Rookie Wednesday: How to improve your upgrade chance with Delta Air Lines!

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr
Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a weekly feature on the Renés Points blog. Each week this series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this week’s feature.

About one year ago I put up a post on how to improve your upgrade chance with Delta. When you look at the seat choice photos I picked to use, you can see it is time for an update and this topic should be part of the “rookie” block of posts even though it only applies to medallions (can a medallion be a rookie?)!

Yesterday’s post spurred this on with some questions and feedback from readers (the post I had planned for today will now go next week). There really is a lot of work that goes into making sure you get the best shot at an upgrade, but even then things may not work out as planned. Either way, the logic is sound and can help you. So let’s get started.

First I will have a list to make it clear and clean to see the points then break them down more. What you need to look at is:

1) Route
2) Day & Time
3) Aircraft type
4) Fare class
5) AMEX Reserve
6) Your status
7) When you buy
8 ) When you check-in
9 ) Bumps

So there is the block of data that will make a difference to your upgrade. Now let’s expand on them one by one.

Your Route. There are choice routes that almost always fly full and full of Diamond Medallion flyers. If you pick them, you will have a very low chance for an upgrade if you are a low or mid level medallion such as a Silver or Gold medallion. What are these routes? Ones like Atlanta to Los Angeles or New York to Los Angeles. There are so many others, but if you simply look at how full 1st class is before you even book the ticket, you will get some idea. If 1st class is empty, there is a chance you are looking at a less traveled route. Also think about maybe 2 shorter regional jets with 1st class. Sure it is a hassle to have two 2 hr flights over one 4 hr flight, but, it may be worth it to you if you can sit in 1st twice over coach once.

Day & Time. This is a HUGE one. If you fly almost any time on a Saturday or Tuesday – Thursday mid day, you have a better shot at not seeing a bunch of your fellow high end medallions (i.e. business travelers) on the flights. Some redeye flights can be good, but others just the opposite. You need to be careful. Sunday night, Monday morning or Friday night and you had better expect to do the walk of shame into coach!

Aircraft type. This is one very few think about. Most people just pick the best flight “times” for their trip. They are not thinking about the trip itself. So, in addition to Day & Time, look at what type of aircraft Delta has chosen for that route. If, you can get say, a 757 on a Saturday afternoon, with a bunch of 1st class seats, you are looking really good even at the lowest medallion level Silver medallion.

Fare class. I hope you are starting to “feel” a building “trend” going on here. Can you see each of these points builds from one to the next one? It is the total package, not just one item from the list. Fare class is HUGE. So many flyers just pick what spits out for the lowest cost seat. This is almost always LUT & E class. But if you can, for any part of the trip, pay a bit more and go K class or higher, you are moving way up over other medallions (other than Diamonds). Keep in mind you can mix and match flights and fares and only pick K for the flights that matter and pay as little as possible to get the higher fare class one way or the other way of a trip. This can play a big role when it comes to aircraft type. It may well be worth it to you to pay for a higher fare class if the aircraft for the route has less 1st class seats. However, if the route has a TON of them, then risk it with the lower fare class.

AMEX Reserve card. If you are a Diamond, you REALLY REALLY REALLY should consider this card. As a Diamond, you are top of the “food chain” but so are all your other fellow Diamonds. The AMEX Reserve card is the tie breaker. If you and the flyer next to you both are on a T class fare, and you have the Reserve card, you get the upgrade. Same for lower medallions. If you are GOLD, same fare class, you get the upgrade. If you fly Delta a bunch, you just really should consider this card.

Your status. As has already been touched on, the higher up you are the better off you are. Diamond is the key if you want to trump everyone. Once MQD’s do really kick in after 01MARCH2015 you are going to see a massive difference. I would not be shocked for many Diamonds, at that point forward, to be almost 100% for upgrades for a full year (yeah I know many are 80%+ now but it will get even better as so many fall down to PM or less). After that, Platinum makes a MASSIVE difference over Gold on so many routes and days & times. Even Gold will impact your success percentage on off-days so if you tinker with all of the above, Gold can have a great upgrade rate. [TIP: see this post about boarding LAST for more elite upgrades]

When you buy. This is one that few know. Another one of the tie breakers, although somewhat tiny, is how long ago you purchased your ticket. If you buy 100 days out you will, all other things being the same, get the upgrade over a flyer who got the ticket 99 days out. Can you use this to help you? Sure, if you KNOW you are going on a vacation for a certain week, the price looks good, then buy as soon as you can to get one more chance at an upgrade. Why not!

