How Does Delta Determine its Medallion Upgrade Order?
what are delta mqms

How Does Delta Determine its Medallion Upgrade Order?

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The biggest and most important benefit of having elite status with any airline is the complimentary upgrades you can get. What’s better than a free seat in first class for the price of economy?

There’s a lot to love about having airline status if you can get it, though getting these free upgrades seems to be getting harder. That’s no different with Delta, which is why we feel that many levels of Delta status aren’t worth it.

But just how those complimentary upgrades are processed can be confusing. We’ll break down the six factors Delta considers when processing these Medallion status upgrades.


Medallion Status

The first and most important factor for a complimentary upgrade with Delta is having some level of Medallion status. The higher your level of status, the better the chances are of your upgrade clearing.

Diamond and Platinum Medallion upgrades to Comfort+ – Delta’s extra-legroom economy seats – start clearing almost immediately after ticketing. First class upgrades for these top-tier status holders will begin to clear five days before departure (assuming there are seats available).

Gold Medallion upgrades to both Comfort+ and First Class will clear three days prior to departure – and after both Platinum and Diamond Medallion members have already been upgraded.

Finally, Silver Medallion members – Delta’s lowest tier of status – will receive get upgraded to whatever may be left beginning 24 hours prior to departure.

Thrifty Tip: Interested in learning more about earning Delta’s Medallion Status? Visit this link on the Delta page.


Delta Medallion Upgrade


Fare Class Groupings

If the Medallion status between two members is equal and there is only one seat available for an upgrade, Delta turns next to the fare class. Said simply, higher-priced fares are ranked ahead of lower priced fares.

As you can see below, somebody who purchased a full economy fare (Y fare class) will be higher in the upgrade order than somebody flying on a discounted main cabin fare (H fare class).

Thrifty Tip #2: Fare Classes can be confusing. Read Our Guide on Fare Classes, which will help explain why flight costs change so much.


Delta Medallion Upgrade


The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card

If both the Medallion status and the fare class are the same, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card is next in the pecking order to determine where you will land in the upgrade order. The card is American Express’ premium co-branded Delta credit card and offers things like free access to the Delta Sky Club and a domestic first-class, Comfort+ or main cabin round-trip companion certificate each year you hold the card.

The card does have a $550 annual fee, but it is currently offering 40,000 SkyMiles & 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.


Delta Reserve consumer


Click Here to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card


Delta Corporate Travelers

Assuming all other things are equal, customers traveling on business with an employer who has an active Delta Corporate Sales Agreement will be given priority in the Delta Medallion upgrade order. For more information about Delta’s corporate traveler benefits, visit this link on Delta’s website.


Who Has Earned the MQD Waiver in the Current Calendar Year?

If all else is equal, co-branded Delta credit cardholders who have earned the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) Waiver in the current calendar year will receive higher priority in the upgrade order.

This means you will have had to spend at least $25,000 on one of the credit cards to receive the MQD waiver for Silver, Gold or Platinum Medallion status. To receive the MQD waiver for Diamond Medallion status, Delta now requires you to spend a monstrous $250,000 in a calendar year.

Thrifty Tip #3: To learn more about Delta MQMs, MQDs and how they help you build status, visit our story here.


Delta amex benefits

Date and Time of Your Upgrade Request

Last but not least in determining where you will fall in the Delta Medallion upgrade order is the date and time of your upgrade request. The earlier you make your travel arrangements, the better when it comes to securing Delta upgrades.

You can manage upgrade requests in your Delta account on either a desktop or through the mobile app. Make sure the box is checked or else Delta will exclude you from the Medallion upgrade list altogether.


Our Analysis

Just because you can get upgraded doesn’t mean you will. And that is especially true for both Silver and Gold Medallion members. It is one of the biggest reasons we generally think any level of Delta status below Platinum Medallion isn’t worth the extra effort. Most of the upgradable space is reserved for Delta’s Diamond and Platinum Medallion members – and even Platinum members sometimes miss the boat.

And it’s gotten even harder recently. Delta began allowing seat upgrades using SkyMiles in December, leading to a rush of flyers using their SkyMiles to upgrade to first class or Comfort+. That means there is less chance for even status holders to score an upgrade.

Both paid cash fares and award tickets booked with SkyMiles are eligible to be upgraded with SkyMiles, regardless of whether you have Delta Medallion status. Just as with cash upgrades, basic economy fares cannot be upgraded with SkyMiles.

While it’s possible to upgrade this way, it’s generally not a good deal – you’re better off using your SkyMiles on a flight rather than an upgrade.


Bottom Line

If you have ever wondered how Delta determines the upgrade order for the Medallion members, this post is a little peek behind the curtain. As a Platinum Medallion member myself, I certainly wasn’t fully aware of how this was done. For more information visit the Upgrades for Medallion Members page on Delta’s website.


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Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0):  Delta News Hub via Flickr

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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4 Responses

  • How do they determine when an upgrade is available? There have been times where there were 6-8 un-sold first class seats two days before departure. Their website said I should have cleared 5 days prior and did not end up clearing until at the gate.

    • That’s a great question. There isn’t a ton of info on this situation specifically but I imagine they have data driving the decision on which routes are more likely to sell upgrades vs not. I’ve only been upgraded 5 days out on a few different occasions.

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