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As a Delta frequent flyer, you can choose an array of benefits when hitting the 75,000 and 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Mile marks. System-Wide Upgrades (SWUs) are an option, but they have always been a sore point with Delta elites because they require booking into expensive fare classes (Y,B,M) when flying internationally. Many times, these fares are more expensive than discounted business class fares, so the SWUs can sometimes be useless.
However, Delta just announced that they can be used to upgrade one class of service on Air France. You can either go from Economy to Premium Economy or Premium Economy to Business class. This is great news, because Air France has been discounting their new Premium Economy product, so upgrades to their business class (which I wrote about this summer here) can be done much cheaper than if trying to upgrade a Delta flight. For example, I did some price shopping and economy was $750, Premium Economy $1,400 and M class $2,800 from JFK-CDG. Business class and bonus miles and MQMs for $1,400 and an upgrade certificate sounds like a great deal to me.
How to do it:
1) Check to see if upgrade space is available on the flights you want to book (note- this can only be done on flights that have Premium Economy, so that unfortunately cancels out flying on the new A380 or Miami to Paris). Upgrade space comes out of the normal award ticket buckets, so there are a couple ways to check that. The easiest is if you have an expertflyer.com subscription- its a paid service, but they offer trials and discounts. You can search “Award & Upgrades” for Air France. If you want to upgrade to Premium Economy you’d need to search for Premium Economy – Classic Award (E). If you want to upgrade to business class you need to search for Business – Classic Award (O). Altenatively, you can call Delta or Air France to check for you. I find expertflyer.com to be much quicker and more accurate than calling.
2) Once you confirm that space is available, then book a qualifying fare. For Economy -> Economy Plus upgrade you need to book economy class fares Y,B or K. For Premium Economy -> Business, you need to book Premium Economy fares S,A or W.
3) Once booked, call Delta and let them know you want to use a SWU to upgrade an Air France flight. The rep should be able to process painlessly.
FYI Premium Economy fares on Air France earn 150% Medallion Qualifying Miles, so a JFK-CDG return ticket will net roughly 11,000 MQMs- not bad considering Premium Economy tickets can sometimes be purchased for only a couple hundred bucks more than regular economy.
In all, I think this is a great enhancement to the SkyMiles program and in my experience Air France has lots of award availability – especially at the last minute, so I look forward to using this in the future.