Delta Dramatically Improves its Elite Program With Confirmed International Upgrades

Delta is making changes to their 2014 elite upgrade program, and overall the changes are positive.

Confirmable Domestic and International Upgrades as a “Choice”

Delta offers its Platinum and Diamond elite members ‘choice’ benefits — one upon reaching Platinum, and folks who reach Diamond get two more.

New upgrade certificates are being added to the ‘choice’ offerings beginning March 1. That means that these certificates come at a cost or tradeoff. Platinums and Diamonds will have to choose these instead of choosing something else like miles, club passes, or gifting status. But overall these upgrade certificates are actually good and what most will choose.

Regional Upgrades: a Platinum Choice

Upon qualifying for Platinum, a new choice is 4 ‘regional upgrades’ which are confirmable upgrade certificates valid on any route where complimentary upgrades are offered.

These are confirmable in advance, and valid on any fare except ‘E’ (the deep discounted coach fares that don’t even come with advance seat assignments).

They’ll have higher priority than complimentary upgrades, which will make those upgrades marginally harder to get.

These are can be redeemed for the elite member only and up to one travel companion on the same reservation. They cannot be gifted otherwise.

Regional upgrades are valid for travel 12 months from date of issue.

Global Upgrades: a Diamond Choice

Diamond Medallions – those who have flown 125,000 or more miles — will get to choose between 4 ‘global’ upgrades or 8 ‘regional’ upgrades.

This is in addition to whatever was chosen when they became Platinums — so choosing regional upgrades as a Platinum and again as a Diamond would mean getting 12 confirmed upgrade certificates valid on routes where complimentary upgrades are offered.

Global upgrades are valid for Delta’s international product — that is, routes where upgrades aren’t otherwise complimentary, such as Europe or Asia but also other premium markets as well.

These are confirmable in advance, and valid on any fare except ‘E’ (the deep discounted coach fares that don’t even come with advance seat assignments).

In addition to travel on Delta they can be used to upgrade to business class on KLM from Y, B, or M fares (nearly full fare), and from those fares from coach to Premium Economy on Air France or from Air France Premium Economy S and W fares to business class.

They can be redeemed for the elite member only and up to one travel companion on the same reservation. They cannot be gifted otherwise.

Global upgrades are valid for travel 12 months from date of issue.

The Introduction of Confirmed Regional and International Upgrades from Most Fares is Huge

One of the big knocks on Delta’s elite frequent flyer program has been that it simply didn’t work for international flyers — the domestic complimentary upgrades were good, but there was no reasonable route to international upgrades without first buying a nearly full fare coach ticket.

The additional problem with that approach — what was truly offensive for many elites — was that having paid substantially for more their airfare, they were really just buying a lottery ticket in the hopes of an upgrade. If the upgrade didn’t clear, they’d have spent a whole lot more money for the same coach seat and received nothing in return.

Delta has changed this. Availability questions aside, this will put Delta ahead of United (which requires a buy up to a more expensive fare to upgrade internationally) and at least in the same universe as American (which gives their 100,000 mile flyers 8 confirmed international upgrades per year from any fare to Delta’s possibility of 4 plus 4 regionals).

Delta’s move also makes it less likely that American will devalue its top tier international upgrade certificates with the US Airways merger, something that many top tier elites have been concerned about. American will need to more or less maintain its international upgrade offering to stay competitive with Delta — words I never thought I would write.

These Certificates Become Available With the New Revenue-Based Qualification Rules in Effect

Since they’re elite choices starting March 1, they’ll predominantly be available to folks qualifying for status under next year’s rules.

US-based frequent flyers can either spend a minimum of $25,000 on a co-branded Delta credit card, or spent a minimum amount on Delta tickets in addition to flying their required miles:

  • Silver Medallion – you will need 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $2,500 MQDs
  • Gold Medallion – you will need 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $5,000 MQDs
  • Platinum Medallion – you will need 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $7,500 MQDs
  • Diamond Medallion – you will need 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $12,500 MQDs

It is certainly no coincidence that bringing a revenue component into the elite program coincides with loosening up elite access to the forward cabin.

Complimentary Upgrades Get Limited, However

Delta will not offer complimentary upgrades on its New York JFK – Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle flights and will not offer complimentary upgrades Atlanta – Hawaii.

Central America and Northern South America flights with their international premium product are ineligible for complimentary upgrade as well.

They view those routes as premium products and want to ‘protect’ them from upgrades and push selling the seats.

I’m surprised to see Seattle included in the list regardless of the inflight product offered, as it makes Delta’s elite status less compelling for a Seattle-based flyer at a time they’re battling Alaska mightily for market share.

The routes where complimentary upgrades aren’t offered, regional upgrades aren’t valid either. That means someone wanting to upgrade — without buying a much higher priced ticket — will only have the option of using a Global (international) upgrade offered to Diamond elites.

Overall These Changes are Great!

