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Now LIVE on – The greatest threat to “free” Medallion upgrades ever – Upgrade with SkyMiles

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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.

My wife will NOT go for Diamond Medallion status again next year!

Last week Delta implemented what was promised during the $DAL Delta Air Lines Q3 investors call that is, the chance for just about any type of booked Delta flight (other than E Basic fares) to be upgraded with points. In my post about the quarterly call I said:

“The big push for the coming year will be more ways to “burn” our SkyMiles (his words here). As an example would be in the Fly Delta App “on the way to the airport” to buy an up-sell. He used the example that if an upgrade was $170 it would, next year, cost 17,000 SkyMiles.

This shows us that in the Delta executive’s mind a SkyMiles is worth 1 cent each – period. This does not look good for the pricing of award tickets in general moving forward. He also stated that cash or SkyMiles is the same as far as Delta is concerned.”

There are a number of reasons this is so bad for those of us who truly value our elite status for “free” (not really free as we pay to earn status) upgrades – let me break them down one by one for you:

Hey René – 1 cent value here! 🙁
  • The value of a SkyMile pegged at 1 cent each (more or less). For years now Delta has been promoting that folks burn SkyMiles at low value with programs like “Pay With Miles” that lets you use 5000 miles to knock $50 off your ticket (and so on). This is one more step in cementing in flyer’s minds that 1 cent is the value of a SkyMile.
560k SkyMiles tickets? Uh, no thanks!
  • Hard to burn miles for awards (at a good value). If you have not checked for a while, unless you are really flexible and work hard at it to get Level 1 or 2 award prices, SkyMiles tickets in business class are a tad bit expensive (and especially so last minute). Now I work to get value but most just think these prices are what to expect and drive down value in the minds of flyers.
Oh boy! I CAN wait! No really, I can!
  • Delta digital marketing. Again turning to the $DAL investors call, we see the above. Coming soon, on the way to the airport, Delta will likely “push” the Fly Delta app to alert you to upgrade with SkyMiles. You loyal elites who are at the top of the upgrade list – expect any open seats you were hoping for to vanish like a vapor trail in a clearly blue sky – poof.
Just burn them!
  • And lastly, Delta flyers just don’t care about SkyMiles anymore. This is really the biggest issue – how we now feel about SkyMiles! When you take all the above into account, many just think use them at any price just to get rid of the darn things. After all, the points were “free” from your employer paying for your tickets so burn them baby, burn them!

Bottom line, the perfect storm is brewing for 2019 to be the year, for all practical purposes, free medallion upgrades dies. I fully expect, using all my tools for the best upgrades chances, to maybe be 50% next year as a Diamond Medallion.

I have really been weighing in my mind the value of status for 2019. I am planning on one last year of re-qualification but I am less and less certain of the true value with the death of free upgrades. The rest of the perks are just not “that great” and I can simply buy 1st class on any airline I wish to fly vs. the games Delta plays with my loyalty. I will clearly make Platinum, at least, to keep the option to cancel award tickets for free and re-book but Diamond again? Maybe not worth it anymore.

What do you think. Do you agree that this is as big a game changer as I  think  know this is? – 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. Don in ATL Reply

    Game changer. Do you think that they will let you apply GUC or RUC instead of miles if the upgrade seats are available???

    • @Don in ATL – This has little to do with GU or RU cert space. That is another “bucket” if you will. Also, I am sure they will try to sell any open seat with miles to upgrade vs clearing GU and RU certs (until just before flight that is).

  2. Don in ATL Reply

    Now I have my answer to my question above. I’m holding coach tickets ATL-LGA next week. I just looked at my itinerary on It says that upgrade seats are available to First for 26,900 miles. I called to see about using my RUC instead of the miles and they said NO! Miles – yes, RUC – NO!!!!

  3. I have gotten to the point that I do not travel for business anyone. I was a diamond for the first three years of the program and it was great. I usually fly 8-10 times a year for personal travel and have reached the point that if I want to be up front, I buy a first class ticket. I have already burned the million or so sky pesos I had accumulated, so this won’t affect me except for the very rare business trip. Then I guess I can burn my pesos for an upgrade.

