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Sunday Reader Question: What’s the Cheapest Way to Upgrade to Business Class Internationally

by on December 11, 2011 · 6 comments

in Delta, Sunday Reader Questions

TPG reader Kathleen writes:

“I would like to give some miles to a friend so that he may travel in Business Class to Europe this March/April. I was thinking of giving them around 80K miles to do this, using an upgrade. Do upgrades not exist any more? He said he called Delta and they wanted some outrageous base fare PLUS 100K miles to upgrade.

What is the minimum amount of miles I can give him to help him upgrade where he won’t have to pay $2,000 per ticket? Is it even in the realm of possibilities? Do you have any hope of being able to book something like this for us and have it work?
Please let me know what the minimum amount of miles would be for a full business class ticket (or even upgraded coach) or some kind of upgrade to Nice, France from Los Angeles?”

Upgrading to business class internationally isn’t cheap. While Delta does require expensive fare class (Y,B,M), they don’t charge any co-pays. Most other airlines, like Continental and American, allow you to upgrade cheaper fares, but will charge steep surcharges so in the end it’s never really cheap to get into business class. I recently wrote about international upgrades in this post. If I was in your situation, I’d do the following:

1) Use ExpertFlyer to find award availability on Air France from LAX to Paris and Paris to Nice (on the Paris to Nice portion make sure you also search for coach since business class doesn’t matter on such a short flight). Check this post for details on how to do that. (Delta does have a nonstop flight from JFK to Nice, but it’s a 757 which has their worst international business class product and connecting at JFK can be miserable and I would much prefer a longer flight like Los Angeles to Paris so you can get more sleep).

2) Once you find that availability, you’ll want to go on Delta.com and hold the award. Go through to booking and before buying it’ll give you the option to hold the award for 2 days. Holding isn’t necessary, but its better to be safe than sorry. I wouldn’t want to go through step 3 without knowing for sure you will be able to use the miles for this trip.

3) Once its on hold, then you’ll want to take advantage of Delta’s current 100% mileage transfer promotion which essentially lets you buy miles for 1.1 cents a piece. You will need 100,000 Delta miles per ticket to book these as awards – so if you are going to let your friend use 80,000 of your miles anyway, you’ll want to create 120,000 more by transferring back and forth for a cost of about $1,300. So instead of paying $2,000 per ticket PLUS miles, you can book these as straight up awards for about $1,100 plus award fees and taxes of about $200 per ticket.

Be sure to use their credit card when booking the flights, because once in a while the airline will want to see the credit card used to purchase the tickets at check-in, which I wrote about here.

So in the end, your gift to them will not only be your 80,000 miles but also your knowledge on how to maximize a mileage promotion to get them in business class on the cheap. For anyone else, this model can be replicated for any Delta award (including on partners like Air France) and this 100% mileage promotion only lasts until December 16 so you need to get in on it quick!

As always, feel free to comment with any questions!

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  • Jamesrkunz

    JFK-NCE is actually operated by a 767-400 this March/April, which features DL’s best business class product. I still agree with your assessment, but it’s worth pointing out

  • emily

    Is there any reasonably cheap way to upgrade if you already have the flight booked? I booked a KLM mistake fare ORD->LON,AMS->YYZ, and I was hoping to upgrade the ORD->LON to business. I’ve got plenty of Delta miles and Amex points, but not a lot of dollars…

  • SitInFirst

    Not all would say the 767-400 is DL’s best J product. Many prefer the 777-200LR J cabin.

  • SitInFirst

    If you are on a low fare on a SkyTeam carrier, you’re pretty much out of luck for an upgrade. Hope for an OpUp!

  • Anonymous

    What Sitinfirst said! I just flew on a cheap Delta/Skyteam ticket on Aliatalia and was quoted $2,500 each for an “upgrade” at the airport (clearly they just refared the ticket). So prep for coach and be very excited if you get a free opup if the flight is oversold

  • Jamesrkunz

    Fair enough, but definitely better than the trans-atlantic 752s

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