Delta upgrade certificates are one of the best benefits of elite status offered by any major US airline. There are two varieties – regional upgrade certificates (RUCs) and global upgrade certificates (GUCs). These instruments allow fliers to skip to the front of the pecking order for upgrades when booking paid flights.
For travelers seeking to fly in a premium cabin, upgrade certificates can save an enormous number of miles relative to booking an award ticket. In addition, upgrade availability is often in greater supply than low-level award availability, meaning you have a better chance of being able to work your way into a premium cabin in the first place.
Earning Upgrade Certificates
Upgrade certificates are available as choice benefits to Delta Platinum and Diamond elite members. Each upgrade certificate is good for a one-way flight, so it takes two certificates to upgrade an entire round-trip flight. The specific choices which each level of elite member can choose are follows:
- Platinum Medallion Members: May choose 4 regional upgrade certificates
- Diamond Medallion Members: May choose between the following 3 alternatives:
- 4 global upgrade certificates
- 8 regional upgrade certificates
- 2 global upgrade certificates and 4 regional upgrade certificates
If you are a Diamond elite trying to decide between these alternatives, there are two primary considerations. First, do you want to focus your upgrades on domestic travel or international travel? Second, even if you often travel domestically you can be upgraded via your complimentary medallion upgrades without using a certificate, unlike on international routes. Therefore, if you travel both domestically and internationally you may want to diversify your ability to be upgraded and choose the global certificates. Also, you could use your one Platinum choice benefit on the regional upgrades and then choose global upgrades for one of your Diamond choice benefits.
Also, keep in mind that upgrade certificates expire 12 months from the date of issuance. Travel must be completed by this date, not just booked. Therefore, it is best to wait until you need the upgrades before choosing this as your benefit instead of choosing them immediately after qualifying for status.
Which Routes Can Each Type of Upgrade be Used On?
Global upgrade certificates can be used to upgrade any route whether international or domestic. Regional upgrades on the other hand are only eligible to be used on domestic and select international routes. The international destinations which are eligible are those relatively close the continental US such as Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The complete table of eligible regions is displayed below.
|REGIONS||REGIONAL UPGRADES||GLOBAL UPGRADES|
|Between Hawaii and LAX, SEA, SFO, or SLC||Yes||Yes|
|Between Hawaii and all other nonstop domestic destinations||No||Yes|
|Between JFK and LAX or SFO||Yes||Yes|
|Between DCA and LAX||Yes||Yes|
|Between BOS and SFO||Yes||Yes|
|Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda||Yes||Yes|
|Central America||Excludes Delta One® and Delta Premium Select||Yes|
|Northern South America||Excludes Delta One® and Delta Premium Select||Yes|
|Southern South America||No||Yes|
What are the Fare Class and Class of Service Upgrade Rules?
The first rule to know about fares eligible for upgrades is that you can only upgrade paid tickets, not award tickets. If you want to book a ticket and be upgraded to a premium cabin without any substantial out-of-pocket cost, you can pay for the ticket using a fixed value currency and then apply the upgrade certificate. This post has some options if you’d like to pursue this strategy.
The second rule is that Basic Economy fares (E class) are not eligible. Unfortunately, there is no way around this rule so you will have to at least book a main cabin fare in order to be eligible for an upgrade.
The next criteria to consider is which cabins you are eligible to be upgraded into. Just as with the region rules, global upgrade certificates have no restrictions and can be upgraded into any cabin. The regional upgrades are generally only eligible for domestic first class and comfort+, with the exception of transcontinental routes which offer the ability to upgrade into Delta One. The complete list of cabin eligibility rules is displayed below.
|CABIN||REGIONAL UPGRADES||GLOBAL UPGRADES|
|Delta One®||Only eligible on nonstop flights between JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO, DCA-LAX, and BOS-SFO||Yes|
|Delta Premium Select||No||Yes|
What is the Process for Using an Upgrade Certificate?
You may request an upgrade as soon as you have booked a flight all the way up until three hours before departure. Upgrade certificates cannot be applied online, you must call Delta at 1-800-323-2323 in order to book an upgrade. Your upgrade can clear immediately or all the way up until departure.
If your upgrade does not clear immediately, you can be waitlisted. According to Delta, if space becomes available you should clear automatically. However, many travelers report than Delta’s IT does not always work as it should, so it is best to take it upon yourself to check on the status of your upgrade. If you don’t see your ticket updated in your online profile, call Delta to ask for a status update.
If you are still on the waitlist when you arrive at the airport, do not assume that you will automatically be on the upgrade list. Talk to a Delta agent at the airport and make sure you are added properly (your priority will be higher with the certificate than just with your elite status).
You may use upgrades both for yourself and up to one traveling companion on the same itinerary.
Regional upgrades are only eligible to be used on Delta operated flights, but global upgrades can be used on partners. The rules differ depending on the operating carrier and there is no option to waitlist, so you just have to call and hope for space to be available.