Platinum and Diamond level elites with Delta Air Lines have long complained that their Systemwide Upgrades (SWU) can only be used on very expensive fares. This has meant purchasing an M fare ticket, much more expensive than the other legacy airlines. However, borrowing a page from the United Airlines playbook, Delta has discontinued their Systemwide Upgrades in favor of Regional/Global upgrade certificates.
Effective March 1, 2014, Platinum elites can choose four Regional (RMU) upgrade certificates as their Choice Benefit while Diamonds can choose either eight Regionals or four Globals (GMU). Diamonds actually earn three Choice Benefits so it should be possible for Diamonds to select four each of Regionals and Globals as well as one other benefit.
First the good news; they can be used on all fares except the heavily discounted E fares. For Diamonds who fly only North America (see the link for some additions), previously they could select 10 SWU’s. Under the new program, they can select 12 Regional upgrade certificates and even better, they are good on nearly every fare. A big win for these passengers. Another welcome improvement is the possibility of complimentary upgrades on flights between the west coast and Hawaii. This applies to all elites so Delta employees will lose many opportunities to sit in business class on these popular flights.
Now the bad news; despite the criticism of the high fare requirement to use SWU’s, this change means Plat elites will no longer have upgrade certificates at all for international flights. Again, this is similar to United’s rules for their Plats. Another loss is no more complimentary upgrades on the domestic Business Elite flights from New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. They will require a Global (not Regional) certificate, as will Atlanta to Hawaii. Again, the loss by elites will be a gain for Delta employees.
For those Diamonds who fly a lot internationally or used SWU’s for family members, this is a loss as well. Instead of as many as ten SWU’s, it is now only four Global upgrade certs. Delta employees lose here again. They have been enjoying more international business class cabin seating upgrades because the elites onboard either did not purchase an expensive enough ticket or did not have an SWU to use. With these Global upgrades good on almost any fare, more elites will be sitting up front while more employees will be sitting in the back.
Another concern is that if a Global certificate is requested for an international flight, it is possible that cert could only be available for the domestic portion because there is no upgrade inventory available on the international segment. That would be a waste of a valuable certificate. The lack of transparency regarding the availability of using these certificates also is a legitimate concern.
Delta also slipped in one more thing that will affect all elites. Historically, Delta’s elite year ended on the last day of February. Again like United, it will end the last day of January beginning in 2016.
So what will be the new upgrade order? Delta hasn’t said anything yet except that GMU’s have priority over RMU’s. It seems elite status will be the first tiebreaker after full fare coach tickets, then it will go by fare class. This means Diamonds on M fares using an old SWU will come before another Diamond on a lower fare using one of the new Regional/Global upgrade certs.
So, what do you do if you are a Delta Platinum or Diamond and haven’t yet selected your 2013 Choice Benefits? Platinums and Diamonds can still select SWU’s. The Plats can select four of them if they want to upgrade on international flights but again, they will still require an expensive M fare to do so. Diamonds may still want to get up to 10 SWU’s if they are used for other family members and they don’t mind paying the higher fares.
Maybe most interesting here is watching Delta copy these things from United. What we had been seeing is the reverse with United slashing expenses and reducing some frequent flier benefits. You can be sure Doug Parker is watching all of this over at American. Like I said a while back, we are moving toward three legacies that will be non-identical triplets. Or maybe they will be more identical than I thought.