Just because you're eligible for a free upgrade to First Class doesn't mean you'll actually get it. Even flyers with the top tier of status miss out on upgrades.
But Delta makes it a bit easier than most by offering ways for both Delta Medallion status members and travelers with no status at all to move up to the front of the cabin on their next flight. We'll break down how you can improve your chances of a Delta upgrade on your next flight.
Oh, and be sure to check out how Delta determines the Medallion upgrade order to see how these upgrades are actually processed.
Earn Medallion Status
The first and best way to improve your odds of getting a Delta upgrade is to earn some level of Medallion status. The higher your level of status, the better the chances are of your complimentary upgrade clearing.
Diamond and Platinum Medallion upgrades to Delta Comfort Plus – the airline's seats with extra legroom – 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. But with how many ultra-frequent flyers have status these days and how much Delta is selling first class upgrades (more on that later…), it's no sure thing.
Gold Medallion upgrades to both Comfort Plus 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 get upgraded to whatever is left beginning 24 hours prior to departure.
Spending additional money out of pocket or doing mileage runs to earn Silver status just simply doesn't make sense if it is upgrades you are after. You'll be battling with thousands of Platinum and Diamond Medallion members for upgrades and your chances of getting into a first-class cabin are slim to none. Heck, even the highest Delta Diamond Medallion members are missing the cut for upgrades lately.
And there's one big reason why.
Pay For Your Upgrade With Cash or Miles
Whether you have Delta Medallion status or not, you can easily get yourself into a Comfort Plus or First Class seat if you are willing to pay for it. Delta gives you the option to pay for an upgrade with cash, but you also have the ability to use Delta SkyMiles to pay for an upgrade.
As travel has bounced back to record heights, Delta flyers are purchasing or upgrading to first class seats more than ever. That's a big part of the reason why complimentary upgrades through status have gotten harder to come by.
When you use SkyMiles to upgrade, the rates is tied directly to the same cash price you’d pay for the upgrade – and the cash price may be outrageous. In almost every case, you’ll get just over 1 cent for each SkyMile you use.
Still, it’s not hard to get more out of your SkyMiles by saving them for another trip. You should be able to easily get more than 1 cent each out of your hard-earned SkyMiles … especially if you save them for a Delta SkyMiles flash sale.
In my experience, the cost of the upgrade whether paying cash or using SkyMiles is often just as expensive – if not more expensive – than what I paid for the ticket in the first place. On a flight that is four hours or less, I would personally rather save my money or SkyMiles.
All that said, if you don't have any level of Delta's Medallion status and you want to sit up front, this is your path. Even if it isn't the best value, it's still an option.
Avoid Peak Business Travel Times & Mainline Routes
If you can make it work for your travel plans, avoiding travel during peak business travel times should naturally improve your odds of an upgrade. This means Mondays and Fridays when Delta's Diamond Medallion road warriors are out in full force.
Planning your travels Tuesday through Thursday or on a weekend should improve your chances of an upgrade as you will likely be battling with top-tier Medallion members. That's changed a bit after the pandemic as business travel is down, but it is still generally a good rule to abide by if you want to get an upgrade.
In that same vein, avoiding mainline Delta routes should also improve your upgrade odds. This means flights between Delta hub cities like Atlanta (ATL), Minneapolis – St. Paul (MSP), Detroit (DTW), and so on. In fact, flying from any of these large Delta hubs means you'll be sitting next to dozens (if not hundreds) of Delta Medallion flyers, too – no matter where you're going.
Fewer elites mean better chances of an upgrade.
Pay More For Your Ticket
There's much more to airplane tickets than meets the eye.
While we see economy and first class on the plane, there's an alphabet soup of restrictions, costs, rules, and regulations behind every plane ticket. Welcome to the world of airline fare classes.
And because of the way these classifications work, paying more for your ticket – getting a higher fare class – will put you higher on the upgrade list, assuming you have Delta Medallion status. 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.
Higher-priced fares are ranked ahead of lower-priced fares. And just because two travelers are sitting next to each other doesn't mean their fare classes are equal.
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). And while getting upgraded shouldn't be a reason to pay more for your ticket, it is a part of the upgrade equation and something to be aware of if you want an upgrade.
Fare classes can be confusing. Read our guide on fare classes, which also helps explain why flight costs change so much.
Carry the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
The *delta reserve card* is next on the list of ways to get a boost in the upgrade order. It's the tiebreaker when status and fare class are equal.
It's American Express's premium co-branded Delta credit card and offers things like complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club and a domestic first-class, Comfort Plus or main cabin round-trip companion certificate each year you hold the card. It also offers a way to expedite your path toward earning Delta Medallion Status.
The card carries an $550 annual fee (see rates & fees) and that's not for everyone. But if you have Delta status and travel a fair amount, this card can help you score upgrades you otherwise wouldn't get as it will vault you ahead of other status members who don't carry the card.
Learn more about the *delta reserve card*
Avoid Basic Economy Fares
Last but not least, if you are hoping to get an upgrade when flying with Delta, you'll need to make sure you avoid Delta Basic Economy fares. That's because basic economy fares with Delta are not eligible for upgrades, period. It doesn't matter what your status is with the airline.
Additionally, at the end of 2021, Delta went where no other major airline has gone: Its basic economy fares no longer earn Delta SkyMiles nor credits toward earning Delta Medallion status. While some airlines stop flyers who buy their cheapest tickets from earning status, Delta is the first to deny them redeemable miles, too.
So while these tickets may be cheaper, you won't be able to change or cancel them for a voucher, you won't earn SkyMiles or credit towards Delta Medallion status, and you won't have any ability to get upgraded into a premium seat.
Just because you can get upgraded with Delta doesn't mean you will. That's especially true nowadays, as the competition between flyers with status for a complimentary seat up front is higher than ever – and there are fewer open seats to be filled.
But if you have status and want to improve your chances of an upgrade, these are the six things you can do to improve your odds of sitting up front.
Lead Photo (CC BY 2.0): Delta News Hub via Flickr