  4. I’d noticed this week too some odd combinations appearing on award tickets: $ or miles upgrades. I asked via email whether that converts an award ticket into revenue for MQM purposes, no answer yet. (Anyone know?)
    Also noticed that (not a new feature per-se) a cash coach ticket got complementary upgraded on one segment, second is offering cash/miles upgrade. Might use expiring RUC for that, but curious if anyone knows whether 1.5x MQMs would apply to whole ticket or just the one segment upgraded with cash/miles (for RUC the answer I know is no 1.5x).
    I was able to use an RUC successfully to jump to the top of the queue for complementary upgrades — so far the pricing I’ve seen, especially for last-day upgrades (or even 1 week out sometimes) is quite ridiculous (in cash or miles — even most points-flush DM would probably not want to spend 60-100K miles to upgrade a 2-3 hour flight, I think), so RUCs might still be useful for a while for jumping to the front of the queue…

  5. Nick Thomas Reply

    I have gold status, which is pretty much worthless. I only get occasional upgrades on regional routes, the islands, and then weekends between big cities. Maybe 25% of my flights.

    Tomorrow for DTW–DCA, I was given a buy-up offer with the new system of $50. For $50, I’ll buy the upgrade. I figure I can drink 2-3 glasses of wine and get most of my money back.

  6. FNT Delta Diamond Reply

    Look, I’m not against Delta selling seats through whatever the market will buy them. That’s capitalism. I just want it to be transparent. My issue with this is I have no idea whether the buy-up into first-class, either with miles or cash, will be the same regardless of a customer’s Delta elite status. We’ve known for years that the previous iterations of first-class buy-ups didn’t necessary get extended to diamonds, but rather to lower level elites and even no-status customers. If Delta is going to sell an upgrade for 25,000 miles or $200 then everyone should get the same offer at the same time. Fair and square. Of course, I fully expect Delta to game the system and its data analytics by giving different customers different offers. This is the same objection I have to redeeming miles for award-redemption travel. Without an award chart we have no idea if everyone is paying the same price. It would be like walking into McDonald’s and not having a menu.

  7. Have traveled in the past week and tried to use RUC’s to no avail and did not get the miles or cash buy-uportunities??

  8. I have been struggling with whether or not I should make an end of year mileage run to maintain my Plat status…that decision was made for me by Delta. Between buying with skypesoes and becoming a free agent, I’ll fly up front much more often than hoping for the rare upgrade.

  9. This year I halved my Delta flights, spent $25k on the AMEX (will drop from Diamond to Platinum), and flew enough Southwest to get A-List Preferred status with a Companion Pass.

    At this stage in my career, I value the Companion Pass and the easy use of free domestic awards on Southwest more than I value the occasional upgrade and devalued SkyPeso on Delta.

  10. Any lawyers following this? How are these discriminating and segmented pricing policies legal?

  11. You have to look at the upgrade policies over the years to see that this is a big “meh”. Anyone remember the 800-mile certificates in the 90’s? Remember the free upgrades for everyone instituted in the 2000’s? Remember the dirt cheap “A” fares that was in response to AirTran’s business fares? Bottom line – if you really want to sit up front, you can do it.

    In my own case, my business travel has almost stopped (yay!) after about 20 years of full time travel. The last couple of years (one as Diamond, one as Platinum), complimentary upgrades were almost non-existent. What I did was to take the coach ticket that was approved by policy, refund it in the 24-hour cancellation period and use PWM to pay the difference to buy (hopefully discounted) F. This gave you a paid first fare and you got all of the benefits, including MQM bonuses. I netted a zero gain in my SkyMiles balance for the year, but I maintained status and flew up front.

    Now the big question with this new miles-to-upgrade feature is if it offers the SkyMiles bonuses that buying a paid first ticket would offer.

  12. Delta is so desperate to get those l̶i̶a̶b̶i̶l̶i̶t̶i̶e̶s̶ miles off their books before the next downturn.

    Maybe we should be worried about the viability of these airlines when it does hit the fan.

  13. philip h turner Reply

    Completely agree. I used to be loyal to Delta (10 years as Diamond), but 2019 is the year of free agency. These “upgrades” are just flat out devaluing the program to where I have zero loyalty now.

