Rookie Wednesday: What does it take to get an upgrade? Who can get one?

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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.

I have had a few complaints that my “rookie” topics have been a bit too non-rookie as of late. A fair complaint, but you would be surprised how many Diamond Medallions thank me for some little tip they did not know that they read about on rookie Wednesday (well then again I guess that does make their point 😉 ).

So today, back to basics on upgrades. After all, to move up to that cushy, wide, first class seat is what it is all about right? To get the free drinks, better free snacks or food. Or even a full-flat seat to sleep well on a long flight. Ah, that is the life and why we spend so much of our time chasing points and miles!

Just what does it take to score an upgrade? There are many factors that go into it. The first step, that you can read more about HERE, is getting status. Now MUST you have status to get an upgrade? No, but I will touch more on that in a bit.

Complementary upgrades from coach to first class, domestically and some other markets, are extended to all medallions on most tickets. There are exceptions I will cover as well. But in general, if you are even the lowest of all medallion, Silver Medallion, you have a small shot at the upgraded seat.

I did a detailed post HERE on just what makes the biggest difference to get the upgrade so reviewing that post at this point may be a good idea before we go on.

What are the few things that will prevent you from an upgrade? First, internationally Delta does not offer free upgrades to anyone; this applies even to the very top Diamond Medallion flyers. There are exceptions, like when a flight is oversold, then you could move up but this is the exception not the rule so don’t expect it. An “OP-UP” as it is called, or an operational upgrade, is a gift and you say thank you and move on. Other things that can prevent you from an upgrade. Skymiles free tickets can score an upgrade, but you must be at least Gold Medallion to qualify for this or the second level up the medallion chain; Silver Medallions had better book first with Skymiles if they want to fly in first. Also the AMEX buy-one-get-one-free certs that come along with both the Platinum Delta AMEX and the Reserve Delta AMEX (in year two), these, when booked in coach, are NOT ever upgrade eligible. The Reserve card cert does let you pick either coach or first as your reward so keep that in mind.

So what other ways are there to upgrade? One is spend extra miles, but not ALL tickets qualify. Here is where the confusing “alphabet soup” of fare class codes comes into play. You can read in detail an outstanding breakdown of each fare class code and rule HERE at’s page all about Delta fare codes. But in a nutshell, K class or higher for Domestic is needed to spend points to get the big seat if it is available for upgrade with points. Internationally you need to be M class or higher. There are also for Platinum & Diamond Medallions something called a SWU or System Wide Upgrade. As a rookie you will not have access to these and PM & DM know how to use them (not impossible domestically but very hard and costly internationally)!

That just about sums it up. Status, points, certs. That is about it. Other than one more you may see now and then. If there are NO medallions left who qualify with all the above, AND, you have a K+ class fare, you may notice Delta offer an upgrade for a fee at the gate. This would be one reason to purchase a fare class higher than the deeply discounted normal coach class of “LUTXVE”. However, this is vary rare to see and you should not, IMO, just spend for the higher fare class with hopes of seeing this happen.

Any other questions about upgrades? Please, if you are reading this via e-mail, go to the blog and look down to the bottom of the post where it says “comments”, click that, then go to the bottom box and fill in your question. Please do this rather than e-mail me so others can also learn from your question! Thanks – René

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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. Rene’, you should have pointed out that Medallions should double-check their domestic reservations because a known problem with delta.dumb is that it will sometimes randomly, for no known reason, state “upgrade eligible” instead of “upgrade requested” and you have to call (or easier, tweet @deltaassist) to change the “eligible” to “requested”.

    • @Mark – txs for the idea. Yes this is a know bug but wanted this more general info for those who are not yet Medallion. Then they too can have the fun we have 😉

  2. René, great post as usual. Question on the upgrading K or higher with miles. Can it be done at booking? Is there a way to do it online or do you have to call?

    • @Liz – you can do it right away after booking, over the phone, but ONLY if space is there for the upgrade. Best to call FIRST, make sure space is there for upgrade, book on line, then upgrade.

  3. Barbara Shifty Reply

    Rene, So I have a question that I can not seem to find an answer to so the timing of your post if perfect! Myself and a friend are flying DL ATL-HNL-OGG and then OGG-LAX-ATL in July. ATL-HNL is booked in K fare class and OGG-LAX-ATL legs were booked in Q. I used miles to upgrade and have a confirmed upgrade for the LAX-ATL leg, but we are waitlisted on the ATL-HNL and OGG-LAX legs. How long does it typically take to award the upgrade? Not sure if it matters, but I am GM and she is FO. Should we be checking Expert Flyer, or will Delta notify us should seats open up for the upgrade? Thanks again for all of your help and knowledge:=) -BS

  4. Rene, as a silver, I haveno hopes of upgrades. But that’s okay. Still hoping for a rookie Wednesday post on how to use travel insurance when the flight portion of an international trip is paid for with points. Thanks!

  5. Rene-Thanks for all the great info. As a GM for several years, I think the best chance us “lower” level Medallions have of getting an upgrade is to fly when the DM and PM do not. Forget Monday mornings, Thursday and Friday afternoons. Mid-week and night flights are your best bet to move up if your schedule allows it. Thanks again for all the info, I appreciate it.

  6. Good post Rene. As a lowly SM I have actually been upgraded twice out of CRW(I have no idea how).
    However, I was also 76th on the UL last year. My personal “best”:)
    Now if you could fix their award calendar………….

  7. Hi, can you add info about companion upgrades?
    as a PM if I request an upgrade for my non medallion companion, that will drag me down the list, correct?
    Any tips to get around this?

    • @dealvr – yes when it comes to what you said above. A non medallion, on a revenue ticket, with a medallion, on the SAME PNR or itinerary, will clear after all medallions 24hrs before flight when requested. If you are on an award ticket both must be GM+ and then you clear at lowest medallion level. The only way around the latter is the split the PNR but then maybe one will upgrade and one will not.

  8. I have a flight booked ATL-DUB next week in economy (L). If I pay with miles for an upgrade to business elite, will I still get the the RDM/MQMs for the original fare, or do I get no credit due to using miles for the upgrade?

  9. @Mark – Thank you for that information. I have had a reservation booked before I became SM and was trying to figure out how to actually request the upgrade!

  10. Sally Peter Reply

    We’re flying from Atlanta to Rome on September 5th (K fare) and want to upgrade using Skymiles. There were no tickets available for upgrade with miles at the time of booking, so I asked to be put on the waitlist. I also split our pnr in case they make upgrades available one seat at a time. I’m wondering if there is anything I can do to increase our chances of getting off the waitlist. Neither of us has status although my husband is approaching Silver. I have the Delta Platinum credit card linked in my Delta account (that’s how I got the miles to be able to upgrade the flight there). I’m checking every day and have seen the offer pop up to upgrade to comfort+ for $200, but I haven’t done that because my understanding is if we do we’d lose the chance to upgrade to Delta One with miles. As of right now, there are 18 empty seats in Delta One, but the flight is still two months out. Any guess what the chances are an upgrade with miles spot will become available? And when…do you think they’ll open some up between now and then or not until right before the flight? Lastly, for the return flight we’re booked into Comfort+. Am I correct that we cannot upgrade a Comfort+ (W) fare with miles? (If I’m wrong, I’ll be scrambling around to find a way to amass another 65k miles for each of us for the flight home.) I’ve been enjoying your blog!

    • @Sally Peter: Delta holds most seats for sale until they are absolutely certain they can’t squeeze another penny out. I’d say check in every couple days or so. Maybe when you’re 7 days out from your trip, then get a little more persistent. I’ve tried using Diamond Medallion Global Upgrade certs with about 18 seats in D1 — and even those don’t clear. Delta revenue management is erratci

      Status has nothing to do with international upgrades, unfortunately. ( 🙁 ) But if your husband hits Silver, he’s eligible to put you in Main Cabin exit row seats. (Just have him call the Medallion line and explain the PNR situation.)

      You can upgrade W fares with miles — but inventory isn’t known until after you book. (I just spoke with someone at Delta who confirmed that)

      Thank you for reading!

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