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How to Get Upgraded on Delta Airlines: A Step-by-Step Guide

You can get an upgrade on Delta Airlines by Medallion Status, higher priced fares, Delta credit cards, and more. Here's all you need to know.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: June 3, 2024
The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: June 3, 2024

The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.

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Table Of Content

If you enjoy flying Delta, there is something which could enhance your flying experience even further: getting upgraded.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can get upgraded on Delta Airlines and some of which may not even cost you a cent. So, here we’ll explore all aspects of getting upgraded on Delta Airlines.

What Is The Upgrade Standby List on Delta?

Upgrades are only available when there is space on eligible fares. However, there could be several people requesting an upgrade on the same flight. This is where the upgrade standby list comes in.

Essentially, if your upgrade request is not immediately approved, you’ll be placed on Delta’s upgrade standby list. Delta will then use this list to determine who should get the upgrades if there is not sufficient space for all passenger requests to be approved.

What Is The Priority for Delta Upgrades?

Delta Upgrades work in a similar way to other airline upgrades, allowing you to upgrade to the next level of cabin. However, as we just mentioned, there needs to be availability for your upgrade to be approved. Delta has several factors it will consider to determine your priority on the upgrade list.

1. Medallion Status

The higher your Medallion Status, the higher your priority on the upgrade list. However, there is some fine print. For example, if you have earned or re-earned your elite status, you will have upgrade priority over an elite member who had a status extension. So, if you earned your Diamond Medallion status, you’ll have a greater chance of an upgrade compared to a Diamond with an extended elite status.

Additionally, all Medallion members who hold a Y-class ticket will be eligible for an instant upgrade, which has priority over all other complimentary upgrade requests.

If there are two Medallion members with an identical qualifying level, the tie is broken by going down the list of other upgrade request priorities. For example, if there are two Gold Medallion members, both on a K-fare ticket, but one holds a Delta co-branded credit card and the other does not, the card holding passenger will have priority.

Delta SkyMiles progress towards Elite Status
Delta SkyMiles progress towards Elite Status (Screenshot from delta app)

2. Fare Class Group

The higher priced fares will have priority over lower priced fares. While this may seem hard to work out, you can look at the fare class groupings to get a better idea of who has higher priority. 

The groupings in order of priority are B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X and V. These are followed by SkyMiles award and then Pay with Miles tickets.

3. Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex Cardholders

If you hold a Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express credit card, you can get upgrades as a card perk. However, this is the third factor of importance to determine upgrade priority.

Card
Rewards
Annual Fee

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
1X – 3X 3X miles per dollar on eligible Delta flights and Delta Vacations® with 1X miles on all other purchases

4. Last Priority (But Chances Are Still Good)

If the first three options aren't available, here are the rest. Usually, you'll be able to get an upgrade using them (the priority is according to this list):

  1. Corporate Travelers: If you’re traveling on a corporate ticket, which includes your employer’s corporate ticket designator, you’ll be at the middle of the upgrade priority list.
  2. Co-branded Credit Card Members with Current Year Medallion Qualification Dollars Waiver: If you’ve made the minimum spending requirement for the Medallion Qualification Dollar requirement for your elite status using your co-branded credit card, it will give you upgrade priority over some of your fellow travelers.
  3. Million Miler Status: Delta will also evaluate the Million Miler status of passenger upgrade requests.
  4. The Timing of Your Upgrade Request: Finally, if all the above factors have been considered, Delta will look at the date and time of your upgrade request.
First class meal on Delta 757
First class meal on Delta 757 (Photo by LukeandKarla.Travel/Shutterstock)

How to Get on Delta’s Upgrade List

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get on Delta’s upgrade list. These include:

Medallion status provides complimentary upgrades to Comfort Plus and First Class on all Delta routes. You could also get a day of departure upgrade to Delta One business class on domestic flights. If you’re traveling internationally, you won’t be eligible for a complimentary Medallion upgrade to Delta Premium Select or Delta One.

Unfortunately, complimentary Medallion status upgrades are only where available. Your elite status tier will determine when you will get a confirmation of an upgrade.

For Delta Comfort Plus upgrades, Diamond and Platinum members will be notified shortly after ticketing, while Gold and Silver members will need to wait 72 or 24 hours before departure respectively.

For upgrades to first class, Diamond and Platinum members will be notified up to five days before departure, while Gold and Silver members will get the same 72 or 24 hours before departure timeline.

