Searching for Delta Global Upgrade Certificate space on KLM (and Air France)

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At the beginning of the year, Greg announced that he would be Passing the GUC. In short, I persuaded Greg to use his Delta Diamond choice benefit to select Global Upgrade Certificates and give them to me. At the time I suggested this gift, I didn’t realize the catch: as per the Delta GUC rules, he has to travel with me. I thus committed to planning a trip for the boss & me using his GUCs. Given that I started from zero in terms of how much I knew about Delta upgrade certificates, I’ve enjoyed quite a learning curve in planning a trip that earns as many bonus points as possible based on the challenges set forth in Greg’s post. We aren’t yet ready to reveal the full details of the trip as the finer points are still being finalized, but I’ve learned that being able to use GUCs to upgrade cheap international economy class fares is incredibly valuable; meanwhile, putting that ability into use is incredibly time-consuming. If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, Delta’s GUCs are an awesome elite status perk that I’ve come to appreciate, but I hope that Delta someday makes it easier to search availability on partners.

One of Greg’s challenges was collecting a KLM Delft Blue house, which I’ve not done before.

Delta Global Upgrade Certificates for travel on KLM: Easy(ish) to find availability

One of the bonus point opportunities that Greg set out at the beginning of this challenge was to collect KLM Delft Blue houses on the trip.  KLM presents every World Business Class passenger with a gift: a Delft Blue miniature traditional Dutch house, filled with Dutch gin, also known as genever.  Details here.

Like Greg, I have never flown KLM business class, so I don’t yet have one of these houses and therefore I really wanted to prioritize picking one up and so I started my GUC studies with KLM.

Late last year, Greg wrote about how Delta expanded the use of Global Upgrade Certificates on some partner flights (see: Delta global upgrade certificates now improved for partner flights). Within that post, you can find the upgrade rules by partner. For KLM, the following rules apply:

  • Applicable Routes: valid for one-way travel systemwide as long as the travel to and within Europe is connected with a long-haul route. A qualifying “long-haul” route contains a distance of at least 1,750 miles between Point A and Point B. For example, ATL-CDG would be valid but CDG-IST would not be valid as there is no long-haul route connected to the intra-Europe flight.
  • Applicable Fare Classes: 
    • For travel on KLM-operated, Delta-marketed flights this certificate may be used to upgrade on published fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V class and all fare classes upgrade into Z class.
    • For travel on KLM-operated flights marketed by KLM, fares booked in Y, B, M, K, H, L, Q, T, N, R, or V class are eligible to upgrade into Z class.
    • For travel on KLM-operated flights marketed by AF, this certificate may be used to upgrade on published fares booked in Y, B, M, K, H, L, Q, T, N, R, or V class into Z class.’

As you can see, a wide range of economy fare classes qualify for upgrades to business class using Delta Global Upgrade Certificates. While the equivalent of “basic economy” won’t work, many other (very cheap in some cases) economy class fares can be upgraded to business class with a Delta GUC.

When searching a flight at Google Flights, it is easy enough to determine fare class either by popping the same dates and info into ITA Matrix (which displays fare classes very clearly in search results) or by clicking through to an airline booking engine like Delta.com.

Take for example a flight from Cape Town to Washington Dulles via Amsterdam. Via Google Flights, you’ll find that the cheapest economy price on KLM (at the time of writing this post) is $716.

Clicking through to book that with Delta, you can easily see that the fare class on that cheapest itinerary, which is in Economy Light, is E.

Unfortunately, E class is not eligible for upgrade using a Delta GUC. The good news is that Delta gives you the opportunity to choose a “Europe Economy” (i.e. main cabin economy) fare when clicking through from Google Flights. Clicking that option shows a ticket in U-class for less than $50 more.

As you can see in the rules above, U-class fares are eligible for upgrade with Delta global upgrade certificates. The next step is finding whether or not there is upgrade availability on your flight.

