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Amongst the perks of reaching Delta’s two highest Medallion elite ranks – Platinum and Diamond, which we’ve broken down by value here – are upgrades. Specifically, Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates. Platinum Medallion members can use one of their two Choice Benefits selections to nab four of the Regional variety. Diamonds, meanwhile, have a choice within the Choice – Benefit Inception, if you will – enabling them to snag four Global certificates or two Global certificates + four Regional certificates.

The Basics of Applying Delta Upgrade Certificates

The most coveted Global Upgrade in the Delta system: Atlanta to Johannesburg (Photo courtesy of Darren Murph / TPG)
The most coveted Global Upgrade in the Delta system: Atlanta to Johannesburg (Photo courtesy of Darren Murph / TPG)

In addition to a FAQ on making the most of upgrade certificates, here’s what Delta says about redeeming them:

Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates have a higher priority than Medallion Complimentary Upgrade requests and must be booked and flown one year from date of issuance.

Global Upgrades: On Delta and select partner-operated flights, you can use one-way Global Upgrade Certificates on all paid, published Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+® fares, on Pay with Miles tickets, and on Companion Certificates. Upgrade Certificates are not valid on Award Travel or tickets booked in Basic Economy (E Class).

Regional Upgrades: On Delta flights, you can use one-way Regional Upgrade Certificates on all paid published Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ fares, on Pay with Miles tickets, and on Companion Certificates. Upgrade Certificates are not valid on Award Travel or tickets booked in Basic Economy (E Class). You can use these certificates on the same routes as Medallion Complimentary Upgrades, including all flights with First Class and the domestic Delta One experience.

One element that isn’t spoken about very often, however, is the nuance in applying them. We here at TPG are always looking out for you, and want to make sure you understand this one wrinkle in particular to can save loads of heartache.

Delta’s Regional and Global Certificates still cannot be self-applied online. Instead, you either have to book a flight online or via the phone, and then you have to ring an agent to request that a certificate be applied. If you have a reservation involving multiple legs, however, there’s a very important clarification you’ll need to make if the entire flight doesn’t clear and upgrade you right away.

The Importance of Upgrade Priority

Delta
The sun sets over ATL airport (Photo courtesy of Darren Murph / TPG)

Be sure to ask the Delta 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/short legs, while you remain waitlisted on the long leg. I’ve had a regional upgrade certificate clear right away on a Salt Lake City (SLC) to Raleigh-Durham (RDU) leg, but not on the leg I really cared about: the Honolulu (HNL) to Salt Lake City (SLC) redeye on an A330 with lie-flat seating. (For those who enjoy sad stories, that leg never did clear – not even at the gate – which meant that I used a coveted regional upgrade certificate for a four-hour ride onboard an Airbus A319.)

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.

The lesson here? Make sure you consider which leg of your journey matters most, and ensure that the Delta agent codes the certificate correctly in terms of priority. For example, you definitely don’t want to burn a Global Upgrade Certificate on a 45-minute domestic positioning leg, when the leg that matters is the ride from the US to Europe, Asia, Oceania, etc.

Flexibility Pays

It’s also worth mentioning just how important it is to be flexible with your plans. The Holy Grail of using a Delta Regional or Global Upgrade Certificate is to confirm the upgrade while you’re booking. In early 2015, I spent a half-hour on the phone with a Delta Diamond agent flipping through dates for late 2015 to take me from Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Johannesburg (JNB), with the all-important leg being the longest nonstop flight that Delta flies: Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB), and back.

safari
Elephants on Vuyani Safari, made possible in comfort with an ATL-JNB upgrade. (Photo courtesy of Darren Murph / TPG)

I tried more than 40 different combinations of outbounds and returns before I found a pair with instant upgrade availability both ways, for both myself and my wife. As a Diamond Medallion, I used one of my Choice Benefits to grab four Global Upgrade Certificates and applied them all in one fell swoop. The feeling of paying $1,388 per person for a round-trip economy ticket from RDU-ATL-JNB, and then confirming seats in business class for free before hanging up the phone, remains one of the best I’ve ever felt in over a decade of booking seats on Delta.

Bottom Line

For the times when flexibility just isn’t an option, it’s worth being specific when applying your hard-earned certificates so they aren’t wasted on insignificant legs. Friends don’t let friends burn upgrades from ATL to JAX.

If you’ve taken a look at your elite status progress and are in need of an MQM boost, consider adding the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express or Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, each of which provides an additional 10,000 MQMs after reaching a certain level of spend.

For avid Delta flyers, be sure to pore over our guide to choosing the best credit card for Delta loyalists.

Know before you go.

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