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How to Upgrade Delta Flights with Miles

by on Mon June 26, 2017 • 4 Comments


If a Delta flight is in your plans, and you don’t want to pay full price for a first class seat, using your miles to upgrade is an alternative. Delta charges a lot of miles for the privilege of an upgrade, often almost as much as an award ticket on its own, but if you have a lot of SkyMiles sitting around, and prices for award tickets are high, an upgrade or waitlisting for one can be a good deal.

What miles you’ll need

In order to upgrade your Delta flight, you will need Delta SkyMiles.

If you don’t have SkyMiles, you can also transfer points into SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio from both American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. If you have SPG points, you can do a little better if you transfer in increments of 20,000 points because you will be given a 5,000 mile bonus making the effective transfer ratio 1:1.25. Transfers from American Express are instant while transfers from SPG will take between one and four days.

Delta flights can also be upgraded, sometimes, with Air France Flying Blue miles, but only if you have booked the highest fare classes. Using Flying Blue miles to upgrade Delta flights is complicated and rarely offers good value, so we will not go into it in this post.

But you can use Delta miles to upgrade Air France flights with some decent value.

How much do upgrades cost?

The number of miles required to upgrade depends on your origin and destination and the fare class you have booked. Upgrades are all from Economy Class fares to Delta ONE or First Class.

There aren’t yet ways to upgrade to Premium Select, Delta’s Premium Economy service, with miles. But you can upgrade a Delta Comfort Plus ticket, Delta’s extra legroom Economy seating, to Delta ONE or First Class with miles.

The price you pay in miles is based on the underlying Economy fare you purchased.

Upgrade from Economy to Delta ONE or First Class


Fare Class

Upgrade Cost (Each Way)

Within North America (U.S., Canada, Hawaii, Caribbean) Y, B, M 15,000
S, H, Q, K 20,000
L, U, T 30,000
North America – Africa Y, B, M 30,000
S, H, K, Q 80,000
North America – Middle East Y, B, M 35,000
S, H, K, Q 80,000
North America – South Pacific/Australia Y, B, M 35,000
S, H, K, Q 80,000
North America – Asia Y, B, M 35,000
S, H, K, Q 60,000
North America – Europe Y, B, M 35,000
S, H, K, Q 60,000
North America – Northern South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname) Y, B, M 15,000
S, H, Q, K 20,000
L, U, T 30,000
North America – Southern South America (Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina) Y, B, M 25,000
S, H, Q, K 30,000
L, U, T 45,000

For comparison, if you don’t want to pay for a cash ticket and just book a business class award right off the bat, you can find business class tickets for as low as 70,000 miles each way between North America and Europe.

Unfortunately, however, Delta no longer publishes an award chart and flight prices are extremely variable, but we have estimates of the lowest award prices you’ll typically see here.

Tip: You can upgrade Virgin Atlantic flights to Europe with miles. Buying a Premium Economy ‘G’ fare, you can upgrade to Virgin Upper Class (their Business Class) for 25,000 miles each way, which can be a great deal.

Tip: SkyMiles also lets you use your miles like cash to buy up from an Economy to First Class fare. The price in miles depends on the cash price of the First Class fare, and every $100 requires 10,000 miles. On domestic flights, sometimes this is cheaper than booking a regular upgrade with miles.

For example, if the First Class fare is $200 more than the cheapest Economy fare you can pay 20,000 miles to buy up to First Class compared to 30,000 for a regular upgrade with miles.


Is it worth it to upgrade?

Since the very lowest fare classes aren’t eligible for upgrade, the additional cost of paying for a higher fare must also be taken into consideration.

For example, a sample flight from Chicago O’Hare to Milan, Italy costs $1,520 at its lowest price. The lowest upgradable K fare costs $2,210 – about $700 more.

The business class fare costs around $7,000 for a similar single stop itinerary. To upgrade a K fare round trip on a flight to Europe you would also need to pay 120,000 miles (60,000 miles each way). This means that you would be paying around $690 and 120,000 miles extra over booking the cheapest economy class ticket.