New York-based customers who fly to the West Coast may not on net come out ahead, but the change here is pretty fundamental — top tier elites on Delta can get access to confirmed upgrades, even internationally, and without extortionate fare requirements.

That’s a real breakthrough, and cuts against what had been an industry trend. This is good for Delta Platinum and Diamond members overall, and it’s good for top elites with United and American whose programs might otherwise have been tempted to curtail their confirmed upgrade benefits.

It’s been a long time in coming, and I still have issues with the value of their miles for award redemption purposes, but a true kudos to the Skymiles folks for making this happen!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I agree with your assessment. I am not likely to ever be impacted with any of these changes, but I definitely agree that this is a major win for Diamonds especially.

  2. looks good. But for me, it comes about two years too late for the INTL portion. BUT, way to go DL, good move

  3. Wow, this is a big change. One of the things that kept me away from Delta was that HNL was excluded from comp upgrades, but now the flights to the West Coast are upgradable.

  4. American will need to more or less maintain its international upgrade offering to stay competitive with Delta — words I never thought I would write. Words I never thought I would read!

  5. And let the world notice that Gary wrote SkyMILES in the last paragraph, with nary a Mexican currency to be found!

  6. The sky peso is still a big problem for me. The other problem with Delta, if you use the pay with miles option you are no longer eligible to earn miles or get an upgrade. I can use pay with miles at the same rate with my Amex card on any airlines and not lose out on the earnings.

  7. Quick question – so if I made Diamond this year (2013), by flying the 125K (in 2013), and have spent over $12.5K, but have not yet chosen my elite benefits – can I choose them on March 1? Or will this be available only to those who fly 125K in 2014.

    Thanks Gary – love the blog.

  8. This scares me….when’s the bad news coming?

    i am VERY sad to se the loss of complimentary transcon upgrades, since these are my very favorite DL upgrades are pretty easy to get as a DM. Oh well…

  9. IIRC, DL is rolling the same BusinessElite product for JFK-SEA as LAX and SFO (UA’s PMCO lay-flat seats), so it makes sense for them to protect the product as opposed to CPU. This matches UA’s policy. We’ll see whether AA follows with the A321T.

    The 4 regional upgrade for Platinum members up the ante, comparing to 2 for UA and none for AA. For Diamond members, choices of 8/0, 4/8, or 0/16 Global/Regional Upgrades makes it interesting, especially without any fare restrictions. At the comparable level, UA 1K @125k would have 6/6 with fare restrictions for GPU, and 8/0 for AA EXP.

  10. DL is eliminating a major benefit for most DL elites. The unlimited complimentary domestic upgrade benefit no longer applies to the flights between JFK and LAX/SFO/SEA. That pretty much hits elites on the majority of DL’s transcontinental flights to the West Coast port cities.

    It’s pretty much close to the truth: DL Diamonds are the old DL Platinums; and DL Platinums are the old DL Golds.

  11. DL Platinums are losing the transoceanic international upgrades using systemwide upgrades? It seems so.

    It seems like DL tossed a few carrots to DL Diamonds after having taken away a lot from DL Platinums and lower level elites.

    I doubt that most DL elites will gain from this change.

    Also note, DL is reducing the elite status membership “year” by around 7.5% and going to something like a 1/1 to 1/31 elite status membership “year” like COdbaUA did to reduce the number of elites and cut back on benefits of elite status provided to its customers. That will hit for those who qualify/requalify for elite status during the 2014 calendar year for the 2015 elite status membership “year”.

  12. So the DL PM’s are losing the international/system wide upgrades and instead getting regional (US only?) upgrades instead? Bummer since I only fly International and not domestically and am still a PM.

  13. @JetsetterFL you lose the international upgrade certs valid of effectively full fare tickets though you can still burn miles for that.

  14. Does DL even allow for and deliver on same-day upgrade requests on transoceanic flights using the current M+ SWUs?

    My sympathy to any DL PM (or other DL elite) who plays the DL upgrade lottery whether using miles or SWUs. The changes DL announced today about international ugprades won’t help those DL elites in upgrading international flights.

  15. I am not a Delta Medallion perks expert, but it seems to me,as a Delta DM, that the complimentary domestic upgrades that I get now will be consumed by all of the regional upgrades used by the Delta Platinum and Diamond members. As a predominantly domestic flyer, will I see less upgrades next year, particularly in the first 6 months, from members using regional upgrades?

  16. Seattle-JFK being included in the excluded from comp upgrades list shouldn’t be a surprise. They sell it as a premium route and have for a while now. It is somewhat surprising that they market it that way, I suppose, but they put the premium config planes on the route so they are selling it and classifying it as such.

