Maximizing Delta Systemwide Upgrades Domestically

by on June 15, 2012 · 33 comments

in Delta

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This handy how-to guide on Delta systemwide upgrades comes to us courtesy of our TPG intern, Ryan, who, despite being a college student is already one of the savviest Delta flyers I know. Here are his inside tips on making sure you get value out of your SWU’s and some routes he suggests using them on.

As I’ve said before, Delta systemwide upgrades (SWU’s) tend not to be as valuable as American Airlines SWU’s since there are minimum fare class requirements in order to use them, which pull up the price considerably. For instance, while traveling internationally, the cheapest upgradeable fares could be well over $2,000 or even $3,000. However, domestically Delta’s SWU’s are not as restrictive on the fare class that needs to be purchased in order to upgrade, and learning how to use these SWU’s properly is key to maximizing your chance to upgrade while flying Delta. Domestically, Delta’s systemwide upgrades are great, because they have a higher priority over all Medallion Upgrades (including those on Full Y fares).

Delta Choice Benefits options.

How to get Delta Systemwide Upgrades (SWU’s):
Just to go over how to get these Delta systemwide upgrades in the first place – they are part of Delta’s Choice Benefits for Platinum and Diamond Medallion Members who earn their status outright (so if you status-challenged to Delta, you would not get these, until you earn 75,000 or 125,000 MQM’s). Other Choice Benefits include Delta SkyClub passes, bonus miles, a Delta Air Lines $200 voucher, or gifting Medallion Status.

For those who opt for the systemwide upgrades or are thinking about them, a great option is to use these domestically on elite-frequented routes. Especially those where there tend to be a lot of paid first or business class passengers. Two such routes these can be great to have for are the JFK-LAX/SFO transcontinental flights. These routes are served by Delta’s 757-200 with just 16 BusinessElite seats up front (compared to 24-26 seats up front on the other 757′s). It’s not uncommon to get to the gate and see only 1 or 2 seats in Business Class open, with 30+ people on the upgrade list. So when the real estate is this scarce, you’re going to need an ace in the hole to assure your upgrade.

Checking Fares For Upgradability
Delta’s systemwide upgrades are valid for use within or between the 50 United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Mexico on published economy class fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, or K class. With that in mind, I looked for some flights from JFK-LAX, and came up with a few options:

A Delta upgradeable fare booked in K Class where you can apply a SWU is $579.

The three options I would consider for these flights (excluding redeeming miles) were:
Lowest Coach Fare: $319.60 (T class)
Upgradeable Coach Fare: $579.60 (K class)
Lowest Business Class: $3,419.60 (D class)

Delta’s lowest business class fares on the same flights were over $3,400.

JFK-LAX never has advance upgrade space so it always comes down to the gate, as ExpertFlyer shows.

Upgrading Issues
There has been a lot of talk and criticism lately that theses SWU’s do not get coded properly. However, after thoroughly researching this I think I have found out what the problem has been. The SWU’s are actually being coded properly and will show Upgrade Waitlisted if there is no upgrade space available at the time of booking. However, the reservation will also show “Upgrade Requested,” since anyone redeeming one of these is probably also a Medallion member and therefore automatically placed on the upgrade list. To solve this issue, you need to call Delta and asked to be removed from the Medallion Upgrade list, and then the website will show your status as Upgrade Eligible.

A correct SWU request as Business (Z) is Waitlisted and a Medallion Upgrade says Eligible vs. Requested.

The reason for this snafu is, at the airport, if a customer has both a SWU request and a Medallion request, it automatically puts you on the list for lower-level Medallion request – which is why many people believe it is coded incorrectly. Fixing the code on your reservation by calling up Delta to remove yourself from the Medallion upgrade list will solve this problem and increase your likelihood of getting the upgrade you want.

When a systemwide upgrade is requested properly, the upgrade list will not show up when you check in online like the normal complimentary Medallion Upgrade list does, but note you are still on the upgrade list. This is because the upgrade is coming from Z class and not X class, which is why it might not show the upgrade list online. However it will show up on the gate upgrade screens in the airport when you check in.

Using a SWU on Delta is ideal on transcontinental flights such as JFK-LAX with their BusinessElite seats.

When requesting a systemwide upgrade, you should be at the very top of the list since this takes priority over all Medallion upgrades including anyone booked in a full Y fare, so be sure to ask about your placement on the upgrade list when you check in.

A Special Route
SWU’s can also be great to use for Hawaii since Medallion upgrades are not applicable to Hawaii. Though perhaps that will change in the future since United allows Hawaiian upgrades from the West Coast. I’ve helped friends and family book many Hawaii itineraries in K fare class for around $1,110 and 30,000 SkyMiles roundtrip. Any elite-heavy and peak routes in addition to JFK-LAX/SFO such as ATL-LAX/SFO/SEA/LAS/PHX could be opportune to use a SWU since it is almost guaranteed as long as there is a seat left when it comes to the gate. And while, JFK-LAX/SFO never have any upgrade inventory in advance, many routes do, so by using a SWU, you could secure an upgrade then at time of booking. As usual, it pays to do your homework and research which upcoming routes your SWU’s will hold the most value for you.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Wandering Aramean

    So this is basically how to apply lipstick to the pig??

    The DL SWUs are crap. Pretending that there is tremendous value in using them on a transcon is silly.

  • Mitch

    DL SWUs can be quite useful on AF flights, since you can upgrade from Premium Voyageur to Affaires. The trick is to book a DL W fare and have the agent change the flight numbers to AF when doing the upgrade. Now that AF’s O inventory seems to have become a lot sparser, I’m not sure how good of a strategy it will be. However, I managed to upgrade three TATLs that way with fares that I felt were reasonable for confirming upgrades a month or more in advance. My fourth SWU is being used on a DL M fare since that’s the lowest they offer for UK-US one ways. Upgrade inventory galore on the LHR flights, so I had no problem securing my upgrade at ticketing.