  14. Steve Tims Reply

    This has actually been in “test” for a couple of months, I actually used it to upgrade our tickets to Panama for last week when they would not honor or RU Certs because it was a tour group “bulk” ticket! I will point out that we did get MQM’s as if we had paid cash for the upgrades!

  15. James_Telry Reply

    Another good strategy is to use the certificate on flights where you stand little to no chance of getting an upgrade as a SkyMiles Medallion member. Remember that neither the primary traveler nor the companion are eligible for complimentary upgrades on these tickets, so you might as well book those routes that are popular for business travelers and carry minuscule chances of being upgraded. This is especially true now that Delta has changed the upgrade policy for regular paid companions.

  16. If the price in miles is so bad (less value if using miles to upgrade then if paying outright) then why should we worry anymore then when this was rolled over with the cash-only upgrade option? I fly out of and into MIA and FLL. My upgrades out of are about 99 percent and into about 90 percent- even through ATL. Perhaps the market I live in is different.

    • @HGA – Congrats on your UG percentage – well done! As to the other bits, I feel many do not view their SkyMiles in the same light as cash. They would, for example, never pay $300 for a one segment UG but to burn 29,000 worthless SkyMiles – you bet ya! 🙁

  17. If they’re going in the direction of removing free upgrades for Medallion members, it would at least be a nice gesture to make their points worth more than general members. At least that way there will be some type of value in being a Medallion member. If a Diamond Medallion’s points were worth two cents instead of one per point, that would add some motivation to be a Diamond Medallion.

  18. Deltaflyer Reply

    Hi Rene, Will these upgrades get the first quality MQMs 1.5 for that segment?

    • @Deltaflyer – All reports, so far, are yes! That may be the only silver lining of this mess.

  19. I don’t know if using skymiles for an upgrade is a huge game changer or just one more nail in the “boil the frog” coffin. Time will tell. Delta is pretty sure most frogs won’t notice.

  20. Don makes a great point. Does it make sense to choose RU as your perk if you qualify for Plat. I used 4 RU from DTW to RNO this wee nut I suspect that the only reason I got them was because of the market.
    Better off taking the $200 cert now?

  21. HuntingtonGuy Reply

    I scored a decent JFK-LAX-KOA-SEA-JFK miles run @ $600. All X seats ☹️
    So far 1 leg has come through with a bump to comfort, I paid for a C+ seat for the SEA-JFK leg so I’m less miserable when I get home.
    So, my $600 trip is at closer to $750 now but if the C+ AIS legs come with the 1.5 MQM’s I’m fine w that.
    I waffled about making this run but I’m 13k out from Plat for 2019 and just landed from a LGA-MCO RT so the Hawaii run will get me to PL.

    The contempt DL has grown to show medallions is really lousy. They behave more like a cable tv provider where the incentive and bonus value is to the new customer while the long standing and loyal ones get a good helical incline plane instead of some occasional love.
    I’m strongly re-evaluating mt DL loyalty going forward. They are not the most economical option in the skies, other carriers might appreciate us just a little more.

  22. HuntingtonGuy Reply

    @Rene: Ever considered adding a “like” button to posts? It’s nice to be able to give a virtual fist bump occasionally but it’s also a good way to track which posts are connecting most with readers.
    Just one guys $0.02

  23. The email said “You asked, we listened”

    My question is, WHO ASKED FOR THIS?

    Oh, I know. Rev Management!

  24. My wife and I had decided not go for Diamond a while back; even if the AMEX spend option were waived we wouldn’t want it. Diamond is great for “Thanks for being Diamond” in case you want to impress strangers, but little else. This article cinches that.

    This if I got a Diamond waiver for our AMEX spend I’d be tempted to say, “new phone, who dis?” We really really do NOT want to hit Diamond. Each of us will carry over 45-55K MQM to start 2019. Our market has routing that frequently has 1200-1500 mile legs as part of routing and frequently there are zero seats at check-in. People get that if they want FC, buy FC. When I’ve gambled an upgrade on Tues or Wed flights even RUC are frequently strike-outs, even sitting at gate until last person has boarded for no-shows (and yes every seat in FC really and truly has been full, no Shena.) And no, I’m not in a hub city.

