Valuing Delta’s Regional Upgrade Certificates

Last week, in the post “Why Delta’s great new Choice Benefits irk me” I described Delta’s new Upgrade Certificates that will be available only to Platinum and Diamond Elite members.  Platinum Medallions will have a new Choice Benefit of 4 Regional Upgrade certificates that can be applied on any paid flight that qualifies for free Medallion upgrades.  Diamond Medallions will have a new Choice Benefit of 4 Global Upgrade certificates (or 8 Regional Certificates).  Global Upgrades will be redeemable on almost any Delta run flight to anywhere in the world as long as upgrade space is available.

There’s no question in my mind that these upgrade certificates make achieving Platinum and Diamond status more valuable than before.  The question, though, is how much more valuable have these status levels become?  Is it now worth the extra cost and effort to seek out the next level of status?  To move closer to an answer to that question, in this post I’ll examine the value of Regional Upgrade Certificates.  I’ll look at Global Upgrade Certificates in a separate post.

Why are regional certs worth anything?

The odd thing about Regional Upgrade certificates is that they can be used only on flights where elite members are already eligible for free upgrades.  Think about that.  You have to achieve Platinum or Diamond status to get these certificates, and then they can only be used on flights where you might get upgraded anyway.  Instead of waiting for your free upgrade, you have the option of “paying” for your upgrade with a certificate.  When looked at this way, one could argue that Regional Upgrade Certificates are worthless.  I don’t agree.

Here are a few reasons that I believe Regional Upgrade Certificates will have real value:

Upgrades when you want them most: Free Medallion upgrades are a game of chance.  On some routes and times, upgrades may be easy to get, but they’re never certain.  With Upgrade Certificates you’ll be able to ideally upgrade at the time of booking.  But, even when upgrade space is not available at booking, you can use a certificate to waitlist for the upgrade.  That should effectively put you ahead of all Medallion elites who do not use a certificate.

Upgrades for your companion: Upgrade certificates can be used to upgrade one companion traveling on the same reservation.  While its possible for elites to get companions on the upgrade list today, the chance of upgrades in those situations is extremely low.  Regional Upgrade Certificates should make upgrades very likely. 

Upgrades in off-elite years: While you need to achieve Platinum status to get Regional Upgrade certificates, it should be possible to wait until your Platinum status year is almost over before requesting those certificates.  The certificates are good for a year after issue.  So, one could alternate years between achieving high level status, but still be able to qualify for regional upgrades in the off-status years.

Certificate redemption value based upon Delta pricing

When booking a coach flight on Delta.com, Delta usually offers you the opportunity to pay (with cash or miles) to upgrade to First Class.  The cost to upgrade in that situation is simply the difference in price between First Class and Coach on that itinerary. 

I picked a somewhat random set of travel dates and destinations to see what Delta would charge for paid upgrades at the time of booking.  The one-way upgrade prices ranged from as low as $55 (for a one hour flight) to $574 (for a flight to Honolulu).  What I learned from this is that the redemption value of a Regional Upgrade Certificate could be quite high (up to $574 in my sample), but it could be low as well.  Just as with points and miles, it will be possible to get outsized value from upgrade certificates, but only for certain routes and situations.

Redemption value vs. certificate value

Regardless of Delta’s pricing, the value derived from an upgrade depends upon many factors, such as how much you care about first class vs. coach, how long the flight is, whether you’ll need the extra room and possibly a power outlet perhaps to get work done, and so on.  Ultimately, though, the question I’m trying to answer is not the value of the upgrades, but the value of the certificates.  The upgrade certificates are necessarily worth less than the value you hope to get from using them.  If all goes well, you might get a lot of value from them, but it’s also possible that upgrades won’t be available when you need them and that some of the certificates will ultimately expire unused.

$100 per certificate

My current estimate for the value of Delta’s Regional Upgrade certificates is $100 per certificate.  For most people, it should be possible to get far more value than that from the certificates, but several factors lead me to estimate on the low side:

  • Certificates are non-transferable.  You can’t give one to a friend or relative who really needs it.
  • Certificates expire in one year after issue.
  • Upgrades may not be available when they are most desired.

The $100 estimate is based upon the amount that I think I would be willing to buy certificates for if they were for sale.  Each reader can reasonably value these certificates much higher or lower depending upon their own circumstances.

Choice Benefit value = approx $400

Delta allows Platinum elites to select one Choice Benefit each year.  Most of these benefits are worth about $200.  Here are some examples:

  • 4 Delta SkyClub Passes (These passes are normally priced at $50 each)
  • 20,000 bonus miles (worth $200 if you value miles at 1 cent each)
  • $200 Travel / Retail gift card (Tiffany & Co. or Delta Travel Voucher)

If you agree with my $100 guestimate of  the value of upgrade certificates, then you’ll agree that the option of 4 Regional Upgrade certificates is worth about twice as much as most other Choice Benefits.

Is Platinum worth the extra effort?

If you’re close to achieving Platinum status you might wonder whether Regional Upgrade Certificates increase the value of Platinum status enough to be worth pursuing it.  Platinum status was already quite valuable largely due to the ability to make award changes for free.  Now, I’d estimate that Platinum status is worth about $200 more than it was before thanks to Upgrade Certificates.  Of course, its possible to get far more than $100 per certificate value when redeeming for upgrades.  If you think that it is likely that you will do so, then the incremental value of Platinum status with this new Choice Benefit option may be much higher to you.

Reader input

What do you think about my estimate and reasoning?  If you’re a Delta flyer, how much would you be willing to pay for an upgrade certificate if it could be bought?

