There are all kinds of ways to get into 1st class flying Delta. The simplest one is to buy a 1st class ticket. Does that guarantee you will be flying in 1st class? No, not really. If there are simply not enough seats in 1st class (for whatever reason such a an equipment downgrade etc.) Delta could “force” you to fly coach instead. Now I put force in quotes as there is so much that can and should happen before that happens.
For example, if you look at my situation earlier this month, Delta should do all they can to get someone to volunteer to give up their seat even for thousands of dollars in compensation rather than forcibly downgrade a customer who paid for 1st class. Or, if push comes to shove, they must at least compensate you for downgrading your seat from 1st class to coach.
But that is paid tickets. What about all the other ways to get into 1st class? Say you are a Medallion and get notice of your “free” upgrade to 1st class. Are you then guaranteed the same rights as a paid 1st class passenger? No. Delta can and will downgrade you to coach if they need to, but under most circumstances do something to make the unfortunate situation better like giving you a travel voucher as an “I am sorry for this” or any of a number of other travel goodies. The point is, most times, Delta does what it can to make it right.
Then we have something totally different, and yet, not so different from a “free” upgrade – that is, using what is called a “Choice Benefit” gift for your loyalty to Delta. These Regional Upgrade (RU) and Global Upgrade (GU) certificates will only clear you into 1st class or Delta One when Delta opens up the space for you to use them. But are you then afforded all the protections as a paid 1st class passenger or are they any different from a “free” Medallion upgrade? The restrictions or wording on the certs really is limited but it says:
“Flight Irregularities: In the event of flight cancellation or itinerary change, previously confirmed upgrades are subject to cancellation.”
“Other Terms & Conditions Apply: This certificate and transportation pursuant to it are subject to all terms and conditions of Delta`s contract of carriage, fare rules, rules and regulations and the SkyMiles Membership Guide and Program Rules. Any tax liability or government-imposed fees are the responsibility of the user. For certain destinations, additional taxes may apply for travel in Business Class. Copies of Delta’s current contract of carriage and the SkyMiles Membership Guide and Program Rules are available at delta.com.
Rule Changes: Delta reserves the right to change its contract of carriage, fare rules, rules and regulations and the SkyMiles Membership Guide and Program Rules at any time and without notice. Without limitation, Delta reserves the right to modify or eliminate the Regional Upgrade Certificate program or change the rules for certificate usage. This certificate is the property of Delta Air Lines and must be surrendered or returned upon request.” – Delta.com Terms & Conditions for Regional Upgrade Certificates
Now I am no lawyer, but putting it bluntly if something does not go quite right Delta can and will dump you back into coach and there is not a lot you can do about it so a “confirmed upgrade” is not a guarantee of flying in the “pointy end” of the jet. And that brings us to an event that happened recently to a loyal Delta flyer, Vladimir. Let me share his experience:
“My wife and I are frequent flyers. She has Diamond Medallion status with Delta and I earn Silver status. I consciously decided not to [use her Choice Benefit to] gift myself Gold [Medallion] status through her since we mostly travel together on Delta.
Yesterday, Mother’s Day, we were traveling from PEK [Beijing] to BOS [Boston] with a layover in Seattle. Since there were only 3 open seats left in First Class with 23 passengers waitlisted, we decided to use 2 RU certificates so we can have a bit more comfort to rest on such a long day of travel (Complex 2 days status run from PEK to BOS). With the RU cert, we ended up being 1 and 2 on the list. We actually got cleared less than 5 minutes before boarding. We got settled in seat 1C and 1D. Then, 15 minutes later, an unfriendly gate agent came to me and bluntly ordered me to remove myself from First Class to go to my previously assigned seat in C+.
I asked for an explanation which was a revenue First Class passenger was in a broken seat. I told him I was using an RU cert and was also # 2 on the list with 3 open seats. So I asked ‘Why should I be separated from my wife on Mother’s Day when there was a 3rd passenger who got upgraded after us?’ He told me I had to be the one to take the walk of shame [i.e. move to coach].
