Delta & Korean -When an Upgrade means Downgrade

 Skyteam* allow members of one airline’s Frequent Flyer program to use Miles from that airline to upgrade from Economy to Business Class on international flight itineraries of  most of the other airlines in the alliance.

I thought I would test this out travelling from Seoul, Korea to Los Angeles on Korean Air‘s A380. I wanted to do it in Business Class- without paying Business Fare! I planned to use my hard earned Delta Skymiles to get the upgrade.

The catch is that to be eligible for an upgrade, my ticket would have to be a certain fare code. Fair enough.

(While an airline may have two, three or four “classes” on a plane (First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy), they will have myriad of booking codes. In Economy you may be booked in V Class which is a very discounted fare. Other examples of discount economy include M, N, Q, T. Each fare comes with different penalties, benefits and restrictions. For example, many discount economy fares don’t attract frequent flyer points. I am always very careful to check which fare codes I am booking so I can get my points. For example, have a look at this link for Delta’s codes)

The Skyteam miles upgrade website says that for an upgrade from Economy to Business with Korean, the fare code needs to be Y,  an unrestricted economy ticket. Just to double check I contacted Delta Skymiles to make sure I was doing it right. The first agent told me that it could not be done at all. I explained that Skyteam said it could be done and then rang off. Agent two also told me it could not be done but looked it up. Thats when she discovered it coud be done. She then told me that a booking code of U was needed. The third time I got a helpful agent who confirmed it was Y. (Surely it should not be this hard?)

Now for Korean Air. Initially, they offerred me an S Fare, which is a cheaper form of economy ticket. I explained what I wanted – and why. The agent was bemused that someone would offer to pay more for an airline seat but checked with her supervisor. Back she came and offerred me a Y Fare Code that would be upgradeable. Jackpot! This fare cost me an extra $180 over the “S fare”. She also told me there were plenty of seats I could upgrade to in Business Class. Now I was excited.

With the fare booked and paid for, I rang Delta back again. I explained what I wanted. The agent found my booking and confirmed that there were plenty of seats available and that I was indeed on a  Y fare. She then contacted her supervisor to organise the upgrade. I sat on hold with her checking in with me every few minutes for 26 minutes. At that point she said “Thank you for your patience. We are almost there. Its looking good” and put me back on hold. I was then disconnected!  I called Delta yet again. And of course the next agent knew nothing about Skyteam Upgrades but looked it up and found it. She then transferred me to another agent who knew all about the scheme. She checked my fare, and confirmed (again) that Korean had plenty of business class seats.

The bad news though. It turns out that not all Y fares are created equal. Of the four types of Y Fare, three are eligible for upgrade and one (the type I had beena baby with a sad expression sold)  is not eligible.  So I don’t get my upgrade. I don’t get business class on the Korean A380. I will just go and sulk in the corner!

Can we please have:

  • clearer information on the Skyteam website about exactly what Y Fares are accepted and which are not?
  • better training for Delta staff?
  • my upgrade?
  • my $180 back?

*SkyTeam Member airlines are: Aeroflot, Aeroméxico, Air France, Alitalia, AirEuropa, China, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Kenya, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, Tarom



  1. I admire your calm description of this insane situation. You dotted your ‘i’s and crossed your ‘t’s and even had the “lost connection” we all dread when we are trying to resolve something complicated via phone. I would be in a major rant, if it were me. Best of luck, but I suspect you are SOL and $180 poorer than you should be! And, I love the cute picture too.

  2. Do you have UR Points to transfer to Korean for an upgrade?

    Also, I learned the hard way – as soon as customer service is on the line – to say “Please call me back at this number in case we are disconnected.”

    Good luck!

  3. One more evidence that skypesos are no good. What was the lowest business fare, btw? Often full Y fares are priced above the lowest business 🙂

  4. Delta writes to me:

    I agree that it should not be so difficult for a customer to book a
    SkyTeam upgrade. Our employees receive extensive, careful training to
    ensure they deliver consistent and correct assistance to our valued
    customers. We know how essential it is to receive complete and accurate
    information, and I apologize you were not advised that only certain Y
    class fares are eligible for upgrades. I am also very sorry you had to
    spend so much time on the phone. It is unfortunate that you didn’t
    receive the high level of service we strive to offer, and we’ll continue
    to do everything we can to improve in this area.

    As much as we would like to approve your request for an upgrade on your
    Korean Air flight, Delta is unable to make this type of exception. The
    rules and conditions for upgrades on our airline partners are based on
    contractual agreements. All restrictions are set by the partners. I
    realize this is a disappointment, and for that I sincerely apologize.

    Mr. Cowling, thank you again for giving us an opportunity to respond to
    your concerns. We value the relationship you have with Delta Air Lines
    as a Gold Medallion member, and we would be delighted to have another
    chance to restore your trust and confidence in our service.

  5. “The bad news though. It turns out that not all Y fares are created equal. There are four types of Y Fare. Three are eligible for upgrade and one (the type I had been sold) is not eligible. ”

    How can you tell the difference? YA? YB? ..etc…

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