Which 2021 Delta Choice Benefit should you pick for a pandemic travel year?

Feb 1, 2021

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Today is the first day for Delta Platinum and Diamond elites to select Choice Benefits. As a refresher, these are awarded to Delta Platinum and Diamond elites after earning or requalifying for elite status.

Delta is also giving 2021 Choice Benefits to members who had elite status extended during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the only airline to give 2021 “bonus” benefit allotments (like confirmed upgrades) to elites during the pandemic.

In contrast, American and United didn’t award their top-tier elites 2021 Systemwide Upgrades or PlusPoints, respectively, despite extending the validity of their elite status. These elites were only able to earn more upgrade instruments if they qualified for status organically in 2020.

Choice Benefits range from SkyClub memberships to upgrade certificates. While we’d normally recommend choosing the upgrade certificates, 2021 is a different travel year due to the coronavirus pandemic. International travel may not open up, so you could be left with worthless upgrades if validity isn’t extended.

So, which benefits should you choose?

I’ll discuss the different options in this article and show you what the TPG staff and our readers chose for their 2021 benefits. Again, this can be different than previous years, so don’t be surprised if you see some nontraditional choices.

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Picking a 2021 Delta Choice benefit

Delta Jet Taking Off
2021 will be a different year for travel — pick your Choice Benefits accordingly. (Photo by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock)

When researching which Delta Choice Benefit to pick, we asked TPG readers in the TPG Lounge Facebook group and Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallions on staff. Here’s a rundown of what Choice Benefits they picked for the 2020 status year.

One quick thing before we start: you have until Jan. 31, 2022, to pick your 2021 Choice Benefits. You may want to wait and see how your travel plans evolve before selecting. Otherwise, you could be stuck with benefits you can’t use.

Many Delta elites still picked Upgrade Certificates

Delta One Suites cabin
You can use Upgrade Certificates to upgrade Delta flights. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

It turns out, many TPG staffers and readers still picked Upgrade Certificates this year. These certificates are valid through Jan. 31, 2022.

Delta Platinum elites can select four Regional Certificates as a Choice Benefit while Diamond elites can pick from the following:

  • Four Global Upgrade Certificates
  • Eight Regional Upgrade Certificates
  • Two Global Upgrade Certificates and four Regional Upgrade Certificates

TPG Reviews Editor Nick Ellis is a Diamond Medallion. He chose Upgrade Certificates as a Choice Benefit on the “off chance that we can travel at the end of the year.” He will use them on international flights to upgrade to Delta One if all goes according to plan.

Likewise, TPG reader Paul told us he’s picking the Two Global Upgrades and Four Regional Upgrades package as one of his Choice Benefits. The reasoning is similar to Nick’s — he’s holding out hope that travel will restart.

Other readers mentioned picking Regional Upgrades as Platinum members. These readers overwhelmingly hope to use the certificates on transcontinental routes from New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), which have full-fledged Delta One cabins.

It’s worth noting that you can only select upgrade certificates once, even if you have other Choice Benefits available to you. Think through your future travel and see if Regional Upgrades, Global Upgrades or a mix of the two mesh well with your travel plans.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

Some readers opted for bonus SkyMiles instead

We also saw a handful of readers opt for bonus SkyMiles as a Choice Benefit.

Platinum members are eligible for 20,000 SkyMiles, while Diamond members receive 25,000. TPG values Delta SkyMiles at 1.2 cents per point, so these are worth $240 and $300, respectively.

Readers that chose this benefit were more pessimistic about the return of travel than readers who picked upgrades. One reader said he wasn’t traveling much this year, so the miles would be more useful than upgrades.

On the other hand, another reader said he picked miles because he can use the Pay With SkyMiles feature included with cobranded Delta credit cards. This feature lets you use points toward paid flights at a set 1.0 cent per mile value. SkyMiles never expire, so this can be a good bet if you’re not sure you’ll be back in the air.

Another reader — Sara — noted that she took miles because due to low travel demand this year. She’s hoping that she can clear upgrades as a Platinum member easily enough, so she opted for SkyMiles instead of Regional Upgrades that would let her confirm an upgrade.

Related: 8 Delta SkyMiles sweet spots worth saving up for

Others chose a $200 Delta travel voucher for future travel

One reader mentioned she opted for the $200 Delta travel voucher since she’s unsure when travel will restart. This can be a good bet if you want to stay away from SkyMiles and don’t have a Delta cobranded credit card for the Pay with Miles feature.

That said, note that these certificates are valid 12 months from the date of issue. Unless you have immediate use, select this benefit as close to Jan. 31, 2022, as possible, so you have the most time to redeem your voucher.

However, I recommend staying away from the travel voucher if you have a Delta cobranded card.

You’re better off with the miles as they don’t expire, and you can use the Pay with SkyMiles feature for a similar credit. Plus, Delta Diamond members get 25,000 SkyMiles, equal to $250 when using Pay with SkyMiles.

Related: Airline vouchers are beginning to expire — now what?

A Delta Sky Club Executive membership could be worth considering

Delta SkyClub in New York City
You can use your Choice Benefits for lounge access. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

We also saw a couple of readers select a Delta Sky Club Executive membership. This is only available to Delta Diamond elites as it requires two Choice Benefits to select. It’s different than a standard Sky Club membership as it lets you bring up to two guests with you to the Sky Club whenever you visit.

This is great for those who travel with friends, family members or coworkers with Delta. Likewise, it’s better than the Sky Club access included with The Platinum Card® from American Express or Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card since these cards don’t allow guests.

Unfortunately, however, many Sky Clubs remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. You’ll find open lounges at Delta hubs and popular outposts like Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Miami (MIA) and Washington-Regan (DCA). We only recommend selecting this Choice Benefit if you’re actively traveling and your home airport’s lounge is open.

Alternatively, Diamond members with a Delta Reserve card can add guest access to their existing Sky Club membership for one Choice Benefit. This can be another excellent choice if you’re traveling with friends or family this year. Once selected, you can bring two guests with you into the Sky Club.

Note that Delta Diamond members can also select a Delta Sky Club Individual membership for one Choice Benefit. This can be a good option if you’re flying, but only if you don’t already have access through a credit card.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting Delta Sky Club access

Gift status to a family member who’s still traveling

You also have the option of gifting Delta elite status to another traveler. Platinum members can gift Silver status, while Diamond members can gift Gold status.

While we don’t think it’s worth gifting Silver status, Gold could be worthwhile if you’re a Diamond member with a friend or family member who is still traveling during the pandemic. Gold status includes complimentary upgrades, preferred seat selection in economy and SkyTeam Elite Plus status on partner carriers.

For reference, TPG values Delta Gold Medallion status benefits at $2,140 when earned organically. The value the recipient will get from the status varies based on their travel patterns, but it’s a very nice gift regardless.

Related: 5 things you need to know about Delta SkyMiles

Bottom line

In the end, it’s up to you to take a look at your travel plans and how you see travel changing this year before you select your 2021 Choice Benefits.

Upgrades are a good bet for those optimistic about a 2021 travel recovery. That said, it could be worth opting for Regional Certificates if you think most of your travel will be domestic. Remember, these are valid on Delta One transcontinental flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Otherwise, you may want to select SkyMiles or opt to gift status to a friend or family member. This is a good hedge against a slow travel year — especially since SkyMiles don’t expire. Just keep in mind that these may provide lower value than the upgrades if travel does resume full swing.

Feature photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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