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Scoring More First Class Upgrades: How Delta American Express Cards Can Help

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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.


Complimentary first class upgrades are a major reason people pursue airline elite status. Delta knows this — and gives members of its co-branded American Express cards improved chances of sitting up front.

As René wrote yesterday, 20×2020 is in full effect. So if first class upgrades are important to you, here’s how Delta Amexes play such a vital role scooting you up the upgrade list.

Delta First Class Upgrade Hierarchy

Delta Medallion upgrades are cleared (or, at least, should be) according to a pecking order:

  1. Medallion Status (descending from highest to lowest, i.e. Diamond to Silver)
  2. Fare Class Groupings: higher-priced fares are ranked above lower-priced fares
  3. Delta Reserve Credit Card Members. 
  4. Delta Corporate Travelers
  5. Card Members who earned the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD) Waiver in the current calendar year
  6. Date and time of upgrade request

We’ll focus today on the two items bolded above.

First class in a Delta Air Lines 737.

 

Delta Reserve Credit Card Members

Holding either the personal Delta Reserve Amex or the business flavor can mean the difference between a complimentary first class upgrade on a Delta flight — or sitting in coach.

(Remember that limited-time offers expire tomorrow for six Delta Amexes, including both Reserve cards.)

The Delta Reserve Card from American ExpressDelta Reserve Credit Card (consumer/personal)

Delta Reserve Business Card from American Express.Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card 

Let’s say you’re a Platinum Medallion traveling on a “K” fare and also have a Delta Reserve Credit Card. You’ll be a notch higher on the upgrade list over a fellow Platinum flying a “K” fare — but who doesn’t have a Reserve card.

My upgrades increased when I added the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card to my wallet years ago. Several other people told me they, too, enjoyed more upgrades upon becoming Reserve cardholders.

Even if you don’t use a Delta Reserve card for a single purchase, just holding it far increases your first class odds.

In terms of the annual fees: yes, they’re expensive. $450 right now, and raising to $550 on January 30, 2020. But those costs are easy to swallow after even just a few upgrades — especially when you travel with a companion who also “tags along” on your status and enjoys the upgrades, too!

Meeting the MQD Waiver

The fifth tie-breaker in the Great First Class Upgrade Hierarchy goes to Delta Amex cardholders who’ve spent at least $25,000 in a calendar year on one or cumulatively across all their eligible Delta Amexes.

So if you’re a Gold Medallion flying on an “M” fare (and there actually are first class seats remaining for upgrades), holding a Delta Reserve card, the Delta corporate deal travelers have been taken care of, and knocked your $25K — you’ll get an upgrade before another Reserve-holding Gold traveling on “M” who hasn’t met their MQD waiver.

A Delta One business class seat on a Delta Air Lines A330 aircraft.

Beginning January 30, 2020, SkyMiles members must hold at least one of the below credit cards to be eligible for MQD waivers:

Spend on the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express and Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express alone will not qualify toward the $25,000 MQD waiver — unless you also hold a Reserve or Delta Platinum Amex. It’s the same principle currently in effect for the Delta Blue Amex.

We’ve detailed a number of ways people can reach spend requirements. And given that the Delta Platinum Amexes are adding bonus categories next year, spending $25,000 on those cards will be somewhat more palatable than now.

Is One More Important Than the Other?

Because having either a personal Delta Reserve Amex or business is the third tie-breaker and doesn’t require any additional spend, I think that’s the better (and easier) of the two options.

Not everyone has a Delta Reserve card — so you can get a leg up (front) on them.

If you don’t have a Reserve card — and won’t get one — the $25,000 MQD waiver is still important. The sooner you get it knocked out, the sooner you’ll better your chances of sitting in first class.

— Chris

Other Delta Amex Topics We’ve Covered This Month

Now is a fantastic opportunity to apply for Delta Amexes because many have great welcome bonuses — and you can lock in a year at their current annual fees.

We’ve covered several related topics in the past several weeks including:

Big Welcome Bonuses Expire THIS WEDNESDAY!

The Delta Reserve Card from American ExpressDelta Reserve Card 

Delta Reserve Business Card from American Express.Delta Reserve Business Card 

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express.Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

Delta Gold American Express CardDelta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles Gold Business American Express Card 

 

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.

4 Comments

  1. Any evidence to suggest that holding both the personal and business Reserve cards would give someone an advantage over someone with just one Reserve card?

  2. You really should mention 360 members first – they dominate in the upgrades.

  3. @Edw3rd – I know a number of 360 flyers and many read the blog. Having said that, yes, most times, they get very special treatment (I have seen it first hand). However, on most flights, the number of 360s on-board is limited or zero (with hub exceptions clearly). For the point of this post they are not a major impact.

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