How I used a Global Upgrade Certificate to fly Delta One for the price of Premium Select
Elite status isn't what it once was, and Delta Air Lines elite status is no exception.
Last year, Delta significantly devalued Global Upgrade Certificates, dubbed GUCs by the Delta community. In the past, you could use these upgrades to jump from Main Cabin to Delta One on any international route, provided there was upgrade space available. If there wasn't, you'd be waitlisted for Delta One, and your upgrade would possibly clear at the airport.
But that's no longer the case.
While actually clearing an upgrade works the same — you can confirm if upgrade space is available or waitlist if it's not — there are some new restrictions in place.
Specifically, you will now only be upgraded by one class of service. So if you're booked in Main Cabin or Comfort+, you can use a GUC to be upgraded to Premium Select on a three-cabin Delta flight (and will be placed on a Delta One waitlist 24 hours prior to departure). On the bright side, you have last-seat availability on upgrades to Premium Select, which means that any unsold seats are available for your GUC to be applied.
That said, you can't use a GUC to upgrade from Main Cabin to Premium Select, and then Premium Select to Delta One. Also, Delta One upgrade space must be available for you to confirm an upgrade from Premium Select to Delta One at the time of booking.
As a first-year Diamond Medallion, these changes were particularly disappointing to me. But on a recent work trip to Europe, I decided to take a look at how upgrades now work using Global Upgrade Certificates on Delta -- including what the cost would be and how long it would take me to actually confirm my upgrade -- and try my hand at using one of my GUCs to snag a seat in Delta One. Here's what my experience was like.
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Booking a flight and using a Global Upgrade Certificate
Looking beyond the new restrictions on Delta GUCs, actually finding and confirming an upgrade is easier in 2022 than in years past.
I had to fly from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) for work and wanted to book a flight that let me confirm a Delta One upgrade with a GUC. This meant finding a Premium Select ticket to Paris with open Delta One upgrade space. So, I fired up Delta's website and started searching for a ticket that fit the bill.
Delta has made finding upgrade space much easier. As of 2021, Delta's website shows you if upgrade space is available in your flight search results when you're signed in to your Diamond Medallion SkyMiles account. You can see if your desired flight has open Delta One upgrade space underneath the flight times.
Although it was about twice as expensive as the cheapest basic economy ticket, the price for Premium Select was still reasonable. Especially if it meant I could apply one of my Global Upgrade Certificates to hop to Delta One, which was definitely out of my price range.
I booked a round-trip itinerary with the outbound flight in Delta Premium Select and the return flight in Air France premium economy for $1,357. Even if I hadn't upgraded my outbound ticket to Delta One, it would have been a comfortable journey for the price, but with four GUCs in my account, I knew this was my chance to fly upfront.
At the same time, I couldn't help but think about the extra money I spent to use my Global Upgrade Certificate compared to what I would have needed in previous years. If I had booked a round-trip economy ticket, it would have cost $832 in Main Cabin. Of course, I would have flown home in economy, but I would have dealt with the less comfortable experience on one leg of my journey to save over $500.
But we have to play the cards we're dealt, and using a GUC still saved me thousands of dollars versus of booking a Delta One ticket outright or upgrading after booking using cash or miles. For reference, Delta was asking for $880 or 88,000 SkyMiles to upgrade from Premium Select to Delta One on this flight. That still might have been a bargain compared to the cash fares, but was still rather expensive.
Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta
Processing an upgrade over iMessage
While you can now see upgrade space when searching for flights, you still can't apply GUCs online. However, Delta has made it easier to use them than before.
In the past, you would have to call the Delta Diamond elite phone line and ask the representative to apply the upgrade certificate for you. This was fine when hold times were short, but due to operational meltdowns, inclement weather and other system snarls, airline hold times -- including those at Delta -- have stretched into the hours.
Luckily, now there's an easier way. Delta recently started to offer support via Apple iMessage. You can use this to text back and forth with a Delta support agent to make changes to your flight, get support for your SkyMiles account and even use upgrade certificates. You can start a conversation from your iPhone, iPad or Mac. If you don't have an iOS or macOS device, you can message Delta support on the airline's website.