Like award space, upgrade space simply isn’t available on every flight. Unfortunately, upgrade space does not always match award space (while you’d logically think that the availability of award tickets would probably mean there is space for the use of upgrade instruments like the Delta GUCs, that just isn’t always the case). And like award space, the availability of upgrade space can vary depending on your full itinerary segments in a single direction. That is to say that even though A to B is available and B to C is available, A to B to C as one reservation might not be available (counterintuitive as that may be).

Expert Flyer is an invaluable tool if you are looking to find available upgrade space since it allows you to search for space that should be available as upgrade space. You definitely want to pay for a subscription for as long as you need to be able to search for KLM upgrade space (in other words, I think it is worth subscribing even if just for a month while you research your trip; you can cancel without penalty on the monthly subscription once you’ve booked your trip). To be clear, we don’t have any affiliate partnership with Expert Flyer. I’m recommending it as an essential tool here because it will cut down drastically on what will still be a time-consuming task in finding upgrade space on KLM (but it’ll be much less time-consuming than it could be). Delta Global Upgrade Certificates book into the Z-class fare bucket, so you need to find flights that have Z-class space.

Returning to the example above, the flights highlighted take off on October 9th from Cape Town to Amsterdam and October 10th from Amsterdam to Washington Dulles. On October 9th, Expert Flyer shows that there are 9 seats in Z-class from Cape Town to Amsterdam.

That flight lands in Amsterdam on October 10th. Expert Flyer further indicates that there are 9 seats in Z-class on October 10th (the same combination of flights shown above via Google Flights & Delta).

However, when you run the complete search from Cape Town to Washington Dulles via Amsterdam departing on October 9th and select the box next to “Business – Upgrade with Delta SWU/Global Upgrades & Fare Class (Z)” as shown here:

You will unfortunately find that there are 0 seats available for upgrade on the full itinerary from Cape Town to Washington Dulles.

I therefore expect based on both what I’ve read and experienced in trying to apply upgrade certificates that you would not be able to use an upgrade certificate on this itinerary (even on one leg or the other) since it does not show as available when both legs are on the same ticket.

However, a couple of days earlier the same exact flights are available for the same exact price. And on that day, provided you book the Europe Economy (i.e. not basic economy) fare for the $762 price, you should indeed be able to use a Delta Global Upgrade Certificate since there are nine available seats in Z class on both legs when searched as Cape Town to Dulles via Amsterdam.

Based on my experience with many chats with Delta, I would expect those flights to be upgradeable with a Delta Global Upgrade Certificate.

Keep in mind that the above example is a one-way flight I’m using to illustrate how to find space rather than an example showing how to get great bang for your buck. Round trip flights are often much cheaper than double the cost of a one-way. In fact, there are times when a one-way ticket will cost more than a round trip. Again, the above example isn’t an amazing deal in terms of the cost savings — it is merely meant to illustrate how to find upgrade space on KLM. As noted above, we aren’t yet ready to share full details of our trip, but to be clear we are not planning a trip to South Africa. I just pulled up these flights for this post.

Keep in mind that you may not always get a good agent when you call / chat / message. I sometimes had agents tell me an option was unavailable for an upgrade only for the same agent to later say that it was available. You may need to be willing to hang up and call again to find an agent able to help with the upgrade.

The (sort of) nice thing is that you can use the chat function on the Delta website (see “Message Us” under “Additional Assistance” on this page) to chat with an agent who should be able to confirm whether there is upgrade space available on your desired flights/dates before you even buy your ticket. I say this is sort of nice because it comes with a couple of caveats:

  1. The wait for an agent can be very long. It was not uncommon that I had to wait about 2.5hrs to be connected with someone. After precisely 90 minutes, the Delta system sends an automated multiple-choice question to ask whether or not you still need help. If you don’t respond to the automated message confirming that you do still need help, it will kick you out of the queue. Therefore, you need to be able to keep the window open and be attentive to it. I believe that you can also do this via the app / iMessage if you have an iPhone and respond at your leisure. Note that Greg and others have also reported phone hold times in excess of 2 hours recently. You can alternatively have Delta call you back.
  2. Not all agents seem to know how to search upgrade space properly.
  3. It wasn’t common, but there were a couple of times when I saw space available via Expert Flyer that agents didn’t see. More often than not, the space Delta agents saw available for upgrade on KLM seemed to match my expectations from Expert Flyer, so I chalked up the fails to point #2, though it is possible that Expert Flyer’s search isn’t a 100% guarantee as to space that a Delta agent will see.

