SLC Traveler

International Upgrades to Asia with Delta

Flying in first class on domestic routes doesn't feel much different from flying in the back. Sure, you get a candy bar and sometimes a meal (I think flights longer than two hours get meals), but as far as comfort and amenities it isn't a huge step up.

Being upgraded on an international flight to Asia, though, is an entirely different story. Rather than landing in Asia needing a buffer day to lounge and sleep you can feel refreshed and ready to go. It is truly awesome. Unfortunately Delta knows this and it's expensive.

Here are your options:

  1. Book directly into the Business Elite cabin. This is the easiest way to get upgraded (well, I guess you aren't getting "upgraded," you're just paying for the privilege of sitting up-front). While a normal ticket to Asia is usually a bit north of $1k these days you usually won't be able to find a Business class ticket for less than $4k. It is usually more like $5-6k and that is for a discount business class fare. I told you, it's expensive.
  2. Upgrading with miles or PMU's
  3. When you first hit Platinum Medallion you have the option of getting 4 Platinum Medallion Upgrades (PMU's) also known as Systemwide Upgrades (SWU's). This sounds great when you first get them. You'll book an international flight, call up with your PMU number and you're flying in BE, right?

    Wrong - first, you have to book an M-fare or higher. M-fares typically are not much cheaper than discount Business Elite fares (I and S-fares). You could save a couple hundred dollars doing this so that's something.

    Oh wait, but you still aren't in the business cabin. Booking an M-fare does not guarantee you will be able to upgrade to the business cabin. You have to pray that Delta has some Z-fare inventory available because this is the bucket that the upgrades to business class with PMU's or miles comes out of.

    So what do you do? Just book the ticket and hope that everything works out knowing that there's a chance you just paid at least 4X's more for your ticket to fly in the same coach seat? If you do this be sure to quickly call Delta to find out if the Z-fare is inventory so you can cancel your ticket within the 24-hour window if there aren't any Z-fares available. Don't worry, you do have another option. This is where ExpertFlyer comes in. The subscription costs a few bucks a month so if you really want to just do this for a one-time thing let me know and I'll do the search for you. If you want to be able to run queries in ExpertFlyer and use it a lot you should just get a subscription. If you fly a lot it's a no-brainer.
  4. Booking International Business class award ticket with Skymiles If you have enough miles you can book directly into the first class cabin. Supposedly economy tickets to Asia should be in the neighborhood of 65k miles. Business class looks like a downright deal since you can usually find tickets around 150k miles. The big drawback is that these seats don't accrue mileage or MQM's (no award tickets do). If you don't care about miles you are all hooked up.
  5. Operational Upgrades (OpUps) If the coach cabin is overbooked you might get lucky and moved into the business cabin for free. I would never bank on this, but if you want to improve your odds make sure you are at least Platinum Medallion (PM) and try to find routes that are frequently oversold. Hey, it isn't common, but it happens.
  6. Fly a different airline I hate to mention this possibility but virtually every other airline makes international upgrades a lot easier than Delta (to Delta's credit domestic upgrades are easier to come by on Delta). If you fly a lot you might want to consider switching to a different carrier. Delta is awesome, I love Delta, but even I have been hearing the sweet siren's song beckoning me toward cheaper international business class. I'll write updates if I decide to take the plunge - for now, let me know if you've had success and what carriers you would recommend (keeping in mind that I am based in SLC).