Breaking the Cycle of Free Upgrades: Delta’s latest Changes for Medallions

Stay with me on this post–I’ll be covering Delta’s latest changes. For everyone (non elites included) except Delta’s JFK Based Elite we’re seeing a change for the positive occur here.

Delta’s Flyertalk representative just announced  the following changes:

Changes to Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs):
We are always looking for opportunities to fine-tune the Medallion program and we’ve received a lot of valuable feedback about the SWUs component of our Medallion benefits. 

On March 1, 2014, we’re replacing SWUs with two new certificate types: Global Upgrades and Regional Upgrades. Global Upgrades will be available on all routes and Regional Upgrades will be available on the same routes as Medallion Complimentary Upgrades, but have a higher priority.

Both Global and Regional Upgrades will be valid on Delta flights for all paid Economy class fares except for E, providing you even more options and convenience.

-Diamond Medallion members can choose either four Global Upgrades or eight Regional Upgrades as one of their Choice Benefits selections

-Platinum Medallion members can choose four Regional Upgrades

The current SWUs will still be available as Choice Benefits selections through February 28, 2014 and all the terms and conditions of the existing certificates continue to apply.

More information about the program changes for the 2014 Medallion year are available on the SkyMiles News and Updates section of We’ll be following your comments here and look forward to reading your feedback.

Added Choice Benefits:
There will also be two new Choice Benefits options available for selection beginning March 1, 2014:

-Global Entry application vouchers – Diamond Medallion members can select 2 and Platinum Medallion members can select one

-Tiffany & Co. Diamond Medallion premium luggage tags (2 for Diamond Medallions only)

Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades: 
Starting with the new Medallion program year on March 1, 2014, Medallion members will enjoy Complimentary Upgrades on flights between Hawaii and Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, or Seattle. However, in light of significant investments in our coast-to-coast BusinessElite experience – including premium amenities like fully flat-bed seats, Westin Heavenly In-Flight Bedding, on-demand entertainment, and premium dining – we will no longer offer Medallion Complimentary Upgrades on flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle beginning March 1, 2014. (Bolding mine)

Classic Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook By Delta

If you haven’t heard of the book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,” the premise of the title is this: Give a little of yourself, give, give, give, then bam! hit with the a big hit last, when you need it.  Delta’s announcing “enhancements” like GU/RU style upgrade instruments with no fare restrictions, new choice benefits, new upgrade routes, and then the Right Hook, *Bam!*, no more LAX/SFO/SEA-JFK upgrades as elite travelers.

Jab, Jab, Jab.

Jab #1: GU/RU’s are nice for those DL flyers who’s system-wide upgrades were useless before due to fare restrictions. The new structure is as follows:

GURU Delta
Click to be taken to Delta’s page about Global Upgrades/Regional Upgrades

I’m very certain DM’s will get use out of GUs/RUs. Global upgrades will be useful for confirmed upgrades for international flights. No more overpaying for higher fare classes or wasting your SWU’s (or not choosing them).  If you’ve always gotten zero benefit from your choice benefits this could be the start of a new year for you.

4 GUs and 4 RUs is a bit stingy for a DM (125,000 flown), especially for those flyers who have a family. 1 GU needed in each direction means 4 will only get you+1 there and back. And as Delta likes to restrict these by member, no trading of these is a negative for everyone. No trading means you might be stuck deciding who flies up front, say, if you fly with your family internationally.

Delta’s very shrewd with this one; Most DM/PM would be in Economy Comfort on international flights anyway.  For the 4 GUs they use they’ll be freeing up Economy Comfort seats for sale to someone else. I’m sure they ran the numbers, and  the incremental cost is low.

Jab #2: I won’t even really discuss the new “choice benefits.” I can’t think of anyone who will be shifting their flying to delta for the Tiffany & Co bag tag.  If that’s you, I’d love to interview you for a post on DYKWIA’s.

Jab #3: The Last Jab is the upgrades from LAX-SFO-SEA to Hawaii. These are nice–although I’m not sure how many people will really see the value in this.  I think anything positive like this that you can use should be considered valuable–but the idea that you “might” use this someday should discredit it from your mind in comparing real value.

This comes right before the right hook, the small notice, that since the new BE flights to/from JFK are so great they will now be excluded from all upgrades (except those aforementioned GU’s).

The Right Hook–No More Upgrades (And Why I Love This)

Tucked in the end of that announcement is the hard hit–you won’t be getting complimentary upgrades on your flights between LAX/SEA/SFO and JFK. The idea is that that the LAX/SFO/SEA-JFK flights are just so good, Delta can’t keep giving them away. Except–if you use a GU (They’re called Global Upgrades–but for some reason this applies to LAX-JFK), then they can give them away to you, but again only 4 times per year.  This is a negative for any Delta PM/DM who used to fly these routes and get upgraded via status prior to the changes.

