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I guess I was wrong, there ARE times FCM is worth it for a flyer (just not very often)! Should you buy a 1st class upgrade or not.

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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.


sam talks about saving with FCM vs bag fee

I have to start with a disclaimer as I REALLY hate FCM, that is, First Class Monetization or the selling of upgrades that all used to go to elites via the Fly Delta App or Delta.com and can be paid for with cash or sometimes with points (and next year with points and even for discounted fare classes). Also as I have said many, many times before, I have no problem whatsoever with Delta making as much money as they can and selling upgrades. My only problem ever is selling upgrades at such a cheap price that it makes medallion status all but worthless.

comments for ug mqms vs cost

For the most part Delta has been decent and I STRONGLY commend them. They have not gone so far as to “give away” upgrades at ridiculous prices. They have maintained a reasonable balance of cost vs value vs sanity and are still selling more upgrades. Good for Delta and “we” that is, medallions, cannot really complain when someone wants to fork over a large pile of cash or miles for that seat in the pointy end of the jet.

But if you notice the tweet from the opening of this post you will see that there are some VERY cheap upgrades to be had. But “cheap” is not just dependent on the dollar cost. For example, and this is just made up, $50 to upgrade from Detroit to Atlanta would not be the same as $50 from Detroit to Seattle. So it is not just the number.

Also if any of us are going to, and it kills me to say this (I can hardly type the words), buy an upgrade (shudder) then there has to be value there for us. Like what? Here is the list:

  • Bags free (for non elites)
  • Food & drinks onboard
  • Onboard movies free
  • Same Day Change perks
  • Chance for upgrade is ZERO
  • A special event
  • Change from non-refundable to refundable
  • Bonus MQMs

Let’s look at each one and there will be some real math at the end. First we have bags. Now before, buying domestic 1st class, you got 3 free bags. If you were in coach and needed to check 3 bags each way, and the cost to upgrade was the same or less than the bag fees, then it is just stupid NOT to pay for the upgrade. The price is the same or less and look at all the other perks you get. Now it is only 2 bags free but still the math is the same. So look carefully and run the numbers. This also does show the value of holding some kind of Delta AMEX card for free bags btw.

Next you have food. Now I like Delta food. Sure it is not “amazing” or worth $50 for a flight, but it has some value and if time is an issue it can have non-cash value. Also pre-flight drinks and drinks inflight has value to some.

Next we have IFE. Movies are all free in 1st class, but not in coach (they are free in C+ btw). If you have a longer flight and want to watch free movies this can be a perk (movies cost about $6 each normally).

SDC or Same Day Change. Most folks don’t mess with flights but regular frequent flyers do. The rules for SDC have changed a number of times over the past few years. Currently, if you are in 1st class, you can change to ANY open seat on another flight the same day earlier or later (keep the route the same). You can even, if you find a good rep, maybe add or remove legs on a trip. This is all but impossible if you are in coach as the rules are that there must be a seat in your same fare class and this is very unlikely the day of travel.

If you are a low level elite and basically have no chance for an upgrade on a Monday morning flight it “may”, if the price is right, be worth it. But again, the price had better give you value or to me you are just flushing too much cash or points.

It may be your special day (whatever that day is) and the cost just does not matter. You want to ride up front and then that is fine to me – there is a real reason over cost and that just works too!

Once again we have a math issue. Let’s say you purchased a non-refundable ticket. If you can (not always the case) upgrade to a refundable this could help you cancel a ticket you don’t want to fly or may need to change (HT to twitter follower Sam for this one)!

Then we have the biggest one for many of us that is bonus elite points or MQMs (cue heavenly sounds from above). For now, Delta medallion status still has great value. I am willing to take a mileage run or fly for no other reason than collecting these elite points if the price is right. What price you ask? For me a coach mileage run under SkyMiles 2015 should be 4 cents-ish per mile and a 1st class one 8 cents-ish per mile or MQM earned. This is not a firm and set rule but a guide for value to me.

price to UG from sbn-dfw RT

So let’s run some numbers as just one example of when an upgrade is just NOT worth it. I am positioning later in the year to Dallas for a Delta Mileage Run. I used FlexPerks points to buy my ticket and got a mid-level coach fare class. Nothing special but still not the bottom of the barrel. Delta wants me to spend $665 to upgrade. Is it worth it? I will be flying from South Bend to Detroit then on to Dallas. The first leg is CRJ200 so no 1st class even if I paid for the upgrade. Thus the only legs I would be in 1st class is between Detroit and Dallas. With help from our friends at CWSI.net let’s compare no upgrade and upgrade for value.

coach mqm earnings

if i paid to upgrade to 1st class

Notice how many more MQMs I will earn when I add the “switches” for a first class A fare flight on the CWSI.net page. A HUGE (yeah really not so much) total of 986 MQMs more. Thus I would be paying 67 cents per MQM. That, my friends, is just so “bat crazy” that it even makes the insane prices that Delta sells MQMs in December each year look like a flat out bargain. So, the biggest reason to upgrade for me is not a value here. Nor really is the rest for me as an elite as I will more than likely clear anyway and the cold food on these smaller jets is not that great compared to mainline jets and worst case I will be in C+ so get free drinks anyway.

Now this is just one simple example but from this you can do that math for yourself and see if the total “basket” of goodies Delta is willing to sell you is worth it to you.

Please ask yourself: Am I getting REAL and perceived value for the cost to upgrade. Please do not just hit “buy” unless you are getting more back than you are giving to Delta! – 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.

8 Comments

  1. So you’re saying that my $493 offer for CRW-LAS upgrade isn’t good:)
    Good analysis Rene.

  2. Great Article! Question, does your logic apply as well to Intl travel? I have seen many times such as ATL to AMS asking $133 for Comfort Plus upgrade, I assume has not impact om MQM’s?

    • @Scott – Delta does not sell 1st class upgrades on International flights. C+ gives you a little extra space but nothing more Internationally. No extra MQMs, no better food etc as the rest of coach. To me, $133 is a very big number for the little extra perks you get.

  3. Rene, is the SDC rule also applicable to first class award tickets? I have a 6 hour layover in Atlanta tomorrow and it would be great to be able to stand by for an earlier flight.

    • @Gaurav – My understanding is NO and here is why – the same AWARD price must exist for a change. Really this rule equally applies to a coach award ticket. Now on the plus side the extra miles to change may be not too much and may be worth it. Most times they will wave fees if you are paying more in points or cash to do this btw (if not ask for this).

  4. Duane Haas Reply

    Are you sure about the paid upgrades for international? My wife and I were flying to DUB from ORD and I could have sworn we were offered $500 round trip from C+. No status at all (first time flying Delta in 8 years).

    • @Duane – C+ is not an upgrade to 1st class. It is a coach seat with a little more room. Sure, better, but only by a VERY tiny bit.

  5. Gaurav Khanna Reply

    Thanks Rene. We checked when we landed in ATL and the agent offered to let us stand by for an earlier flight for $50 each. We skipped it and went to the lounge in F and enjoyed ourselves until our flight :).

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