Delta Testing Out New Option to Upgrade with Miles at Purchase

by on April 1, 2013 · 13 comments

in Delta

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Delta just started testing out a new option for SkyMiles members who want to upgrade to first class, but don’t want to shell out that extra cash. This option is only available at the time of purchase and is similar to the Pay with Miles option, which offers a redemption value of 1 cent per SkyMile. Regardless of the coach fare you intended to purchase, Delta will allow you to upgrade to first class for the price difference of the lowest coach fare and the lowest first class fare by using your SkyMiles at a 1 cent per mile value.

While this isn’t the most lucrative redemption (here are some better ways to get more than a cent per mile in value from SkyMiles). The silver lining here appears that when upgrading with miles this way, it will book into a paid first class fare which means these tickets would not only earn all the regular miles, Medallion Qualifying Miles, but they would even earn a class of service bonus. If you find yourself running short on MQM’s, then this could be a way to rack some up without breaking the bank.

Upgrading on Delta
This isn’t the only option to get a first class seat. Domestically Delta requires a K fare or higher plus 12,500 miles each way, but upgrade space must be available and you only earn the miles for the fare class purchased (coach). If you use Expertflyer, there will need to be either RP (previously G) class space or OP (previously Z) class space available. However with these, you would not earn the class of service bonus miles, and finding available upgrade space can be hard.

In this new option to pay with miles to upgrade from the difference of the coach fare to the lowest first class fare, there is no certain upgrade space that is required. As long as Delta is selling a first class seat on the flight, this would be available. Currently this is only being tested in a few markets, and there is no guarantee that Delta will roll this out across all their flights.

I wanted to test out some the routes where this was offered, so I randomly checked Atlanta-Cincinnati on April 12. The lowest coach fare was $262 for this one-way flight, and Delta was offering upgrades for either $59 or 5,900 miles. This route can be rough for complimentary Medallion upgrades, but for 5,900 miles I could confirm the upgrade at booking.

Delta is giving the option to upgrade for 5,900 SkyMiles on this Atlanta- Cincinnati route.

Delta is offering the option to upgrade for 5,900 SkyMiles on this Atlanta- Cincinnati route.

Another example I saw was from San Jose, CA to Atlanta. The lowest coach fare Delta was selling on April 17 was $322. The price difference for a first class A fare was an additional $139 or 13,900 miles. With the class of service bonus, you would earn 3,174 MQM’s on this flight, and wouldn’t have to worry about a battlefield upgrade at the gate.

Delta is offering the option to upgrade for 5,900 SkyMiles on this San Jose- Atlanta route.

Delta is offering the option to upgrade for 13,900 SkyMiles on this San Jose- Atlanta route.

The previous examples were for one-way flights, but this does work on roundtrips as well. The lowest roundtrip fare I could find from Minneapolis-Orange County was $551. The price difference to buy the first class fare outright was an additional $1,460 roundtrip. Delta was offering upgrades with miles for a whopping 146,000 miles (73,000 miles each-way). You could book these flights outright with miles for less than the price Delta wants just to upgrade them, the key difference being that award tickets don’t earn MQMs or miles.

For a roundtrip Minneapolis-Orange County trip, Delta wants a whopping 146,000 miles to upgrade to First Class.

For a roundtrip Minneapolis-Orange County trip, Delta wants a whopping 146,000 miles to upgrade to first class.

The bottom line is that Delta is trying to sell more upgrades, whether with miles or money, instead of upgrading elites. Over time I expect Medallion upgrade percentages to drop as less seats become available for last minute complimentary upgrades. United has also been aggressively marketing upgrades and I know many elites have been disenfranchised by the process, but I’m curious how much business Delta and United have lost as a result. I’d bet less than the amount of revenue they are bringing in- that’s what I suspect the hacking of elite upgrades will continue as airlines seek to squeeze as much revenue from paid upgrades.  Great news for shareholders- frequent flyers? Not so much.

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    Wish this were an April fools post. I am stunned that this will still earn MQM’s as most Pay with miles kills ANY earnings at all. Would not be shocked to see that change if full roll-out happens. If NO MQM’s were earned, I bet redemption would be way down. Like the new 100% Death Tax on Skymiles, Delta is pushing hard to get the 4.4 Billion in Skymiles off the books ASAP!

  • The Gnome

    This is good news and I hope it rolls into International travel. The airlines needs to make money… even at the expense of some self important frequent flier who feels they are entitled to free upgrades.

  • Mason Atkinson

    I noticed on my recent Delta flight back from Kauai that I was offered a first class upgrade for $225 cash at online check in. And that was for an award ticket. I’ve never had that happen before. I might have gone for it except that 1) I was traveling with my whole family and couldn’t afford to upgrade all of us, and 2) the flights had recliner style first class that would not have helped me sleep much better on the red eyes from Hawaii.

  • Arthur

    I confess that I am someone who will often purchase the upgrade when the price is right (which depends heavily on whether flying domestic or international – I’m willing to pay more to upgrade internationally for the obvious comfort reasons). I had already found that complimentary upgrades are sufficiently rare on the routes I fly that it is an illusion as a benefit. The main effect so far is that I am building up miles that I might otherwise have used. I welcome any opportunity to upgrade with miles at time of purchase, since on many airlines (especially UA), it seems next to impossible to even do that.

  • Steve

    I’m also surprised it will earn MQM’s. I almost feel that it’s a glitch that it shows MQMs being earned. My guess is that it will not end up earning ANY MQM’s, just like using the pay with miles feature.

  • dieuwer

    Still not convinced “Skymiles” will be transformed into “Skypoints”?
    Forget about that 100,000 skymiles biz trip to Europe (if you can find low award availability in the first place). Soon it will be 500,000 Skypoints!

  • thepointsguy

    The new terms on the Delta site state, “Pay with Miles tickets booked in First or Business Class are eligible for mileage accrual, Medallion Qualification Segments, and Medallion Qualification Miles.”

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  • Robert Marin

    It benefits to some to people who often fly. But to me as casual flyer it wouldn’t work for me. The Gnome is right on regarding international travel. Delta has Korean Air for a partner. How bout adding ANA for people who travel to Tokyo and beyond.

  • Rich

    I looked at fairs CVG-SEA today and it offered only upgrade with $, no pay with miles option.

  • craig

    hi i feel delta are trying to do the best thing, as I don,t mind paying for an upgrade, at time of boarding, from hawaii, I also would like to see them do a similar thing for international travel, ie europe to usa. they are in it to make monies, I always found delta to be very fair, craig saunders

  • dcjimmy

    Anyone know if this program is still around? Was trying to find flights with this but don’t see the option…….

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