Why this change? And how is this good for non-elites? I covered this in my discussion on “The airline equivalent of a free cup of coffee.” Today you’re seeing a dual economy in First Class forming right before your eyes.  There’s the “real” first class seats–lie flat, with great service. And then there’s the old First Class seats.  The ones no one will really pay for, and so they can give them out for free anyway.

To an Delta Elite today marks the end of the road for those upgrades on flights with the eye candy and seats you’ll really want/need to be upgraded on.  The best of the best are no longer for free.  Hey I get it–new seats, new IFE, everything costs money. And Delta’s made their stand; Unless you can break the cycle of free upgrades you’ll be stuck in mediocrity. 

What I like about this as well is that flying a cabin with a less than full Business Elite is likely not going to happen, so you’ll see same day upgrades go on sale for pretty affordable amounts.  I also think you’ll also see increased award seats for Delta Business Elite seats much like you do with AA if you wait to the very end. This is a hunch right now–but as things develop and news trickles down I’m sure we’ll learn more about the true cost to upgrade yourself.

So in a way (as a BYOE) I applaud Delta–you’ve started the discussion–some seats are too good to give away.  Where Delta Goes United is sure to follow. Watch out Elites, your free cup of coffee is in danger.

Update: Reader Del reminded me that United also does not upgrade JFK p.s. routes.  I’m leaving the post “as-is,” but want to include this because it does change the ending tone of the post.

Everything below this line is Automatically inserted into this post and is not necessarily endorsed by Milenomics:

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. An alternate view, from the side of the pax who provide that revenue that helps pay for Delta’s cabin overhauls (versus, fleet overhauls, to which, thanks for all those 18-y.o. 757s trucking x-country) …

    You’re describing the JFK-LAX/SFO/SEA routes as though they’re precious little baubles that Delta can put in a jewelry case, giving away 2nd-rate upgrades everywhere else while holding back transcon even from its elites. (note that the Global Upgrades aren’t even available to Platinums.)

    For the many, many elites who fill up these flights, this is the biggest slap in the face imaginable. And that extends to the many corporate clients at Facebook/Google/&c. who are back in Economy Comfort and exit-row middle seats because they’ve been out-statused, in addition to us poor chumps who actually spend our own money to fly these routes.

    In other words, with one move, Delta just eliminated 80-90 percent of the reason I’d ever give them my loyalty.

    1. Jon: Absolutely–you bring up a great opposing view for the true revenue DL Medallion Flyer. This is an example of Delta changing the game, on their terms, in their favor, for Elite travelers. You spend all that money, and they reward you with cutting back benefits, disguised under three “Enhancments” (Jabs). Then they hit you with the right hook; Reduced sky club offerings, worse redemption for your miles, and now this.

      I’m a non-revenue flyer on all airlines, and as most of my posts show I could care less about EQM’s MQM’s or status. Status is overrated, and the uncertainty (for elite travelers) of 2014/2015 with Delta/US/AA exemplifies this.

      The overall issue, and one I allude to in the post is; If this works for DL, what happens when AA and UA follow? I think you’ll see improvements in First class cabins on flights where people are willing to pay for it; and continued destruction of First on other domestic routes, until some routes end up in a Southwest type config. You can’t keep giving something away and also improve it. I too feel for those aging 757’s and would literally rather be in coach on a newer plane.

      Should you break it off with Delta? A few weeks ago I wrote this:

      As for the SFO/LAX/SEA-JFK flights; I didn’t describe them that way–Delta did. They literally said “in light of significant investments in our coast-to-coast BusinessElite experience – including premium amenities like fully flat-bed seats, Westin Heavenly In-Flight Bedding, on-demand entertainment, and premium dining.”

      I agree all of this is slap in the face (or a right hook, as in the post) for elites, and a slippery slope. What’s next? LAX-ATL? Take away the Hawaii upgrades when new planes move in there? For a guy like me who wants to be able to guarantee first without having status, this is a move in the right direction.

      All the more reason to use Milenomics’ BYOE program–and cap yourself at GM with DL.

  2. Interesting post but UA already excludes its JFK transcons from comp upgrades, I could see this coming once DL changed the mileage requirements for awards on these routes. Will be interesting to see if UA will also up the mileage for JFK transcons soon…. Sigh

    1. Del: You’re absolutely right about UA excluding those p.s. when they moved to “unlimited” upgrades in 09/10. I’ve left the post as is, but added an update at the end. Thanks Del.

      Upping the mileage for a JFK flight would be bad as well. My biggest fear is that AA will adopt a 3 tier award structure (from US), and United will follow suit. All three majors will then have three tiers, and can put most premium routes in the “mid/high” tier, and keeping the 25k r/t level for show.

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