When you Check-In. This is one of the final tie-breakers. You are allowed to check-in 24 hours before your first flight on Delta. If you have more than one flight, but less than 4 connections, you can check in for all of them at once. This can be a tiny plus if you “pounce” on check-in time ASAP as you could end up ahead of another flyer who can not check in for the same flight as you because there starting point is one of your connections.

Bumps. This last one is just sweet. If you can offer up your seat, and take a bump, even if the value of the voucher they offer is a joke, you can always ASK to be rebooked into 1st class. If not, when they rebook you, it will be in Y class and you literally SHOOT up the upgrade list for the next flight they put you on. You will not EARN more points or such, but since now your flight fare class is so much higher than most others, your chance, even as a Silver, goes way, way up! I have taken a bump before for FREE, no compensation, just to get rebooked in Y class. But be careful with this one as Delta has said they can reissue your ticket back in the original fare class without notice any time!

There you are. This is the updated list for you to always consider if you want to sit up in 1st class on a Delta jet as a medallion at any level. Are there any other “tricks” you use to improve your chance to sit up front? Please share them with your fellow Delta Points readers! – René

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. I currently have the Plat Delta card and am a Plat flier. Is the Reserve card worth it? I also carry the AMX Plat card.


    • @Sam – I am a PM flier and hold the DL REZ card. I would NOT upgrade as that goes bad many times. I would go for the DL REZ business card. You will get 10k MQM and once you have it you can drop the DL PLAT card if you want.

  2. Another important way to score upgrades is to always ASK for one (even if you have NO status). Talk up the GA, be nice to him/her, show you understand they’re busy, but if they could take a look when they get a minute, you never know. They might just laugh, but every once in a while they’ll take a look and see what they can do for you. I actually had a GA give me an upgrade once because it was my birthday! Who knew there was a “birthday upgrade”? Ultimately most GA’s are great customer service people (just look at what they deal with, and keep a smile on their face). They want to help you, and sometimes you just have to ask nicely.

  3. Fare class only matters inside your medallion tier (e.g. K fares will only bump you over lower fare codes of your peers, including diamonds)

    Also, when rebooked in Y during irrops or bumps, it’s possible that you’ll get pushed down the upgrade list when the GA starts processing it and realizes you didn’t pay for Y, so you’ll get put in the correct spot for your purchases fare.

  4. Rene – excellent post today, thank you – I should print out a copy of this and carry it with me…

  5. Is there any chance for a Diamond to get a TATL upgrade into Business Elite?

  6. @Gene – I would like to know where you are getting your info. Mine says the opposite as well as feedback from readers! I do agree for ONLY this, not worth it. For the better chance at low level award seats, that is 100% CONFIRMED with Delta, as well as the 10k bonus MQM’s for a new card, AND then better upgrades, it is a MUST HAVE for medallion flyers. I would have it even if I went all the way down to FO as I would trump all the LUTe class FO’s! 🙂

  7. @Kevin – absolutely, when coach is oversold elites are the first ones offered upgrades starting with DM.

  8. Be VERY careful, per Delta Rules you are NOT supposed to be rebooked in Y when Bumped. yes you will be 9x out of 10 however if a gate agent catches this (especially a redcoat), often times they will rebook you in your original class of travel. I had this happen to me back in November! I took the bump to ensure the upgrade, was rebooked in Y by a redcoat, the redcoat working the MSP-LAX flight noticed I was originally booked in T class and rebooked me yet again from Y to T class just minutes before boarding and I almost lost my upgrade.

    • @Rocky – yes – it is something you must make sure about. That is why, I always try to ask for a first rebook. If not, tell the GA you took the bump and was promised Y class. But as talked about, you will no matter what ONLY get credit for the class of service booked.

  9. I am Diamond and have the Reserve card. Another benefit if you are Diamond is you can get 4 guests into the skyclubs instead of only 2, which comes in handy when traveling with another couple.

    Is overselling coach common on TATL flights? I am flying from DTW to AMS on a mid-week redeye in August, and returning FCO to DTW on another mid-week flight.

  10. Additional info: My wife’s ticket was 100k mileage Business award, and I didn’t want to pay $4000 to use an SWU for my paid ticket (I want the MQMs). Thus, she will be sitting up front on my miles while I sit in EC.

    Another question, are the EC seats the same as domestic coach EC, or are they better in anyway other than meal service and free booze?

  11. Rene,

    I think one missing piece is the Y:F ratio. 757s are great, as they have a ton of F space – but you may end up out of an upgrade because of how big the Y space is.

    I’m currently working on a guide to domestic Delta aircraft – with the F:Y number on there


  12. I am interested in your comment about getting bumped, as I often find myself in that position. Forgive my ignorance, but what is Y class?

