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How To Maximize Delta’s Regional Upgrade Certificates [My Redemption Experience]

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Stella Shon
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Stella Shon

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With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in ...
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One of the reasons why people often chase top-tier airline elite status is for the confirmed upgrade awards. The value can be immense, as you can upgrade your seat into the best available cabin on your flight for a fraction of the cost.

Depending on your airline of choice, these certificates have different names. More or less, they work the same. Specifically, Delta’s Platinum Medallion elite members (the second-highest tier in the Delta SkyMiles program) can elect to receive 4 Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) annually.

Today, we’ll go over how Delta’s upgrade certificates work. Later in the post, I’ll explain how I personally made use of my RUCs this year and the estimated value I received from them.

Delta’s Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) — The Details

The road to SkyMiles Medallion status requires a hefty amount of flying with Delta or its partners and spending on flights or on a co-branded Delta Amex card.

I used the latter strategy to reach Platinum Medallion status. In essence, I flew with Delta (and its SkyTeam partners) and scored the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver by spending $25,000+ within a year on my Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express CardTerms Apply / Rates & Fees
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Delta loyalists will love the fast track to Delta elite status, lounge access, baggage benefits, and upgrade priority with the Delta Reserve card.

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Delta loyalists will love the fast track to Delta elite status, lounge access, baggage benefits, and upgrade priority with the Delta Reserve card.
Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
60,000 Bonus Miles
20.99%-29.99% Variable
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is a stellar option for frequent travelers who always fly with Delta thanks to its MQD Headstart towards status boost, lounge access, annual companion certificate, and many other great benefits.

Here is a full look at everything the Delta Reserve card can offer to you to help you decide whether the card deserves a place in your wallet.

  • 3x SkyMiles per $1 on Delta purchases
  • 1x SkyMile per $1 on all other eligible purchases
  • Card Members get 15% off when using miles to book Award Travel on Delta flights.
  • $650 annual fee (rates & fees)
  • No bonus categories other than Delta purchases
  • Earn 60,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Reserve your piece of history with the new limited edition Boeing 747 Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card design.
  • Enjoy complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club® and bring up to two guests or immediate family members at a rate of $50 per person per visit when flying Delta. Effective 2/1/25, Reserve Card Members will receive 15 Visits per year to the Delta Sky Club; to earn an unlimited number of Visits each year starting on 2/1/25, the total eligible purchases on the Card must equal $75,000 or more between 1/1/24 and 12/31/24, and each calendar year thereafter.
  • Receive four Delta Sky Club® One-Time Guest Passes each year when you fly together on Delta. After that, you may bring up to two guests at a per-visit rate of $50 per person, per location.
  • Enjoy complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book a Delta flight with your Reserve Card.
  • Receive $2,500 Medallion® Qualification Dollars each Medallion Qualification Year and get closer to Status with MQD Headstart.
  • Earn $1 Medallion® Qualification Dollar for each $10 of purchases made on your Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card in a calendar year and get a boost toward achieving elevated Medallion Status for next Medallion Year.
  • Receive a Companion Certificate on First Class, Delta Comfort+®, or Main Cabin domestic, Caribbean, or Central American roundtrip flights each year after renewal of your Card. The Companion Ticket requires payment of government-imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights and no more than $250 for roundtrip international flights (both for itineraries with up to four flight segments). Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • $240 Resy Credit: With the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Resy Credit, earn up to $20 per month in statement credits on eligible Resy purchases using your enrolled Card.
  • $120 Rideshare Credit: You can earn up to $10 back in statement credits each month on U.S. rideshare purchases with select providers after you pay with your Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. Enrollment Required.
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Members get 15% off when using miles to book Award Travel on Delta flights through and the Fly Delta app. Discount not applicable to partner-operated flights or to taxes and fees.
  • With your Card receive upgrade priority over other Medallion Members within the same Medallion level and fare class.
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card Members with an eligible ticket will be added to the Complimentary Upgrade list, after Delta SkyMiles Medallion Members.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $650 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
Financial Snapshot
  • APR: 20.99%-29.99% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
Rewards Center

Delta SkyMiles Airline Loyalty Program

Once you qualify for Platinum Medallion or Diamond Medallion status on Delta, you can then access “Choice Benefits” every year. Platinum Medallion members can select 1 Choice Benefit, while Diamond Medallion members can choose 3 Choice Benefits.

