Who doesn’t love a flight upgrade? You love it. We love it. Everybody loves it!

The problem is getting upgraded on a flight isn’t as easy as wearing a nice outfit to the airport. Getting upgrades takes a lot of work and money. Just ask elite flyers with top-tier status.

However, not all is lost, and you can still fly upfront if you want. Delta flyers have multiple ways of getting upgraded, including being “comped” on short-haul flights, using upgrade certificates or using Delta SkyMiles.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to receive an upgrade on a Delta Air Lines flight.

How Upgrades on Delta Air Lines Work

Figuring out the ins and outs of upgrading Delta flights can be confusing whether you’re a frequent flyer or not. General members and Delta Medallion members have multiple upgrade options at their disposal, so let’s take a look at what kinds of upgrades you’re eligible for as a Delta passenger.

You can get upgraded on Delta using the following options:

  • Complimentary Medallion upgrades
  • Regional and Global upgrade certificates
  • Upgrade using SkyMiles
  • Upgrade using cash

Naturally, Delta Medallion members have more upgrade options, which are prioritized based on their status level. Additionally, upgrade quality gets better with the status tier. For example, top-tier Diamond Medallions have access to Global upgrade certificates that other elite flyers don’t.

Here are the types of upgrades available to Delta SkyMiles members.

Upgrade TypeGeneral MemberSilver MedallionGold MedallionPlatinum MedallionDiamond Medallion
Complimentary Medallion UpgradeNoYesYesYesYes
Regional Upgrade CertificateNoNoNoYesYes
Global Upgrade CertificateNoNoNoNoYes
SkyMiles UpgradesYesYesYesYesYes

Let’s take a closer look at the details of each upgrade type, which flights are eligible and how to apply upgrades to travel with companions.

How to Get Complimentary Upgrades on Flights as a Delta Medallion Member

All Delta Medallion members, including Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond, are eligible for unlimited complimentary upgrades to Delta Comfort+ and first-class cabins on all routes. Additionally, upgrades to Delta One are available free of charge on flights within the United States, including to Hawaii and Alaska.

International flights aren’t eligible for complimentary Medallion upgrades to Delta Premium Select or Delta One cabins.

Complimentary Medallion UpgradeTravel Regions Eligible for the Upgrade
Delta Comfort+Within the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Caribbean, Asia Pacific (including China and Hong Kong)
First ClassWIthin the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda, Central America and Northern South America
Delta OneWithin the U.S. (all 50 states)

Keep in mind that the more first-class seats Delta sells, the fewer seats are open for complimentary Medallion upgrades. In this case, top-tier Diamond Medallions are prioritized over Platinum Medallion members, and Platinum Medallions are prioritized over Gold Medallion members, etc.

After your status tier, multiple factors affect when your upgrade clears (more on that below).

You can opt in for automatic upgrades on every flight or select manual upgrades to pick any open seat you prefer when your upgrade eligibility window opens. The latter option allows you to avoid auto-upgrades to middle seats.

Here’s when you can expect a Medallion upgrade to first class to clear if you have status with Delta (based on availability).

Delta Medallion TierUpgrade Confirmation Before Departure
Diamond MedallionUp to 120 hours
Platinum MedallionUp to 120 hours
Gold MedallionUp to 72 hours
Silver MedallionUp to 24 hours / day of departure

And here’s when your Delta Comfort+ upgrade will clear if you’re a SkyMiles Medallion member (if a seat is available).

Delta Medallion TierUpgrade Confirmation Before Departure
Diamond MedallionShortly after ticketing
Platinum MedallionShortly after ticketing
Gold MedallionUp to 72 hours
Silver MedallionUp to 24 hours / day of departure

Delta One upgrades on flights within the U.S. clear on the same day based on the aforementioned preference list for first-class upgrades, with Medallion tier being the most important determining factor.

Keep in mind that if you happen to purchase a ticket in Y fare class and you’re a Medallion member, you’ll be upgraded instantly at booking.

If you hold the premium Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (see rates and fees) or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card (see rates and fees), you move up on the upgrade list over other elite members at the same Medallion level booked into the same fare class.

Award tickets booked with SkyMiles and Pay with Miles are eligible for complimentary Medallion upgrades. However, they’re lower on the priority list than paid tickets.

Delta basic economy fares aren’t eligible for complimentary Delta upgrades. If you’re looking to spend less on airfare, you have to forego a possible upgrade.

How Does the Delta Upgrade Priority List Work?

After your Medallion status is taken into consideration, the following factors determine your upgrade priority order:

  • Price you paid for the ticket (fare class)
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Credit Card holders
  • Delta corporate travelers
  • Co-branded card members who earned the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD) waiver in the current year
  • Million Miler status
  • Date and time of an upgrade request

If you see your name on the upgrade list and someone jumps a spot or two above you, don’t be surprised. All these circumstances can make or break your upgrade at the gate.


How to Get Upgrades on Delta Flights When Traveling with Companions

Delta Medallion members traveling with family or friends don’t have to give up upgrade potential by booking flights together.

