Delta Guts International Upgrades, Top Elites Only Get Confirmed Into Premium Economy

Delta is gutting confirmed international upgrades awarded to top elite customers, as first reported by Andrew Kunesh.

Top tier SkyMiles Diamond members can select confirmed global upgrades as a ‘choice benefit’. These have moved a customer on a coach ticket to business class on any Delta flight where upgrade space is available.

However starting February 1, 2022 that’s changing.

  • Global upgrades will only confirm a coach ticket into premium economy. Only purchased premium economy tickets can be confirmed into business class. (Customers traveling on an aircraft without premium economy can still go from coach to business class.)

  • Those who upgrade from coach to premium economy this way can waitlist for a business class upgrade, and those clear starting 24 hours to departure. No more guarantee of double upgrades, so if you want business you have to at least buy premium economy.

  • The one-cabin upgrade rule applies when using these confirmed global upgrades on partner airlines, too.

  • When buying coach and upgrading to premium economy, there will be no capacity controls. These upgrade certificates confirm into revenue inventory (if there’s a seat for sale, the upgrade to premium economy should ‘clear’).

  • These global upgrades can also be used on to confirm first class on domestic and close-in international (Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Central and northern South America).

  • Upgrades will have standardized validity, lasting from the time claimed through the end of the status year (claim a certificate October 1, 2022 and it’s valid through January 31, 2024).

Business Class, Credit: Delta

Customers unhappy with these changes can exchange global upgrades for 8000 SkyMiles apiece on request, though this requires a phone call and the value of your time waiting on hold may be greater than the value of the miles you’ll get.

Since these global upgrades confirm into first without capacity controls on regional flights, regional upgrades become worth less too, and Delta is will to exchange those for 4000 SkyMiles.

At about a penny apiece in value, $80 for Global upgrades and $40 for Regional upgrades tells you about how Delta values these.

Premium economy, Credit: Delta

You can think of the new one-cabin upgrade limitation on Delta’s global upgrades given to top elites as a new higher-fare requirement to be eligible for a business class upgrade with confirmed elite benefits. And since business class upgrade space is rarely confirmable at booking, the extra money you now pay to buy premium economy in hopes of an upgrade to business – rather than just confirming it – is an unregulated lottery. (The Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts state lottery rules.)

Confirmed upgrades without capacity controls for international upgrades on domestic flights is something American Airlines used to have 20 years ago, and until January 1, 2002 Alaska Airlines lacked a capacity controlled inventory for its first class product as well (5000 miles would confirm an upgrade into revenue first class, a great deal as Alaska began flying transcon flights).

In contrast, American Airlines confirmed international upgrades are still valid on the lowest fare and confirm upgrades from economy to business class (skipping premium economy). At one point this looked like it would end, and perhaps Delta’s move makes that more likely, but it’s a real differentiator for top elites they’d be foolish to lose – especially since the airline is so tight on confirmed business class upgrade inventory to begin with.

And United allows confirmed upgrades from coach to business and using additional upgrade points this is even now possible on the lowest fares.

I first coined the term ‘Skypesos’ for Delta’s redemption currency, but they’ve made their elite levels better in recent years. This is a move backwards, and if other legacy carriers do not match it is an uncompetitive one at that. For an airline that devalued award pricing twice during the pandemic, though, it’s hardly surprising.

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. Hmmm – Maybe AA changed their policy but a few years ago when I flew DFW-HKG I was told the system wide upgrade only worked coach to Premium Economy, Premium Economy to Business or Business to First. I thought AA had treated Premium Economy as a separate class of service (as most airlines have done) for years. I bought a Premium Economy ticket and got upgraded to Business so didn’t test the “double upgrade” but that was my understanding. At a minimum, similar tier frequent flyers in Premium Economy would get upgraded to Business before anyone in coach so while a double upgrade may have been possible on some US airlines from a practical standpoint I bet it was rarely done.

  2. Well why bother to remain DM? One of the last primary perks is now gone. Just purchase the lowest cost business fare to an international destination. That almost never is Delta.