There are more than 10 different options to choose from. More appealing rewards include a Delta Sky Club individual membership or a $200 Delta travel voucher, while 4,000 Starbucks Rewards Stars are admittedly less valuable.

Our recommendation? Set your sights on the upgrade certificates. Delta Platinum Medallion members can receive 4 Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs), while Diamond Medallion can choose between 4 Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs), 8 RUCs, or a combination of 2 GUCs and 4 RUCs.

Hot Tip: Based on our most recent analysis of Platinum Medallion status, we estimate the value of all the perks to be around $3,120 per year.

Difference Between Delta RUCs and GUCs

Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) can be applied on Delta flights within the 50 U.S. states and select international routes to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central America, and what Delta calls “Northern South America.”

To squeeze maximum value from your RUCs, you’ll want to find availability on long-haul flights.

Delta One seat
Image Credit: Delta Air Lines

Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs) can be used on all international flights operated by Delta and even select SkyTeam partner airlines, including Aeromexico, Air France, KLM, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic. However, only Delta Diamond Medallion elite members can access Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs), making them incredibly valuable for frequent international travelers.

What To Know About Delta’s Upgrade Certificates

No matter which certificates you possess, there are some important things to know:

  • Each upgrade certificate is valid for a one-way flight, including any layovers.
  • You can redeem your upgrade certificates on virtually any ticket except basic economy. According to Delta, this includes “paid tickets, Award Travel tickets and Miles + Cash tickets on Delta-operated flights, Pay with Miles tickets, Companion Certificates and tickets booked as a part of a Delta Vacations package.”
  • You can secure an upgrade for 1 cabin class up. For example, a certificate can be used to upgrade Main Cabin to Delta One. The only caveat here is for international aircraft with 3 classes of service (Delta One, Premium Select, and Main Cabin), then you’ll only be upgraded from Main Cabin to Premium Select. In this case, you will need to book a Premium Select seat to be upgraded to Delta One with a certificate.
  • To redeem an upgrade certificate for a travel companion, they must be traveling with you on the same reservation or on a linked reservation (which you can do by reaching out to customer service). However, you do not necessarily need to redeem an upgrade certificate for yourself in order for your travel companion to use one of yours.
  • If you need to change or cancel a reservation with a redeemed certificate, you can reach out to customer service to apply the certificate to a new booking.
  • Upgrade certificates will expire at the end of the Medallion year associated with that Choice Benefit selection. For example, if you’ve gone ahead and secured Platinum Medallion status in April 2023 for the following 2024 Medallion year and then choose RUCs as your Choice Benefit, they won’t expire until January 31, 2025. However, all travel must be booked and flown before the expiration date.

How To Find Availability

If you’ve read through those long list of terms and are ready to use those upgrade certificates, here’s another roadblock: finding availability.

Historically, one of the most annoying aspects of using these certificates was that you needed to call Delta to use them. Even then, there may not have been availability when calling. If that were the case, you’d be placed on a waitlist where your upgrade may (or may not) clear — more on this later.

Recently, Delta rolled out a new feature that allows you to see if there’s confirmed upgrade space when making a new booking. If there is space, you can apply your RUCs or GUCs seamlessly online!

RUC Delta Online
You can now see confirmed upgrade availability when booking a new flight. Image Credit: Delta

However, it isn’t always this easy. More often than not, there isn’t confirmed upgrade availability for your preferred cabin, in which case you can request to be placed on a waitlist. Here’s what you should know:

  • According to Delta, “upgrades will clear automatically based on Medallion status, purchased class of service, and other criteria.”
  • If you’re traveling on a flight with multiple legs and an upgrade only clears for 1 leg, the certificate will be considered redeemed. You can reach out to customer service to prioritize 1 leg over the other.
  • If your upgrade doesn’t clear by check-in, you’ll be placed on the standby list above complimentary upgrades.
  • Any unused certificates will be re-deposited back into your account.

My Experience Redeeming Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs)

Despite the mile-long list of nuances to note, I was able to successfully redeem my RUCs — without being placed on any waitlists. Instead, I found confirmed availability through Delta’s website for my desired routes.