If you’re a Medallion member flying with a companion, it’s possible for both of you to receive a free upgrade as long as your plus one is also a general member of the SkyMiles program (which is free to join). You must request a companion upgrade manually, and upgrades clear based on the passenger with the highest status with Delta.

If three or more passengers are flying together, everyone in the group must be a Medallion member to receive complimentary upgrades. In this case, upgrades clear based on the passenger with the lowest status with Delta.

Delta Medallion members traveling with family or friends don’t have to give up upgrade potential by booking flights together.

How to Upgrade Delta Flights with Upgrade Certificates

Upgrade certificates are available to Platinum and Diamond Medallion Delta flyers only. These upgrades are offered as part of annual Choice Benefits selection.

The certificates are subject to availability and don’t guarantee an upgrade. In some cases, you might be placed on a waitlist. If the upgrade doesn’t clear before your flight, the certificate is deposited back into your SkyMiles account.

The certificates expire at the end of the Medallion membership year, so make sure to use them before you lose them. Keep in mind that you have to complete the flight (not simply book it) before the expiration date.

You can request upgrades on tickets booked the following ways: cash, SkyMiles, Miles + Cash, Pay with Miles, companion tickets (issued with select delta SkyMiles credit cards) and tickets booked as part of Delta Vacations packages. As expected, upgrade certificates can’t be applied to basic economy tickets.

Note that it’s not possible to apply an upgrade certificate online. You must call the Delta reservations line at 1-800-323-2323 to apply an upgrade certificate to an existing reservation.

Two types of upgrade certificates exist: Global and Regional, but only Diamond elite members can select both.

Regional Upgrade Certificates

Delta Platinum Medallion members can pick four one-way Regional upgrades from the list of Choice Benefits.

Regional upgrades can be used to upgrade a one-way Delta flight booked into Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ fares. The certificates work on the same routes as complimentary Medallion upgrades (see the table above).

Regional upgrades are prioritized higher than complimentary upgrades based on your Medallion status, so if you need more reassurance, use one of these certificates on your next flight to have a higher chance of being upgraded.

Each upgrade is good for one-way travel and gets you a one-cabin upgrade. For example, if you book a Main Cabin or a Comfort+ seat, you’ll be upgraded to first class or to Delta One (on domestic flights only) if the Regional upgrade clears.

It’s possible to redeem upgrade certificates for your companions, but you have to use one per person. In other words, two passengers traveling together on a round-trip reservation seeking to get upgraded on their eligible flight must use four Regional upgrades—one per passenger per direction. Upgrades clear only when there’s space for your entire party.

Global upgrades are the crème de la crème of Delta upgrades. Why? Because they work on flights to all travel regions, including Southern South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Global Upgrade Certificates

Diamond Medallions receive more options when it comes to picking an annual Choice benefit. The top-tier Delta flyers can select one of the following upgrade certificate packages:

  • Four Global upgrade certificates
  • Eight Regional upgrade certificates
  • Two Global upgrade certificates and four Regional upgrade certificates

Global upgrades are the crème de la crème of Delta upgrades. Why? Because they work on flights to all travel regions, including Southern South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Additionally, select flights operated by Aeroméxico, Air France, KLM, Korean Air and Virgin Atlantic are eligible for Global upgrade certificates.

One-cabin upgrade rule applies to Delta upgrades on international flights as well. For example, if you book a flight in Main Cabin or Comfort+, you’ll be upgraded to Delta Premium Select (if that’s the next cabin on a plane) and waitlisted for a seat in Delta One business-class cabin. If the aircraft doesn’t have a Premium Select cabin, your Global upgrade certificate should land you in Delta One, pending availability.

Global upgrade certificates aren’t limited to international flights. You can use them for domestic flights as well if you don’t have any flights abroad by the time they expire.

The certificates also trump Medallion complimentary upgrades when two people are vying for the same seat.

How to Upgrade Delta Flights Using SkyMiles

When it comes to mileage upgrades on revenue flights, Delta pegs its SkyMiles currency to about 1 cent per mile. Although there are certainly ways to extract more value than that from Delta SkyMiles, upgrading a Delta flight with miles isn’t one of them.

If you decide that you want to redeem miles to upgrade a paid Delta flight, you can do so at booking or later from your account by going to “My Trips.”

Here’s an example of an eligible flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) to New York (JFK). The option to upgrade from Main Cabin to Comfort+ is displayed on the purchase page. A mileage upgrade to first class isn’t available.

The mileage rate of 35,000 miles against a cash upgrade value of $350 gives you a valuation of 1 cent per mile for your Delta rewards, which isn’t great. However, if you have more SkyMiles than you know what to do with, go for it. You do you.

How to Upgrade Delta Flights with Cash

Cash upgrades work in a similar fashion to mileage upgrades on Delta. You can pay for an upgrade to a higher class of service at booking or later if you decide that you want to be more comfortable on a flight.

