A Guide To Delta’s Choice Benefits

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One of my favorite features of Delta’s sometimes-otherwise-questionable SkyMiles program is the ability to redeem something called Choice Benefits. This program allows Diamond and Platinum Medallions to select bonus “gifts” in the form of upgrade certificates, gift cards, and even the ability to gift Silver or Gold status to another SkyMiles member.

That said, not all benefits are of equal value, and the timelines vary for each selection. For example, certain Choice Benefits are good for the calendar year, while others are good for one year from the date of selection.

All that said, I’ve been dragging my feet in terms of selecting my 2018 Choice Benefits, but with the year coming to a close quicker than you can say “Trick or Treat,” I realized it was time to pull the trigger.

And I figured what better place to provide a walkthrough of the program, and see what you all think of the different Choice Benefits available.

How Choice Benefits work

Once you hit the Medallion qualifying threshold (Platinum or Diamond), you are able to make your selection by visiting the Choice Benefits page.

Here is the cool thing that they don’t go out of their way to mention – you get to select Choice Benefits for every status level that you hit on your way to Diamond.

So, for the 2018 Medallion year, I have the option of one Choice Benefit for making Platinum Medallion, and an additional three for making Diamond Medallion:

I’ve also re-qualified for Platinum for 2019, so I have an additional item to choose from. These remain in your SkyMiles account until the expiration date (indicated in the last column).

It’s important to note that you do not need to select all of your Choice Benefits at the same time – and honestly, it’s probably best not to. But we’ll get to that as we take a look at each of the options below.

Platinum Medallion Choice Benefits

Platinum Medallions have the option to select one Choice Benefit per Medallion year, and the following options are available.

Four Regional Upgrade Certificates

You have the option of selecting four one-way Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs, if you’re interested in Delta frequent flyer jargon) that are good for an upgrade to a domestic first class or Delta One cabin. These upgrade certificates are good for just about any paid Main Cabin fare (including Pay With Miles tickets), but are not applicable to Basic Economy or award tickets.

The interesting thing is that these are good for one year from the date that they are requested. So you could, theoretically, have qualified for Platinum Medallion in February of 2017, which is good through the end of 2018. You could wait until the expiration date (January 31st, 2019) to request these certificates, and then you have a whole year to use them – so until January 31st, 2020.

That time frame offers a ton of flexibility.

The value 

Honestly, this was the whole impetus for me finally pulling the trigger on my selection. As a Diamond Medallion, I get upgraded pretty frequently on domestic routes, but thanks to an upcoming transcontinental trip featuring the Delta One cabin, I figured I would stack the deck in my favor as best I could.

One-way upgrades are currently retailing over $900, so this seemed like as good a use of a Choice Benefit as any.

The caveat, of course, is that the upgrade has to clear – and typically it involves being added to a waitlist, rather than clearing automatically. I’ve heard plenty of mixed reviews, but depending on the route, the probability can range from “of course” to “better buy a lottery ticket.”

You do get upgrade priority over standard complimentary Medallion upgrades, which can come in handy for those highly-coveted lie-flat seats.

It’s a bit of a gamble, but I’ll take my chances.

One $100 Global Entry Application Voucher

If you select this option, Delta will mail you a prepaid card for you to use on any single Global Entry application. The voucher is “not valid for any other types of applications” (I assume they mean TSA PreCheck).

The value 

If aspirational $900 upgrades represent one end of the Choice Benefit spectrum, this represents the other. With plenty of credit cards offering complimentary Global Entry applications, and several other options for $200 gift cards, I can’t imagine too many people getting a ton of value out of this one.

Hard pass.

20,000 Bonus Miles

You can choose to add 20,000 bonus mile to your account, to a friend’s account, or to donate them to a SkyWish charity (if you are wondering, there are about two dozen charities to choose from, across four continents).

The value

This all depends on how you are redeeming your SkyMiles. If you choose to redeem them for Pay with Miles at 1 cent apiece, you’ll get a straight up value of $200. However, you could potentially get much more value out of your SkyMiles with the right creativity and flexibility.

For what it’s worth, this would probably be my second choice, and is my husband’s go-to, since we burn our SkyMiles pretty regularly.

$200 Travel Voucher or Gift Card to Tiffany & Co.

You have the choice of either a $200 travel voucher on Delta or a $200 gift card to Tiffany & Co. Not much more to spell out here.

The value 

This is a pretty straight-up $200 face value. I do get some value out of Delta vouchers when I have to change flights last-minute, so I could see this being worthwhile and offering a bit more flexibility than miles in that regard.

Amazing last-minute climbing trip to Idaho’s City of Rocks, thanks to a flight change with a Delta voucher

Otherwise, the 20,000 SkyMiles probably have the potential of presenting a better value.