  3. This is just outrageous. Delta was never the best or more upscale airline but it had the best on-time rate, a reasonably good inflight experience, and excellent elite status benefits. This allowed Delta to charge a premium for its seats over competitors. None of those things are true anymore. I would argue that United is the only airline major US flag carrier actively trying to get better. Why would anyone waste their money paying a premium for Delta? Delta’s operations are no longer the best, the in-flight experience is really bad these days, and the elite status (to say nothing of the mile redemptions) is basically worthless. Heck, you can’t even get a business-class lounge with Delta.

    I would not be surprised if this move is partly a result of too many diamonds and too many unused certificates thanks to two years of status and certificate extensions. Combined with aircraft that on average have less business-class seats than premium heavy United, Delta doesn’t want their Delta One full with certificate redeemers.

  4. So you can still sit in business on a coach fare using these, just that it’s via a waitlist 24 hours before departure. Am I correct?

    How does this work for Delta One on domestic flights? Confirmed at booking with no capacity control? If so that’s a meaningful favorable change for people who don’t value intl travel, but hard to believe they’d allow that.

  5. Delta was the only airline that made me walk away and go with another airline’s loyalty program. As a former Northwest Airlines elite, DL showed me early on what they really thought of loyalty.

    It’s not surprising that they continue to lead the race to the bottom on loyalty.

  6. @ AC – nope, who told you that ? The person who told you that maybe confused about EXP do get upgraded into premium economy 24 hours to departure on long haul for free without any instruments, but with SWU you can always upgraded to J from Y but not PE, nothing had changed

  7. With the devaluation of the Delta Airlines upgrade experience, perhaps Delta should change the name of their premium service from “Delta One” to “Delta Zero.”

  8. The only reason I stay with DL are the GUC’s I get as a Diamond. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, because now that they disclose on their booking site whether upgrade seats are available using GUC’s, fewer and fewer flights show Delta One available using GUC’s, only allowing an upgrade to Premium Select (EVEN THOUGH DELTA ONE IS EMPTY). What is not clear is, can I know in advance if Delta One is immediately available at the time of booking using a GUC, if I decide to buy a Premium Select seat, or is it indeed buy the higher priced ticket and pray I win the lotto. @Gary, do you know the answer to that? I would never play the lotto because I’m retired and never have to be somewhere on a certain day.

  9. These were almost never confirmable anyway so mostly useless. I also find my domestic upgrades since summer only clear at the gate if at all. All in all, time to reevaluate elite status with Delta.

  10. I don’t understand moves like this.

    Airlines are facing a wave of “free agents”: frequent flyers no longer married to a specific program.

    It’s like the transfer portal in college football.

    And what are airlines doing to keep their frequent flyers? Devaluing the program.

    AA has their stupid Loyalty Points
    UA is … UA
    DL devalues every six months and just gutted upgrade certificates

    “Join our program, we suck slightly less than the others”

  11. JFC, glad I busted my hump trying to make platinum this year. I was considering the $250k spend next year to make DM, but F that now.

  12. @ Gary — Upgrades will have SHORTER validity. Under the previous rules, these were good one year from when you SELECTED them, which could be up until the last day of you Medallion year. Now they are only valid for travel until the last day of your Medallion year, regardless of when you select them. Therefore, these expire up to one year EARLIER than before.

    My feelings about changes the last few weeks can be neatly summed up as — Screw Delta. Screw AA. Screw Marriott. Screw IHG. Not much left these days besides Hyatt and Alaska, and I suppose they will stick it to everyone soon enough.

    Paid J on the cheapest airline + hotel stays booked through Priceline are sounding better and better every day. If you need a suite, just buy two Priceline rooms. If you need food, just bring your own.

  13. As someone who primarily earns status through paid international business class tickets, this is funny. It encourages me to be less loyal to Delta. The premium select fare requirement is fine, but playing games with availability and waiting lists makes this useless. Losing this bet means potentially sitting in premium economy instead of business on a transpacific flight for 14 hours. At least provide a benefit of value that can be actually used. At this point, I’d rather just increase the earnings rate for Diamond Medallions. Even with unremarkable value of $0.01/mile, at least I can use these.

    Staying below Diamond as Platinum, rolling over the qualifying miles, and flying other airlines when it makes sense (e.g., fare, route, product) seems to be the optimal play.

