upgrade Award is not eligible when you make the request, you can ask to be placed on the upgrade waitlist (this is different from the standby list; the waitlist priority does not carry over to airport standby).
Only certain fare classes are eligible for Mileage Upgrade Awards. For domestic flights, the fare class must be K or higher (Y, B, M, S, H, Q or K); for international travel, only fare classes Y, B, or M are eligible. This essentially means that only domestic Mileage Upgrade Awards are ever going to be a good deal, since discount business or first class fares are often cheaper than international Y, B, or M fares.
Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades for Medallion Members
Medallion members are entitled to unlimited automatic complimentary upgrades. After you’ve purchased the ticket, make sure your reservation is associated with your SkyMiles frequent flyer number on Delta.com. You’ll automatically receive a complimentary upgrade request. Once your reservation is ticketed, the upgrade will clear based on your elite status level, seat availability, original fare class purchased, and the time and date of the request.
Only certain routes are eligible for Medallion Complimentary Upgrades:
- Within the contiguous US except between JFK and LAX or SFO
- Between Hawaii and LAX, SEA, SFO, or SLC
- Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda
- Central America (excludes Delta One)
- Northern South America (excludes Delta One)
As you can see, complimentary upgrades are no longer available for trans-oceanic international flights, nor for cross-country flights between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles. Even Diamond members must now use a Global Upgrade certificate or miles to upgrade on longer international flights.
Clearance priority is in this order: all Medallions on Y class fares; Diamond Medallion followed by Platinum, Gold, and Silver; and finally Companions. You can see the clearance priorities and windows for the different fare classes in the figure below.
Complimentary Comfort+ Upgrades for Medallions
Medallion members are also entitled to complimentary upgrades to Comfort+ seating, which is available on all 2-cabin aircraft operated by Delta worldwide. Access to these upgrades is according to SkyMiles Medallion status level:
- Silver members: 24 hours prior to departure
- Gold members: 72 hours prior to departure
- Platinum members: at booking
- Diamond members: at booking
Global Upgrades and Upgrade Certificates
Diamond and Platinum Medallion members are entitled to annual upgrade certificates that can be used with any fare type except Basic Economy (E). Diamond members get either four Global Upgrades or eight Regional Upgrades; Platinum members can use up to four Regional Upgrades per year. The different regions available for the different types of upgrades on Delta are shown below.
What Determines Upgrade Priority?
Like most airline policies, it’s fairly complicated, but generally the order is based on the type of upgrade requested, fare class purchased (e.g., Y versus K), frequent flyer status, type of ticket (e.g., full fare vs. award), whether or not you have an American Express Delta Reserve card, time of ticketing, and time of check-in. Some will argue that status takes precedence over fare class, but since a Platinum Medallion on a full-fare, Y class ticket will clear for upgrades ahead of a Diamond Medallion traveling on a lesser fare type, status was moved to second place in the overall order. In all other cases, the Medallion priority order is Diamond, Platinum, Gold, and finally Silver.
Here’s the order in which Delta upgrades are granted:
- Diamond Medallion members with Global Upgrade
- Diamond Medallion members with Regional Upgrade
- Platinum Medallion members with Regional Upgrade
- All Medallion members with paid Y class bookings, in order by status
- All other passengers with paid Y class bookings
- Voluntarily bumped passengers who have been rebooked in Y
- If you have the time and get the opportunity, do this! This is a great way to turn a Delta discount economy fare into first class.
- Medallion members, in order by status
- Non-elite SkyMiles members
- Non-SkyMiles members
- Diamond Medallion members with paid bookings other than Y
- Diamond Medallion members with award bookings
- Diamond Medallion members with Pay with Miles bookings (available to credit card members only)
- Platinum Medallion members with paid bookings other than Y
- Platinum Medallion members with award bookings
- Platinum Medallion members with Pay with Miles bookings
- Gold Medallion members with paid bookings other than Y
- Gold Medallion members with award bookings
- Gold Medallion members with Pay with Miles bookings
- Silver Medallion members with paid bookings other than Y
- Companions on the same reservation as a Diamond Medallion member
- Companions on the same reservation as a Platinum Medallion member
- Companions on the same reservation as a Gold Medallion member
- Companions on the same reservation as a Silver Medallion member
- Airline partner elites (Air France, Alaska Airlines, KLM, Virgin Atlantic)
- Non-elite SkyMiles member on discount fare confirmed in economy class and desiring upgrade
- SPG Platinum members
- Paid standby upgrades
- Whoever else the gate agent wants to upgrade – it never hurts to ask. (Not officially on Delta’s upgrade list, obviously.)
Note that this list is different than Delta’s standby priority. As an example, a Medallion member on an award ticket on the upgrade waitlist has priority over lower elite levels on paid tickets. However, if the same member is not cleared for upgrade by the day of departure and is still on the upgrade waitlist, she will drop to the bottom of the standby list, just above a SkyMiles member without elite status on an award booking.
Strategies that can increase your chances of getting an upgrade:
- Fare class – Y is best for getting upgrades, but may be prohibitively expensive. In order, Delta upgrade priority by fare type is Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X, V. The higher on this list your fare class, the better your upgrade chances. Generally speaking, if there are a lot of first class seats available on your flight, you can probably get away with purchasing a lower fare class and still have a good chance to get the upgrade.
- Time and day of the week – try to pick times and days that are not as busy for travel. Avoid heavy business travel days and times like Sunday evenings, Monday mornings, and Friday any time. Good days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at almost any time, and Thursday mornings and early afternoons, but it always depends on the route. On some routes, like between New York and Los Angeles, upgrade competition is fierce all week.
- Route – check on Delta.com to see if there are a lot of first class seats still available for your flight (search for and locate your desired flight, then click the”view seats” link). If not, consider breaking up the trip into shorter segments that do have first class availability. If there are smaller, less busy airports nearby that are served by Delta: try searching first class availability on those flights and then compare upgrade availability and cost between the major and smaller airports.
- Type of plane – the more first class seats, the better your upgrade chances. When you search for your flight on delta.com you’ll be able to see the type of plane (many online travel agencies also tell you the aircraft type for a given flight). For example, Delta 757’s and 767’s have more than 20 first class seats each, compared to just 12 in the Airbus A319 and A320 (except A319 VIP, which has 28). See Delta aircraft types and specs here
- Time and date of ticketing; time of check-in – the date (and time) you bought your ticket, as well as the time you check in for the flight, are determining factors when you are tied with someone else on the upgrade list. Buy your ticket as early as possible and check in as soon as you can for your flight (24 hours in advance). When possible, check in for all connecting flights at the same time.