Here’s an example of a Main Cabin flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles (LAX). Delta’s attempt to upsell is apparent on the purchase page.

Upgrading your trip with either dollars or SkyMiles is an option, with miles being worth 1 cent each. If you don’t want to redeem miles and find the cash price acceptable, select the dollar amount and click on the “Upgrade” button.

Take the Guessing Out and Book a Delta Award Ticket with Miles

As a Delta Medallion member, you can get upgraded for free based on your elite tier or use your upgrade certificates if you have them. As a general SkyMiles member, you can upgrade a flight with cash or with miles, but the value you get isn’t amazing.

So what can you do to score an upgrade on your next Delta flight if you don’t have status with the airline? Book a premium-cabin seat with miles, of course.

However, redeeming Delta SkyMiles for Delta flights in first class on domestic routes or business class on international routes isn’t the best deal. Here’s why.

Delta doesn’t publish an award chart and prices its award flights dynamically, meaning that award rates aren’t fixed. The same flight can require more miles today than it did yesterday. The program can charge an astronomical number of miles for any flight, which is typically the case with premium awards.

Here’s an example of a Delta flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) to London (LHR). Delta is charging 260,000 SkyMiles + $5.60 for this ticket in Delta One, its business-class cabin.

However, if you book your Delta ticket via Flying Blue, a frequent-flyer program of Air France and KLM, which are Delta partners, then you’ll redeem 72,000 miles + $10.10 for the exact same flight—a significant difference.

As you can see, using another airline’s loyalty program to book award flights on Delta can be a much better deal than redeeming SkyMiles.

Delta Air Lines is a SkyTeam alliance member. You can use miles accumulated with the following airlines’ programs to book premium seats on Delta flights:

AeroflotGaruda Indonesia
Aerolineas ArgentinasITA Airways
AeromexicoKenya Airways
Air EuropaKorean Air
Air France-KLMMiddle East Airlines
China AirlinesSaudia
China Eastern AirlinesTAROM
DeltaVietnam Airlines
Czech AirlinesXiamenAir

We assume that you don’t have a random stash of GarudaMiles lying around. This is where flexible points come into play.

Transferrable programs, such as the American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points transfer to the following partner programs: Aeroméxico Club Premier, Air France-KLM Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (a non-alliance partner program).

All of these programs belong to Delta partners, meaning you have several choices to book Delta flights with transferable points.

Should You Upgrade a Delta Air Lines Flight?

The answer to this question is not only tough, it’s also personal. You have to decide whether to treat a flight as a mode of transportation or as a memorable experience.

Perhaps, the decision is easier to make as an elite member who gets upgraded automatically. Are you going to say “no” to that upgrade to first class on a domestic flight? Probably not. However, when you have to redeem a chunk of miles or—the horror—pay cash for a business-class seat on an international itinerary, then the answer isn’t so obvious.

You have to weigh the pros (comfort, better service) and cons (more expensive, fewer trips) of an upgrade before you can make that decision. Additionally, the length of your trip or the reason for travel are factors to consider.

Either way, to upgrade or not is a personal choice. Don’t let other people in the points and miles community and FOMO (fear of missing out) sway your decision if you’re perfectly happy taking more trips in economy class than fewer trips in premium class. Do what makes you happy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Delta’s upgrade list work?

To be eligible for a Delta upgrade, you need to have Medallion status. If you meet the eligibility criteria and want to be considered for an upgrade, book your ticket and then request an upgrade through Delta’s website, mobile app, or by contacting Delta’s reservations line. Remember that upgrade availability is subject to various factors, including seat availability, Medallion status, fare class, and other priority considerations.

How do I get on the upgrade list for Delta?

Delta’s upgrade priority list is determined by several key factors. Firstly, your Medallion status plays a pivotal role, with Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members having access to different upgrade options. Following this, the fare class of your ticket is considered, with higher fare classes typically receiving higher priority. Cardholders of specific credit cards, Delta corporate travelers, and even the date and time of your request can also impact the order of the list. Keep in mind that this list is dynamic and can change based on various factors, so someone may move ahead of you due to these considerations.

What is the Upgrade/Standby list for Delta flights?

According to Delta’s website, if your upgrade isn’t confirmed at the time of check-in, your pending request will be automatically placed on the Delta standby list for a possible upgrade at the gate before your flight. You can check your position on the standby list in My Trips, within the Fly Delta App during check-in, and on the gate information display screens at the airport.

Final Thoughts

It’s safe to say that scoring an upgrade on a flight is a great feeling. However, that comfy seat in the sky doesn’t come for free, especially on international routes.

With Delta, you either have to reach a top-tier status level to use Global upgrade certificates to fly in lie-flat seats on long-haul flights or pay for the upgrade using hard-earned cash or miles.

All Medallion members are eligible for complimentary domestic upgrades, but the demand for those is higher. The only way to beat out your competition on hub-to-hub routes is—you guessed it—by being a Diamond elite, which doesn’t come cheap, either.

Still, Delta upgrades are attainable for many, and now you know how to get one on your next flight.