Delta Air Lines Upgrades - Everything you need to know

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

Receiving a flight upgrade could be one of the most enjoyable travel experiences. Unfortunately, as the industry becomes more competitive, airlines are becoming more thoughtful about who receives upgrades and the requirements for getting one.

Delta Air Lines is one of the few airlines that chooses not to publish upgrade availability, which makes it difficult to understand the odds of receiving an upgrade. Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about Delta upgrades.

How to get on the Delta upgrade list

There are many ways to get Delta Air Lines upgrades. Below, we lay out the most common upgrade types and ways to achieve each one. If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend going in the order laid out in this article.

Complimentary upgrades

All Delta Medallion members are eligible for upgrades on first class, Delta One® (business class) and Delta Comfort+® seating. There’s no limit to the number of upgrades a member can receive.

Your Medallion status with Delta will ultimately determine the order in which you’re upgraded. For example, a Diamond Medallion member will likely take precedence over Silver Medallion, Gold Medallion and Platinum Medallion members. Upgrades are also available sooner for those with higher Medallion status. Below, you’ll find details on when upgrades are available by status.

Silver MedallionGold MedallionPlatinum MedallionDiamond Medallion
Delta One upgradesDay of departureDay of departureDay of departureDay of departure
First class upgradesBegins 24 hours before departureBegins 72 hours before departureBegins 120 hours before departureBegins 120 hours before departure
Comfort+ upgradesBegins 24 hours before departureBegins 72 hours before departureShortly after ticketingShortly after ticketing

Platinum and Diamond Medallion members have a very good chance of getting an automatic upgrade to Comfort+ seating as soon as they book. Silver and Gold Medallion members must wait 24 to 72 hours before departure to see if they’ll be upgraded to Comfort+. Generally, Comfort+ is typically filled to capacity on popular routes before Silver or Gold Medallion members get a chance to receive an upgrade.

Keep in mind that eligibility doesn’t guarantee an upgrade. Delta Air Lines does not publish availability inventory, meaning there’s no way to tell if you’ll receive an upgrade on a flight before you book.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card upgrades

Delta SkyMiles® cards were revamped in January 2020. Among the changes, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card received the largest makeover, including one very notable change: the addition of Delta upgrades.

By simply holding one of these cards, you’ll be in the running for upgrades on all Delta flights. However, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card holders will be “third” in that line, behind Medallion status flyers and other cardholders with higher fare class groupings (those who paid more for their airfare).

Credit CardWelcome offerAnnual fee
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express CardEarn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.$550
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express CardEarn 45,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.$550

Global and Regional upgrade certificates

Global and Regional upgrade certificates are redeemable for Delta Air Lines upgrades. Certificates are quite exclusive, since the only way to earn them is to become a Delta Platinum or Diamond Medallion member and select the certificates through the Choice Benefits program. Due to the certificates’ exclusivity, upgrade requests for travelers with global and regional upgrade certificates are prioritized over complimentary upgrades.

Global upgrade certificates: Referred to online as “GUC,” this type of certificate is only available for Diamond Medallion members and offers upgrades on domestic and international flights with Delta Air Lines. The certificate can also be redeemed with KLM, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Korean Air and Aeromexico. However, these airlines limit the flights in which you can redeem these certificates.

Regional upgrade certificates: This type of certificate is available for both Diamond and Platinum Medallion members and can be used on any flight that offers a Medallion status upgrade.

How do Platinum and Diamond Medallion members earn upgrade certificates?

As a Platinum or Diamond Medallion member, you get access to Choice Benefits, a Delta Air Lines program that allows you to select the benefits you receive. Upgrade certificates are available to both Platinum and Diamond Medallion members.

Delta Air Lines Upgrade Certificates

Platinum Medallion members can choose to receive four regional upgrade certificates as their choice benefit. Diamond Medallion members can choose one of these three options:

  • Four global upgrade certificates
  • Eight regional upgrade certificates
  • Two global upgrade certificates plus four regional upgrade certificates

Which Delta Air Lines flights can I use upgrade certificates on?

Both regional and global upgrade certificates can only be used for one-way airline tickets. Both types of certificates can be applied to paid tickets, award tickets and companion tickets — unfortunately, upgrade certificates can’t be used for a Basic Economy (E fare) ticket.

The following shows cabin availability based on the type of upgrade certificate you plan to use:

Delta Air Lines Upgrade Certificates

Regional and global upgrade certificates are also restricted by region:

Delta Air Lines Upgrade Certificates Region Availability

Can I transfer upgrade certificates?