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Upgrade certificates are available as the annual Choice Benefits for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members. There are two types of upgrade certificates. Regional certificates can upgrade you to Delta One or first class on domestic flights or flights within Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and Northern South America. Platinum members who choose this Choice Benefit will receive four regional upgrade certificates.

Diamond Medallion members can choose to receive eight regional upgrade certificates, four global certificates or two global and four regional certificates. Global certificates can be applied to flights within all regions including Europe, South America, Oceania and Asia.

An upgrade is not guaranteed with an upgrade certificate, as you may be waitlisted. Fortunately, if an upgrade is not available, you will not lose your certificate and it will return to your SkyMiles account. Just bear in mind that both types of certificates expire at the end of the Medallion year. However, it is possible to upgrade your travel companions to avoid losing them.

If the other upgrade methods are not feasible, you can use your accumulated SkyMiles or cash to upgrade your ticket. You can either book an upgraded ticket or upgrade an existing reservation using the “My Trips” section of your SkyMiles account.

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express card offers some great travel perks including complimentary upgrades even if you don’t hold elite status. This is available for domestic flights, but basic economy fares are not eligible for a complimentary upgrade.

While Delta has a variety of cards, this benefit is only relevant to the Reserve card.

Upgrade Delta flight with Delta SkyMiles Reserve
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve card offers complimentary upgrades even if you don’t hold elite status.(Photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

How to Improve the Chances for Getting an Upgrade

There are several strategies for improving the chances for getting an upgrade.

  • Carefully Consider Your Fare Class: As we’ve discussed, your fare class is a major factor for determining whether your upgrade request will clear. While Y is the best fare class to get an upgrade, it is also the more costly ticket option. So, try to look at the other fare classes that still offer a higher chance of an upgrade.
  • Reassess Your Travel Dates:  You’ll only be able to get an upgrade if the flight is not fully booked. So, try to pick times to travel that are not as busy. Aim to avoid heavy business travel days and peak times like Monday mornings, anytime on Friday and Sunday evenings.  Good days depend on the route, but often include Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Thursdays, either morning or early afternoon.
  • Check Your Route: You can check the Delta website to see if there are still plenty of available first class seats for your flight. Of course, this is no guarantee of an upgrade, but it does increase your chances. If you can’t seem to find flights with lots of available seats, try to break up your trip into shorter segments. If you’re traveling via smaller and less busy airports, you stand a better chance of an upgrade.
  • The Type of Plane: When there are more first class seats, you’ll have a better chance of an upgrade. So, if you’re deciding between two flights, take a look at the type of plane. You can see the plane type when you look at flight details on delta.com. This can make a massive difference in the number of first class seats. For example, Delta 767s and 757s have 20 or more first class seats, while the Airbus A320 has just 12.
  • Time it Right: The time and date of when your flight is ticketed, along with the time of your check in for the flight can be a determining factor if you’re tied with another passenger for an upgrade. Aim to purchase your ticket as early as possible and check in as soon as you’re able.

How to Check Upgrade Space Availability

You can check for upgrade space when you’re booking your Delta flight using the delta.com website. You simply need to log into the website and search for flights as normal. When you select a ticket, the potential for an upgrade will show for eligible reservations.

If you’re already booked a trip, you can use the “My Trips” feature on delta.com. Log in as normal and click on the “My Trips” tab on your dashboard. You’ll need to find your reservation and if there is an available upgrade, it will be highlighted under the “Select Seats” option. You can then select the seat and pay for your upgrade using SkyMiles or money.

You can also perform the same search on the Delta app, but you’ll need to make sure that you have the latest version downloaded on your device.

When Does the Delta Upgrade List Clear?

The upgrade list for Delta Medallion members clears according to the elite tier. Diamond and Platinum levels begin to clear up to five days prior to the flight departure, while Gold levels start to clear three days before departure and 24 hours before departure for Silver levels.

If your upgrade has not been confirmed, it is still possible that the upgrade list will clear on the day of your flight, at check in or even at the gate.