When you first connect to Delta's iMessage support, you have to go through a bot to filter your request to the right representative. It would be nice if there was a way for elite members to immediately connect with a human, but it's easy enough to get through this process as the bot noticed I asked to apply a GUC to my reservation.
Once connected to a representative, I asked to apply a GUC to my recently booked ticket to Paris. The representative asked me for basic information like my name, date of travel and confirmation number.
After this, the representative asked what I meant by "GUC," so I explained that I was looking to upgrade my seat with a Global Upgrade Certificate.
The representative then transferred my conversation to a ticketing support representative. The chat went dark for half an hour or so until a friendly representative, Ashley, took my request. While waiting for a representative, the iMessage service acted like any other text conversation. I just waited for a response as usual.
I was asked to confirm my Delta account from an external web page. This page asked for basic information like my date of birth, name and SkyMiles number. Then, the representative applied the upgrade to my ticket.
Once Ashley processed my upgrade, it was immediately reflected in the Delta app.
This process took over 30 minutes, but I found it far more bearable than waiting on hold for hours or awaiting a callback. I was able to work on my laptop while texting a representative, meaning I wasn't glued to my phone listening to hold music.
Related: How not to ‘waste’ your Delta Regional and Global Upgrade Certificates
My experience in Delta One
This isn't the first time I've flown in Delta One. Nevertheless, I always find jaunts on Delta's A330-900neo a treat with its fully enclosed suites and what I consider to be the best service of the "Big Three" U.S. airlines. This flight was no exception.
After spending a couple of hours working in the American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK, I made my way to the gate and was one of the first to board the plane. My seat — 2J — was near the front of the cabin.
The fully enclosed suite was set up nicely for boarding, with an amenity kit, water bottle and headphones waiting for me. The seat was just as comfortable as I remember it being in June 2021, when I last flew this plane on the same route.
The predeparture beverage has made a comeback, and I opted for orange juice.
Flight attendants passed out a menu after boarding, but I had ordered my entree online a few nights before departure.
Dinner was served in courses, with the first course being a drink with a bowl of nuts and dried fruit.
After this, we had appetizers, including tomato soup, a grain salad and bread. The soup was particularly tasty.
I chose the sous vide chicken as my main course, which was great. I found it flavorful and not dried out, as I have noticed with other airplane chicken dishes.
I had an espresso cake for dessert that was excellent.
After meal service, I worked on my laptop for an hour and quickly fell asleep. I woke up an hour before landing in Paris and had coffee and a quick breakfast. We landed on time, and I was off to clear customs and await my connection to Prague in the new Air France lounge.
One last thing: when you upgrade a Delta flight with an upgrade certificate, you earn SkyMiles and elite qualifying metrics based on the original fare you purchased. In my case, I still earned based on the original Premium Select fare I purchased even though I flew in Delta One.
Related: The ultimate guide to Delta One Suites
It was unfortunate to see Delta devalue GUCs last year. These upgrades will only confirm an upgrade one class higher than booked, meaning that Main Cabin tickets will be upgraded into Premium Select and then added to a Delta One waitlist the day before departure. However, if you book Premium Select, you can confirm a Delta One upgrade at the time of booking if upgrade space is available.
For that reason, there's still value in these certificates. I was able to book a reasonably priced Premium Select ticket from New York to Paris and upgrade to Delta One on my outbound flight. While not saving as much as I would have had I been able to upgrade right from Main Cabin to Delta One, the one-class upgrade still saved me hundreds of dollars.
And with changes made during the pandemic, applying these upgrades is easier than in the past. You can view upgrade space on Delta.com and confirm an upgrade over iMessage, saving time on the phone.
Of course, the Delta One experience was exactly what I expected: consistently great. It's no Qsuite, but on Delta's A330-900neo, the Delta One Suites hard product is still one of my favorite ways to fly, and the service is predictably friendly.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy.