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Sunday Reader Question: Strategies for Low-Level Elite Upgrades

by on June 24, 2012 · 8 comments

in Delta, Elite Status, Sunday Reader Questions

This question came in from TPG reader Luke regarding his imminent achievement of Delta Silver Medallion status (congratulations!):

I am about to become a Delta Silver Medallion member for the first time.  I’m just out of college so this is my first time ever becoming a Medallion.  I know its not much to you, but its exciting to me. Here is my question: Do you think I’ll receive upgrades to first class ever? Any tricks on how to improve my odds?

Also, I currently hold the Delta Amex Gold Card. Any benefit to upgrading to the Platinum? The annual fee is higher, but I’m wondering if I get any bonus miles for doing that. Any input here?”

First off, I vividly remember getting elite status for the first time in college and how exciting it was. I remember flying with friends and getting upgraded to first class and they were all supremely jealous (though I did shuttle them back some mini alcohol bottles from first class to allay their jealousy!). After I graduated I had lost elite status and then regained it again when I started traveling for work and I distinctly remember being a Delta Silver Medallion. Out of NYC, I actually snagged a bunch of domestic upgrades and even an op-up on a JFK – Buenos Aires flight for me and two companions, which was pretty amazing (and sadly I haven’t gotten another op-up since).

That being said, I think the biggest difference in Medallion benefit is between Silver and Gold, so I’d highly recommend at least getting to Gold Medallion. The key difference are: Better upgrade priority, 100% bonus on flown miles (vs. 25% with Silver), free Same Day Confirmed, which is one of my favorite things, SkyPriority and SkyTime Elite Plus, so lounge access on international itineraries even when flying coach.

If you upgrade to the Delta Platinum Amex, you’ll immediately get 5,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles on your first purchase (plus 15,000 regular miles) and then 10,000 more MQM’s at $25,000 in spend and 10,000 more MQM’s at $50,000 in spend. You also get a companion certificate upon renewing after your first year which you can use on the cheapest fare classes and you earn miles and MQM’s even though your companion doesn’t. That certificate alone can justify the $150 annual fee.

You could also upgrade to the Delta Reserve Card, which will give you 10,000 MQM’s instantly plus 15,000 more at $30,000 in spend and 15,000 more at $60,000. You also get SkyClub access and an even better companion ticket eligible for first class travel, which helps justify the $450 annual fee. Check out this post for more info on choosing the best Delta Amex card.

As for getting upgrades and improving your odds, here are a couple tips:

1) Fly when most business travelers don’t want to. Often the very first or last flight out, or on Saturdays/Tuesdays.
2) Check out how many first class seats are available when you book a flight. If the cabin is nearly sold out, you can kiss your chances of an upgrade goodbye.
3) Same-Day Confirm to flights with better chances of upgrades.
4) Don’t board until the very last minute if you are within striking distance of a gate upgrade. Once you board, you are taken off the upgrade list so let everyone else board and see if there are any first class seats open – and then kindly ask the gate agent to process your upgrade. You risk losing overhead bin space, but I’d rather have a first class than a coach seat with overhead space!
5) If you book last-minute tickets, choose flights that have upgrade space available because you’ll instantly be upgraded. Silvers are 24 hours, Gold 3 days, Platinum 5 days and Diamond 6 days. When you are viewing flights, click on the upgrade status and it will say “Upgrade Available” if it’s within your window and there is upgrade space. You can also check Expertflyer for Medallion Upgrade availability.
6) If you get the Delta Reserve Card you will get extra upgrade priority over all over Medallions in your fare class, which could mean the difference between getting upgraded and sitting in the back.

Good luck and congratulations on your status!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • emily

    so to get an upgrade as a silver medallion member, do you have to go online or ask at the gate or are you automatically on an upgrade list?

  • http://twitter.com/Peachfront Peach Front

    Depending on your originating airport, a Silver can get tons of upgrades on Delta. My Silver buddy rarely travels alone, so he can tag along on my upgrades, but the last time he did, taking his Mom instead, who is a base member, he texted me in excitement when they BOTH got upgraded all four legs of their trip. MSY-LAS, sorry, I don’t recall the connections. But I would not assume that Silvers don’t upgraded and that your goal is ever receding out of reach just ahead of you. Also, on many flights, they would rather have you go ahead and sit down, and they will come move you forward if you get upgraded at the last minute. I’ve had this happen many times recently. In fact, it happened on my last flight JFK-ATL. True, I am a Gold, but I assure you, if I had been upgraded and I was a Silver, they still would have come back and fetched me, because they had already assigned my coach seat to a standby who was standing there wondering why I was in his seat. :-) Apparently, you have to ask, because some gate agents do it the way TPG describes and let the names drop off the upgrade list as they board, and I’ve had the gate agent advise me to hold back and not board before, but there is no consistency here.

  • TPG Intern Ryan

    As long as your Skymiles number is in the reservation, it will say “Upgrade Requested” next to the flights and you will be on the upgrade list at the gate should upgrade space in advance not be available.

  • emily

    thanks :) i’m not seeing anything like that on my trip details on the website…should it say something there or is that just on the list at the gate?

  • Anon Silver

    In my experience, the most important factor in getting upgrades as a Silver has been the route and time of day. As the post mentioned, try to choose flights that aren’t likely to be chock full and you may have a decent shot.

  • Suzannehendrix

    I am Delta Silver (thanks to TPG for getting me there thru a tip last summer with Delta and AMEX Memberships Rewards!) and I just got upgraded yesterday, Saturday, June 23rd, on a flight(s) from EWR to PHX. It was a late in the day flight and not full, so that is probably the reason why. It was an awesome unexpected treat. My flight out of PHX last Saturday was in the a.m. and I didn’t get upgraded, though. So, I would say TPG is right about those late in the day flights on Saturday. Worked for me.

  • Qwerty

    Diamonds and plat are the same UG window. ’5′ days out which means 6pm 6 days out

    Also it’s SkyTeam not SkyTime

    Just ‘sayin

  • feldmandave

    Another tip – check for particular types of equipment on the routes you’re flying. You have a better shot on a 757 with 24 seats in first than you do on an A320 that only has 12. For example, when I fly to Chicago I always try to go in/out of MDW instead of ORD. One it’s easier to get through the airport, two it’s easier to get to/from downtown Chicago, plus I am typically able to snag an upgrade (I’m Gold Medallion) on MDW flights to/from MSP or DTW and then to/from wherever else I’m headed.

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