Delta Downgrades Upgrades (but there’s good news too)

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Delta has announced huge changes to their upgrade certificates beginning Feb 1, 2022.  The biggest and saddest change is that we will no longer be able to confirm upgrades from main cabin economy to business class (Delta One) in advance for flights that also feature Premium Select.  Beginning February 1, 2022, we’ll have to buy Premium Select seats in order to qualify for a confirmed upgrade to Delta One.  Ouch!  Another negative: Delta will no longer let us use Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade Air France or Virgin Atlantic flights from cheap fare economy to business class.  Boo!  Luckily there are some positive changes too…

Beginning Feb 1, 2022, you can use Delta’s Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade to Premium Select (as shown above) without worrying about upgrade availability.  If a seat is available for sale, you can get it.  Want to confirm your upgrade to Delta One Suites though? If you bought main cabin or Comfort+, the best you’ll be able to do is upgrade to Premium Select and hope for an upgrade to Delta One at the airport.

Background

Each year, Delta Platinum and Diamond elite members can select Choice Benefits.  The most valuable of these are upgrade certificates: Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) are available as either Platinum or Diamond Choice Benefits; and Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs) are available only as a Diamond Choice Benefit.  Regular readers may recall that Nick and I recently went on a big GUC-inspired trip (see: The GUC stops here: Our incredible adventure).  We bought cheap round-trip economy tickets to Dubai and used GUCs to fly Air France business class to Dubai, and KLM business class for the return.  Sadly, half of that trip (the Air France part) will no longer be possible beginning in February.

What’s New Feb 1, 2022

General Changes

  • Upgrade Certificates will expire at the end of the Medallion Year associated with that Choice Benefit selection.  For example, if you achieve 2023 Platinum or Diamond status in mid 2022 you can request your upgrade certificates immediately and they will be valid until your 2023 elite status expires on February 1, 2024.  Previously upgrade certificates expired 1 year from issuance.

Upgrade Changes for Delta Operated Flights

  • Upgrades confirm only 1 cabin higher than the cabin purchased.  This is primarily an issue with flights that offer Premium Select in addition to Main Cabin/Comfort+ (these are considered the same cabin for this purpose), and Delta One.  When you buy Main Cabin or Comfort+ and apply an upgrade certificate, you can be confirmed immediately into Premium Select and you’ll be waitlisted for Delta One and eligible to clear 24 hours prior to departure.  If there is no Premium Select cabin, then you can be confirmed into Delta One if upgrade space is available.  Until February 1st upgrades can be confirmed immediately into Delta One when upgrade space is available even if the flight offers Premium Select.
  • Global Upgrade Certificates will clear immediately into Premium Select or First Class as long as a seat in that cabin is available for sale.  When you clear into Premium Select you’ll still have a chance for an upgrade to Delta One, but the upgrade won’t clear until within 24 hours of your flight.  Until February 1st, upgrades to Premium Select or First Class will only be available if upgrade space is available.  Additionally, until February 1, if you want to upgrade to Premium Select and waitlist for Delta One, you’ll have to apply two upgrade certificates (starting February 1, you’ll only need to use 1).

Delta offers the following examples to make the upgrade options more clear:

  • Flights with Delta One and Delta Premium Select:
    • If you purchase Main Cabin or Delta Comfort+ and then apply your Global Upgrade Certificate, you will be upgraded to Delta Premium Select upon request and then will be added to the waitlist for Delta One and eligible to clear starting 24 hours prior to departure.
    • If you purchase Delta Premium Select when you apply your Upgrade Certificate, you will be upgraded to Delta One, pending upgrade availability.
  • Flights with Delta One without Delta Premium Select: If you purchase Main Cabin or Comfort+, when you apply your Upgrade Certificate, you will be upgraded to Delta One, pending upgrade availability.
  • Flights with First Class: If you purchase Main Cabin or Comfort+, when you apply your Upgrade Certificate, you will be upgraded to First Class upon request.
  • Flights with Delta Premium Select as most premium cabin: If you purchase Main Cabin or Comfort+, when you apply your Upgrade Certificate, you will be upgraded to Delta Premium Select upon request.

