Delta has just revealed a terrible devaluation to the value of the upgrade certificates that top tier elite members receive.
Upgrade certificates now only valid for one cabin upgrade
Delta SkyMiles Diamond Medallion members receive Choice Benefits, whereby they can select the elite perks that matter most to them. One of the options is to select Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs), which have historically been valid for an upgrade from economy to business class on any Delta flight. The value of this is about to decrease significantly.
Before we get into this, let’s just define some basic terms, given the way that Delta brands its cabins:
- Delta has economy class, known as Main Cabin, which is just the standard economy seating on a plane
- Delta has an extra legroom economy section, known as Comfort+; for the purposes of this policy change, that’s the same as economy
- Delta has premium economy, known as Premium Select, which is a product available on select wide body aircraft
- Delta has business class, known as Delta One, which is Delta’s premium long haul business class product, and Delta’s top cabin
- Delta has first class, which is just the standard domestic first class product available on narrow body aircraft; Delta doesn’t have a long haul first class product, so even though the name suggests otherwise, this isn’t better than business class
With that out of the way…
As of February 1, 2022, Delta GUCs can only be used to confirm a one cabin upgrade in advance. This is significant, because Delta has rolled out premium economy on much of its wide body fleet in recent years, yet has continued to allow GUCs to be used for double upgrades, from economy class to business class, essentially skipping premium economy.
How will this work going forward (this new policy applies to all unused, active upgrade certificates as of February 2022)?
- If you’re traveling on a two cabin plane (with just economy and first class or economy and business class), you’ll still be able to upgrade to first class or business class with a GUC
- If you’re traveling on a three cabin plane (with economy, premium economy, and business class) and book economy, you’ll be able to confirm an upgrade to premium economy at the time of booking, and then will be added to the waitlist for business class 24 hours before departure
- If you’re traveling on a three cabin plane and book premium economy, you’ll be able to confirm an upgrade to business class at the time of booking, subject to upgrade availability
While this is bad news, there is a silver lining, though. With this change, GUCs can be used to upgrade to first class and premium economy at the time of booking with no capacity controls. As long as a seat is available for sale, it will be cleared immediately. Meanwhile business class upgrades will continue to be capacity controlled, regardless of which cabin you’re upgrading from.
What about upgrades on partner airlines?
Delta SkyMiles also allows GUCs to be used on select partner airlines, including Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic. This change will also impact upgrades on partner airlines. Upgrades on partner airlines will only be valid for one class of service, so if you book economy, you’ll only be able to upgrade to premium economy.
On partner airlines I believe you also can’t get the double upgrade 24 hours out, but I’m working on clarifying that.
Exchange Global Upgrade Certificates for SkyMiles
Given that this change might alter members’ decision to select GUCs as Choice Benefits, members can exchange existing GUCs for SkyMiles through July 31, 2022. This can be done at this link, and apparently Delta is offering a measly 8,000 SkyMiles per upgrade. That’s pretty cheap, if you ask me.
New expiration policy for Global Upgrade Certificates
Going forward, GUCs will expire at the end of the Medallion year associated with the Choice Benefits selection. For example, if you reach Diamond Medallion on August 1, 2022, you will be eligible to select Choice Benefits for your 2023 status, and they’d be valid through January 31, 2024, regardless of when they were selected.
This change is bad, could have been much worse
When American, Delta, and United, all started introducing premium economy cabins on long haul flights, many of us wondered what that meant for the future of upgrades. After all, historically upgrade certificates were valid for a one cabin upgrade.
When premium economy was introduced, American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, and United MileagePlus, all continued to allow double upgrades to business class with these certificates. I figured that would be temporary, and change sooner or later.
So I’m not surprised to see a change like this finally being made, and for that matter, I’m kind of surprised this change isn’t worse? As you can see, GUCs can now be used to immediately confirm an upgrade from economy to premium economy (with last seat availability), and then 24 hours out those flyers will be added to the upgrade waitlist for business class.
Furthermore, GUCs now offer last seat availability when upgrading from economy to premium economy or first class.
In many cases Diamond Medallion members should still end up in business class. But clearly this devaluation is intended to change some consumer behavior:
- Delta probably hopes more Diamond Medallion members will outright pay for premium economy, in order to upgrade straight to business class at the time of booking (subject to upgrade availability, which can be tough to come by)
- Many people aren’t comfortable waiting until 24 hours before departure to clear an upgrade, especially on an ultra long haul flight, so I imagine this could change some consumer behavior
As of February 2022, the Global Upgrade Certificates that Delta Diamond Medallion members are issued will no longer be eligible for a double upgrade at the time of booking. On planes with economy, premium economy, and business class, these upgrades will have more restrictions.
If upgrading from economy on a plane with three cabins, you’ll only be able to confirm an upgrade to premium economy at the time of booking, and then you’ll be added to the business class upgrade waitlist 24 hours out. Meanwhile if you book premium economy, you can continue to upgrade to business class at the time of booking, subject to upgrade availability.
On the plus side, upgrades to premium economy and first class now come with last seat availability, rather than there needing to be a dedicated upgrade bucket available. This change is negative and sucks, though dare I say it could have been worse, especially since this involves Delta SkyMiles?
What do you make of this change to Diamond Medallion Global Upgrade Certificates?