The $200 Tiffany & Co. gift card could be a really cool gift and a huge value add if that’s your thing. But frankly, fine jewelry is somewhat lost on me. And I already have a favorite Tiffany. 😉

Silver Medallion Status for Recipient You Choose

You have the option of gifting Silver Medallion status to any Medallion member that you choose. Your newly minted Silver Medallion member (and new best friend) will get a confirmation email within 24 hours, and their status is good through the end of the Medallion year that correlates with your Choice Benefit year.

What that means is that if I gift someone Silver Medallion status through my 2018 Choice Benefit, their Silver status is good through January 31st, 2019 (this would not be a very good idea in late October). However, if I gift Silver status through my 2019 Choice Benefit, their Silver status is good through January 31st, 2020. Much better idea.

Needless to say, if you’re going to use this one, I would jump on it as soon as possible in order to get the most value.

The value 

This one kills me – I really want to be able to gift Medallion status to a loved one, because it could present a ton of value in the right circumstances. But my husband already earns Platinum-or-Diamond through paid business travel, my parents and sister fly maybe once a year each, and my best friend has chosen to spend her life with a United loyalist, negating the need for any Delta status.

This could be awesome for road warriors looking to gift status to a spouse or other loved one – it’s just not the right option for me.

Diamond Medallion Choice Benefits

Diamond Medallions get to select three Choice Benefits per Medallion year, in addition to their Platinum Medallion Choice Benefit that they will accrue on their way to Diamond. Some of these can only be selected once, while others can be selected multiple times – just to make things more interesting.

Fair warning – some of these are redundant with Platinum Medallion benefits, so there may be some copy/paste below – but I’ll try to highlight the differences as best I can. 🙂

Delta Sky Club Membership and Guest Option

Once upon a time (like last year), Diamond Medallions received two Choice Benefits, and automatic Sky Club membership. In early 2017, they revised this policy by revoking automatic Sky Club membership, and instead adding various membership levels to be selected as a third Choice Benefit.

Outdoor deck at JFK’s T4 Sky Club

So now, with Choice Benefits 2.0, Diamond Medallions have the option of any of the following:

  • A Sky Club Membership, wherein the member can access the Sky Club for free and bring up to two guests at $29 each (cost: one Choice Benefit)
  • A Sky Club Executive Membership, where the member can bring up to two guests for free (cost: two Choice Benefits)
  • A Sky Club Guest Pass, where the member can bring two guests for free. This is designed for Diamond Medallions who already have access to Sky Clubs via a credit card (cost: one Choice Benefit)

The value 

Sky Club memberships can be purchased via delta.com for $495 or 47,000 SkyMiles per year, while Executive memberships can be purchased for an annual fee of $745 or 70,000 SkyMiles.

However, there are plenty of ways to gain access to Sky Clubs through credit cards. The least expensive ones these days are the Delta Reserve® Credit Card, and The Business Platinum Card®, both of which come with a $450 annual fee (and a slew of other benefits).

So I’d downgrade the value of this benefit to closer to $450.

Personally, I already get Sky Club access through the Amex Platinum for Business, so I don’t have a a need for a Sky Club membership. I also primarily travel alone or with my husband, who also has Sky Club access, so I wouldn’t really get much value out of the Guest Pass option.

But I would be all over this if I didn’t already have Sky Club access.

Krug not included

Still, I pine for the days when my husband’s Diamond Medallion status got us both into Sky Clubs for free when we were traveling together, no strings (or Choice Benefits) attached.

Upgrade Certificates

If you thought the Sky Club selections were a doozy, well, buckle up, because upgrade certificates come with their own special set of rules. Diamond Medallions have the option of choosing upgrade certificates in one of three forms:

  • Four global upgrade certificates
  • Eight regional upgrade certificates
  • Two global and four regional upgrade certificates

So, you can choose any one of those three, but you can only use one Diamond Medallion Choice Benefit toward upgrade certificates.

However, Diamond Medallion upgrade certificates do not conflict with Platinum Medallion upgrade certificates, so you can, in theory, choose four regional upgrade certificates for your Platinum Choice Benefit, and four global upgrade certificates for one of your Diamond Choice Benefits.

Delta One cabin aboard the 767 – less aspirational, but better upgrade odds

Like Platinum upgrade certificates, these are good for travel booked and flown within one year of the date of selection, so I would wait as long as possible to select these. And even though you can only select these once per Medallion year, there is no rule saying when you have to select them, so it’s possible that, say, your 2018 global upgrade certificates overlap with your 2019 global upgrade certificates in your account.

The value 

Let’s be honest – international upgrades are probably the main reason that many of us road warriors are vying for top-tier elite status in the first place. Even if just one of the four upgrade certificates is successfully redeemed, the value can go well into the thousands when compared to retail prices for international business class tickets.

