10 Delta Medallion Upgrade Tips

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I’ve been a Delta Medallion for several years now – starting with Silver, achieving Platinum last year and after next weekend’s mileage run to Dublin, Ireland, I’ll be Diamond for the first time. Throughout my years, I’ve picked up some tips that have kept my upgrade percentage high. With all of the Delta MQM promos, I hope a lot of my readers become Medallion and enjoy the benefits that I’ve come to be accustomed to, especially the upgrades.

1) Try to book flights that business travelers wouldn’t want. As a NYC based flyer, flights that get into the city early AM and leave after 5pm are generally chock full of business flyers. Mid afternoon and Tues/Wed/Saturday have been good to me. While the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are heavy travel days, in my experience they’ve been easy upgrade days because its mostly leisure travelers flying.
2) If your upgrade hasn’t cleared at the gate, don’t board. I know you will want to board early and get overhead space, but the second you board, you get taken off the upgrade list. Is putting your overhead in a bin more important than a first class upgrade? It isn’t for me. Just today I was #5 on the upgrade list for 1 seat. The screen said “All upgrades have been cleared, please board in your zone” however I knew that probably likely be at least 1 person who wouldn’t show up for the flight. I waited until everyone boarded and let the Gate Agent know that I was waiting to see if first class boarded full. Lo and behold, there were 2 seats left and I got one of them. The Medallions who boarded in Zone 1 sure enough were taken off the upgrade list and are currently cramped in coach as I am stretched out  drink my Heinekin.
3) Same Day Confirm is your friend. For $50 (or free for Gold/Platinum/Diamond) you can switch to any flight on your day of departure within 3 hours of that flight. You don’t even need the fare class of your original ticket to be available- just Y availability (expertflyer.com is your friend in finding that space-see the next tip). If you don’t get your upgrade in advance (1 day for Silver, 3 days for Gold, 5days for Platinum and 6 days for Diamond) then try to switch flights on your day of departure. Delta usually holds first class seats for sale, so switch to flights with lots of first class seats. Get creative with routing. Do research and see what routes are extra tough for upgrades. These are usually hub-hub flights and most transcontinental flights. I can tell you that you probably won’t get an upgrade on JFK-LAX as a silver medallion, but LAX-SLC-JFK will be much easier to get the free upgrade
4) Subscribe to expertflyer.com. I use their “Flight Availability” feature religiously. That gives me an accurate picture of how many seats are available for sale in coach and first. This enables me to decide whether I want to Same Day Confirm to other flights. Also, if your flight is oversold and you take a bump, you can work out your own routing options and present them to the Gate Agent. For example, a JFK-LAX flight was oversold and I took $400 in Delta Dollars for giving up my seat. Instead of waiting several hours, I flew JFK-SLC-LAX that left at the same time  and had the gate agent confirm me in first because I knew there was space available. This tool will also show if any advance Medallion upgrades are available on a flight. So if you have flexibility you can choose flights that still have the most upgrade space available.
5) Split your reservations. If you are traveling with a non-status passenger on the same itinerary, your upgrade status will be dragged down and you will only get upgraded if there is space after all Medallions without companions. Simply call customer service and ask them to split the PNR (split it after you choose premium seats together). This way your upgrade will process at its normal window instead of at the gate. If you want your companion to get upgraded as well, wait until you get yours and then call Delta and have them listed for a companion upgrade. Works like a charm and it takes the risk out of you not getting your upgrade.
6) If you are booking within your upgrade window, look for flights that say Upgrade Available. This means your upgrade will process right after you book the ticket. This also works for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallions when booking award tickets.
7) If you really want an upgrade, book an upgradeable fare at time of purchase (Domestic Y,B,M,H,Q,K or International Y,B,M) and use miles or system-wide upgrades to upgrade. Those fare classes are sometimes in a similar price range than the lowest fare available, so it may be worth it to splurge a little bit more and have the peace of mind knowing the upgrade is processed at time of booking.
8 ) Book before your upgrade window clears. Delta has an automated system that processes Medallion upgrades up to 7 days before a flight. In my experience, even though they say the Platinum window is only 5 days, when I get the advance upgrade, its always at 6 days prior to departure, around 5pm EST. If you are a Diamond medallion and book your flight 2 days before departure, all Diamonds, Platinums and Golds will have already been upgraded and you may have to wait until the day of departure to get upgraded. The problem with day of departure upgrades are that often times F is sold out or filled with people who have misconnected or Same Day Confirmed, so its often down to the wire and somewhat stressful.
9) Strive to get top tier elite status. Delta is known for running tons of MQM promotions- take advantage of them! As a Platinum flyer, my upgrade percentage has been about 90%, but if I was Diamond it would probably be 100%. Evaluate your MQM balance at year end and if you are only a couple thousand miles from reaching the next elite tier, then do a mileage run (a flight for the sole purpose of getting MQMs) or participate in another activity that gets you MQMs like opening up a Delta Reserve or Platinum Amex, transferring American Express Membership Rewards Points or Donating to Charities. There are also frequent partner promotions to earn MQMs, like the Hilton one this past year.
10) BE NICE. This is my golden rule. If you are an ass to a gate agent, your chances of scoring the upgrade will diminish. Stay out of their hair until absolutely necessary and always end every request with THANK YOU. This approach consistently works wonders and I can understand why- the traveling public is generally rude to airline workers, especially gate agents. Understand that gate agents are not necessarily paid/promoted/graded on processing upgrades- their main responsibility is getting the flight out on time. Always be brief and clear with what you want and thank them for their help. A light joke usually don’t hurt either.

Do you have any upgrade tips for fellow Delta Medallions?

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