This still offers around 4 cents per point in value for your miles, but if there is low level award availability and you have enough miles you might be better off booking your flights in business class with miles as this could cost as low as 140,000 miles round trip – giving you 5 cents per point in value.

Now, upgrading from a more expensive M fare saves you miles, but costs more money.

The M fare on the same route costs $2,815. This is around $1,700 more than the lowest lowest fare and and about $600 higher than the Q fare. Instead of paying 120,000 miles, however, you’ll only need to use 70,000 miles (35,000 miles in each direction) for upgrades to business class from an M fare.

This amounts to about 6 cents per point in value compared the the business class fare, and paying $600 to save 50,000 miles (or 1.2 cents per mile saved).

Whenever you are ready to book a ticket you will need to consider the extra cost of purchasing an upgradeable fare class as well as the mileage cost and compare this to purchasing the lowest level economy, lowest level business class, and booking business class with miles to determine whether or not upgrading is worth it.

What fares can you upgrade?

Delta’s very lowest fare classes are not eligible for upgrade, but the fare classes you can upgrade depend on where you are flying from and to.

Y, B, M, S, H, K, and Q can always be upgraded regardless of your destination. If you are flying within North America or to anywhere in South America fare classes L, U, and T can also be upgraded. The mileage requirement varies depending on what fare class you are upgrading.

Are fuel surcharges added onto the upgrade?

Upgrades are subject to additional luxury tax charged at certain airports like those in the UK, France, and Hong Kong and will be collected at the time the upgrade is processed. Fuel surcharges are not added when upgrading with miles.

How to know upgrade space is available

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to search for upgrade space online, so you’ll need to call Delta at 1-800-323-2323 in order to see if upgrade space is available for your flight. If you want to upgrade with miles and you haven’t yet bought your ticket, it is advised that you call in and check availability for upgrades on the flights you are interested in before purchasing your ticket.

Better yet – purchase your ticket while you are on the phone and upgrade on the same call. Delta doesn’t charge a phone booking fee and this ensures that you are booking a valid fare class for upgrade.

For domestic upgrades, space needs to be available in RY class and for international upgrades, or domestic upgrades on routes that are marketed with Delta ONE international style service, space needs to be available in OY class.

Delta doesn’t display information about these classes anywhere for the public to see, so you can’t check upgrade space without calling Delta, but if you are speaking with an agent that seems unsure of how to verify upgrade space, this information could help.

Can you wait list if no upgrades are available?

Yes, a wait list for upgrades is available if it is not possible to directly confirm and upgraded seat. That’s an advantage over award tickets, which you can’t waitlist when Business or First Class isn’t available.

Mileage upgrades don’t always carry over to the airport if your upgrade doesn’t clear before check-in begins 24 hours before the flight, so keep that in mind.

Do upgrades get lounge access?

If you upgrade from economy class to international business class you will receive business class lounge access on most routes. The routes that are not eligible for lounge access are those within North America (except Delta ONE marketed flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York and Washington, D.C.), Tokyo Narita to Guam, Tokyo Narita to Saipan, and North America to Caribbean routes.

How to book the upgrade

The only way to book an upgrade with your Delta miles is by calling Delta on 1-800-323-2323. There’s no online way to request an upgrade with miles.


The following two tabs change content below.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
Learn more

Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $95

Annual Fee


Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes - transfer to United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and more

Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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4 thoughts on How to Upgrade Delta Flights with Miles

  1. R D

    “You can upgrade Virgin Atlantic flights to Europe […] for 25,000 miles each way”

    Are you sure this is the case? Could be poor customer support, but I have not been able to get Delta or VA to even acknowledge that this exists. How have you executed this in the past (go through Delta or go through VA)?

  2. Teri

    If you are looking for a referral for the Delta Gold Amex card with 60,000 mile bonus, $0 annual fee for the first year, copy and paste the following into your url bar:

    This will open up a link directly to the American Express site. Or if you prefer, you can always email me at: tburgs808 [at] gmail dot com.

    Good luck,


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