It’s also worth noting that you can use upgrade certificates on partner flights operated by Virgin Atlantic, KLM, Korean Air, Aeromexico and Air France (well, the latter only works if you are okay upgrading to Premium Economy). Just be ready for a slew of additional fare class restrictions.

Again, the upgrades are far from a guarantee, and you will likely be put on a wait list, possibly until the day of departure, so there is some risk involved. But even if you’re able to use just one or two global upgrade certificates successfully, they’re probably worth it over some of the other options.

Personally, I’m holding out as long as possible before selecting these, given that my 2019 year is likely to involve a decent amount of paid international economy travel. But overall, this is a no-brainer for me.

Two $100 Global Entry Application Vouchers

This is just like the Platinum Choice Benefit, except that there are two of it. If you select this option, Delta will mail you a prepaid card for you to use on any single Global Entry application. The voucher is “not valid for any other types of applications.” (I assume they mean TSA pre-check).

The value 

This is pretty much worth the face value of $200 – and again, there are plenty credit cards that offer the same benefit.

Better than one voucher, but still, hard pass for me.

25,000 Bonus Miles

You can choose to add 25,000 bonus miles to your account, to a friend’s account, or to donate them to a SkyWish charity (if you are wondering, there are about two dozen charities to choose from, across four continents).

This Choice Benefit can be selected up to three times, for a total of 75,000 SkyMiles.

The value

Again, this all depends on how you are redeeming your SkyMiles. If you choose to redeem them for Pay with Miles at 1 cent apiece, you’ll get a straight up value of $250. However, you could potentially get much more value out of your SkyMiles with the right creativity and flexibility.

$200 Travel Voucher or Gift Card to Tiffany & Co.

Like Platinum Medallions, Diamond Medallions have the option to choose either a $200 travel voucher on Delta or a $200 gift card to Tiffany & Co. The only thing worth adding here is that you can choose to redeem up to three Choice Benefits, for up to three vouchers/gift cards.

The value

I’m a little leery of this one, since there is no real increased value here for Diamond Medallions (unlike the bonus SkyMiles, which jump from 20,000 to 25,000). Although I suppose you could milk this one with all three Choice Benefits, if you prioritize fine dining sets over premium cabins.

Gold Medallion Status for Recipient You Choose

You have the option of gifting Gold Medallion status to any Medallion member that you choose. Your newly minted Gold Medallion member (and new best friend) will get a confirmation email within 24 hours, and their status is good through the end of the Medallion year that correlates with your Choice Benefit year.

What that means is that if I gift someone Gold Medallion status through my 2018 Choice Benefit, their Gold status is good through January 31st, 2019 (this would not be a very good idea in late October). However, if I gift Gold status through a 2019 Choice benefit, their Gold status is good through January 31st, 2020. Much better idea.

Needless to say, if you’re going to use this one, I would jump on it as soon as possible in order to get the most value.

The value 

This one kills me (even more than gifting Silver Medallion status) because it represents such a potentially great value. Gold Medallions enjoy a slew of additional benefits over Silver Medallions, including Sky Priority access, increased upgrade probability on domestic flights, and lounge access on international SkyTeam flights, regardless of the class of service flown.

KLM’s Crown Lounge in Amsterdam – stroopwafels included!

I really want to be able to gift Medallion status to a loved one, because it could present a ton of value in the right circumstances. But my husband already earns Platinum-or-Diamond through paid business travel, my parents and sister fly maybe once a year each, and my best friend has chosen to spend her life with a United loyalist, negating the need for any Delta status.

Again, this could be awesome for road warriors looking to gift status to a spouse – it’s just not for me.

Bottom line

As you can see, there are plenty of great options to choose from – and a few not-so-great options.

While there is a huge variance in cash value, in the end, it all comes down to what you personally value the most. Heck, you might have zero interest in unlimited Sky Club mac and cheese (which I’ll respectfully disagree with but refrain from judging you on) but might get far more than $200 worth of value from a new Tiffany & Co. dining set.

At the end of the day, you should choose what will make you the happiest, regardless of the sticker value.

Because while an international flight may only be 8-10 hours long, a diamond is forever. (Although a Diamond Medallion card is not.)

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’ve already selected four regional upgrades for my 2018 Platinum Choice Benefit, and 25,000 SkyMiles for one of my Diamond Choice Benefits. I’ll snap up the Global Upgrade Certificates as late as I possibly can get away with, and I’m still undecided on my last 2018 Diamond Choice Benefit.

What do you think the best value Choice Benefits are? 

