Delta 50% Off Upgrade Promo – A Good Deal?

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While summer is a busy leisure travel season, it’s also a slow time for many businesses, so premium traffic decreases, while coach travel increases. It’s interesting because coach fares can be sky-high and with low business class fares – the difference may only be several hundred dollars. To further entice people to buy up to Business/First, Delta is currently running a 50% discount on mileage upgrades for all travel completed by August 31, 2011.

So what’s the catch? Well, generally Delta restricts mileage upgrades to the most expensive fares. For example, if you want to upgrade internationally (excluding Caribbean/Canada/Mexico), you’ll have to buy either a Y, B or M fare – the highest three classes. For domestic/Hawaii/Mexico/Caribbean you are looking at either Y,B,M,H,Q,K fares, which can be reasonably priced depending on the route. The most popular fares – L,U,T are not eligible for any mileage upgrades.
I’ve helped a lot of clients use 15,000 miles each way to upgrade to Hawaii by buying K fares – which I’ve found to be priced around $1,150 from the east coast. These K fares may only be an extra hundred or so more dollars, so burning the 30,000 miles to get upgraded is a no-brainer to a lot of people – especially because you earn miles on the flight.

Before you buy an international Y,B,M fare, make sure discount business class isn’t cheaper. Sometimes refundable coach fares cost more than business class – I know that makes no sense. I just tried searching for Y,B,M fares for JFK- London and they weren’t even loaded – it just came up with discount business class for $2,400.

While most of you won’t take advantage of this promo, it might be good for some of you – especially if your employers pay for refundable business class. Before you buy a flight, however, make sure there is upgrade space available. You can do this by calling Delta or using ExpertFlyer’s Award search tool for Z inventory (international upgrades) or G space (domestic/Hawaii/Caribbean).

A sample of what Expertflyer will show when you search for upgrade space. If there is availability, a Delta agent will be able to confirm the upgrade at the time of ticketing

So how do you search for a specific fare class once you’ve found days that have upgrade availability?

Delta.com -> Planning Tools -> Book a flight and then enter your details and select the “Fare class” dial and then pick either K or higher for a domestic/Caribbean. Mexico trip or M or higher for international. You then buy the fare online (to avoid the phone ticketing fee for non-Medallions) and then call to have the itinerary upgraded. If for some reason the upgrade space disappears, you can always cancel your flight by 11:59pm of the day after you purchased it (see Delta’s Risk Free Guarantee).

Even if there isn’t upgrade space on your preferred travel date, you can waitlist for an upgrade. That’s risky, because you may end up paying a lot more for coach seat if the upgrade space doesn’t become available – but for people with set schedules, this is a common occurence. Delta tends to release a lot of upgrade and award space in the weeks leading up to a flight, and they will allow waitlisting for upgrades (but not for awards). I’d also recommend setting Expertflyer alerts for upgrade inventory on your flight, just in case Delta’s systems don’t automatically upgrade you when the space is released.

Search by fare class

T&C Restrictions:
Availability of one-way upgrade inventory is limited and may not be available on all flights. Some markets may have more availability than others. Members may reissue existing tickets to be eligible for upgrade offer, but will need to pay applicable fees. Customers may combine this Upgrade Award with other one-way Upgrade Awards. Upgrades not available on Air France and KLM or any other SkyTeam® or codeshare partner operated flights. Tickets are nontransferable. SkyMiles accrual will be for class of service originally purchased.

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