Upgrade Exclusions

While the Delta upgrade program is quite straightforward, there are some exclusions which you should be familiar with before you book. Not all tickets are eligible for upgrades. The list of exclusions includes:

  • Basic Economy: This is the E class of fares and they are not eligible for either paid or Medallion related complimentary upgrades. This is regardless of your elite status.
  • Delta Premium Select: These fares cannot be upgraded with a complimentary Medallion upgrade.
  • Outside US Delta One: If you are on a Delta One flight that starts or ends outside the U.S will not qualify for complimentary Medallion upgrades.
  • While Aboard: While you’re aboard the aircraft, you cannot request a complimentary upgrade, regardless of your fare class or elite status. So, if you do want to upgrade, make sure that you have made your request before you leave the terminal.
  • Companion Upgrades: There are some limitations for companion upgrades. Firstly, both you and your companion must be ticketed and the upgrade request needs to be made at least three hours before your scheduled departure time. Additionally, companions who change itinerary and are no longer traveling with you will not be eligible for the complimentary upgrade.
  • Non Miles Earning Fares: With the exception of eligible award tickets and Pay with Miles tickets, complimentary upgrades are not available if you’re traveling on a fare that does not earn miles.

Can I Upgrade on Delta Partner Airlines?

Your Medallion status can provide upgrades when you fly with Delta partner airlines, but this is subject to availability.

If Medallion complimentary upgrades are not available and you have global upgrade certificates, you may be able to use them for an upgrade on some Delta partner flights. All partner upgrades need to be confirmed at least 24 hours before departure. However, there are some restrictions:

  • KLM: Since KLM does not offer premium economy on most flights, main cabin seats in the fare groups Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V can be upgraded to Z or business class.
  • Air France: Economy seats can be upgraded to premium economy or you can upgrade from W, S or A fare classes to business class.
  • Virgin Atlantic: Economy seats can be upgraded to premium economy or you can upgrade from P, A or G fare classes to G Class, which is Virgin Atlantic’s business class.
  • Aeromexico: Economy seats can be upgraded to business class (O)
  • Korean Air: Economy seats in Y, B or M class can be upgraded to business class.
Upgrade on Delta Airlines,
Upgrade on Delta Partner Airlines, but only to business (first class is not available). (Photo by VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock)

How to Request an Upgrade on the Delta App or Website

If you’ve already opted into the feature, Delta will automatically allocate your complimentary upgrade when one is available. You will then be able to see a seat map to select your choice of seat from the available options once you receive notification of your upgrade.

You can also request an upgrade using either the Delta website or the Delta App. You’ll need to navigate to the “My Trips” section and then find your reservation. You can then check the box for “request upgrade.”

Alternatively, you can call the Delta customer support helpline and speak to a Delta representative. The representative will be able to take your upgrade request and advise you whether an upgrade is immediately available or if you’ll need to be put on the upgrade list.

How to Use Delta Upgrade Certificates

In recent years, Delta has made it even easier to use its upgrade certificates. You no longer need to call the Delta helpline as you can use your certificate on the Delta Website. If you’re a Diamond or Platinum Medallion member with upgrade certificates on your account, you can log in and apply your certificate when you make a new reservation.

You will need to search for flights and make your booking as usual. However, when you reach the checkout, there is an “Upgrade Certificate Request” window which will appear. Depending on the flight, you can then select which type of certificate that you would like to apply.

You can then complete the checkout process and you will receive an email notification that confirms your upgrade request. This communication will also detail whether you have been assigned a new seat or if you’ve been added to the waitlist.

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The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
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Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.

FAQs

Yes, it may be possible to request or purchase an upgrade after you’ve purchased your fare. You will need to log into your delta.com account or use the Delta app. You will find the details of your booking under the “My Trips” section and you can then check if an upgrade is available.

Unfortunately, upgrades from basic economy are not possible, regardless of your Medallion status or other qualifying criteria. So, if you are considering the potential for an upgrade, you’ll need to ensure that you book a main cabin fare.

Picture of Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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Top Offers

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Rewards Plan:
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Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

amex brilliant

Rewards Plan:
2X – 6X 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program, 3 points at Worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
95,000 points 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership

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Rewards Plan:
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Welcome Bonus:
85,000 miles 85,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in your first six months
Advertiser Disclosure
The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
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Rewards Plan:
1X – 5X 5X points on up to $500,000 spent on directly-booked airfare and flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel (per calendar year), 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel and 1X points on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

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Rewards Plan:
2X – 6X 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program, 3 points at Worldwide restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 points on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Bonus:
95,000 points 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership

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Rewards Plan:
Up to 3x miles 3 miles per $1 spent on United purchases immediately after earning your $125 annual United purchase credit, 2 miles on all other travel and select streaming services, 1 mile on all other purchases
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The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.

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