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Comments

  1. Steph,

    Do you get these if you status challenge match to Delta and complete the challenge? I’m an AA Plat Pro, thinking of matching next year when I move to a focus city for both airlines.

  2. Steph, we have had issues getting into Aeroflot lounges (I am Gold, my wife is Platinum) because Delta no longer sends out cards to Gold members. If we have guests, they make an issue of my card being a year old, even though you would think that they could look up the number. Any suggestions?

  3. Hello,

    Great breakdown and I am going to be Platinum for the first time ever! So i am excited to see this article.

    I have one question about the four regional upgrades. If you use one and you don’t actually get upgraded, do you get it back? Or is it use it and hope to actually get upgraded?

    Thanks!

  4. First World problem but although I would love to redeem for upgrade certificates I have little use for them. As a DM I usually get upgraded on domestic flights and I only fly paid Delta One oversees as company pays for it. While I would love to use these certificates for family trips that won’t apply if you redeem miles for your tickets. I only use miles to fly my family for vacation so that won’t do any good. I always struggle when I have to chose my options here.

  5. I’d echo Brian’s question
    What happens to the RUC or GUC if you use it and it doesn’t clear?

    The problem I have with GUCs is that you’re stuck in the back if it doesn’t clear.
    Not worth the risk for me

    I’d rather Delta created a new type of automatic upgrade certificate (AUC) so that you knew you’d be upgraded

    My guess is that many Diamonds would use an entire benefit for one such AUC
    They might even be willing to blow all three on one international AUC

  6. @Steph this is well known for people deeper in status/airline programs but it would probably be helpful for people if you clarified more clearly the different uses of RUC and GUC and the specific zones/regions they can be used in.

  7. As a Japan-based SM member, I always opt for the following: 20,000 miles as PM and 25,000 miles x 2 plus the 4 GUCs. I actually also get SC membership through SkyBonus, thus saving me the Choice Benefit!

  8. I will tell you from my perspective as a PM 5 years in a row, I get the Tiffany card every year. Happy wife = Happy Life especially if it comes in a Tiffany box. There is no other choice that can even come close in value!

  9. @Blair and @JRMW – Yes, you get it back, but only assuming *none* of the legs clear. If you’re flying, say, LGA-DTW-NRT and the LGA-DTW leg clears, it’s considered used.

    I think you can get around this by asking the agent to place priority on the leg that matters more, and you do get the upgrade back if it’s a nonstop flight and doesn’t clear.

  10. @Jack – I agree, and thought about including it, but I’m pushing 3,000 words so that’s probably a topic for a separate post 😉

  11. Thanks for a great and informative post. I am doing a mileage run in Nov to achieve Plat status. I still don’t know what Plat choice I am going to pick though….

  12. It’s worth emphasizing that the flexibility of when you select choice benefits is really worth a ton. AA’s and UA’s global upgrades are arguably worth more in certain ways (like that they can be gifted to others that the member isn’t flying to, whereas Delta’s can’t), but AA’s and UA’s upgrade certificates expire on a fixed date, and if that date doesn’t work for you, too bad.

    Whereas with Delta’s certificates you have at least ~25 months of flexibility for when they get used (and even more if you qualify for status earlier in the year), which should give a lot more opportunities to get value out of them.

    It could be particularly useful if you are a current Platinum or Diamond who is not going to requalify for status or is going to requalify for a much lower level — you could choose Regional Upgrades near the end of your earned status timeframe and then use them once you are a Silver/Gold (or gasp — no Medallion status member!) to still jump ahead of Platinums and Diamonds on the upgrade list, at least for a few flights. That might be the one situation where choosing 8 more RUCs as your Diamond upgrade choice benefit (and forgoing the option to use 4 GUCs) could have real value.

  13. @Bgriff

    The 25 month, while true, is a little overstatement. First, many people re qualify for status the next year, so in reality you are just pushing it out the current year but you still have to pick from last year, thus you really have 12 months to use it. Second, once you redeem it, all 4 certificate carries the same expiry date. Third, you actually have better chance to clear earlier than on the last minute so you might want to redeem the choice few months beforehand.

    Now, this is a good write up, I was expecting more of an advice for dummies.

    For those picking any $200 gift cards, I thank you for not competing for my upgrade space and my mileage award tickets. I wish you all the best, you are gonna need it. If you can spend few minutes reading this blog, you can use the same time to go buy Tiffany gift cards for the ladies and earn extra points while doing that.

    For all the ladies who got the Delta Tiffany card from your guy instead of him taking you on a trip/upgrade. Do your self a favor, get a new guy, he is lazy.
    Eskimo always get his ladies upgraded.

  14. Maybe you explained this and I missed it, but can you use a RUC or GUC for another person traveling in your party? e.g. Using one each for my wife and I even though she does not have status?

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