Delta Air Lines devalued its global upgrade certificates yesterday, now only allowing a confirmed one-cabin upgrade. Will American Airlines and United Airlines shortly follow?
Delta Air Lines Devalues Confirmed Upgrades Via Global Upgrade Certifcates
Delta Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs) are now only valid for a confirmed one-cabin upgrade. If you book an economy class fares, that means you can only confirm an upgrade into premium economy class if your aircraft has three cabins of service. You’ll also be added to the business class waitlist, but it will only clear 24 hours prior to departure on a space-available basis.
If you wish to confirm a business class upgrade, you’ll need to purchase a pricier premium economy ticket. Even then, business class upgrade space will still be capacity controlled (unlike premium economy, where your upgrade is confirmed as long as there is a revenue seat for sale).
While it could have been worse (not even a 24-hour waitlist for business class), the move certainly marks a substantial devaluation of the value of these global upgrade certificates, issued to Delta Diamond members. These changes take effect on February 1, 2022 and also apply to partner bookings (Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic) that were previously eligible for economy to business class upgrades.
Delta is also letting members exchange GUCs for 6,000 SkyMiles, which is truly an insult.
Will American Airlines Match Delta Air Lines In Devaluing Upgrades?
American Airlines offers its top-tier Executive Platinum members four systemwide upgrades each year (more can be earned based upon flying and elite choice awards). These are valid for confirmed upgrades from economy class to premium economy or business class, based upon space availability. If “C” space is available, you can even upgrade a basic economy class ticket to business class.
Like Delta, American Airlines has rolled out a premium product across across much of its international longhaul fleet and distinguishes it as a separate class of service with enhanced food and beverage choices beyond the more spacious seat.
As American re-invents its loyalty program in a way that heavily favors those able to place spending on an AA co-branded credit card, systemwide upgrades are (at least in theory) now harder to obtain. As such, I do not think we would see American match Delta in restricting upgrade space…at least in 2022.
Instead, I expect American to take a wait-and-see approach and see if Delta’s new scheme works.
Will United Airlines Match Delta Air Lines In Devaluing Upgrades?
United Airlines transitioned away from systemwide upgrades (then called Global Premier Upgrades or GPUs) a couple years ago in favor of PlusPoints. Already, United has a system in place that charges less for upgrades to Premium Plus (premium economy) than to Polaris (business class) – 20 PlusPoints versus 40 PlusPoints.
While United’s PlusPoints currency is already well able to charge varying amounts for upgrades based upon original class of service purchased (indeed, 40 PlusPoints are required for W fares or higher while cheeper fares require 80 PlusPoints to jump from economy class to business class), the question is will that still be an option. What if United said if you want to use PlusPoints to receive a confirmed upgrade to business class, you must first buy a premium economy ticket?
I don’t see that happening, at least not in 2022. My greater fear is that United simply raises the number of PlusPoints required for an upgrade (while throwing some token bone like the ability to earn 20-40 PlusPoints with United-Chase co-branded credit card spending). The beauty of an upgrade certificate is that it remains an upgrade certificate.
PlusPoints, just like miles, can be devalued at a moment’s notice.
Delta’s move is bad news, but it could have been worse–at least passengers still have a shot at a business class upgrade clearing 24 hours before departure. I don’t expect American or United to match Delta’s move over the next year. Instead, American upgrades will already be harder to earn and United will simply charge more PlusPoints before it introduces restrictions against business class upgrades.
image: Delta Air Lines