With Yesterday’s Announcement It Costs More Delta Miles to Upgrade a Paid Ticket Than Book a Free Seat!

Yesterday Delta announced effective immediately, award bookings for travel June 1 onward may have new prices only Delta won’t tell us what those prices are.

Delta also announced that upgrade prices are going up for June 1 travel onward, but more fares will be eligible. They wouldn’t tell us what the Delta upgrade with miles prices would be.

More Fares Eligible for Upgrade

To date, Delta has been the most restrictive in permitting the use of upgrades.

For international travel you had to use buy nearly full fare “M” tickets in order to use miles to upgrade. And of course if you wound up waitlisting for the upgrade, and not clearly, you could be spending an extra four figure amount to sit in coach. For domestic travel you had to buy a K fare or higher.

It’s a lottery ticket, and you don’t get back the extra price paid for the privilege of getting lucky.

For June 1 travel and beyond, you’ll be eligible to use miles on Delta coded and operated flights:

  • Intra-North America and North America-Northern South America (Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia): Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, and T fares.
  • All other international: Y, B, M, S, H, Q, and K fares.

For Air France/KLM flights, you’ll still need to buy Y, B, or M fares. And since that’s a one-cabin upgrade, full fare coach only gets you into premium economy (where offered) on Air France.

No More Complimentary Upgrades New York JFK – Los Angeles/San Francisco

Delta announced yesterday that starting July 21, in addition to “Global Upgrade Certificates” that Diamond Medallions have access to “Regional Upgrade Certificates” (a choice benefit for Platinums) can be used to confirm upgrades on New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco flights.

Delta completely eliminated complimentary domestic upgrades on these flights a year and a half ago.

Then last summer began offering them complimentary on departure as an unpublished benefit.

According to Points, Miles & Martinis Delta is eliminating these complimentary upgrades on premium transcon routes effective August 1.

Upgrades will only be available when supported by certificates.

Delta Upgrade With Miles Pricing Has Gone Bat Crazy

Delta wouldn’t tell us what the new upgrade prices they were announcing are, but per Delta Points here’s what to expect for one-way upgrades:

Domestic (except New York – Los Angeles/San Francisco and Hawaii routes)

  • Y/B/M Fares: 15,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K Fares: 20,000 miles
  • L/U/T Fares: 30,000 miles


  • Y/B/M Fares: 60,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K Fares: 80,000 miles

US-North Asia:

  • Y/B/M Fares: 60,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K: 80,000 miles

US-South Asia, Micronesia, Southwest Pacific

  • Y/B/M Fares: 80,000 miles
  • S/H/Q/K Fares: 115,000 miles

A roundtrip upgrade between the US and Southeast Asia is 230,000 miles. For 260,000 United miles you could book a free international first class (not even business..) award to Southeast Asia on airlines like ANA, Asiana, and Thai.

A Europe business class roundtrip award is supposed to be 125,000 Delta miles. Buy a full fare coach ticket for thousands of dollars (about the price of discounted business) and you’ll still spend 120,000 miles to upgrade. Buy a mid-priced coach ticket and you’ll spend 160,000 miles to upgrade — 35,000 miles more than a free award ticket!

And the cheapest coach fares still can’t even be upgraded.

Shouldn’t You Just Book a Partner Award Ticket?

If Delta were a member of oneworld or Star Alliance, I would add that not only are you paying more miles in addition to cash to upgrade compared to booking an award, but you’re also getting an inferior product compared to awards on the airline’s partners.

But since Delta manages to partner with the only Asian and European airlines that aren’t actually better than their European counterparts (e.g. Air France with still way too many angled business class seats, China Eastern and their angled seats).

So it’s not necessarily true that you’re paying cash, spending more miles than an award, and getting an inferior product. But that’s only because in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King.

If your employer is buying you a coach ticket, and they don’t pay full fare, it’s good to have the option to upgrade on some/more fares even if the prices are surreal such that your miles are valued exceptionally poorly.

And if you live in a Delta hub city or the Upper Midwest and want Delta status then having this option is worthwhile.

For anyone else, find a new airline.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The China Eastern business soft product is very good. The hard product is respectable where they have proper fully flat seats.

  2. Is this really that much worse than AA’s upgrade award chart? 25k miles plus $350 when a one way is 50k to start with…

  3. I always like the use of the term “supported” in the following example:

    “Upgrades will only be available when supported by certificates.”

  4. Maybe AA and UA should hand Delta more rope to hang themselves with. They apparently don’t care because demand and profits are high.

  5. “More rope for Delta to hang itself with?” What, from people like us who care about miles enough to make decisions based on them? We’re a minority, my friend. United isn’t handing Delta rope — they’re eagerly studying them to learn their profit secrets

  6. For what it’s worth
    Lufthansa always followed the prices big structure where
    A free award cost almost the same as upgrade from economy ( though if you have expensive B/M you need less miles). For eg SFo – fra is 50000 to upgrade 35000 for b/m. And round 105000 for round trip award. Though if you upgrade you have already paid the ‘fuel surcharges’ with your base Eco ticket . So looks almost fair to me.

  7. I don’t know how we can say It Costs More Delta Miles to Upgrade a Paid Ticket Than Book a Free Seat! when we don’t yet know the new cost to book a “free” seat.

  8. Yeah, +1 @LarryinNYC.

    IF these rumored upgrade costs are right, you can start mentally upping the likely Level 1 award prices quite a bit (Europe roundtrip J at 160-180k?), if such a thing as Level 1 can even be said to exist in their ‘dynamic’ pricing.

  9. From Delta’s results they clearly do not need to spend marketing dollars to fill planes, so they cut back on marketing expense — including what most of us thought was PAST marketing expense (value of miles already awarded).

  10. @CW I’ve long said upgrades aren’t a great value, but
    (1) AA (and UA which is even more $) allow upgrades on any fare, you have to factor in the buy up to a K fare with Delta which is often more than the American co-pay

    (2) YES!!! 50k roundtrip + $350 in your example vs 160k? I’d pay $350 for 110k AA miles any day of the week.

  11. For a brief time at the beginning of the year, I was excited about Delta. The award fees were great, I started planning on going out of my way to use Delta =. I spent over 50 K in two months on a delta credit card and then it all changed back to sky peso’s . I stopped using the card and I don’t fly Delta. I don’t think they care

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