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All the tips and tricks you need to use Delta Upgrade Certificates in 2022

May 04, 2022
9 min read
Delta One A330-900neo suite
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Among the various benefits of holding elite status with an airline is receiving complimentary upgrades, both automatically and with certificates you can apply to upcoming trips.

With Delta, Upgrade Certificates are reserved for upper-tier Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion elites. These certificates have a higher priority than Medallion Complimentary Upgrades and may be requested and potentially even cleared at booking.

Today, we will look at the different types of Upgrade Certificates, how to earn them and how to redeem them.

Let’s get started.

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Overview of Delta Upgrade Certificates

Delta offers two types of Upgrade Certificates: Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) and Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs).

RUCs are eligible for the same routes as Medallion Complimentary Upgrades — all Delta-operated domestic flights and select short-haul international flights. This includes all flights with First Class and domestic flights with the Delta One experience. GUCs, on the other hand, can be used for any Delta-operated flight and some partner airlines (more on that later).

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

(Screenshot from delta.com)

Each Upgrade Certificate is for one-way travel. The certificate covers any stops you might have while getting from Point A to Point B, but will be considered redeemed even if your upgrade clears for just one portion of your itinerary.

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In other words, if you’re flying from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Tokyo's Haneda Airport (HND) via Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), and your upgrade only clears for the one-hour hop from Chicago to Detroit, your certificate will still be considered used. Thankfully, you can avoid this by asking a Delta agent to prioritize one leg of your journey.

As of February 2022, each upgrade certificate is also only valid for moving up by one class of service. This means that those booked in Main Cabin or Comfort+ will be upgraded to Premium Select — Delta’s version of premium economy — on three-cabin international flights (and will be placed on a Delta One waitlist 24 hours prior to departure). So, you'll need to book Premium Select to upgrade directly to Delta One — you can't apply two Upgrade Certificates for a double upgrade. This rule applies to both Delta and partner flights.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

You can apply RUCs and GUCs to paid tickets, award tickets and Miles + Cash tickets on Delta-operated flights, Pay with Miles tickets, companion tickets and tickets booked as a part of a Delta Vacations package. This makes Delta more generous than American Airlines and United, as neither allows members to apply Upgrade Certificates to award tickets.

Delta’s only major restriction is that you cannot apply an upgrade to a Basic Economy (E fare) ticket regardless of your Medallion status level. All other published Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ fares are eligible.

Related: How to save money with an annual Delta companion ticket

While these certificates are not fully transferable to others, Delta will allow you to apply your RUC or GUC to a guest’s ticket so long as he or she is traveling on the same flight with you. Even if you’re booked on separate reservations (e.g., your company books your economy ticket, and you book your spouse’s economy ticket later), you can use your Upgrade Certificates for both passengers. Just remember that each person requires a separate upgrade certificate.

Each certificate expires at the end of the elite year. So, if you earn Global Upgrade Certificates in 2022, they are valid through Jan. 31, 2024. Certificates must be used on a flight completed by that date, not just booked. In light of the pandemic, all certificates set to expire between March 1, 2019, and Jan. 31, 2022, have been extended until Jan. 31, 2023.

Regional Upgrade Certificates can be used on premium transcontinental routes. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

How to earn Delta Upgrade Certificates

Given how powerful Delta Upgrade Certificates can be, they’re fairly exclusive. The only way to get them is by picking them as your “Choice Benefits.”

Choice Benefits are offered when hitting Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion status. Top-tier Diamond Medallion members may choose any of the following three options as one of their selected Choice Benefits:

  1. Four Global Upgrades.
  2. Eight Regional Upgrades.
  3. Two Global Upgrades and four Regional Upgrades.

Meanwhile, Platinum Medallion members may choose four Regional Upgrades as their single Choice Benefit.

Given that these certificates are typically valid for 12 months from the date they were issued, if you don’t have an immediate use for them, you should wait as long as possible after earning Platinum or Diamond status to claim your Choice Benefits. The last possible day is always Jan. 31 of the following year.

