*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. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.
This article was last updated Sep 13, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
Using miles to upgrade your seat can be a money-saving strategy if you prefer to fly first-class with Delta Airlines. Delta charges a lot of miles for the privilege of an upgrade, often almost as much as an award ticket on its own. If you’ve banked a substantial number of SkyMiles®, using them for an upgrade or waitlisting for one could be a good strategy when award tickets’ fares climb.
In this article:
- What miles you’ll need
- Which credit cards earn Delta Miles?
- How much do upgrades cost in miles?
- Is it worth it to upgrade?
- What fares can you upgrade?
- Are fuel charges added onto the upgrade?
- How to know if upgrade space is available
- Can you wait list if no upgrades are available?
- Do upgrades get lounge access?
- How to book an upgrade
- The bottom line
What miles you’ll need
To upgrade your Delta flight, you’ll need Delta Skymiles. These can be earned through Delta’s frequent flyer program or with a co-branded Delta credit card. We’ll cover your options for earning Delta miles with a credit card in the next section.
If you don’t have SkyMiles, you can transfer points into SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio from American Express Membership Rewards® and a 3:1 ratio through Marriott Bonvoy. If you’re a Marriott Bonvoy member, you’ll receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you convert into airline miles. Transfers from American Express are instant while transfers from Marriott Bonvoy are typically completed within 24 hours.
Delta flights can also be upgraded, sometimes, with Air France Flying Blue miles, but only if you’ve booked the highest fare classes. Using Flying Blue miles to upgrade Delta flights is complicated and rarely offers good value. On the other hand, you can use Delta miles to upgrade Air France flights with some decent value.
Which credit cards earn Delta Miles?
Co-branded Delta credit cards can be an easy way to accumulate more miles that can be applied toward travel upgrades when you book Delta flights and on other purchases. The three cards below vary in their welcome bonus and fee structures, but all three can help you fast-track your progress when earning more miles for an upgrade. The table below highlights the most important features of each card:
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card||Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card||Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card|
|Annual fee||$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.||$250||$550|
|Regular purchase APR||17.24%-26.24% variable||17.24%-26.24% Variable||17.49% to 26.49% variable|
|Rewards||Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets and 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.||NEW! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels and 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets.||Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.|
|Welcome offer||70,000 bonus miles. earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months. plus, earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of card membership. offer expires 4/1/2020.||100,000 bonus miles. Earn 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 4/1/2020.||Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs). Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 4/1/2020.|
|Foreign transaction fee||None||None||None|
Earn Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership.
Earn 1 Mile on every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
Priority Boarding and 20% savings on eligible in-flight purchases*
- Limited Time Offer: Earn up to 70,000 bonus miles. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 10,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership.
- Additionally, take $100 off your next Delta flight – after you spend $10,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you will earn a $100 Delta Flight Credit to use toward future travel.
- Earn 2 Miles on every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta, on every dollar spent on eligible U.S. purchases for advertising in select media, on every dollar spent on eligible U.S. shipping purchases, on every eligible dollar spent on dining at restaurants. Earn 1 Mile on every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
- Check or stow your bag with ease: First Checked Bag Free + Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding.
- Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel overseas.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
- Terms and limitations apply
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs). Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 4/1/2020.
NEW! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Enjoy your first checked bag free and Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
- Earn up to 100,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs). Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 4/1/2020.
- NEW! With Status Boost™, earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to four 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! Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases.
- Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Complimentary access into the Delta SkyClubs® for you when travelling on a Delta flight.
- NEW! Enjoy complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book your Delta flight with your Reserve Card.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free and Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
How much do upgrades cost in miles?
The answer is, it depends. The number of miles you’ll need varies based on where you’re departing from, your destination, the fare class you’ve booked and the fare class you’re attempting to upgrade to. According to Delta, you can use your miles to pay the difference between a main cabin fare and a premium cabin fare. The difference is calculated roughly on a one cent-per mile basis. So, if upgrading to first class would cost you $500 in cash, it would cost you approximately 50,000 miles.
When booking a flight, you could upgrade to Delta One®, Delta Premium Select, First Class or Delta Comfort+® for eligible flights within the U.S. when reserving tickets through Delta.com or with Delta Reservations. If you’re upgrading a flight you’ve already booked, you can do that at Delta.com or through the Fly Delta app. If an upgrade opportunity is available, you’ll see that option in your trip summary.
Upgrade from Main Cabin to Delta ONE, Premium Select, First Class or Delta Comfort+
Unfortunately, Delta no longer publishes an award chart and flight prices are extremely variable. But we do have estimates of the lowest award prices you’ll typically see here.
Upgrade Cost (Each Way)
|Within North America (U.S., Canada, Hawaii, Caribbean)||Y, B, M||15,000|
|S, H, Q, K||20,000|
|L, U, T||30,000|
|North America – Africa||Y, B, M||30,000|
|S, H, K, Q||80,000|
|North America – Middle East||Y, B, M||35,000|
|S, H, K, Q||80,000|
|North America – South Pacific/Australia||Y, B, M||45,000|
|S, H, K, Q||80,000|
|North America – Asia||Y, B, M||40,000|
|S, H, K, Q||60,000|
|North America – Europe||Y, B, M||35,000|
|S, H, K, Q||60,000|
|North America – Northern South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname)||Y, B, M||15,000/td>|
|S, H, Q, K||20,000|
|L, U, T||30,000|
|North America – Southern South America (Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina)||Y, B, M||25,000|
|S, H, Q, K||30,000|
|L, U, T||45,000|
Tip: SkyMiles® also lets you use your miles like cash to upgrade your ticket. Eligibility begins with base fare bookings of at least $50 or 5,000 miles. The price in miles depends on the cash price of the first class fare, and every $100 requires 10,000 miles. Note: Mileage + Cash bookings are nonrefundable. If you have to cancel your flight, the cost would be refunded back to you in miles.
