Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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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.
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 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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The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is a stellar option for frequent travelers who always fly with Delta thanks to its lounge access, status boost, 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.
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.
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.
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.
No matter which certificates you possess, there are some important things to know:
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!
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:
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.
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+.
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. Plus, I received valuable Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) to get me closer to requalifying for elite status with Delta.
From these 2 RUCs alone, I’ve estimated that I achieved $2,000 in value.
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.
The difference between Main Cabin and first class was around $350, which was another solid use of this certificate!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes! If there is confirmed award space at the time of booking, you can even redeem your RUCs online.
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.
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UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.