You Can Now Use SkyMiles to Upgrade Your Delta Seat

Dec 7, 2018

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Delta CEO Ed Bastian let slip at the end of the airline’s Q3 2018 earnings call that buy-ups via SkyMiles were coming, and come they have. In an effort to give passengers even more ways to “burn their miles,” as Bastian so aptly stated, Delta flyers (and TPG tipsters) are waking up this morning to a new upgrade option.

Previously, select tickets purchased with cash would trigger upgrade options when sifting through trips in your Delta.com account. Those upgrades were only purchasable via more cash until today.

Of the six upcoming Delta round-trip itineraries in my account right now, five of them are eligible to move from either Main Cabin or Comfort+ into the First Class cabin via cash or SkyMiles — the latter of which wasn’t an option yesterday. It’s worth noting that the SkyMiles buy-up option doesn’t discriminate between paid bookings and award bookings. I have a mix of both coming up, and Delta is more than happy to accept miles or cash on either to upgrade my seat.

The lone holdout is an interesting one, as it’s a multi-cabin experience. I purchased a round-trip ticket between New York (LGA) and Dallas (DFW), with the outbound in Main Cabin and the return in First Class. There’s no upgrade option at all on that itinerary.

TPG Managing Editor Alberto Riva is flying between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) on Christmas Day, and is being offered an upgrade into Delta One for $853.93 or 79,900 miles.

While it feels as if Delta is still working out a couple of IT kinks, I’ve seen no indication that this will be purposefully limited. Per Bastian’s prior comments, Delta wants to make it as easy as possible to part ways with SkyMiles. TPG has reached out to Delta for confirmation and will update this article when we receive a response.

So, is this actually a good deal? In a word, no. In a few words, not at all. What’s glaringly obvious across all of the offers I’ve seen, including my own, is that each buy-up offer is pegged to roughly 1 cent per SkyMile. This is in alignment with other new areas where Delta is allowing you to use SkyMiles as cash, including premium alcohol in Sky Clubs.

First class seating on Delta's new Airbus A220 (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
First class seating on Delta’s new Airbus A220. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

With Delta’s fixed award chart but a distant memory, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to find outsized value from SkyMiles when looking to book award tickets on Delta.com. With dynamic pricing in effect, Delta is moving ever closer to pricing award tickets at a level that aligns with the “1 cent per SkyMile” approach.

The only notable silver lining is Delta’s rash of award sales, which do surface some pretty stellar deals. This news also comes just a day after Delta began surfacing Basic Economy tickets while searching for SkyMiles awards.

As shown above, I’m not seeing these mileage-based buy-up offers live in the Fly Delta app just yet (only cash), but it was mentioned on the aforesaid earnings call that it’s coming in Q1 2019.

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