The key is flexibility. I had the luxury of piecing together my trip based on confirmed upgrade availability, which can be a major obstacle for many travelers with limited travel dates. However, the more flexible you can be, the greater value you can achieve.

Let’s take a look.

1. New York (JFK) to Honolulu (HNL) — Round-trip!

Delta One Windows
While on an aging 767-300, you can’t beat a lie-flat seat for a 12-hour flight. Image Credit: Stella Shon

In late December, I searched for nonstop flights to Hawaii for my desired dates in the spring. To my surprise, I found many dates with confirmed availability for the once-daily flight between New York (JFK) and Honolulu (HNL). Therefore, I was able to upgrade to Delta One for my round-trip flight to Hawaii.

I paid for a Main Cabin ticket — which cost me roughly $700 total — and was able to upgrade my flights to and from Hawaii in Delta One using 2 RUCs. That’s a screaming deal for a lie-flat seat to and from Hawaii, considering this ticket normally costs $3,000+.

Delta One Confirmed JFK to HNL
I booked in late December for my spring Hawaii trip. Image Credit: Delta

Hot Tip: In all, I paid about $700 for my round-trip flight using The Platinum Card® from American Express, netting me 5x points per $1 spent on flights (up to the first $500,000 spent per year, then 1x points). I not only earned 3,500 Membership Rewards points, but I earned almost 5,000 SkyMiles. 

From these 2 RUCs alone, I’ve estimated that I achieved $2,000 in value.

2. Miami (MIA) to New York (LGA)

When I was in Miami last month, I wanted to upgrade my flight back home to New York. This Main Cabin flight cost me just $90. Since there was also confirmed upgrade certificate space at the time of booking, I decided to redeem one of my Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) for this flight home.

Since I was flying on an Airbus A321, I got nothing more than a spacious recliner chair in Delta’s domestic first class. On the upside, I got to enjoy dinner onboard: a Mediterranean chicken bowl with a side salad.

Delta First Class Meal MIA LGA
Image Credit: Stella Shon

The difference between Main Cabin and first class was around $350, which was another solid use of this certificate!

3. Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Atlanta (ATL) to San Francisco (SFO)

This summer, I plan on flying from Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to San Francisco (SFO). Since there are no nonstop Delta flights from RDU to SFO, I’ll need to connect at the carrier’s mega-hub in Atlanta (ATL) first.

Delta 737
Image Credit: Delta

There are no lie-flat seats on these flights, unfortunately. The first leg to Atlanta (ATL) is on a Boeing 757, while the longer flight to San Francisco (SFO) is operated by a Boeing 737.

Still, finding confirmed availability on both legs at the time of booking meant another great use of a certificate. I paid $149 for the Main Cabin flight, while first class cost $900. While I don’t necessarily think sitting up front is worth the ~$750 difference, my final upgrade certificate secured the seat in advance for me.

Final Thoughts

Clearly, the major win for me here was my round-trip flight to Hawaii. Sure, I could have waited to use my other certificates for a better redemption, such as a Delta One flight. But therein lies the gamble: I didn’t know if I was going to find confirmed availability in the future.

Therefore, I was more than happy to “burn” them on shorter domestic flights with confirmed space. On the whole, I can estimate that I achieved more than $3,000 in value — an excellent value all around.

For rates and fees of Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

When do Delta Regional Upgrade Certificates clear?

If you are not automatically cleared for a confirmed upgrade before check-in, you’ll be placed on the standby list ahead of complimentary upgrades. If your upgrade doesn’t clear, your certificate will be redeposited into your account.

How do you get Delta Regional Upgrade Certificates?

You’ll need to qualify for Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion or Diamond Medallion elite status. Then, you can select Regional Upgrade Certificates (RUCs) for your Choice Benefit.

Can Delta Regional Upgrade Certificates be used for Hawaii?

Yes! If there is confirmed award space at the time of booking, you can even redeem your RUCs online.

Are Delta Regional Upgrade Certificates transferrable?

No, they are not transferrable. However, you can apply your RUCs to travel companions on the same booking (you can reach out to customer service to link separate reservations together). You can then apply a certificate if there’s availability.

Stella Shon's image

About Stella Shon

With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in The New York Times, USA Today, and more.


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