At this point, I asked for the lead flight attendant who very politely told me he wasn’t an expert at this situation and he had already placed a call for a Red Coat [Delta customer service specialist] to come on board. After a good 10-15 minute delay the Red Coat said nothing different than the fact that they had to give my seat to the revenue passenger. Since I wasn’t ready to star on TMZ, I walked back to C+ where I asked a flight attendant for a blanket which she never delivered. It wasn’t until my wife came back to check up on me then the lead flight attendant brought it to me per her request.
I contacted Delta via twitter while on the plane and here is their response:
‘An upgrade is based upon Medallion Status. We always strive to create a positive customer experience. Enjoy the rest of your day. *FC’
By the way, my wife and I have already been on three international Delta revenue flights this year including 2 in Asia. I currently have 57K+ MQMs [elite miles]. My wife has 67K+ MQMs with nearly $50K spending on her co-branded Delta Amex Reserve credit card.” – Reader Vladimir
WoW! That is quite an experience, Vladimir. I also am happy you did not find yourself being dragged off the Delta jet by the boys in blue and ending up on YouTube and on a holiday no less! I am sorry that this happened to you and it seems like the Delta folks really dropped the ball and should have done something to make this better like calling for a volunteer to give up their seat before forcing you back into coach after you had cleared into 1st class.
I decided to reach out to Delta to get some official wording about situations just like this one because if you are like me when you hear you are “confirmed” into 1st class it sure sounds like you will, in fact, be flying in 1st class. Here is what a Delta Corp representative told me:
“Involuntary downgrades from First Class or Delta One may be the result of things like equipment changes or a broken seat. In an effort to do everything possible to avoid involuntarily denying boarding to any First Class or Delta One customer, Delta solicits volunteers willing to either take another flight in First Class or Delta One (with compensation) or stay with the flight in main cabin – refunding any fare difference or reopening any upgrade certificates and offering compensation.
In the event we are unable to secure a volunteer, Delta considers a number of factors, including Medallion Status, when determining which customer is involuntarily downgraded. Should a customer using a regional upgrade be downgraded, their regional upgrade would not be considered used and would be given back to them to use on a future flight.” – Delta Corp representative Kate Modolo
This sounds very reasonable to me even though no compensation was offered to Vladimir, but the one part that bothered me was what if you happen to be, say, flying on a Global Upgrade and have cleared the domestic leg but then you are forcibly downgraded on the international leg (and the real reason to use a GU anyway). I was further told that “If a [regional or global upgrade] cert is used on any leg of a trip it is considered used.” Well that is disturbing and could be a total fail, but then I was also told, “Delta gives its agents the ability to handle situations on a case-by-case basis to ensure we take care of our Medallions during the kinds of situation you’ve described, and beyond.” – (bold mine)
This is both good and bad. Firm rules mean we can push to get what we are promised. We can “make” a rep do what is in print. With firm rules telling us “used is used” and relying on the good graces of a rep to “take care of our Medallions” means YMMV and can mean lots of HUCB to get what we should have got to begin with.
How did it work out for Vladimir? I suggested he call the Medallion line and request his RU to be re-deposited into his account. I further suggested he ask for some compensation for both the downgrade and the most frustrating and wrong way it was executed by the Delta people including a Red Coat customer service “specialist”. While Vladimir’s RU cert has been returned to his account I am still waiting to hear if Delta will do anything further to compensate him for the poor manner in which the downgrade was executed. My guess is he will get a $200 travel voucher and an “I am sorry” stock reply e-mail. Not a perfect fix but better than nothing. Personally I would rather have just flown 1st class with my wife and would have held my ground!
So did you know all this about RU & GU certs? Did you know Delta’s T&C and stand when it comes to what your “rights” are and that they can, for any number of reasons, force you to fly coach even after your “confirmed” upgrade? What about the way Delta treated Vladimir in this situation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below! – Rene