    • @F4D – Y class is full fare unrestricted coach (often fully refundable). In this case, it is just a fare class designation Delta uses to rebooked you. It only helps for upgrades. In the OLD OLD OLD days you would get FULL CREDIT for the Y class that is extra MQM and extra Skymiles as well. Ah the old days….

  13. Just FYI – I have finally (thank you for the motivation) put together the F:Y ratio for Delta on my blog. Feel free to share if it’s helpful!


  14. Thank you. A guide to the various fare classes would be useful for rookies like me — or maybe you have already done that?

  15. Railon Jefferson Reply

    Great post. Sorry to be the doggy boy, but brother you’ve gotta check those apostrophes! Multiple times above you’re using apostrophes where you mean plurals. Please check that – very hard to read!

  16. I cottoned on quickly to checking the aircraft type. Helped for sure last 4th of July when I purposely chose a 767, considering I was assigned the very last row. Oh, and if you ever fly to Canada, any medallion is likely to get upgraded as there are just so few Medallions there (AC/UA are dominant)

  17. “But if you can, for any part of the trip, pay a bit more and go K class or higher, you are moving way up over other medallions (other than Diamonds).”

    Just to clarify, you will move ahead of people at the same Medallion level who have lower fare tickets, but you won’t move ahead of higher tier Medallions. For example, a Gold Medallion on a K fare will be ahead a Gold Medallion on an L fare, but behind a Platinum Medallion on an L fare.

  18. Very good analysis. My upgrade percentage last year was 55% or so – decent for a Gold Medallion.
    Some upgrades have baffled me, and may have defied logic though. All 3 times I flew between SLC and LAX I was upgraded, and even TPA to LGA on a Monday morning.

  19. Hi, really enjoyed your list. I’m a silver and I’ve been getting bumped to business so far on the last 6-7 flights that I’ve taken (all have been business trips and so paid by my company). Best is when they bump you up way ahead of time – any idea why or how they do that?
    Also what about the tips for getting bumped up on international travel? Its fairly straightforward if you’re a medallion member for domestic, continental US flights, but international (or to Hawaii) – now that truly is the key! any tips there? I dont think you get complimentary upgrades on int’l ones (at least not at silver anyway)?

  20. I’m Silver and just got upgraded to 1st class DTW SFO and SFO DTW for tomorrow. The funny thing is I didn’t get upgraded yet from FLL DTW and DTW FLL. The rep on the phone states that hasn’t cleared yet.
    I asked her “I was cleared to and from SFO from DTW”. She said she doesn’t know why.

  21. I typically fly JFK-LAS on a thursday at around 3pm, and LAS-JFK on the red-eye (9:55pm or 11:15pm). By the end of 2013, I’ll have 22,500 MQMs. Is it worth a mileage run NYC-DFW and back to get to silver? i.e. what’s my likelihood of getting upgraded on the above flights at silver-level status?

  22. Pingback: A quick Delta mileage run before the #ChicagoSeminars 2013 - Delta Points

  23. My husband is PM and I am silver. Am I bringing down his chance at an upgrade bc there are 2 of us?

    • @Miriam – yes split the PNR and he will have better shot (then give you his 1st class seat and he sits in your coach seat as happy wife = happy life)! 😉

  24. I am in a difficult location to call delta . can I purchase an upgrade able ticket and use my delta miles on line?
    international travel and I always buy an economy upgradeable ticket and use delta miles to fly business.
    how to do online?
    thank you

  25. IWei Cheng Reply

    My point here is that Delta actually have a policy to put their staff and direct family’s free trip ahead of their loyal customers, both my wife and are platinum medallion for a couple of years and expect to increase our odd to upgrade in B-class in international flights, but I found the fact and confirmed by friends who worked for Delta that their direct family members have unlimited previlege to upgrade B-class seats, usually with their insider information and connections, they will have much much better changes to upgrade by us even with K and higher class tickets (which we paid hundreds dollars).
    So my conclusion is to use other airlines especially in international flights, in Asia use Singapore Airline or Eva airline and Middle East to use Emerates.

    You all still remember Delta’s old logo “We love to fly and it shows” …no more and Yuk!


  26. Aloha Rene,
    Thank you for the great blog.
    As a recent Gold medallion (and Amex reserve card holder) I was hoping to score some upgrades on my normal commute flight from HNL-FUK.
    I was told though that intl flights are not eligible for upgrades even if biz class is wide open and I am the only gold medallion. Is this true? Any way around it?
    Thank you.

  27. Great blog. Sorry if someone else has already commented on this, but: On your route suggestions, you recommend possibly taking two regional flights instead of a nonstop. But if those regional flights are connecting in a Delta hub, don’t you run the same risk of taking a more-traveled Delta route? I’ve had more success getting upgraded as a GM on the JFK-Denver nonstop than I have connecting in MSP, for example. And anything through SLC has been jammed up in first. Just a thought.