  • Phil

    I think that is pretty harsh. I for one have traveled transcon with AA last year several times as EXP on AA and never got upgraded ONCE despite trying to use eVIPs to do so. I actually thought this was a pretty helpful article. DL’s SWUs may well be crap for international but if I know I can have a nice flight from JFK-SFO without having to compete with all the GS bankers going out to swoon the newly minted FB billionaires in San Fran then I for one will be pretty happy.

  • Scwam

    How do you redeem AA miles on JAL. I wasn’t aware of this.

  • Resort lover

    Just all AAdvantage customers services hotline

  • Resort lover

    Just call, not all

  • Sean

    I used this domestic strategy frequently back when six paper SWUs were part of the standard bonus for reaching Platinum Medallion. This was in the time before Diamond Medallion or Choice Benefits existed.

    Since Choice Benefits came on the scene I have taken the miles and the vouchers. But these SWU are pretty valuable little instruments when used properly. Nice post.

  • Chrissytina4257

    This is so useful, thanks!

  • Wandering Aramean

    If you’re just in it for the transcon upgrades then there are better programs to be in. The value of system-wide upgrades is in the fact that they apply system-wide, not just domestically.

    That the best thing to be said about them is they’re useful on transcon domestic flights really is quite sad for folks caught up in the program.

  • Mark

    You still earn MQMs on Z right? Just at the regular 1x rate though…

  • TPG Intern Ryan

    Yes, you still earn MQM’s for the original class of service booked.

  • studd

    anybody know what to do with UA regional awards? they seem so restricted

  • Scott

    What pathetic value: transcon for an extra 7″ of leg room. And $1,110 + 30k miles to Hawaii? Yikes. I’m not insulting the article, just Delta.

  • AKold

    Considering that the other choice benefits for PM are $200 DL voucher, 4 SC passes (worth ~$100), 20K Skypesos (worth ~$200), or Gift Silver Medallion (worth $99, the same as the Gold Delta AmEx), the SWUs hold much more value if you can use them well.

    The post is written well. It’s not extolling the little value that the SWUs hold, rather just showing that all is not lost if you use them on particular domestic routes.

  • 2degrees

    Thanks for this post. One question: do you still need to have Platinum/Diamond status to use SWU’s? I’ll be dropping from Plat to Silver next year, so if I get SWUs, will I be able to use them as a Silver Medallion?

  • Panzer

    In years past once the SWU was applied to your account they could be used regardless of current status. Keep in mind they do have an expiration date.

  • 2degrees

    Thanks. The website says they expire a year from issue date. So if I wait until the end of this year to request them, they could help cushion the fall next year.

  • Riceoven

    Omg this explains why I’ve used so many system wides on domestic and keep not being on the top of the upgrade list. Having to call to fix this is crap. I’ve missed my system wide upgrade several times cause of this.

  • matt

    Extra 7″ of legroom? Clearly you have not flown the BusinessElite product offered on JFK-LAX lately.

  • Mark

    Thanks to the info gleaned from this post we successfully used SWUs to upgrade for ATL-SFO-ATL on flights with only one available first class seat and a 50+ long upgrade list. It took an extra call to the PM line to get an agent who knew what to do, and when I saw it the itinerary would have made me nervous if I had not see it here first. Thanks, TPG!

  • Poor Platinum

    Used an SWU for LAX-JFK redeye and it worked like a charm. Agents I spoke to had no idea about taking me off complimentary upgrade list and wouldn’t do it, but I got the SWU priority anyway (I was 1 of 25 and I am a Platinum). Thanks for the great post!

  • Arefmusa1

    Can I use these certificate to upgrade internationaly !!!

  • Nomo

    Great post–but I don’t understand — can I use SWU’s to fly to Hawaii?

  • thepointsguy

    Yes, you can… on K+ fares though (K,Q,H,B,M,Y fare classes only)

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  • matt b

    you can upgrade, with system wide upgrades, but min M class, on Euro routes, to Island look at upgrades, it explains, plus its best to call delta before 24 hours to go on upgrade list. and again, at airport at check in,

  • matt b

    Hi Delta have partnered with Virgin, so if travelling next year, I would wait, to see what you can get with Virgin,as they are great to fly with, maybe shooting myself in foot with this comment, as we will want upgrade next year with them, craig, fiend of matt.

  • Tsawtelle

    Where in my profiles can I check my availability of system wide upgrades?

  • robsuts

    Does anyone know if the snafu of “upgrade eligible” vs “medallion upgrade requested” is still an issue? I called Delta today and discussed it for a while (30 minutes). They said they never heard of such an issue. Do you think they figured it out or do you think it’s a system bug and it will require Delta to merge with another airline before it will be resolved?

  • David

    If I’m flying with a non-medallion can I use my SWU’s for both of us if we’re on the same reservation?

  • David

    never mind.. found the answer right away on delta’s site.

    “May be redeemed for the named Medallion member and up to one travel companion in the same reservation. The named member and the companion will each require a separate certificate.”

  • Pingback: SPG Platinum Members Now Eligible to Receive Upgrades When Flying Delta | The Points Guy()

  • Kevin Beatty

    You can’t do that any longer, Mitch. AF figured out that loophole (or maybe Delta did). Now you have to go up to the “S” fare now to book L’Affaires with AF. SO MUCH MORE expensive. And while KLM used to require B fares, they now require “Y” fares. Yuck. I did use your trick though, about 2 years ago, and flew from ATL to BKK through CDG for only $2,014 R/T.

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