When Delta Mileage Upgrade Awards Don’t Work


Delta Mileage Upgrade Award

If you’re hoping to use Delta SkyMiles to waitlist for an upgrade, read this caution first…

Delta Mileage Upgrade Awards

My wife and I have had fantastic success using Delta Global Upgrade certificates to fly business class between the US and Europe. Diamond elite members can optionally receive 4 global upgrade certificates each year. The certificates can be used to upgrade any purchased fares except basic economy, bulk fares, or unpublished fares (Delta Vacation deals sometimes fall in this category). If an upgrade isn’t available at the time of purchase, the certificate can be used to get on the waitlist for the upgrade. Then, if upgrades don’t clear before the flight, you are put on the airport standby upgrade list. When we’ve used these for flights to and from Europe, every upgrade has eventually cleared. Some cleared at the time of booking. Some cleared a few weeks later. And one cleared at the gate. In that case, the upgrade certificate was never properly removed from my wife’s account. We didn’t complain.

For a recent trip to Europe, my wife wanted to upgrade to business class in both directions, but she only had one upgrade certificate left (the same one mentioned above that wasn’t removed after use). A seeming solution was to use miles to upgrade one direction of the trip. For international flights, you must book Y, B, M, H, Q, or K class in order to apply a mileage upgrade award. And it turned out that her preferred outbound flight (but not her return) booked into an eligible class (maybe Q — I don’t remember). So, I called Delta and asked about mileage upgrade options. Delta demands an outrageous price of 60,000 SkyMiles to ugprade flights to Europe in one direction, but in this case we were willing to pay it.

The good news was that the return flight was instantly upgradeable and we used my wife’s last upgrade certificate to do so. The bad news was that the outbound was not confirmable, but there were many Delta One seats available on the flight. I’ve never used a Delta Mileage Upgrade before and was surprised to learn that they could be used to waitlist her upgrade. I asked three agents whether the chances of waitlists clearing were the same with mileage upgrade awards as with upgrade certificates and all three agreed that they were. Great. I figured that she was all set. But I didn’t read the fine print…

On Delta’s Mileage Upgrade Awards page the devious little detail that undid my wife’s upgrade chances are proudly displayed on line 9, under Terms & Conditions:

9. Airport Standby: Mileage Upgrade Awards do not carry over to the Airport Standby List.

This little term makes all the difference in the world. My wife’s ugprade didn’t clear in advance. And when she checked in for her flight she discovered that she wasn’t on the upgrade list at all. There were still quite a few business class seats available, but despite pleading with Delta agents she wouldn’t get to sit in one. Afterwards, she reported that she was unable to get any sleep at all on the overnight flight. The good news? We saved 60,000 Delta SkyMiles and she met a nice couple sitting beside her in Comfort+.

Bottom line: If you’ve booked an upgradeable fare and want a business class upgrade, don’t count your upgrade chickens if you waitlist with a mileage upgrade award.

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My last flight is typical of my experience with Delta when trying to upgrade with miles on an international flight. Bottom line: almost never, despite availability in J, will the mileage upgrade clear.

On my last flight I had a full Y ticket booked about 5 weeks out. At the time there were 19 seats in J but NO upgrade seats. As the flight got closer, I watched the number of available seats dwindle to 6 – some of which were clearly upgrades clearing (one less seat in J with a corresponding increase of one seat available in economy comfort makes it rather obvious what happened). But they did not release any inventory for mileage upgrades.

Ultimately I was forced to check in for the flight as I was headed to the airport. At that time there were still 6 seats remaining in J and because I my upgrade request didn’t transfer to the airport wait list, they eventually put 5 non revs in those open seats and flew an empty J seat… But, I guess the good news is I saved the unusable 25k skymiles I’ve was trying to use for some future upgrade attempt that’s also probably not going to clear.

My gripe is not about missing an upgrade, I think we all expect that’s going to happen, it’s that as a platinum on a Y ticket booked when there were a lot of seats remaining in business, it’s a fair expectation – created by the airline – that I should be able to use my miles to upgrade. The reality is it just doesn’t seem to ever happen. Even the regional upgrade certificate I am able to use on domestic flights seem to end up with similar success rates. A Y ticket (ATL-SAN) with the Regional Upgrade Certificate only got me to #6 of 68 on the upgrade list. (68 on an upgrade list on a 737!)

Problem for me is I obtained my status by flying on the airline not through credit card spend or MQM “bonus offers.” But in that environment, the infrequent flyers with status obtained through tricks and gimmicks offered by the airline are also generally able to pay a premium to upgrade on the few flights when they actually take them. For the folks that actually fly, they get relegated to the back in that environment despite the promise made by the frequent flyer program that frequently flying would be rewarded.


I’m trying to do this right now. I have miles I’m happy to spend to upgrade a flight to Europe. Apparently, there were 6 seats available for upgrade with miles when I first called, but by the time our company travel agency booked the flight, there were none left. So, I’m on the waitlist. If it clears, then 65K miles will automatically come out of my account. I’m researching to see what, if anything, I can do to up the odds. There are 10 seats in Delta One still available today but the flight is two months out. I can pay to upgrade…$2,400. Wondering if that price will go up or down as the flight gets closer. I’m guessing up.


I think there was an error. I thought that on eligible fares, it cost 160,000 miles to upgrade a flight to Europe? Did you forget the 1 in front of the 60K? Or did you book a very expensive ticket in the Y B range?? that costs only 120K to upgrade to Europe.

Even if you value Delta miles at 1cent, you probably are better off just buying the Delta business class ticket for an extra $1200 then using your miles and gambling on the upgrade.


I’m also confused by your post.

Did she ask to WL for J at the airport? If so, did Delta refuse to WL? Would she have cleared if properly WLed? If she’d wouldn’t have cleared, it doesn’t really make a difference tbh.

I agree that’s a crappy policy, esp. when they force you to spend extra money.


Delta DID something wrong. They are stingy basturds looking to monetize at the expense of anything and anyone


So, she got an upgrade on the return that she wasn’t eligible for and didn’t clear an upgrade on the outbound, but wasn’t charged anything. You should always assume that there is a chance that an upgrade won’t clear. If you wan’t a guarantee of business pay for business. I have booked higher fare classes and not been upgraded, but that a chance you take if you don’t pay for the class of service that you want. It sucks that 3 Delta agents gave you wrong information, but reading the terms before you book, should have been your responsibility. Delta did nothing wrong in the handling of the upgrade.