Delta upgrade strategy for SM or GM flyers

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One of the questions I get the most is for advice about how to best go about getting domestic business class upgrades for “lower ranked” medallion members like the SM (Silver) or GM (Gold) flyers (click here to see the real unofficial definition of these members btw).

I have talked about some of these strategies in comments and here and there in other posts but not all in one place so here we go.

Thanks to amazingly easy ways to amass a ton of MQM’s making it to PM has almost been too easy. For example, my wife made PM for the current year and spent less that $1000 TOTAL all-in on air fare with Delta last year. She made it with the 25k AMEX deal with 50k MR transfer, and I sent her 30K from a Delta Reserve card ( so 55k so far of the 75k ) and the rest from her own 10K AMEX reserve card and some flights with ETV’s from bumps. On top of this, she could have taken advantage of the buy up to 10k MQM’s at the end of the year.

So as you can see, there are a TON of PM & DM’s on almost every flight. So how in the world do you go about scoring a FREE upgrade?

The first most important rule you MUST understand is what I have talked about before. If you pick say ATL-LAX any day and almost any flight and you will be #682 on the upgrade list as an SM or GM flyer (ok maybe not that bad but you get the point). The DM’s and PM’s will often be paying a near premium price and most of them will also have the DELTA AMEX RESERVE card as well that moves them to the TOP of the list for their fare class. If the bird is one of the new “upgraded” Airbus 320’s FORGET fighting over one of the 12 first class seats; you are FIGHTING over a Economy comfort seat if you can even get that.

If you are depressed and bummed out over the reality of life on a Delta flight now let me tell you there is hope. And good hope if you do the work much like booking a SKYMILES ticket. One of the kool things about Delta is they fly 757’s with a TON of first class seats. So no matter what, the first thing when looking for flights, look for the birds with a bunch of seats. Now I know they may pull a equipment change along the way but that is the way it is. But if a schedule change happens you should be able to change back to a 757.

Tip number two is look for routes that are not ideal or direct and avoid ATL if you can. Search for connections and leaset wanted routes.

Tip number three is obvious. No matter what fare class you are in, if you have the DELTA AMEX RESERVE card you move to the top of that list. If you want upgrades, it’s simple, you MUST have this card to get an edge in this game. I have it and it helps.

Tip number four is for a few bucks look to buy the higher fare class. If LUT class is only say 10% less than the next one up, K or Q, is a choice for you, you will VAULT over so many in the “chum pool” in the lower end cheapest of cheap fares. With a Delta AMEX card you are now TOPS of the cheap’os for upgrades.

Tip number five is also obvious. Pick the times and days DM & PM don’t want to fly. Red-eye, is great for you and “we” don’t want it. Wednesday eve flights, you go boy! You can go on and on this way and find the times PM & DM just don’t like to fly. Avoid times like Monday AM or Friday PM.

I hope some of these ideas help you score more upgrades! – René

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  1. We had a 50% upgrade rate being lowly silvers by flying Saturday early morning and routing through MEM instead of ATL, so I agree with these tips!

  2. @Mark – yes and no. Sure in the vernacular of FlyerTalk etc it is FO, but for this post, SM works better as we are talking medallions so the SM is clear (in my head anyway) but I take your points and added SILVER and GOLD verbiage to make it more clear so thanks! – Rene

  3. @Brian – yes. Once I (well my business) spends $30,000 on the card I can pick who, anyone, I want to send the bonus 15,000 MQM’s to ( I get the 15,000 RDM automatically ). If I spend $60,000 in a year then get another bonus but that is the cap for one year. BTW you can have both a personal and a business flavor of this card. So, if you got both, spend $120,000 total on both cards, you could earn 60,000 MQM’s without ever flying on Delta. – Rene

  4. I got the Delta Reserve Card when it came out, I have been GM for 2 years now, PM before that, I pick my travel days carefully and have been upgraded several times this year but it is getting more difficult, I live in ATL. I’ve already reached 30K in spending so by end of this year will have 30K mqm’s just from Delta Reserve card. Also class of ticket will often get you upgraded but as you mentioned a lot depends on where you are flying and time of day.

  5. @nbaugher – txs for your post. I agree with all you said. And just so as not to confuse readers nbauher is saying by the end of the year once he spends $60,000 he will get the full 30k MQMs. – Rene

  6. I’ve actually been pretty lucky in my DL travel. I’ve really only been on the road, per se, for about 18 months. I made GM last year and have been enjoying 100% upgrades so far this year, when I’m certain to make PM, if not DM (all through travel by the way, no AMEX or other bonuses for me 🙁 ). My secret? Luck, really. I have a job that allows me to book full Y fares on all my flights and ticket immediately, so I generally get upgraded at time of booking. In fact, I haven’t NOT gotten upgraded at time of booking, even when my flight isn’t for a few months. And because of my job, those flights are fully refundable or changeable, so there’s really little downside to the process. I’m also flying out of DCA, not a DL hub, so that helps with availability.

  7. I am a Delta Platinum status and fly to Africa three times a year. I automatically get economy comfort seats but should I be able to get an upgrade to business class? Am I unaware of benefits available? Thanks.

  8. I think there is one more important point which can help the odds; correct me if I am wrong, but the DATE of ticket purchase is also a tie-breaker, yes? Admittedly I am PM and Reserve card so I have far better chances; but I almost always book my tickets 2-6 months in advance; and I think this gives me another advantage over the other PM’s? I checked the website and it states “Upgrades will be confirmed based on confirmation window, availability, fare class, and time of request.” Time of request, I assume means the time of purchase. I have scored about 90% this past year from/to ATL.

  9. Can someone please explain Gene’s comment:

    Buy K + 12.5k miles t upgrade one way. Never worry about status again!


  10. @Mark – certain fare classes can be upgraded with miles. So, Gene is saying pay for a qualifying HIGHER fare to spend more points and upgrade that way.

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