Delta changes SWUs & upgrades starting 01MARCH2014 – big adjustments!

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

swu certs delta airlines change delta points blog

For a very long time now Delta flyers have been less and less impressed with System Wide Upgrade (SWU) certificates. This was because, if you wanted to use them internationally, you would have to just about pay the price of a business class ticket to use them (and thus what was the point).

As of 01MARCH2014 that all will change with the creation of Global Upgrade certificates. All but Delta UBER cheap “E” class, that is not available everywhere, qualifies for these new certificates. This is news Delta elites have been waiting for for a long time.

These will ONLY be an option for Delta’s top elites, Diamond Medallions, and they will offer 4 of these as your Choice Benefit. Platinum Medallion will not have access to these Global certs.

Some thoughts. Nice change. But think about this, since they are good one way, for a husband and wife with a trip to Europe or Asia you are burning 2 one way and 2 on the return so all 4 would go on one trip. Still, a nice deal for a coach price ticket when the upgrade space via certs is open. Before you ask, flying on say AF or KLM, the old rules still apply. Connecting to an AF or KLM flight, this is still not clear to me as the FAQs page says: “Seats are subject to availability and may not be available on all flights or in all markets.”

The other change is Regional Upgrade certificates. These are open to Diamond and Platinums so a Diamond could pick these as their Platinum choice and then Global ones as one of the two Diamond choices (since a Diamond cannot pick the same choice twice). But if a Diamond does not want the Global they could get 8 as a DM and 4 more as the PM choice thus ending up with 12 Regional certs plus still one more DM choice!

Overall this is a nice improvement for Diamonds and rewarding those who make it to the top level with Delta. When looking at the value of all the choices this clearly becomes one of the best in dollar value. I see this and Gold medallion “gift” choice being the two best choices going forward.

For Platinums, yes you are losing out on the chance to use the old SWUs for international upgrades but as talked about they were practically worthless for that anyway so no great loss.

delta 2014 and 2016 skymiles program changes

On to other good changes to the Skymiles program. Hawaii from the west coast (including Salt Lake) will also as of 01MARCH2014 be open to free medallion upgrades. This is, in my mind, a HUGE upgrade to the program and a direct response to Alaska air that also offers upgrades to Hawaii. The Hawaii flights from Atlanta will require a Global upgrade cert to get that free.

Now the downgrades. The first is that JFK to LAX, SFO and SEA that truly is now an international “light” flight will no longer qualify for free medallion upgrades. This is really too bad and to many as significant a DOWNGRADE as Hawaii is an upgrade. Not just no more free upgrades, but it will require a Global cert to upgrade this flight as well (not just a Regional one)!

Lastly, if you have already redeemed your 2014 choice benefit, at this point, too bad, you cannot exchange them back in for these new great SWUs. I would love to see Delta allow a one time exception and let you trade back in your choice if you have not say used the Skymiles or old SWUs or ETV choice (that is just sitting in your account unused).

Oh, and I should say Delta is also, as of 2016, changing when Skymiles begins and ends. We need to get used to 31JAN each year becoming the END of the program year and 01FEB then being the new start date to keep track of.

So far so good on this change Delta flyers and a some truly good “enhancements” for a change. What do you think. Happy with the adjustments? – shout out and let us know! – René

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. Deltaflyer Reply

    I’m pretty satisfied with these changes. Quick question. If I reached Platinum early in 2013 (which means I am Platinum through 2014) how many regional upgrades can I get? (I did not yet select a choice benefit for 2013).

    • @Deltaflyer – your 2013 Choice Benefit must be picked by the last day of FEB2014 so you are stuck with the OLD ones if you want and they will be good for 12 months for the day you pick them. So, you get NONE of the new regional certs. Now if you earn PM this year for 2014 then YES YES YES wait until after 01MARCH2014 and you can pick 4 of the new ones. Also, if you like the OLD ONES you can still pick them as your 2014 choice until 01MARCH2014

  2. Jake from MSP Reply

    Overall very pleased. But I think this means transcon upgrades will now only be DMs? Also, I wonder if you’ll be able to pick 8 regional AND 4 global as your DM choice benefits

    • @Jake from MSP – yes, as posted, you should be able to pick 12 this way if you want!
      @Troy Dassler – Yes if you wait until after 01MARCH2014 (since you have earned PM for 2014)

  3. Troy Dassler Reply

    I just turned platinum and have not picked my reward. Do you think I will be able to pick the four regional upgrades?

  4. Do I have this right… even a Diamond medallion can only fly JFK-LAX four times per year and get upgraded? And a Platinum can never get upgraded transcon?