Upgrade Changes for Partner Operated Flights

When flying Delta’s partners, the rules are very different.  In short, there are still great options to confirm upgrades from discount economy to business class when flying KLM or AeroMexico.  With Air France or Virgin Atlantic, though, you’ll have to purchase premium economy in order to upgrade to business class.  Here are more details by partner:

  • KLM: Upgrades are the same as before. You can buy discount economy and upgrade to business class regardless of whether the flights are marketed by Delta, KLM, or Air France.
  • AeroMexico: Upgrades are the same as before. You can buy discount economy and upgrade to business class as long as your purchase Delta-marketed, Aeromexico-operated flights.
  • Air France: Not that long ago, Delta made huge improvements in allowing Global Upgrade Certificates to be used to upgrade Air France discount economy all the way to business class.  Starting Feb 1, that’s no longer the case:
    • Global Upgrade Certificates may be used to upgrade from discount economy to premium economy (Premium Voyageur)
    • Global Upgrade Certificates may be used to upgrade from premium economy (Premium Voyageur) to business class.
  • Virgin Atlantic: Same story as with Air France. You will no longer be able to upgrade from discount economy to business class.  Starting Feb 1:
    • You must purchase a Delta marketed, Virgin Atlantic operated flight (if you purchase the flight through Delta, it will count), and…
    • Global Upgrade Certificates may be used to upgrade from discount economy to premium economy
    • Global Upgrade Certificates may be used to upgrade from premium economy to business class (Upper Class).
  • Korean Air: Business class upgrades to Delta-marketed, Korean Air-operated flights  were previously limited to full fare economy.  That’s still the case.  Nothing to see here.

No wait-listing: As was the case before, it is not possible to waitlist for upgrades with a partner operated flight. Upgrade certificates can only be applied if the upgrade space is available at the time of request.

The Good & The Bad

With each piece of news, there are aspects that are good and aspects that are bad:

Medallion Year Expiry

  • Good News: There’s no longer any reason to wait to request your certificates and depending upon how soon you request them, the certificates can be good for much longer than a year.
  • Bad News: Previously it was possible to wait until the end of your elite year to request your certificates and then they would be valid for 12 months going forward.  This made it possible to stack multiple year’s certificates together (by requesting some very late and others very early).  It also made it possible to use upgrade certificates when you no longer had elite status.

Single Class of Service Upgrade Confirmed

  • Good News:
    • With Global Upgrade Certificates, upgrades to Premium Select or First Class will get pushed through as long as seats are available for sale.  Previously, upgrades were contingent upon upgrade availability.  If you’re happy with Premium Select or First Class as the end game, then this is great news.
    • If upgrade space to Delta One isn’t available in advance anyway, you’re not losing much: prior to Feb 1 you would be put on a waitlist that could clear at any time, but in practice it usually cleared within 24 hours of the flight anyway (if at all).
    • Prior to Feb 1 2022, if you wanted to use a Global Upgrade certificate to upgrade to Premium Select and also waitlist for an upgrade to Delta One, you would have to use two upgrade certificates.  Starting February 1, with a single upgrade certificate you’ll get an automatic upgrade to Premium Select and still waitlist (within 24 hours of the flight) for Delta One.
  • Bad News: When Delta One upgrade space is available, you’ll have two tough choices starting February 1:
    1. Buy discounted economy and use upgrade certificate to upgrade to Premium Select and waitlist 24 hours from flight for Delta One; or
    2. Buy Premium Select (which is usually considerably more expensive than Main Cabin) and upgrade to Delta One.

