Maximizing Delta Systemwide Upgrades Domestically

Jun 15, 2012

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This handy how-to guide on Delta systemwide upgrades comes to us courtesy of our TPG intern, Ryan, who, despite being a college student is already one of the savviest Delta flyers I know. Here are his inside tips on making sure you get value out of your SWU’s and some routes he suggests using them on.

As I’ve said before, Delta systemwide upgrades (SWU’s) tend not to be as valuable as American Airlines SWU’s since there are minimum fare class requirements in order to use them, which pull up the price considerably. For instance, while traveling internationally, the cheapest upgradeable fares could be well over $2,000 or even $3,000. However, domestically Delta’s SWU’s are not as restrictive on the fare class that needs to be purchased in order to upgrade, and learning how to use these SWU’s properly is key to maximizing your chance to upgrade while flying Delta. Domestically, Delta’s systemwide upgrades are great, because they have a higher priority over all Medallion Upgrades (including those on Full Y fares).

Delta Choice Benefits options.

How to get Delta Systemwide Upgrades (SWU’s):
Just to go over how to get these Delta systemwide upgrades in the first place – they are part of Delta’s Choice Benefits for Platinum and Diamond Medallion Members who earn their status outright (so if you status-challenged to Delta, you would not get these, until you earn 75,000 or 125,000 MQM’s). Other Choice Benefits include Delta SkyClub passes, bonus miles, a Delta Air Lines $200 voucher, or gifting Medallion Status.

For those who opt for the systemwide upgrades or are thinking about them, a great option is to use these domestically on elite-frequented routes. Especially those where there tend to be a lot of paid first or business class passengers. Two such routes these can be great to have for are the JFK-LAX/SFO transcontinental flights. These routes are served by Delta’s 757-200 with just 16 BusinessElite seats up front (compared to 24-26 seats up front on the other 757’s). It’s not uncommon to get to the gate and see only 1 or 2 seats in Business Class open, with 30+ people on the upgrade list. So when the real estate is this scarce, you’re going to need an ace in the hole to assure your upgrade.

Checking Fares For Upgradability
Delta’s systemwide upgrades are valid for use within or between the 50 United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Mexico on published economy class fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, or K class. With that in mind, I looked for some flights from JFK-LAX, and came up with a few options:

A Delta upgradeable fare booked in K Class where you can apply a SWU is $579.

The three options I would consider for these flights (excluding redeeming miles) were:
Lowest Coach Fare: $319.60 (T class)
Upgradeable Coach Fare: $579.60 (K class)
Lowest Business Class: $3,419.60 (D class)

Delta’s lowest business class fares on the same flights were over $3,400.
JFK-LAX never has advance upgrade space so it always comes down to the gate, as ExpertFlyer shows.

Upgrading Issues
There has been a lot of talk and criticism lately that theses SWU’s do not get coded properly. However, after thoroughly researching this I think I have found out what the problem has been. The SWU’s are actually being coded properly and will show Upgrade Waitlisted if there is no upgrade space available at the time of booking. However, the reservation will also show “Upgrade Requested,” since anyone redeeming one of these is probably also a Medallion member and therefore automatically placed on the upgrade list. To solve this issue, you need to call Delta and asked to be removed from the Medallion Upgrade list, and then the website will show your status as Upgrade Eligible.

A correct SWU request as Business (Z) is Waitlisted and a Medallion Upgrade says Eligible vs. Requested.

The reason for this snafu is, at the airport, if a customer has both a SWU request and a Medallion request, it automatically puts you on the list for lower-level Medallion request – which is why many people believe it is coded incorrectly. Fixing the code on your reservation by calling up Delta to remove yourself from the Medallion upgrade list will solve this problem and increase your likelihood of getting the upgrade you want.

When a systemwide upgrade is requested properly, the upgrade list will not show up when you check in online like the normal complimentary Medallion Upgrade list does, but note you are still on the upgrade list. This is because the upgrade is coming from Z class and not X class, which is why it might not show the upgrade list online. However it will show up on the gate upgrade screens in the airport when you check in.

Using a SWU on Delta is ideal on transcontinental flights such as JFK-LAX with their BusinessElite seats.

When requesting a systemwide upgrade, you should be at the very top of the list since this takes priority over all Medallion upgrades including anyone booked in a full Y fare, so be sure to ask about your placement on the upgrade list when you check in.

A Special Route
SWU’s can also be great to use for Hawaii since Medallion upgrades are not applicable to Hawaii. Though perhaps that will change in the future since United allows Hawaiian upgrades from the West Coast. I’ve helped friends and family book many Hawaii itineraries in K fare class for around $1,110 and 30,000 SkyMiles roundtrip. Any elite-heavy and peak routes in addition to JFK-LAX/SFO such as ATL-LAX/SFO/SEA/LAS/PHX could be opportune to use a SWU since it is almost guaranteed as long as there is a seat left when it comes to the gate. And while, JFK-LAX/SFO never have any upgrade inventory in advance, many routes do, so by using a SWU, you could secure an upgrade then at time of booking. As usual, it pays to do your homework and research which upcoming routes your SWU’s will hold the most value for you.

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