    RUC that I put in early Oct for early-Dec flight (when all seats in FC showing full) and committed for an incoming flight (was going to expire, why not) didn’t clear until the gate in MSP at T-1, Tues midday flight, at which time there were 6 upgrades for 16 seats in FC. Really, Delta? (There were 4 seats at T-3, maybe SDC but how many other RUCs were in line?)

    GUCs have been 0-2 for last two years and I have been told by Medallion Desk they have no priority over RUC for domestic travel, so I’m going for other benefits this year. Even RUC at T-2 in last 2 years has resulted in the heartbreak of 2-3 unused at end of year, so this Medallion “benefit” is sketchy as it is.

    This year we going to spend down our high-6-figures SkyMiles with near virtual certainty that we’ll hit Platinum with AMEX benefits. I think the upgrade with miles could prove to be awesome. Here’s to Platinum-for-life. Diamond is over-rated. See you up front in our guaranteed seats!!

  25. Either delta should reward loyal customers, or not. They cannot have it both ways. At the moment they are advertising medallion upgrades, but are not offering them anymore on more and more routes, because the price of first class is so low, or the upgrade to first from main is so cheap. I have seen upgrades offered for $50 bux which makes loyal fliers (Diamond up until now) feel like absolute crap. Delta cannot have it both ways. I am out.

  26. @Dave Layc said it best, Delta can not have it both ways.
    This isn’t about reducing Liabilities, but it is about showing an “apparent” increase in revenues to boost the stock price and earn a few more million $$ for the Executives.
    Pretty pathetic, but effective. Welcome to the Greedy Me world.

    Before you can say, next recession, with devalued loyalty programs, we’ll find ourselves back in the ’70’s where price and convenience ruled the skies and Delta’s stock price will be in the high teens until the next visionary comes along and thinks, ” wouldn’t it be great to have a program to keep the large spending customers”.

    Maybe they will call it “D’Advantage” since all the true innovators are dead.

  27. @Dave Layc said it best, Delta can not have it both ways.
    This isn’t about reducing Liabilities, but it is about showing an “apparent” increase in revenues to boost the stock price and earn a few more million $$ for the Executives.
    Pretty pathetic, but effective. Welcome to the Greedy Me world.

    Before you can say, next recession, with devalued loyalty programs, we’ll find ourselves back in the ’70’s where price and convenience ruled the skies and Delta’s stock price will be in the high teens until the next visionary comes along and thinks, ” wouldn’t it be great to have a program to keep the large spending customers”.

    Maybe they will call it “D’Advantage”.

  28. Corbett Kroehler Reply

    Excellent feedback, all around! I qualified from Platinum up to Diamond a month ago and definitely noticed the difference in terms of upgrade percentage. Quick example: this Friday, I fly ATL/MCO with a departure time of 21:10 hours. As of Monday morning, 13 of 20 seats in domestic first (business class) were open but no upgrade. It finally came Tuesday morning, 24 hours inside the Diamond upgrade window. I am certain that, had I still been a Platinum, even with the Reserve Card, I would have had to wait, with 13 of 20 seats open!

    In terms of qualifying next year, I definitely won’t push myself for Diamond. I will retain Platinum because it’s easy for me and then, as others have pointed out, resign myself to paying for first class, one way or another.

    Final thought: scoring a Medallion upgrade to first has become most strategic, by knowing the city pairs, time of day and day of week. For example, MCO/MSP used to be a snap for Platinum and Diamond except on Sunday and Monday. That is now far less true. Holidays are horrible, too.

    On the other hand, MCO/LGA and MCO/JFK can be very good, even for Silvers, when one takes the first northbound flight of the day, except Monday. I have seen the early MCO/JFK on Saturday check in with NO MEDALLIONS on the list and all seats open.

    DTW/LAS always is terrible, even with a RUC. On that route, buy the upgrade.

    My overall philosophy on burning miles to upgrade will depend on the price. Recently, I burned 35,000 SkyPesos for Sunday morning MCO/MSP/PDX and was happy I did, especially since both legs had a meal. At the gate, all first class seats had checked in full. For my Thursday red-eye return PDX/ATL/MCO, my Diamond status snagged 3B at the gate for both segments.