Partner upgrade changes

  • Good News: With KLM, AeroMexico, and Virgin Atlantic operated flights, you can still buy discount economy fares marketed by Delta and use Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade to business class (subject to upgrade availability)
  • Bad News: With Air France operated flights, you’ll have to buy Premium Voyageur class in order to upgrade to business class.  With KLM flights, you can no longer upgrade when you book KLM operated flights marketed by KLM or Air France.  Luckily, the work-around is to book the same flights marked by Delta.

My take (how this affects me)

What a roller-coaster!  In March 2021, Delta made upgrade certificates much more valuable with two big positive changes: you can now apply upgrade certificates to award bookings, and you can find upgrades yourself online.

When logged in as a Diamond Elite, I can see upgrade availability, even on award flights like this one. Above, it says “Delta One suites available with Upgrade Certificate”.

Both of those enhancements were huge and continue to be huge (they’re not going away in February).  In fact, I made great use of both recently when I booked two separate round trip tickets (four flights total) to Europe for my wife and I.  We each had 4 Global Upgrade certificates available and so we were able to apply upgrades to every flight.  I found that round-trip economy award prices offered very good value compared to cash rates (almost 2 cents per Delta mile) and so I was very happy to spend down some of our miles.  Even better, as I could clearly see online, 3 out of 4 of our flights had Delta One upgrade space available for both of us (Delta One Suites, even!).  So, I booked the awards and called Delta to apply our upgrade certificates.  As expected, we were immediately confirmed into Delta One for all but one flight.  For that last flight, we are currently waitlisted.

My real world bookings demonstrate some of the good and the bad about Delta’s Global Upgrade Certificates both now and in the near future:

  • The ability to upgrade award flights continues to be awesome.
  • The ability to find upgrade space online is a huge time saver.
  • The current ability to confirm a 2-class upgrade (as I did with most of our flights) is huge and will be sorely missed as of February 1.
  • For the one flight without upgrades available, we may be better off with the new system.  On February 1, if we haven’t yet been upgraded to Delta One, I should be able to call and have us upgraded to Premium Select as long as seats are still available for sale.  Then, we’ll still qualify for the upgrade list to Delta One starting 24 hours before our flight.
Shown above are round trip flight cash prices from Detroit to Amsterdam in March 2022.  Those with Global Upgrade Certificates can currently buy Main cabin for $1,001 and use certificates to upgrade to Delta One suites.  Beginning Feb 1, 2022, you would have to buy Premium Select for $1,595.  In other words, it would cost you nearly $600 more to confirm upgrades to Delta One in advance!

My thoughts about future flight upgrades:

  • The latest changes won’t make much difference unless I’m trying to book a Delta flight that features Premium Select and Delta One, or if I want to fly Air France.
  • When booking a Delta flight that offers Premium Select and Delta One, the changed program will be good if upgrade space isn’t available, but bad if it is:
    • If upgrade space isn’t available and I apply a Global Upgrade Certificate, I’ll at least know that worst case will be flying in Premium Select.  That’s not nearly as good as Delta One, but much better than Delta Comfort+ or Main Cabin.  Best case, I’ll still have a decent chance of an upgrade within 24 hours of the flight.
    • If upgrade space is available, the new system is very bad.  I’ll have to decide whether it’s worth buying Premium Select in order to upgrade to Delta One or to gamble with the 24 hour upgrade window.  One trick worth remembering: for Amex Platinum cardholders, Amex sometimes has especially good pricing for Delta Premium Select.
  • I’m annoyed about the Air France changes!  Air France offers flights from my home airport (DTW) and so they were a good option for using Global Upgrade Certificates.  Unfortunately, neither KLM nor Virgin Atlantic currently fly from DTW.