Delta’s upgrade certificates can’t be transferred between users. However, you can apply your certificate to any guest traveling on the same flight as you.

Do upgrade certificates expire?

Yes, Delta’s upgrade certificates expire one year from the date of issuance, and the flight you plan to use the upgrade certificate on must be completed before the one-year mark. In other words, you can’t redeem the certificate on a flight scheduled to depart one year and one day after the issuance date, even if you purchased the ticket prior to the one-year mark.

What happens if I have to change or cancel my reservation?

Thankfully, Delta Air Lines allows users to change or cancel travel plans even if they utilized an upgrade certificate. In order to do so, you will have to call the reservations department.

How do you use Delta upgrade certificates?

Currently, the only way to use a Delta upgrade certificate is to call Delta. You can either dial the number associated with your Medallion status or call Delta’s general inquiry line at 800-323-2323. We recommend you redeem your Delta upgrade certificate at least one day before departing for your trip.

If you’re offered a waitlist position, be aware that there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to use your upgrade certificate — we suggest avoiding the waitlist if possible.

Do Delta upgrades apply to flights with more than one leg?

No, you won’t be able to utilize an upgrade certificate on more than one leg. Therefore, we recommend communicating to Delta’s representatives that you want to use your upgrade certificate for the longest leg of your flight. If you don’t specify, you may get upgraded on the shorter leg.

Use SkyMiles to upgrade

Any passenger, whether they have status or not, can choose to upgrade their existing seating class by using Delta SkyMiles. You can use your SkyMiles during the booking process to upgrade to Delta One, Delta Premium Select (available only on select long haul flights), first class or Delta Comfort+, provided there’s availability on your selected flight. You have the option to upgrade with points whether you choose to book your reservation online or via phone.

Should I Use SkyMiles for Delta Upgrades?

Ultimately, whether you should use Delta SkyMiles to upgrade your seating class will depend on the value of the upgrade. It’s fairly typical for Delta to value upgrades at 1 cent per mile. For example, if a cabin upgrade to Delta Comfort+ costs $50, then Delta will typically charge users 5,000 SkyMiles.

While every situation will be different, there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure you’re receiving a good deal in exchange for your Delta SkyMiles: Don’t utilize Delta SkyMiles for upgrades if you’re receiving a value of less than 1 cent per mile; aim to use Delta SkyMiles for upgrades when the value of each mile exceeds 2 cents. At that point, it’s safe to say you’re receiving a great value for your Delta SkyMiles.

How do you know if using Delta SkyMiles is worth it?

Delta SkyMiles are generally valued around 1.2 cents per point — if an airline ticket is worth around 1.2 cents per point, then it’s likely worth it to use them. To calculate the value of Delta SkyMiles, use this simple equation: Cash price (including taxes and fees) / Number of points needed for ticket = Points value for that specific itinerary

Best way to earn Delta SkyMiles

Currently, Delta and American Express have a partnership in which cardholders can earn Delta SkyMiles when making purchases. The co-branded credit cards provide welcome offers in the form of SkyMiles when users spend a certain amount within a certain time frame. These cards are the best option for travelers looking to accrue Delta SkyMiles quickly.

Below, we highlight some of our favorite Delta co-branded cards, but we’ve also put together a more comprehensive overview of the best Delta credit cards.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

$0

15.74%-24.74% Variable

Good/Excellent

  • Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • NEW! Earn 2X Miles per dollar at restaurants, now worldwide.
  • Earn 2X Miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • NEW! No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
  • Terms Apply.
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Delta SkyMiles® Gold Card

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

15.74%-24.74% Variable

Good/Excellent

  • Earn 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free and Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
  • NEW! Get ready for your next trip - spend $10,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year and receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit to get you there sooner.
  • Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
  • Terms Apply.
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Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Card

$250

15.74% 24.74% Variable

Excellent

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • NEW! With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 MQMs after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • NEW! Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free and Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
  • NEW! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • NEW! Earn 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply .
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Complimentary companion upgrades

Delta is excellent about upgrading traveling companions. If a Medallion status member is traveling with a companion on the same reservation, the companion receives the same status. For example, if a Platinum Medallion status member is upgraded to Comfort+, then the companion will receive Platinum Medallion status consideration for an upgrade as well. However, the companion must also be a SkyMiles member (the program is free to join), and the companion must request the upgrade. Companion upgrades are available on paid tickets as well as award tickets.

Same-day standby upgrades

Upgrades are typically also available for purchase after checking in for your flight. Pricing can be significantly discounted depending on the popularity of your flight route. If you don’t see the option on Delta’s app, check in with the gate attendant to see if there’s any availability.

How to know if Delta has available upgrades

As we’ve mentioned, Delta doesn’t publish upgrade availability, online or anywhere else. To complicate matters, travelers are also unable to access seat availability for other cabin classes. For example, if you book an economy ticket, you won’t be able to see Comfort+, business or first class cabin seating.

Delta Dummy Booking

The best way to get around these limitations is to go through a fake booking for the cabin class you prefer. For example, if you want to be upgraded to Comfort+ and there are plenty of seats available, there’s a good chance travelers will be upgraded — of course, this is not fool-proof.

As a way to increase the accuracy of results, we recommend checking options 24 hours before your departure — just be aware that ticket prices typically increase as the departure date approaches.

Who gets upgraded first on Delta Air Lines?

Delta Air Lines prioritizes upgrades as follows:

PriorityComplimentary upgrade hierarchy
1Medallion status
2Fare class
3Delta SkyMiles Reserve cardholders
4Delta corporate travelers
5Card members who earned an MQD waiver in the current calendar year
6Date and time of upgrade request

What’s an MQD Waiver?

A Medallion qualification dollars waiver is a special shortcut through which Delta SkyMiles credit card holders can achieve Medallion status. If a user spends a certain amount on an eligible Delta SkyMiles credit card, the MQDs requirement to reach a certain Medallion status is waived.

Why having status with Delta matters

As shown above, having status with Delta is the single most important factor when it comes to determining upgrade priority. Improving your status with Delta greatly increases your chances of being upgraded. Here are details on when your upgrade will be given, based on Medallion status and seating class:

Flight typeSilver MedallionGold MedallionPlatinum MedallionDiamond Medallion
Delta One U.S. 501 day before departure3 days before departure5 days before departure5 days before departure
First class1 day before departure3 days before departure5 days before departure5 days before departure
Comfort+1 day before departure3 days before departureImmediatelyImmediately
Air France/KLMDay of departureDay of departureDay of departureDay of departure

FAQs about Delta Air Lines upgrades

Do you earn miles when you upgrade using miles?

Yes, even if you choose to use miles to upgrade, you can still earn miles on your flight. The mileage you receive is not affected by whether you upgrade using miles.

Can you upgrade to Delta Comfort+ after purchase?

Yes, travelers can upgrade to Delta Comfort+ as long as the fare they booked was not a Basic Economy fare.

What are the main differences between economy and Comfort+?

For starters, Comfort+ has more legroom than the standard economy class. Deplaning is also a bit easier for travelers in Comfort+, as seats are located closer to the front of the plane. Comfort+ customers also receive priority boarding, which means there’s less of a chance you’ll be forced to check your bag due to inadequate overhead space.

How do I request an upgrade on Delta Air Lines?

Add your SkyMiles number to your flight reservation, and you’ll automatically be considered for flight upgrades. For travel companions to be considered for upgrades, they too will need to add their SkyMiles number to their flight reservations.

Is having a Delta credit card worth it?

Whether a credit card is worth it or not depends on the user. That said, Delta has credit cards that come with benefits for any traveler. If you frequently travel with Delta Air Lines, it might even make sense to opt for a card with better perks in exchange for a higher annual fee.

Keep in mind that you can earn American Express Membership Rewards that can be transferred to Delta with cards like the The Platinum Card® from American Express.

If you’re interested in reading more about which Delta credit card is best for certain travelers, you can read our comprehensive breakdown.

How many miles does it take to upgrade on Delta?

The number of miles it takes to receive an upgrade depends on your flight and the seating class. Given the variation in the number of miles it takes to upgrade, we recommend making a dummy booking to get an estimate for a specific flight.

Can I upgrade a Basic Economy ticket?

Basic economy tickets can’t be upgraded, with points or with cash. This is one of the major trade-offs of booking basic economy tickets.

Joe Resendiz

Joe Resendiz is a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, where he covered public sector and infrastructure financing. During his time on Wall Street, Joe worked closely with the debt capital markets team, which allowed him to gain unique insights into the credit market. Joe is currently a research analyst who covers credit cards and the payments industry. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in finance.

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).