Sunday Reader Question: Strategies for Low-Level Elite Upgrades
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
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!