Save Your Cash: Upgrade on Delta Using Miles Instead

SkyMiles have tremendous value, including premium class upgrades, lounge memberships, and more.
Last updated May 13, 2021 | By Lee Huffman
Woman on plane who got a Delta upgrade with miles

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Going on vacation is great, but getting upgraded from economy to business or first class is even better. Delta’s SkyMiles may have a reputation as “SkyPesos” for their notoriously low redemption value, but there is merit in their loyalty program if you know where to look.

Here’s how to get a Delta upgrade with miles, plus other options for your Delta miles that you may not have considered including using the right credit cards.

In this article

How Delta upgrades work

With Delta Air Lines, you can book your ticket today with cash, then use SkyMiles to upgrade your flight during the booking process or at a later date. Delta Medallion members are also eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades.

The upgrade options available on Delta include:

  • Upgrade with Miles: If you’d like to upgrade your seat during the booking process, you can use miles to do so.
  • Mileage Upgrade Awards: Use this option if you’d like to use miles to purchase an upgrade after you’ve already booked the flight.
  • Complimentary Upgrades: Available to all Delta Medallion members, based on availability.
  • Upgrade Certificates: Higher priority upgrades that are available only to Diamond and Platinum Medallion members.

What classes can you upgrade to?

If you’re using miles to purchase an upgrade, you can upgrade your eligible ticket to any of the following fare classes:

  • Delta Comfort+
  • First Class
  • Delta Premium Select
  • Delta One

Basic Economy fares are not eligible to be upgraded with cash or miles.

Can you use redeem a Delta upgrade with miles on a partner airline?

Yes, you can redeem Delta SkyMiles for an upgrade on partner airlines. Upgrades are available on eligible flights operated by Air France / KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and Aeromexico. However, you may need to call a Delta Reservation specialist to do so.

What routes are eligible to upgrade on?

Delta-operated flights are eligible for upgrades within the U.S. and internationally. However, Basic Economy fares are not eligible for upgrades.

Air France / KLM flights may be upgraded one class when the paid fare class is Y, B, or M. For Air France-operated flights, tickets may be upgraded from Economy to Premium Economy to Business only on transatlantic Joint Venture flights between U.S. cities and Paris.

Virgin Atlantic-operated flights are eligible to upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy or Upper Class, or from Premium Economy to Upper Class.

Aeromexico-operated flights between the U.S. and Mexico are available for upgrades on Delta’s published fare classes in Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U or T.

How is the upgrade price determined when using miles?

Like many airlines, Delta does not publish a fixed award chart. For most upgrades on Delta flights, the upgrade price is dynamic just like when booking a flight with miles. Delta generally assigns a value of 1 cent per mile, so a $100 upgrade would cost about 10,000 miles.

Can you book an upgrade for travel companions with miles?

If you’re traveling with others on the same itinerary, your entire party must be upgraded if you’re requesting the upgrade during booking. When there is not enough space for all passengers to be upgraded, then the upgrade will not be approved.

If you are not traveling, you can still upgrade other passengers with your miles. This can be performed when logged into your account online or over the phone with a Delta reservations specialist.

How to get a Delta upgrade with miles during booking

While booking your domestic flight, you can book a Delta upgrade with miles as long as you have an eligible reservation. The process is very simple.

  1. Log into your Delta.com account.
  2. Choose your departure and arrival cities, travel dates, and times.
  3. If your reservation is eligible for an upgrade, an option to upgrade with miles will appear in your Trip Summary before booking.
  4. Select to use miles to upgrade all passengers on your itinerary.

To upgrade a flight during the booking process, the flight must be within the U.S. and operated by Delta or Delta Connection.

How to get a Delta upgrade with miles after booking

To upgrade a flight that’s already been booked, you can do so at Delta.com or through the Delta mobile app. Follow these quick steps:

  1. Find your flight with your confirmation number, credit card number, or ticket number through My Trips at Delta.com or the Delta mobile app.
  2. If your flight is eligible for an upgrade, there is an option to select seats and upgrade using miles or cash.
  3. Pick any available seat and complete your upgrade.

You can only use the Delta website or mobile app to upgrade flights entirely operated by Delta. However, if you've already checked in or are taking a flight originating from the United Kingdom, France, India, Ghana, or Honduras, you must call Delta customer service to receive a Delta upgrade with miles.

Restrictions and limitations when requesting a Delta upgrade with miles

When attempting to upgrade your flight with miles, you must have the required number of miles in your account. For itineraries with multiple flights and passengers, each flight and every passenger on the itinerary must be upgraded, and there must be enough seats available for all passengers to be upgraded. If you have four people on your itinerary, for example, but there are only two upgraded seats available, you cannot complete the Delta upgrade with miles.

You earn miles, Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs), and Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) based on the class of cabin that you fly and the cash amount of your ticket. Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) are also earned on tickets upgraded with miles. Tickets purchased 100% with miles do not accrue miles, MQMs, MQDs, or MQSs.

How Delta credit cards can help you earn upgrades faster

With the help of a Delta credit card, you can accrue miles on every dollar you spend — meaning you can earn a Delta upgrade faster. These are seven of the best airline credit card options from Delta and American Express, perfect for both personal and small business customers.

As you earn more Delta SkyMiles with these credit cards, you can redeem those miles to upgrade your flights. But the benefits don’t stop there — these are some of the best travel credit cards that are full of benefits to rack up Delta SkyMiles, and save money, including free checked bags for you and your travel companions.

Additionally, the Platinum and Reserve credit cards earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) that count towards elite status on Delta. And both of these credit cards offer a Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQDs) waiver to help you achieve status faster. MQD waivers are for the times when you've flown enough but have not met the spending requirement to earn Silver, Gold, and Platinum elite status.

As your Delta elite status moves up the ladder, you may receive free upgrades on your flight. Starting with Medallion Silver status, upgrades may be available on paid tickets, award tickets, and Pay with Miles tickets.

Your likelihood of grabbing one of these complimentary upgrades increases as your status level increases. Higher status levels have access to upgrades sooner than lower levels. For example, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members receive unlimited complimentary First Class upgrades up to five days before departure. And Diamond Medallion members have priority on all upgrades over passengers with lower status.

Bottom line

Delta offers several opportunities for travelers to upgrade their flight to a better seat, and Delta's credit cards make it easier to earn SkyMiles to be used for free flights or upgrades. Having one of Delta's Platinum or Reserve credit cards can even accelerate your path to elite status. And with that elite status, you'll be able to enjoy complimentary upgrades more often.

Access to Delta Sky Club Lounges

Intro Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs))

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and 1X miles for all other eligible purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs))
  • Generous rewards rate for Delta flyers
  • Complimentary Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • $550 annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Best for frequent Delta travelers
Card Details
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months (and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs))
  • 3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and 1X miles for all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

Author Details

Lee Huffman Lee Huffman is a former financial planner and corporate finance manager who now writes about early retirement, credit cards, travel, insurance, and other personal finance topics. He enjoys showing people how to travel more, spend less, and live better. When Lee is not getting his passport stamped around the world, he's researching methods to earn more miles and points toward his next vacation.