  29. Dale Williams Reply

    Rene, you have been “weighting the value” of Skymiles status for several years now! You are too tied to Delta to ever move very far away from the program you love to hammer. That’s ok. Makes for a lively blog.

    • @Dale – I get value with work. The work is just getting so hard that it is much less fun (example now paying Level 1 awards i.e. 82k one-way to Europe in DeltaOne vs 50k a few years back).

  30. Came here to see if there was anything mentioned about the boarding group process change yet – but this combined with the boarding group change is enough for me. I’m a youngish business traveler who has pined for Delta Diamond status for the last 3 years of my career and only acquired platinum each year. Well, thanks Delta, cause all these changes are taking the wind outta my sails and I have no interest in being a diamond anymore. Plats and Golds board AFTER C+? Very insulting decision to loyal medallion members. I’ll take my business elsewhere where it can be better appreciated. AA and UA are going to have a huge influx in status matches this next year….

  31. Wow this just makes me feel used going out of my way tomorrow for a really annoying run for 2000 mqms and $1400 in MQDs for PM. If there are no upgrades, it also makes the Amex Delta Reserve card useless.

  32. If you “buy up” to First (with miles) do you get MQM/MQD, etc at the original purchase price OR at the “buy up” ?

    • @rizrizriz – So far all reports are the buy up price not the original price.

  33. @Rene – any reports on how the ‘buy-up’ MQM ($ or miles) gets treated for award tickets – will one get 1.5X MQMs of the distance for the full ticket or just 0.5X for the buyup? E.g., a 1000-mile segment, normally 0 MQMs for award ticket, would it become 1500 MQM after ‘buy-up’? Thanks!

  34. Mikel Manitius Reply

    Firstly, domestic First Class on Delta (or any other US airline, from what I can see) really isn’t worth paying for, even the $9.99 or $50 upsells that you write about. Occasionally the service is good, but usually it’s just the same as coach. Maybe you get an extra banana. The space is really the benefit (I’m tall), but honestly C+ non-middle is comfortable enough. Sure, I’ll take the free upgrade when it comes but if someone wants to burn actual dollars, or even SkyMiles to get there, let them pay their vanity tax. We’re all landing at the same time anyway.

  35. Thanks @Rene, I did later find this:

    @rene, I did find this later also.

    You’ll earn miles and Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) credit based on the cabin flown and the cash amount of the ticket purchased, excluding taxes and fees.
    You will earn Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs).
    Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) will be awarded based on the cash amount of the ticket purchased, excluding any taxes and fees.
    Mileage credit will be earned based on the cash amount of the ticket purchased (base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges remaining and paid in currency after miles are applied to the ticket total). Tickets purchased entirely with miles are not eligible for mileage accrual, MQMs, MQSs, or MQDs.

  36. William is right. DELTA wants the “liabilities” off the balance sheet…. PERIOD! Next enhancement, “Miles Will EXPIRE”.

  37. I have been Diamond level in 2017 and 2018, about 15000 MQM short for 2019. I was a little bummed until i read all the articles and comments. Platinum will work fine for us and will buy up on the 4 hour flights. Coming out of MEM there are few direct flights to either coast.

  38. Barry Graham Reply

    First class is a privilege not a right. If Delta didn’t make money from it then it wouldn’t be there. They have a responsibility to themselves and to us to make it profitable.

    On a different topic, in your link to the PWM article @rene I saw about the 250 miles deal. With this an error or an offer? I don’t want to ask there since the post is so old.

  39. Can’t Not Post Reply

    It’s now June and upgrades have disappeared for me (Diamond), with Delta Reserve Card. No point to committing to Delta for the upgrades and no point in keeping the Delta Reserve Card.

    They are about to lose $40,000 annual ticket purchases, $60,000+ credit card purchases and $495 per year for the Reserve Card.

    I’ll probably like Southwest better anyway and my wife will fly free with me.

    Net change:

    No change for me- coach is coach
    A win for my wife
    A win for my employer since Southwest is usually cheaper

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