  17. This is a great upgrade for the SkyMiles program – especially the fact that you can use them on almost all fares (compared to United) and Delta has a solid route network to Asia (compared to AA).
    While the UA RPU/GPU have lost a lot of value due to having lower priority than $ upgrades, you can still earn unlimited upgrades compared to AA or DL: If you fly 250,000 miles, you will get 12 GPU and 16 RPU. In addition, you can upgrade friends and family as well.
    It looks like Delta and United both are focusing on the very high-value customers with the benefits…

  18. GUWonder is right
    This is a devaluation for the majority of elites.
    I missed the change from 2/28 to 1/31 – that cuts a month out.
    I guess it made sense in 1989 when it took a month for miles and EQMs to post, but now with DL IT, it should be almost at once, right?

    I would rather burn an RPU on UA to HI than a GPU (1 of 4) on DL.

    AA is worse than DL as the 75k flyer gets nothing much
    (on both DL and UA they at least get free award cancels)
    but is much better at the 100k level with 8 transferable VIPs/SWUs.

    I guess we will see EQDs on AA soon along with RPUs and GPUs soon enough once the cheering dies down. LT 2MM will be the new Gold soon. The sweet spot is the AF premium Y to Bz class use, but again this is non transferable.

    I do not think DMs get 8/0, 4/8, 0/16 GPU/RPUs. The math is off.
    They get 0/4 as PM and 4/8 as DM, so their real choices are
    4/4 or 0/12 GPU/RPUs

  19. @ffi “I would rather burn an RPU on UA to HI than a GPU (1 of 4) on DL.” The global upgrade to Hawaii is just for the Atlanta flight, the rest of the Hawaii flights are complimentary-upgrade (and regional upgrade) eligible… which they weren’t before this change.. which is an improvement.

  20. Really, at the end of it all, DL has reduced the SWUs one could use on AF and KLM from 10 to 4 for a DM.

    So if you fly DL for 125k miles, you can upgrade yourself and your other companion on 2 DL flights from the US to somewhere DL flies, (basically a SINGLE round trip for 2 people) including a transcon to the other coast, a Hi flight or even a Central or South America trip. That is IT.

  21. @ffi if you were buying full fare international tickets anyway, sure, this is a downgrade. This isn’t as good as American, but it’s much better than before, and this is DELTA we’re talking about so maybe I’m grading on a curve here..

  22. Too bad for us that have already selected 2014 Choice Benefits. Though I have no sense of upgrade availability so maybe I wouldn’t get much use out of the new certs either.

  23. @Rapid Travel Chai – well if you can’t confirm them (and I’ve found Delta confirmed upgrade inventory sparse when I’ve looked in the past) you can waitlist these and domestically they also have higher priority than complimentary upgrades.

  24. Before we get too excited, who knows what the availability will be? Skypeso is worthless mostly because of the lack of availability on the low level. Who is to say that they won’t be just as stingy about actually releasing seats for these upgrade certs?

  25. Gary, I disagree with you here and agree with a few of the previous posters. For many of the Delta elites below Diamond, this is another downgrade. As a PM, having access to the complimentary transcontinental upgrade was a big benefit, especially as I could SDC between the SFO and LAX flight depending on availability. Sure I might have 4 more upgrades go through, but they’re less valuable on shorter routes.

  26. They actually want to sell premium transcon rather than allowing upgrades. I wonder, I didn’t think corp policies allowed for it. Or are they clearing space to entice more corporate customers with bunches of complementary upgrades, who knows what happens there. Their regional upgrades seem pretty useless to me.

  27. Great post, and good development for Diamonds with DL.

    One thing I understood differently than is stated above, I thought you get 1 “choice” at 75K (potentially 4 regionals) and 2 more at 125K (so up to 4+4 global or 8+8 regional or 4+8 if you prefer) for a total of [8G+4R] or [4G+12R] or [0G+20R] if you make it to Diamond/125K status?

  28. Gary,

    With the removal of the transcon SWU, (JFK – LAX/SFO/SEA) is it safe to say that elites can still gain SWU for LGA-DTW-SFO? Or any other combination of flights that don’t fly out of JFK or LAX/SFO/SEA? I’m trying to maximize PM status and have no issue of buying a multi-segment flight for trips coast to coast. In other words, will PMs on non-direct flights still get SWUs like they normally would?


  29. This is a reduction of benefits for all but Diamonds. Delta also reduced earning extra MQMs by dropping M class tickets (previously). Delta is not attempting to help it’s customers – I bet Delta has a cost savings program around this “change” and they are happy with the results.

  30. 1: “Delta offers its Platinum and Diamond elite members ‘choice’ benefits — one upon reaching Platinum, and folks who reach Diamond get two more.”

    I’m only Platinum. My understanding was that you got the Platinum benefits OR the Diamond benefits. Am I wrong about that?

    2: As a DL PM, this looks like an improvement to me. CUs on JFK-SFO seemed impossible to get, so I didn’t feel like I lost anything when they got rid of them. I’ve talked with DMs, and they all thought the SWUs were worthless, because of the high priced ticket required. So I’m with Gary on this one.

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