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I’m holding off on choosing my Platinum Choice Benefit until the bitter end (qualified in May 2013, will choose in February 2015). I want to get the Regional Certs for when I ditch Delta status but still need a Delta flight every now and then.

    I think $100 is a bit on the high side (that’s what I value United RPUs at and those are good for LAX-JFK transcons, while Delta’s aren’t).

    • I agree with Amol, $100 sounds a bit high when United’s RPUs usually are valued at that and can be used for anyone not just you or companion on same flight.

    • Makes sense. To be clear, $100 is my estimate of the value of the certs to me not necessarily to others. Since I’m unlikely to fly a transcon anyway, that point doesn’t really matter to me but it would really stink if thought I’d fly that route.

  2. If you want to upgrade anyone on DL you can use miles 15k
    But, Certs only let you and companion upgrade
    Discounting the miles value 1c min gets you about 100$, so not too bad

  3. Aren’t they more valuable than $100 if you use them for domestic routes on an int’l-configured 76W or 777 (eg, LAX-ATL) that is not a JFK-West Coast flight?

  4. For me, these are great! We never get bumped into First Class when I am flying with my DH, since I have no status. Now, we can with the long haul flights from ATL to PDX and other west coast destinations.

  5. Could you not wait until after your complimentary upgrade window to redeem these? Or do they have to be done at time of booking? Platinums clear at the 5 day window, you could theoretically wait to see if you clear and if not redeem these 3 or 4 days before the flight? Or am I thinking about this wrong?

  6. Does anyone know if you can use the upgrade cert on your companion only and hold off for your own upgrade? I fly a ton, and most of the times i end up sleeping. When I travel with my wife, I always give her my seat in first because she actually takes advantage of the amenities offered. I’m considering taking these, but was curious if I book a flight and she is on my reservation, if I can just have a cert used for her and take my chances (as the Status member) on an upgrade?

  7. As a recent Delta PM after 3 years of being Diamond, I opted for the 4 regional certificates for my choice benefits. The year prior, as a Diamond I also took the the 8, or was it 6 Systemwide Upgrades as my choice benefit.

    As I entered my new world as a PM, I found I was rarely complimentary upgraded on my most frequent flights: LAX/ATL, LAX/MSP, LAX/DTW. Since my company usually requires me to book the lowest possible fares i wasn’t always able to take advantage of mu SWUs restricted codes. However, as these rewards were close to expiring, I managed to book several flights (all to ATL, DTW and MSP) in the qualifying fare class. On most of them, I was able to see that five days out, there was no drastic reduction in FC seats which indicated to me that Delta was waiting until boarding time to upgrade anyone. On everyone of those flights that I used my SWU certificate, I remained at the very top of the upgrade lists. In at least three cases the available FC seats had shrunk to 2, yet I was upgraded each time. I know for a fact that I was rated above all Diamond complimentary upgrades and on only one occasion was a Diamond upgraded before me. He ended up sitting next to me and explained that he used a SU certificate on that flight. To me, on the longer haul flights, the RUs are worth their weight in gold. The average price to upgrade to FC on the flights I referred to was between 400 and 900 dollars. That’s really valuable Choice benefit in my opinion.

  8. I will be achieving 75,000 miles with my next flight. I’m checking out this RU cert. benefit. Did anyone ever find out if the certs can be used AFTER a PM finds out s/he didn’t get upgraded 5 days out? Or do they have to be used at booking? (I plan on calling Delta directly for a response to this question but an answer here might help a wider audience.)

  9. PM here and I would say that these upgrade certificates are completely worthless. I’m based in ATL and fly to the left coast most often so my thought was that I’d use the upgrade certs on long haul flight as a platinum rarely gets upgraded on these. Well guess what? I’ve not tried four different times to use these certificates on either outbound or return flights with absolutely no luck: ATL-LAX, ATL-DEN, ATL-SFO, ATL-SEA, nothing! I tried different days, different flight times – nada.

    I expressed my displeasure to multiple delta representatives and got nowhere. I even asked if I could trade the certs for miles and was told that this is explicitly prohibited. Basically, as someone stated previously, the only way these certs are even redeemable is when you would probably get an upgrade anyway.

    I would HIGHLY recommend choosing anything but the regional upgrades when selecting your gift.

    • That’s pretty awful. There might be too many Platinums and Diamonds in Atlanta using up your upgrade chances. Out of Detroit, my wife has had better luck. She’s about 50/50 using her regional upgrade certificates and 100% (4 for 4) using her global upgrades for international flights.

      • Since I am in Atlanta too and a PM, I guess I should look at the other gifts. The only one that makes much sense is the added miles….yes??

  10. What a scam.. I spent last year staying loyal to Delta for four trips I took from Washington DC to Seoul, Korea.. so that I could finally break into the coveted Platinum (with the accompanying Reg. Certs). Being platinum itself hasn’t been of much value, other than getting on the plane early and not paying for a bag. I still rarely make the cut to get upgraded when I fly, since the planes are so packed already. When I fly (most of the time) with my spouse, being a platinum member is useless since my spouse has no status, and unless we split/sit apart, I/we will never get upgraded. As for the regional certs.. just booked a flight from DC to Maui for the two of us. Figured at least I could use the certs for the LAX to/from Maui. NOPE. The only leg of the three each way, that are available to use the certs, are the DC to/from Atlanta. At least Delta uses a call center in Dallas, so the customer service rep is able to tell you with the sweetest southern accent, that your certs are useless.

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