Overall, in my opinion, Delta’s Global Upgrade Certificates will be less valuable post 2/1/22 than they are today.  I’m really bummed about that.  That said, they’ll still be the most valuable Choice Benefit that Delta Diamond Elites can select.  At some point I’ll have to revisit my post estimating the value of Delta Elite status.  Surely Delta Diamond status is less valuable than before, but by how much?  I previously asserted that if they were available for sale, I’d be willing to pay $400 for each Global Upgrade Certificate.  Will that still be true post 2/1/22?  Maybe I’ll drop the estimate to $300 each?  What do you think?  Please comment below.

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Dan

Does this mean we might as well go ahead and redeem our plat benefits (upgrade certs) now? No benefit to waiting for the 12 month cancellation anymore I guess

Dan

Thanks! When I first made platinum, I forgot to redeem the benefit entirely. This will at least solve my forgetfulness issue!

NK3

What happens if you waitlist for Delta One prior to February 1 on a 3 cabin aircraft for June or July 2022? If the D1 upgrade doesn’t clear by 2/1, do you automatically upgrade to Premium Select (provided its available)? Or do the old rules apply as long as you waitlist pre-2/1?

Jason Catlett

For KLM, I assume as they rollout Premium Economy next year, the AF/Virgin rules will begin to apply to them?

Edw3rd

Yes, AF seems to have already implemented this. I was booking a flight day before announcement with CDG connection for January. Had no problem confirming GUC USA to/from CDG DL Suite, but the onward AF connection is no longer avail because it’s Main and not a premium economy ticket, plus DL can not waitlist the AF upgrade. Ridiculous part is that we’re already in AF row 3 (comp c+ DIA upgrade) and row 1 & 2 show empty both flights.

Dan

The distinction in rules is likely that KLM/Aeromexico do not offer Premium Economy (just extra legroom Economy) on long-hauls while Air France and Virgin Atlantic do.

Dina Lapoint

Do these changes apply to regionsl upgrade certificates as well?

Aloha808

Yes.

skdelta

The ability to apply GUCs to domestic first last-seat availability would have come in handy for my current travel patterns (main $200 one way, first $1800); of course, nicer to have more GUCs than just 4 🙂 Instead of GUCs and RUCs, I think Delta could mitigate some of the negatives by allowing DMs to pick 8 DUCs (the new GUCs) and PMs 8 PUCs (same as current RUCs). Business travelers domestically would have confirmed last-minute open first availability a few times a year they really need, and still be able to do a round-trip with 4 DUCs, even if in Premium Eco. And even nicer, if they allow using 2 DUCs to jump main->PE->DeltaOne, so the 8 DUCs would equate to 4 GUCs currently.

SMR

Anyone loyal to DL is a sucker… they treat you like crap but put on a smiley face. Almost like a horror movie. Worst frequent flyer program, worst soft and hard products (suites aren’t my thing, gimmicky) and worst alliance. The whole COVID not food thing is nice too.

Stew podaso

Sounds like every airline. Love people that crap on airlines that don’t even fly that airline. I can’t wait to sit next to such a positive person as yourself.

Christian

As a formerly fanatical Delta fan, I largely agree with SMR. Over considerably less than a decade, Delta has gone from leading the charge on making FF programs better to becoming the leader in destroying value in the programs. It took a lot of work for Delta to alienate me but they did it quite well. That doesn’t even start to include numerous operational issues that were the icing on the cake. Now they’re my last choice. Ultimately, not everyone who has an ax to grind hasn’t experienced what a specific company has to offer.

Zachary

Yeah but the Sky Club in Seattle is open until midnight, which is perfect for my 3 hour red-eye layover this January.

Zachary

Wait, what US domestic airline has a better hard and soft product. It ain’t United or American, that’s for sure.

Rob

UA is going through a fleet refresh and it will have the best hard product in near future. Soft product however…I’d say Alaska is better than Delta but I am a bit biased since I am in Seattle.

Zachary

I mostly agree on the Alaska point, but the problem is they are regional, and their hard product is mediocre at best.
I also did have the longest line to check my bag with Alaska at sea-tac, and that left a bad taste in my mouth.