    As a newly minted GM that will likely reach at least PM next year, I feel like this was directly aimed against me…

  5. Delta Points, it looks like PMs and DMs can use miles to upgrade JFK to and/from West Coast. Any idea on how many?

  6. But they were never available for transcon. If that doesn’t change, then only way will be to use Global Upgrade. I fly transcon about 10 times per year. I would be happy to use 25K miles for r/t upgrade, but I will leave Delta if I can only get 4 one-way upgrades per year and I think a lot of others will too.

  7. Pumped. Just about to requalify PM. Have a trip to HNL in March so I will investigate changing my routing out of ATL.

  8. Seems like many PM frequent transcon and those DM that travel JFK-west coast more than four times per year will hop over to American where they’d have free upgrades. There are so many first class seats filled by medallion members at the gate during any JFK-LAX flight I’m on. Wonder what they’re going to do with all those empty seats… make them cheaper?

  9. Would a Reg. cert be able to be used to upgrade your companion but not you? Basically, just use one upgrade on trip for two where one of you is PM. If so, will the PM be able to have a comp upgrade in the normal 5 day window before departure (assuming not any of the new restricted flights) and that there is space available? Essentially, I want to ensure my wife is upgraded but I am willing to wait for a possible comp upgrade.

    If a Regional Upgrade is used does the person using it still accrue MQM’s and Miles at normal rates? If you upgrade from Economy to Business using Miles do you still accrue MQM’s and Miles at the Economy normal rate?

    Lastly, if the trip is for example: MCI, LAX, NRT can the Regional Upgrade be used on the MCI to LAX segment or is that not possible because the next segment continues on to NRT?

    • @VC – the official rules say you have to be traveling with you. If you split PNR they may say no to wife and your idea but linking may work. My guess is it would cause issues. Next, based on original fare class not upgrade. Last one no as unless booked as two trips as the total trip in one international trip. You would have to use Global one for one way of NRT trip.

  10. Thanks for the quick reply!!!

    To clarify, I meant that wife and I on same PNR but only use a cert on her and then holding out for a comp upgrade for myself. Trying to ensure the wife is happy and the possible chance that we both get upgraded before the day of departure.

    If I am reading your response correctly on the 2nd part you believe that yes you would receive MQM’s and Miles at the normal rate of original booked fare even though you might have been upgraded by either Regional Cert, Global Cert, or by using Award Miles to upgrade by one cabin class. Is this correct?

    • @VC – unless you split PNR you clear at lowest level of medallion on the itinerary. Yes original booking class for earning only!

  11. Be sure to read the T&C — -things like voluntary ticket changes, I assume SDC and possibly even schedule change tricks might bite us … if you already used a certificate (either regional or global) to upgrade the ticket and that upgraded class isn’t then available on what you want to change to, it looks like you don’t get the certificate back … it’s considered used.

  12. Hi Rene. I just need to clarify on one point you made; this was about a diamond choosing a platinum choice, then 2 more diamond choices. How is that possible for an existing delta diamond? Would Delta allow you to get a platinum choice early in the year after passing 75k Mqm’s even if it knows you are a diamond? Thanks.

  13. Thanks Rene. So if you have already crossed over 125k Mqm’s it is too late to select a platinum choice, then select 2 more diamond choices? 2 more people I know have been missing out.

  14. Overall very happy with these changes for the flights I take. I just earned Platinum and Diamond and took all my benefits. I would love it if Delta did allow a one time exception as I would pick these upgrades. At least it is something to look forward to next year. Look forward to hearing how well they work. Still working on my strategy for my first Hawaii trip in the upcoming year.

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  16. Rene – when I fly with my girlfriend, who is SM, our upgrades clear separately, even on the same reservation… me at PM and her (well, usually not clearing). So am I missing something re: VC’s comment about waiting on my complimentary upgrade to clear then using a regional certificate for her, or vice versa?

  17. Would assume companion passes are more officially upgradable as they are paid tickets.

  18. I fly on the JFK-SFO route and I am platinum. I have not chosen my choice benefit yet. Should I go with the current system wide option or wait until March and get the new ones?

  19. Looking for clarification on regional upgrade. Is it per-segment or per one-way trip? So if I am going to fly round-trip IND-SLC-HNL and want to be upgraded the entire way, is that 2 certificates (one for each way) or 4 certificates (One each for IND-SLC, SLC-HNL, HNL-SLC, SLC-IND)?


  20. JFK to SFO flying PM here. Upgrade percentage over the last few years was about 50%. Now it will be 0% with lots of empty seats up front. This [edit] 🙁

  21. I’m not entirely clear on how this works. Are these regional upgrade certs per trip, or per flight? In other words, if I fly a one way trip from Indianapolis to San Francisco via Minneapolis (IND-MSP-SFO) and I want to upgrade, will that take 1 regional upgrade cert or two?

  22. The new HNL upgrade rules for DL are nice for a change and am disappointed in UA canceling the BKK route. So as a HNL UA 1K traveler with technically an overseas address (use my wife’s Thai address), do i stick with UA or switch to DL?

