Let’s face it – one of the biggest reasons to chase airline status each year is the promise (and the hope) of 1st class upgrades. But these are harder and harder to get flying Delta because of a number of factors including:
- Delta selling cheap 1st class upgrades online
- Delta selling cheap 1st class upgrades at check-in
- Flyers buying more 1st class seats
- Flyers using 1st class certs & points
- The number of Medallions flying
- Changes in 1st class cabin size
The first two is the worst “offender” that has impacted most medallions’ upgrade percentages. We have seen again and again Delta selling 1st class upgrades for as little as $9.95. Who in their right mind would not buy-up at that price or even up to $50 IMO is a simple no-brainer choice. But the result of this is less seats we used to score as a reward for our loyalty and always choosing Delta as our airline to fly even if the ticket price was not the cheapest choice.
The next two work hand in hand with the first two – that is, when flyers are seeing less 1st class upgrades they consider buying 1st class. Delta has also many times moved the price difference between coach and 1st to levels that motivates folks into just buying a discounted 1st class ticket. Lastly in this regard they have fixed the booking software on Delta.com to allow mixed coach and 1st class tickets – that is, you could fly coach one way on the ticket and 1st class the other way and the price may be lower than just coach round trip (or close to the same). Result again is more buying 1st class. After that, with Regional upgrade certs and even flyers so desperate that they burn points for upgrades at huge prices this further reduces the chance to upgrade.
The final two are the perfect storm, if you will, to see what we are seeing in the air – that is, with very LONG upgrade lists due to so many reaching Medallion status and even some cabin size reduction in first class numbers for seats (but with nicer new seats as a result) the chance for you to get the number of free upgrades you got years ago is clearly not gonna happen today.
Well isn’t this a depressing way to start a Monday morning! 😉
But this post is not to depress you. This is meant to help YOU be one of the ones who does ride up front a vast majority of the time you fly Delta. It will take work and you have to understand all the dynamics and be willing to adjust to what is needed. Let’s dive in.
As of 2017 Delta has really changed how they look at upgrades. I will not rehash the past, but just focus on the now. Right now top Medallion status matters – Period. If you are not Diamond you are not 1st on the 1st class list. This means if you have been happy and with work just made Platinum year after year then you need to change your thinking. Clearly Platinum is a “sweet spot” still, but unless you are Diamond you will not get the best shot at an upgrade. If you are short consider a few Elite Mileage Runs to beef up your totals. Plus, get a Delta Reserve card (or two) and beef up your spend for bonus MQMs as well. The move from Platinum to Diamond is not that hard it just takes some work. Plus, as you will see, doing this helps in many other ways.
Next up we have what still remains a HUGE factor and rightly so – fare class and this most times means how much you paid for the ticket. This means, when you go to buy a ticket, you may want to pay a few bucks more to jump up the fare class list. In order the revenue i.e. non-award list looks like this:
- F, P, A, G, J, C, D, I, Z, W*, Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X, V, E
The last one, E, you cannot upgrade so toss that one out. Also, since Delta is not telling us definitely one way or the other, W may get you more upgrades or it may not (we can argue this forever but again Delta is NOT officially saying). With those two bits out of the way let’s focus on what matters – that is, if you move up from say a V class to an X class for a few bucks more then if you and another Diamond are competing for the upgrade the one with the X class wins (and so on). Before I buy I always search the price difference between where I am and the next fare “bucket” as it is called.
Then we have another important item on the list that is the Delta Reserve Card personal (learn more) or business (learn more) — both are equally the same for upgrades. I know for years that Diamonds have not seen the need to hold this card but I have been wise enough to hold it for years and the result this year and in the past has been more upgrades for me. Now it clearly matters more than ever. Bottom line is if you want more upgrades get this card (don’t EVER upgrade – get a new one – please)!
Point 4 on the list is great for corporate travelers who have contracts with Delta but since there really is no way for most to earn this I will just touch on it that it does impact your shot at an upgrade as well so good for you if your company buys Delta tickets on contract.
Now back again to the Delta AMEX cards and why spend matters so much. It took me 7 days in 2017 to be MQD exempt. It matters when? Did you notice? “IN THE CURRENT CALENDAR YEAR“! This means it DOES matter how fast you get this spend done if you want more upgrades right now, this flying year.
