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How not to 'waste' your Delta Regional and Global Upgrade Certificates

Aug. 20, 2021
7 min read
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Among the perks of reaching Delta’s two highest Medallion elite ranks – Platinum and Diamond — are upgrades. Specifically, Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates can be selected as Delta Choice Benefits when earning or requalifying for elite status.

For Platinum Medallion members, their Choice Benefit selections to nab are four Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUC). Diamonds, meanwhile, can snag either four Global Upgrade Certificates (GUC), two Global certificates and four Regional certificates or eight Regional certificates with one of their three Choice Benefits.

In this article, I'll give you a brief overview of what these certificates are, how to use them and how not to waste them on your future travels. These upgrades can be extremely valuable, so it's in your best interest to completely understand them before you start to redeem them.

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How to use Delta Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates

Delta upgrade certificates are easy to use once you get the process down. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy).

Before we dive into how you should use your upgrades, let's take a quick look at the difference between Global Upgrade Certificates and Regional Upgrade Certificates.

Global Upgrade Certificates are the most flexible and valuable of the two types of certificates. You can use them on all Delta flights and also on select partner-operated flights. They can be applied to all paid, published Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ fares, on Pay with Miles tickets, and on Companion Certificates. You cannot apply these upgrade certificates to basic economy tickets.

However, you can use Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade flights operated by Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Korean Air and Aeromexico. That said, only certain fare classes are eligible and there may be restrictions on which routes are eligible. Check Delta's full terms and conditions for more info on those partners.

Regional Upgrades are, as you would probably guess, more restricted.

You can use these certificates to upgrade any Delta domestic flight and on flights to/from the U.S. and Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America. As you'd expect, they're valid on all paid published Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ fares, on Pay with Miles tickets, and on Companion Certificates. Like regional certificates, you cannot apply them to basic economy tickets.

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One of the best parts of Regional Upgrade Certificates is that you can use them to upgrade to Delta One on transcontinental flights. This is similar to international Delta One wherein you'll sit in a lie-flat seat and have an upgraded onboard meal.

Of course, not all Delta flights will have upgrade space available at the time of booking. You can view which flights have upgrade space available when searching for flights on the Delta website. If you have upgrade certificates in your account, you'll see upgrade availability underneath the flight info.

Related: These are the best Delta credit cards

(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

You can apply an upgrade certificate to a flight without upgrade space and be added to the upgrade waitlist. If your upgrade doesn't clear by the time your flight departs, the certificate will be returned to your account.

Unfortunately, Delta’s Regional and Global Certificates still can't be applied online. Instead, you have to call Delta Reservations and request that a certificate be applied after you book your ticket.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

How to not waste your Delta upgrades

Upgrade certificates are valuable — here's how to get the most from them. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Now that you know how these upgrades work, let's take a look at how to get the most value from them. Here are a few pointers you can use to ensure you're not 'wasting' your upgrade certificates.

Try and save certificates for long-haul flights

It's almost never worth burning your upgrade certificates on short-haul flights. If you're a Diamond Medallion member, you'll already have high upgrade priority on a flight from Newark (EWR) to Detroit (DTW) and may clear a complimentary upgrade anyway.

Plus, your Regional Upgrade certificates are worth significantly more on a transcontinental flight than on a short hop given you're spending more time in the sky. Likewise, your Global Upgrade certificate is worth more when flying long-haul from the U.S. than on a domestic U.S. hop.

Pick your upgrades wisely

This leads me to my next point: make sure to choose your upgrades wisely.

If you mostly travel domestically, it's in your best interest to pick either eight Regional upgrades or two Global and four Regional Upgrades as one of your Diamond Choice Benefits. Alternatively, those who fly international often may opt for four Global Upgrade Certificates.

This ensures that you're getting the most value from your Choice Benefits and have upgrades you can actually use. There's no point in having Global Upgrades in your account if you can't actually use them and would rather upgrade domestic flights instead.

The importance of upgrade priority

If you have a reservation involving multiple legs, make sure to tell the phone agent to place upgrade priority on the leg that matters most to you. If you don’t clarify this, upgrades can clear on relatively unimportant and short legs, while you remain waitlisted on the long leg.

For example, say you're flying from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Salt Lake City (SLC) to Honolulu (HNL). If you don't clarify that you'd like priority on the SLC to HNL leg, your upgrade may clear on the ORD to SLC leg. In turn, you'd spend three hours in domestic first class instead of a long-flight in lie-flat business class.

If you don’t place priority on the hard-to-get leg, and the upgrade clears on any other leg, your upgrade certificate is considered used. Worse, there’s no way to “undo” an upgrade clearing. Once it’s burned, it’s burned.

Flexibility pays

It’s also worth mentioning just how important it is to be flexible with your plans. Obviously, it's best to try and confirm an upgrade at the time you book your flight. If you're looking to book a long-haul flight and want to make sure you're sitting in the front, try searching across multiple days to find a flight that has upgrade space open at the time of booking.

On popular routes like New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX), you may only need to be flexible with the time of your flight. Oftentimes the off-peak flight frequencies (think red-eyes) will have open upgrade space even if the daytime flight doesn't.

Again, if your upgrade doesn't clear at the time of booking, you will be added to the upgrade list where upgrades will clear at the airport if available. The upgrade will be returned to your Delta account if it doesn't clear and you can use it on a future flight.

Related: How to earn more MQD with Delta partner flights

Bottom line

There are multiple ways to avoid wasting the value of your upgrade certificates. In summary, make sure to choose your upgrades wisely and try to be flexible when applying upgrades to your flights. This will help you get the most value from your upgrades and help you spend more time at the front of the plane.

Additional reporting by Darren Murph

Feature photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/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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  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
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  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more