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

Mar 10, 2021

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Among the various benefits of holding elite status with an airline is the ability to receive 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 the time of booking.

Today we’re going to 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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In This Post

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, may be used for any Delta-operated flight, as well as on some partner airlines (more on that later). If you’re flying on a Premium Select-equipped aircraft, you can choose whether you’d like to use your certificate for an upgrade to Premium Select or Delta One.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

Delta Upgrade certificates
(Photo courtesy of Delta)

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 fully used even if your upgrade clears for just one portion of your itinerary. In other words, if you’re flying from Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo (HND) via Detroit (DTW), and your upgrade only clears for the one-hour hop from Chicago to Detroit, your certificate will still be considered used.

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 of them allow 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 they are 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 one year from the date it’s issued. This means that the certificate must be used on a flight that is completed by that one-year mark, not just booked. That said, in light of the pandemic, all certificates set to expire on March 1, 2020 or later have been extended until at least Dec. 31, 2021.

Related: Delta extends upgrade certificate expiration, adds online availability tool

Delta One Boeing 767
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 typic 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

For the last few years, the only way to search for upgrade space was by calling Delta and hopefully landing with a skilled agent to search the flights you’d like. However, you can now search for 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.

Delta Upgrade Certificates
(Photo courtesy of Delta)

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

Delta Upgrade availability
(Photo courtesy of Delta)

How to apply Delta Upgrade Certificates

What unfortunately isn’t as easy is actually redeeming your certificates.

As of now, you can’t yet apply Upgrade Certificates online yourself. Rather, you’ll need to call Delta and request that an agent apply it to your reservation. You must do this over the phone as 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, be sure to ask the agent to place upgrade priority on the leg that matters most to you.

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

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, Virgin Australia, 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 of the airlines, you can only request an upgrade if it’s confirmable — you cannot waitlist on partners.

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, S, 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) or business class (Z class): Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V. All Air France premium economy fares booked on either Air France or Delta can be upgraded into business class.

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

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 straight from economy to Upper Class (business class) on Virgin Atlantic. Delta-marketed, Virgin Atlantic-operated flights booked in W, Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V class upgrade to Upper Class (G class).

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

Virgin Australia

Delta-marketed, Virgin Australia-operated flights fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U class can be upgraded to Virgin Australia’s Business Class.

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

Bottom line

Delta Upgrade Certificates are 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. In addition to Delta flights, you can use them to upgrade select partner-operated flights.

Additional reporting by Richard Kerr.

Featured image courtesy of Delta Air Lines. 

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