The last one on the list has always mattered – that is, when you got your ticket and in effect requested the upgrade. Keep in mind with this one that if your ticket is reissued or agents do things to the ticket this could impact this. When there is just one seat you are fighting for this can make a difference. Just know this as a minor but important point.
Now on to ways to maximize all of the above information. How do you work these and what other factor can impact you. What are things to avoid and things to do to improve your upgrade percentage.
Avoid peak days and hubs. Sunday night and especially Monday morning are brutal and definitely so out of Delta major hubs. You are fighting business travelers who have often paid a ton for their tickets and a huge percentage of them are Diamonds. I try to avoid Monday as much as I can. If you can fly later in the day you will have a much better chance. Same goes for Thursdays and the later in the day the worse it gets as all those business folks are trying to get home. The solution is pick Tuesdays or Wednesdays or for your best chance Saturdays are glorious for upgrades.
Use the tools you have. While it pains me to type this consider buy-ups if the price is right. If Delta is selling on peak travel days an upgrade cheap then take them up on it. Or, put in a request for an upgrade with a Regional upgrade cert. I would, if it does not clear 8 days out, remove it and try for a free upgrade and see what happens. If 2 days out it has not cleared re-request it. Some may not agree with this method but it has worked well for me. I would avoid upgrade with SkyMiles as it really is a horrid value and most times very expense. Having said that, ask and make the call but please don’t over spend!
SDC, that is Same Day Change. Use this tool as an elite. Consider changing from your flight that has no 1st class seats to one a bit later that does have seats. Then, if you must, combo that with a regional upgrade cert even. Either way try to get them to change you either for free or for just a minor fare difference. I have seen reps do this many times i.e. waive any change fees and just allow me to pay a smallish difference to get on another flight. Sometime this jump in fare class can also help me on the upgrade on the next flight.
Most of these ideas are focused on the single traveler. Delta now, on PAID i.e. revenue tickets, allows your +1 to upgrade with you on the same reservation. This has been a great change and many single business travelers were up in arms when it first was announced that it would hurt them. Now that it is live – really not so much. Here is why. Say hubby and wife are #1 & #2 on the upgrade list and you are #3 but there is only 1 seat open. In this case you will get the upgrade in the number #3 slot vs. the two above you. They can split the reservation but then one will drop either off or way down the list vs. being on the same reservation. Most times, it seems, a couple would rather fly coach together than just one upgrade.
Sticking with the +1 upgrade option it is something to consider. If you use all the tools above two can score a number of upgrades but you again have to work it. If you choose to split the reservation consider the impact on the return flights as well. It may be wise to stick on one reservation or if you are fine with at least one of you sitting in 1st splitting it up into two. There are implications both ways and you have to make the final call on this one. My wife and I have our first ever +1 trip coming up soon and I have chosen to upgrade with regional upgrade on the outbound and will see how the return goes.
These are the main points that are straight forward and you should always take into account. There are a massive tiny other bits you also need to know about and if you are a frequent flyer likely you can rattle them off one by one. If not you should read up on them. Consider things like:
- What routes are not upgradeable
- PWM is upgradeble while M&C is not
- Single flight with stop may not upgrade
- C+ IT bug could block your upgrade
It is really frustrating to book a ticket expecting an upgrade and then Delta does not allow it. But it is not that hard to check the route before you book. Also, many are confused between PWM vs. M&C that is Pay With Miles vs. Miles and Cash. A PWM ticket you can score a free upgrade and you do earn MQMs and more. A M&C ticket is basically an award ticket very much like a SkyMiles ticket with all the rules that accompany it.
Then we have the issue of a flight with a stop that is a single flight number. Even if the second flight could be upgrade eligible due to the fact that you started from a city that is not upgrade eligible from point to point you cannot upgrade. A good example would be Minneapolis to Hawaii via say SLC/LAX/SEA. If you flew each leg on its own you could upgrade but as one ticket and flight number not so much.
The last one that we all hope Delta will fix one day is the fact that under certain circumstances once you “upgrade” to C+ you are now blocked from an upgrade to 1st class. I tend to avoid C+ in many circumstances due to this issue and am happy with exit row but tend to upgrade a bulk of the time because I follow all of the advice above and I hope you do to! – René