Related: The ultimate guide to Delta Choice Benefits

Searching for upgrade availability

You can search for upgrade availability directly on Delta’s website.

Log in and search for flights as you normally would. If you have Upgrade Certificates in your account, upgrade availability will be listed below the route and flight times.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

If your itinerary has multiple segments, you can click on the text to check flight-specific availability.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

As mentioned, certificates are now only valid for upgrading by one class of service and you can't apply two Upgrade Certificates for a double upgrade. On the flip side, those using GUCs to upgrade from Main Cabin to Premium Select have last-seat availability, which means you have access to any unsold seats.

Related: How I used a Global Upgrade Certificate to fly Delta One for the price of Premium Select

How to apply Delta Upgrade Certificates

As of now, you can’t yet apply Upgrade Certificates online yourself. Rather, you’ll need to call Delta or contact the airline via its iMessage chat support and request that an agent applies one to your reservation. Unfortunately, gate agents cannot apply Upgrade Certificates at the airport. If a confirmed upgrade isn’t available yet, you can request to be placed on a waitlist.

You may request to use your certificate up until three hours before departure, but the earlier, the better. On itineraries with connections, ask the agent to place upgrade priority on the leg that matters most to you so you don't let a Global Upgrade Certificate go to waste on a short domestic segment.

Delta does not always notify you that your upgrade has cleared, so keep a close eye on your itinerary.

If you’re on a waitlist and your upgrade doesn’t clear, your certificate will be redeposited into your online wallet for use until the original expiration date.

Related: How to earn Delta elite status with credit cards

First class on Delta’s A220. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Using Delta Upgrade Certificates for partner flights

Upgrade Certificates can be used on any Delta-operated flight and select partner-operated flights with KLM, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air and Aeromexico. However, the exact rules vary by partner.

Aside from Air France and KLM, you typically need to book your partner flight through Delta for it to be eligible. With all airlines, you can only request an upgrade if it’s confirmable — you cannot wait-list on partners. As with Delta flights, upgrades are only to the next level of service (i.e., economy to premium economy).

Related: The ultimate guide to Delta partners

Aeromexico

You can upgrade most Aeromexico-operated flights so long as Delta sells them. Delta’s published fares booked in W, Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V class upgrade to Aeromexico’s business class (O class).

Air France

For Air France-operated flights sold by Delta, the following coach fare classes are eligible for an upgrade to premium economy (A class): Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V. Also, the following premium economy fares can be upgraded to business class (Z class): W, S or A.

If you’re purchasing your flight directly from Air France, you can upgrade the following economy fare classes: Y, B, M, K, H, L, Q, T, N, R, or V. Or, the following premium economy fare classes: W, S, or A.

KLM

Upgrade Certificates are valid on Delta-marketed, KLM-operated flights on Main Cabin fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V class. If you’re purchasing your ticket directly from KLM, you can upgrade Main Cabin fares in Y, B, M, K, H, L, Q, T, N, R, or V class.

Global Upgrades on KLM flights must be confirmed 24 hours before departure.

Korean Air

Upgrades are valid for a select few Korean Air-operated flights sold by Delta. Fares booked in Y or B class upgrade to Korean Air’s Z business class, or booked in M class to Korean Air’s O business class.

Global Upgrades on Korean Air flights must be confirmed 24 hours before departure.

Virgin Atlantic

Upgrade Certificates bump you from economy to premium economy or premium economy to Upper Class (business class) on Virgin Atlantic. Delta-marketed, Virgin Atlantic-operated flights booked in W, S, Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V class upgrade to Premium Economy (P class) while fares booked in P, A or G class upgrade to Upper Class (G class).

Global Upgrades on Virgin Atlantic flights must be confirmed 24 hours before departure.

Bottom line

Despite a recent devaluation, Delta Upgrade Certificates are still highly valuable. Specifically, a Diamond Medallion applying a Global Upgrade Certificate is at the top of any waitlist for an upgrade. It can usually count on at least one seat not being sold on a long-haul flight. While you need to call to apply them to your reservations, you can easily search for upgrade availability online.

Additional reporting by Richard Kerr.

Featured image by (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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