On domestic flights, using cash to upgrade can sometimes be cheaper than booking a regular upgrade with miles.For example, if the first class fare is only $81.40 more than the cheapest main cabin fare, you may want to hold off on redeeming 36,800 miles to buy up to first class.
Is it worth it to upgrade?
This is an important question since the additional cost of paying for a higher fare must be taken into consideration.
Here’s an example. Assume a sample flight from Chicago O’Hare to Milan, Italy, costs $1,520 at its lowest price. The lowest upgradeable K fare costs $2,210 – about $700 more.
The business class fare costs around $7,000 for a similar single stop itinerary. To upgrade a K fare roundtrip on a flight to Europe, you would also need to pay 120,000 miles (60,000 miles each way). This means that you would be paying around $690 and 120,000 miles extra over booking the cheapest economy class ticket.
This still offers around four cents per point in value for your miles, but if there is low level award availability and you have enough miles, you might be better off booking your flights in business class with miles as this could cost as low as 140,000 miles round trip – giving you five cents per point in value.
Now, upgrading from a more expensive M fare saves you miles, but costs more money.
Say that the M fare on the same route costs $2,815. This is around $1,300 more than the lowest fare. Instead of paying 120,000 miles, however, you’ll only need to use 70,000 miles (35,000 miles in each direction) for upgrades to business class from an M fare.
This amounts to about 6 cents per point in value compared the business class fare, and paying $600 to save 50,000 miles (or 1.2 cents per mile saved).
Whenever you’re ready to book a ticket you will need to consider the extra cost of purchasing an upgradeable fare class as well as the mileage cost and compare this to purchasing the lowest level economy, lowest level business class, and booking business class with miles to determine whether or not upgrading is worth it.
What fares can you upgrade?
Delta’s very lowest fare classes are not eligible for upgrade. The fare classes you can upgrade depend on where you are flying from and to.
Y, B, M, S, H, K, and Q can always be upgraded regardless of your destination. If you are flying within North America or anywhere in South America, fare classes L, U, and T can also be upgraded. The mileage requirement varies depending on what fare class you are upgrading.
Are fuel surcharges added onto the upgrade?
Upgrades are subject to additional luxury tax charged at certain airports like those in the UK, France and Hong Kong, and will be collected at the time the upgrade is processed. Fuel surcharges are not added when upgrading with miles.
How to know upgrade space is available
There’s no way to search for upgrades with miles online. When booking a flight, Delta will let you know automatically if an upgrade with miles or cash is available.
You can call Delta at 800-221-1212 to see if upgrade space is available for your flight before or after you’ve booked. If you want to upgrade with miles and haven’t yet bought your ticket, it is advised that you call in and check availability for upgrades on the flights you are interested in before purchasing your ticket.
It may be advisable to purchase your ticket while speaking to a SkyMiles representative and upgrade on the same call. Delta doesn’t charge a phone booking fee and this ensures you are booking a valid fare class for upgrade. You can also get comparisons for different fare class upgrades to see how many miles you may pay based on your final booking.
For domestic upgrades, keep in mind that space needs to be available in RY class to book. For international upgrades, or domestic upgrades on routes that are marketed with Delta ONE international style service, space needs to be available in OY class. Remember, Delta doesn’t display information about these classes anywhere for the public to see, so you can’t check upgrade space without calling and talking to a SkyMiles representative.
Can you wait list if no upgrades are available?
Yes, a wait list for upgrades is available if it is not possible to directly confirm an upgraded seat. That’s an advantage over award tickets, which you can’t waitlist when business or first class isn’t available.
Mileage upgrades don’t always carry over to the airport if your upgrade doesn’t clear before check-in begins 24 hours before the flight, so keep that in mind.
Do upgrades get lounge access?
If you upgrade from economy class to international business class, you will receive business class lounge access on most routes. There are a handful of exceptions. The routes that are not eligible for lounge access are those within North America (except Delta ONE marketed flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York and Washington, D.C.), Tokyo Narita to Guam, Tokyo Narita to Saipan, and North America to Caribbean routes.
How to book an upgrade
Again, you can use your miles to upgrade during the booking progress at Delta.com. If your reservation is eligible for an upgrade, that will show up in your trip summary. If you’ve already booked, you can upgrade your seat at Delta.com or through the Fly Delta app. It’s also possible to check for and secure an upgrade by calling Delta at 800-221-1212.
The bottom line
Upgrading flights with Delta SkyMiles could be a relatively easy way to save on a more pleasant flight experience. It’s important to consider how many miles are needed to cover the difference between your original fare and the upgraded fare before you book. This can help you determine if the upgrade makes sense from a value perspective. Using a Delta co-branded credit card, such as the three issued by American Express, can help you bank miles faster that you can redeem for future flight upgrades.
The information related to the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.