    Smisek is not my favorite, but can’t really say i am that disappointed with UA. I really think the AA fanboys at Boarding Area are in for a rude awakening with Parker.

    Love your blog Rene! Keep up the good work.

  23. While it is hard to use the SWUs this is a devaluation for the PM business traveler. I will hit DM again this year, but next year (2014 qual for 2015) likely to drop to PM. I fly internationally for work on B fares and I would have to use miles in the future to upgrade rather than using SWUs. I like the flexibility for the DM global certs, but I see this as a bit of a loss for me. I will choose old SWUs for my PM choice and then Global and something else for DM.

  24. I haven’t read all of the comments above, so excuse any redundancies.

    I’m PM, which is not the easiest thing to do. I travel a lot for both work and pleasure, and I can’t really afford to use award travel at this point if I want to maintain my status. For what used to be Delta’s highest level elite, it kind of feels like I’m getting the shaft with this change. It’s probably because I don’t think I can make it to Diamond, and I’m bitter about not being able to use the SWU’s for international flights.

    I disagree that they were useless. Many times I’ve saved over $1500 on KLM World Business/Delta Business Elite flights to Amsterdam. I can afford to pay $3000-$4000 per flight a couple times a year (on vacation). I really can’t (or shouldn’t) spend +$6000 on the same flights. It just made life a little easier, and it made those SWU’s that much more valuable. Not to mention how difficult it is to get my company to pay +$6000 for my flights…this is gonna be interesting.

    I only fly to New York once or twice a year, so I guess I’ll just have to do it in Economy Comfort from now on. Who honestly cares about Hawaii–not me.

    Whatever. I’ll stick with it for another year and see how it turns out. If it ends up being [edit], I guess it’s over to American. 🙁

  25. Overall this is a slight positive change for a Platinum Medallion who does not fly cross country and a downgrade for those who do. Much more positive for Diamond Medallions who want to upgrade on a single International trip with companion or 2 on their own. Stinks for transcon flyers.

    Crafting a post on this as well…

  26. @deltapoints
    i already received diamond status for 2014, however as soon as i reached platinum and diamond status i chose my choice benefits. will delta reverse my choice benefits so i can now chose the regional and global upgrades. prior to the delta changes they the swu were worthless to me and i choice a delta voucher as one of my choice benefits. now that they offer global upgrades as a choice benefit, i would like to choose those. therefore i would like to reverse my choices for 2014 choice benefits and choose again. your thoughts / comments?

    • @Jack – as talked about in the post, for now, you, like me, and many more, are stuck with what we picked unless Delta does something truly good and allows a swap. I doubt it as this is not the Delta way but HOPE I am wrong!

  27. What about JFK-SAN in BusinessElite, is that still eligible for complimentary upgrades?

  28. @deltapoints
    it would be the right thing to do! how do we make @delta aware so they can allow us to re-choose. global upgrades are much more valuable than a delta voucher etc…

  29. JFK based DM here. Wow DL got rid of the one thing that kept me around. At least we find out before the new year so I can switch over to AA (who will be doing comp upgrades for all domestic routes)

  30. @swevc i am also a JFK based DM. i am strongly considering accepting a challenge from AA and moving my travel over to AA for the upcoming year.

    i emailed them, called them, took to twitter.
    i think we should create some buzz around this poor way delta is treating their medallion members. members who they claim to treat with their highest regard.

  31. I’m curious, Rene, if you know how many million and two million milers there are with delta.

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  34. I made Platinum for 2013, but sadly only going to be Gold for 2014. Haven’t picked my choice benefits yet, what do you recommend?

  35. Sfo to JFK upgrades are why I fly delta. I do this 10 to 12 times a year since SONG.

    Diamond.. Just made million miler. But now I am going to seriously start looking elsewhere. And I will let delta know. This really is terrible.

  36. René, I just 2 weeks ago made it from GM to PM for first time. Have not yet received my PM welcome packet, nor invite to choose benefit selection. I assume I’ll get to choose regional, not SWU. But the main thing that confuses me about Regional upgrades, is that they seem to be a gamble: I.e, I already get upgraded on most of my flights anyway. So it seems that when buying a ticket, I’ll have “bet” that I’m not gonna get a free upgrade, and decide to spend a regional. I’d hate to spend a regional on a flight that I’d get a free upgrade anyway. Or am I confused, and missing something here?

    • @Ken G – with ya 100% and agree. I get most of my upgrades. The thing to think about is what if you fly with wife/other. Do you want to upgrade them? If Delta hand not hosed me since I have already picked my 2014 and can not go back I would pick the 4 GU certs as 1 RT to Sweden in biz would cost $2000-5000 each vs well under $2000 total for two in coach!

  37. Jeff Thomas Reply

    If I book a flight March 2, 2014 from SBN to MSP to OGG
    Do I use Regionally or Global frets.?

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