Find me a person who finds upgrading easy and I will find you a unicorn. Upgrades using miles are a never ending sea of red tape, “you should’ve done’s” and all the other things that make earning miles hardly seem worth it. Here’s a step by step guide to making your upgrade experience seamless on domestic U.S. flights, we’ll also touch on a few international tricks…

First Things First, You Need A “K” Fare, Which Is…

The first red tape snag people hit is that they booked into a fare that’s ineligible for upgrades using miles. How would you know? Doing a basic search there is no way unless you know what a “K” fare is, which is a low to moderately priced economy ticket. The best way to search for a flight that’s potentially upgradeable is to use Delta’s “Advanced Search” and specify “K” or above as the “fare class. You WILL likely pay more for a “K” fare than the lowest fare, so you want to be sure you can upgrade before over paying…

The Next Step Is Confirming Upgrade Space…

Delta has unfortunately left us “blind” here. There used to be ways for people to check upgrade space using tools like ExpertFlyer, but now they’re gone. The ONLY way to find out if your flight is upgradeable with miles is to call Delta. You can upgrade any domestic flight, even direct transcontinental flights between NY, LA and SF with flat beds using miles as long as you’re booking into “K” or above. The best way to confirm space is to say “Hey, I’m looking at flights on the 18th from X to Y, are any flights upgradeable using miles that day, and for how much?

The Upgrade Will Cost Between 12,500 And 35,000 Miles…

Delta previously had a very friendly policy where you could upgrade for 12,500 miles. Period. Now it’s slightly more dependent on fare. I recently upgraded a JFK to LAX direct flat bed “Delta One” flight, which was lovely, for 20,000 miles on a “K” fare one way. I’ve heard that they occasionally charge 25,000 and even a whopping 35,000. Apparently the computer just spits a random number out but 20,000 should be right. Oh the magic of Delta…

Before You Go, Some Upgrades Are NOT Worth It…

In a tiny regional jet on a flight of less than 3 hours First Class is really not worth it in most cases. There are no beds, there’s no champagne, there’s no magical multi course meal service, it’s just a bigger seat and smoother experience. On Delta One flights, those between California and New York, or Seattle and New York, which feature flat beds, refined dining and responsive service it’s totally worth it. If you’re going to pay more for a ticket and use miles, make sure it’s a flight where it counts…

And Yes, Before You Ask, It’s Almost Impossible To Upgrade With Miles Internationally…

We’re seeing business class fares going lower than ever these days. I mention this because on international flights, the only tickets eligible to upgrade are full fare Y,B.M class economy tickets, which often cost more than business. These tickets are really only used by corporations so you’re almost always much better off just using all miles for a free business class ticket or just sticking to economy, or in a perfect world paying less for business and not needing to use miles to upgrade…