  14. Remember a few days back……we are not in the loyalty game anymore…the big banks are now the loyal customers..

  15. @ Don in ATL — Upgrades available to Delta One on international flights are showing. For example see ATL-DTW-CDG 1/19/2022:

    “Global Upgrade Certificate Availability:
    First available (ATL-DTW)
    Premium Select available (DTW-CDG)
    Delta One® suites available (DTW-CDG)”

  16. Robert, unsubscribing is easy. Just follow the directions.

    On a ‘full-view’ perspective, I’m not paying much attention to anything a travel provider makes changes to these days. Once the virus hysteria is over, things will swing back … not to normal of course, that’s never gonna happen. But at least to some level of sanity. Maybe.

  17. I resigned from that entire rat race in 2010; never missed any mileage program since. Once a traveler could bank miles on buying gas and groceries, the programs was no longer about airline loyalty, but cash spent on a credit card.

    As well, despite having mileage status when I booked FC on UA ORD-SFO in August, 2011, as a father I was very pissed off when the flight purser surreptitiously switched my daughter’s fish enter selection for a horse meat paddy from coach to please higher mileage class flyer who demanded fish. When I called the principal at my Washington legal firm to hit UA, he heartily laughed as he informed me UA was a client of his. Within a month, our nation was brutally attacked; my anger dissipated as we prepared to go to war.

    Now, I am fine just purchasing BC on Lufthansa, or, even on Iberia, which will not upgrade to its paltry BC on AA tickets. As AA continues to disintegrate any sense of customer experience, I even switched over to DL ORD-LGA. Given today’s negative attacking political climate, many more important issues to contemplate than how worthless mileage programs have devolved into.

  18. I am done with Delta. I have been a diamond for 6 years and the miles keep on being worth less and the only reason to be one just changed. What an outrageous change

  19. The benefits of Diamond status always have been and still are directly related to the number of other diamonds you are competing with. So, I would like to suggest that all delta diamonds reading this post give up their status.

  20. That’s it. I’m fed up with Delta! Fed up I say. Never again will I fly them. Just devaluation after devaluation. They don’t care about us. All they care about is squeezing the customer for every last penny. No more! I’m taking my business elsewhere!

    NARRATOR: He’s never flown Delta in his life.

  21. Sad.. the D1 cabin is infested with non-rev staff and their unruly families. And yet, Diamonds sit in the back to subsidize the employees who enjoy their time upfront. Solo travellers are not going to be as affected as bad, but without advance confirmed upgrades, couples/families won’t be able to select adjacent seats or pre-order their meals.

    Delta needs to stop putting their employees upfront until they recognize and reward their revenue generators.

  22. I’m still waiting for Tim Dunn to explain why this is not a devaluation at all and totally great for both Delta and its customers?…

  23. Has DL confirmed that the Premium -> Business upgrade is space available only or could it be “any revenue seat” like the Coach->Premium.

    It seems like a winning strategy for Delta would be the latter. It’s both a benefit earned and a benefit taken away. Encourages elites to buy up to premium economy in exchange for a relatively guaranteed upgrade, at a time when the bottom has fallen out of the global business travel market.

  24. @Gary, basically same question as David immediately above. If you buy a Premium Select seat outright, will there be seats available to immediately upgrade to Delta One from a paid Premium ‘Select seat at the time of booking ……. or whether, even in this case, you have to wait until 24 hours prior to departure to get the upgrade. This makes all the difference in the world to me in whether I continue my Diamond status. I am retired, don’t have to be anywhere on a given day or flight, and will not play the upgrade lotto game with GUC’s.

  25. Thank your fellow “frequent flyers” for abusing the system and bragging about it! Getting a International Business confirmed upgrade on the lowest priced ticket is outrageous. And the behavior of many when upgraded only reinforces my point. Want the Business seat…..Pay for it!

  26. Airlines are businesses and should give away only what it needs to give away to be profitable. I understand that customers look for the best deal they can get – just as they do with any other purchase they make.
    If Delta believes they can reduce the perks and still end up at the top of the heap among global airlines in profitability, then the financials will either confirm that or not.
    There are clearly plenty of people that are willing to pay for services which customers want as perks.
    2022 will be the year to see what airlines figured out what they need to do to not just make it in the post-covid world but to thrive- or not.

  27. This is really great! Been Diamond /MM for the last 6 years! Time to jump around and try different airlines or possibly status match with a Star Alliance carrier. Diamond was good only for GUCs. A PE seat to Paris is ~$3500, I can find cheaper on other airlines.

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