  28. Also, on aircraft type: What I like to look at is not just the number of first class seats, but the ratio of coach seats to first class seats. So, for example, on a 752, the ratio of coach to first is 9.6875:1. But on a 73H, it’s 9:1. Same number of first class seats on each plane, but a bit less competition on the 73H.

  29. I am really confused I am flying on a weekly basis to and from DTW to DFW and or ATL to DFW or even into Love Field. I recently became a platinum status on Delta and am getting fewer upgrades then when I was Gold. I have had a couple of near misses where I am the unlucky one that just missed upgrades, but I thought my chances would go up being Platinum versus Gold and I don’t have cheap tickets most of my tickets are in M class or higher for work

    • @Tim – There are (now in 2014) a bunch more Diamonds and Platinum’s than before, some due to status matches etc for Alaska flyers, but if you work ALL these ideas they can help! We will see if 2015 is better with some departing due to Skymiles2015. I will tell you as a Diamond my upgrade percentage is north of 90% and I fly the lowest fare class tickets Delta sells.

  30. I use to be a travel agent so I know how all these things work but the decrease in upgrades has been in 2014 while I have went from gold to platinum. So your arguments about lots of status match doesn’t make sense. When I was receiving more upgrades as a gold during the 2014 before I became Platinum. I could see what your saying if I was gold in 2013 and was getting more upgrades then now but that is not the case. This has happen in recent weeks. I have been flying these routes since the first of the year.

    • @Tim – if, on your route, last year, there were less PM & DMs on your route, you as GM would get more upgrades. If now, on your route, there are more PM & DMs then you are going to have a harder time getting the upgrade. Plus, the improved GU & RU certs for 2014 could be having some small impact number of seats for upgrade (plus more just buying 1st as well as Delta with a full court press to sell upgrades and the like)!

      PS – gate agents say much but often know little. 😉

  31. Thusday nite 7/10 I was in M class and I near missed the upgrade. I even talked to the gate agent at DFW that has gotten to know me because of my frequency of flying in and out of the airport and she said she didn’t understand with my status changing from Gold to Platinum.

  32. Pingback: How often does a Delta medallion get an upgrade? Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Silver & SPG Platinum? - Delta Points - Delta Points

  33. Pingback: The march to ending 1st class upgrades is underway with Delta (how long will it take) - Delta PointsDelta Points

  34. If we have the delta reserve Amex, and if we do not purchase the flight on the card, does it get taken into upgrade logic? Or does the flight have to be purchased on the card in order to get that bump over others in the same medallion tier?

    • @Brad – you do NOT have to make the purchase with the card. just hold the card and make sure it shows up at in your My Delta page.

  35. Great site here. Does the double points that comes with the reserve card also work without purchasing the flight on the card? Darn work policies!

  36. I am a Diamond, does buying K class or higher have any impact on my ability to get upgraded? I was getting upgrades on every flight through the end of 2014 and January of this year but I haven’t gotten a single upgrade in 4 weeks and I am always like 9 or 10 on the list. My routes havent changed and the number of folks on the upgrade list hasn’t increased. I dont know what I am doing differently.

    • @Matt_B – each tiny step up the fare class ladder helps. You are then above those elites the same as you. If you go all the way to Y class you are at the TOP period (but often paying as much as 1st class).

  37. Hi, whats the deal when I have a companion on my reservation? Will I be on the bottom of the list T-24 because he has no status? Or has this changed? Thanks.

  38. Thanks! To clarify. Low on list means that I – the Gold member will go under Silver members because my companion has no status?

  39. Pingback: A Delta Points Mileage Run to Wenatchee (EAT) - Planning & positioning for the run - Delta PointsDelta Points

  40. I didn’t know that the Delta Amex Reserve card helped with upgrades. I have the Delta Skymiles Amex card. Is the Reserve still superior? I’m a Diamond.

    • @Rich – Yes it is a tie-breaker on the same fare class as you. I am a Diamond and have seen it 1st hand in action where I have scored and upgrade and another Diamond did not. It is not a MUST HAVE but as we know with upgrades harder and harder to get every little bit helps!

  41. Pingback: Delta Regional Upgrade Certificate Gifts (check your e-mail) and How to Use Them – A Rookie Wednesday Post - Delta PointsDelta Points

  42. Is there any way I can check DL international upgrade availability, with out calling them ?

  43. Pingback: Should you go for Delta Gold Medallion status or stop short and stick with Silver Medallion? - Renés PointsRenés Points

Write A Comment