Point #2 is key. I ran into some agents who would report availability separately on the separate legs of my itineraries (i.e. “the flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam is available…..and the flight from Amsterdam to Washington is available….”). That made it seem like they were searching the legs separately and I did not expect that to accurately reflect upgrade space for the entire journey based on everything I’d read. You may need to make several attempts to get a competent agent and/or have a few options prepared (which is why I recommend starting with Expert Flyer so you can have a few options in mind that should be bookable).

My strong suggestion when looking to use Global Upgrade Certificates on partner airlines is that you first hunt for upgrade space and try your best to confirm it before buying your ticket. Since tickets to/from the United States that are purchased directly from airlines (and most major travel agencies) can be cancelled for a full refund with no penalty within 24 hours of purchase, I recommend buying your ticket on a day when you know you’ll have some time in that next 24hr window to chat with Delta multiple times about upgrading the ticket in case you don’t get a competent agent on try #1. That’s kind of annoying, but Expert Flyer makes it at least a bit more tolerable since you’ll (hopefully) be armed with some options that should work rather than shooting completely in the dark.

Delta Global Upgrade Certificates for travel on Air France: Finding availability is a pain

Speaking of shooting completely in the dark, that’s exactly what you have to do if you would like to use Delta Global Upgrades on Air France flights. While last year’s announcement was big news because it finally expanded the use of Delta Global Upgrade certificates to discounted economy class fare buckets on Air France, the major headache here is that the only way to confirm whether or not there is upgrade space is to call or chat with Delta. This can get really tedious if you’re willing to position to or from different cities and want to “shop around” on different dates and/or destinations. After waiting about 2.5 hours to speak with an agent, it wasn’t uncommon that my chat conversation would last another hour or more as we went over one option after another. I often felt kind of bad about how much of an agent’s time I was monopolizing as a single customer (looking to use an upgrade instrument on another airline).

To that point, each time I closed off a chat, I both mentioned to the agent and in the feedback that I wish there were a way to search for this upgrade space online so that I didn’t have to monopolize so much of an agent’s time. I don’t expect Delta to institute that based on my suggestion, but it would be a major enhancement for Diamond members if they could search for upgrade space on partners without an agent’s help (note that Delta elite members can see Delta upgrade space online).

Bottom line

If you are newly chasing Delta elite status thanks to having extra MQMs from rollovers or a credit card offer and the 2021 shortcuts to Delta elite status, I can say that these Global Upgrade Certificates are an awesome perk that can be well-worth chasing (which will be clearer with the full details of our GUC trip in a future post). However, if you are new to this world of Global Upgrade Certificates, get ready to invest some time if you’d like to maximize them. I found this thread at Flyertalk to be incredibly helpful, but the bottleneck is undoubtedly going to be the wait to speak with an agent (and subsequent wait for a supervisor or another agent if the first one with which you speak can’t find the space you see). Expert Flyer can be well-worth the ten or eleven bucks a month here in order to at least narrow down your search to options that should be available if you fly on KLM (or on a combination of KLM and Delta as those Delta flights will also show up via Expert Flyer).

The good news is that I can confirm that even very cheap economy class tickets can indeed be upgraded to business class as long as they are booked in qualifying fare classes. That can make these certificates incredibly valuable for those looking for long-haul international business class travel on partner airlines given that fares in some international markets right now are so low. In some cases, you can pay just a little bit more than what the typical taxes & fees on an award flight and bump up to business class with a Delta Global Upgrade Certificate and earn miles.

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