Does an Airline Credit Card Improve My Upgrade Priority?

Mar 6, 2016

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TPG reader David sent me a tweet to ask about upgrading on Delta:

“Do Delta Reserve cardholders get a higher upgrade priority over other Medallion members?”

Upgrades are one of my favorite benefits of airline elite status. I don’t really fit in most economy seats, so having more space is pretty important to me, especially on longer flights. But no matter what size you are, getting bumped up to a higher class of service can make a huge difference in comfort. Your upgrade priority generally depends on your status and fare, but there are other ways to move yourself up the ranks.

When it comes to Delta upgrade priority, elite status is the first tiebreaker: Diamond Medallions clear for upgrades ahead of Platinum Medallions, who clear ahead of Gold Medallions, and so on. The next tiebreaker is your fare class, so full-fare economy flyers get priority over those flying in discounted economy, as well as eligible Medallion members flying on awards or Pay with Miles tickets.

Within each of those groups is where the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express comes into play. Cardholders get higher upgrade priority over other members with the same Medallion elite status level and fare class. For example, a Gold Medallion Delta Reserve cardholder flying in V class has priority over other Gold Medallions who are also booked in V, but not over Gold Medallions booked in B class (regardless of whether they’re cardholders). Similarly, a Platinum Medallion cardholder booked in M class has priority over other Platinum members in M, but not over Diamond Medallions also booked in M.

It’s hard to say what that higher upgrade priority is worth. If you primarily fly on routes that don’t get a ton of traffic, then it’s unlikely to matter. However, if you fly on more competitive routes (like Atlanta to San Francisco), that marginal boost could make the difference.

A woman using her laptop and and man in First Class on a Boeing 737-900ER (739). - These images are protected by copyright. Delta has acquired permission from the copyright owner to the use the images for specified purposes and in some cases for a limited time. If you have been authorized by Delta to do so, you may use these images to promote Delta, but only as part of Delta-approved marketing and advertising. Further distribution (including proving these images to third parties), reproduction, display, or other use is strictly prohibited.
If you’re looking to improve your upgrade priority, the Delta Reserve Card can help in more ways than one.

While the higher upgrade priority is a nice perk, I wouldn’t get the card just on that basis. That said, the Delta Reserve can help improve your upgrade priority more directly. You get 10,000 MQMs and 40,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 within the first three months; you can also earn 15,000 MQMs and SkyMiles after making $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year and an additional 15,000 MQMs and SkyMiles after making $60,000 in purchases. All told, that’s enough MQMs to earn Gold status outright, or almost enough to boost you from Gold to Diamond Medallion.

Raising your elite status level will make a much greater difference in your upgrade priority than simply being a cardholder. Furthermore, that level of spending would be enough to waive your MQD requirements for the year, so the card is a good option for earning elite status without flying. Of course, you also get SkyClub access and other benefits, so the card is easily worthwhile for serious Delta flyers.

Check out these posts for more info on upgrades, elite status and the Delta Reserve Card:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

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