Here’s How American Airlines, Delta and United Handle Upgrade Certificate Extensions

Jan 30, 2019

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You know what they say — you don’t get what you don’t ask for! As we approach yet another end-of-January, alarm bells ring for top-tier elites on American Airlines, Delta and United who have upgrade certificates on the brink of expiring. Each carrier handles extensions very differently, and leeway seems to change from year to year. Below, we’ll cover the latest across the big three US carriers. As ever, if you have any tricks for fellow frequent flyers, be sure to let us know in comments below.

In This Post

American Airlines

An American Airlines flight arriving in Honolulu (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
An American Airlines flight arriving in Honolulu (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

Technically, systemwide upgrades need to be used on a flight departing by the expiration date. This means American Airlines Executive Platinum members that earned status in 2017 have to apply their unused systemwide upgrades to flights departing on or before January 31, 2019. However, if you requalified for Executive Platinum status in 2018 there’s a potential workaround that we covered in detail last year.

If you’d rather shoot for a bona fide extension, listen up: Gary Leff is reporting that American Airlines is willing to extend these upgrades so long as the follow criteria is met.

  • You need to purchase a ticket and apply the SWU by the end of January for flights through April 30, 2019
  • You need a Helix score (which we’ve detailed here) of 4 or 5

If neither of these options end up panning out, use the power of social media to ask around and see if you can find someone to whom you could gift expiring SWUs. Just be sure to avoid selling or bartering with them, as American (or really any airline) would likely ban you from their program if you’re caught.

Delta Air Lines

The most coveted Global Upgrade in the Delta system: Atlanta to Johannesburg (Photo courtesy of Darren Murph / TPG)
The most coveted Global Upgrade in the Delta system: Atlanta to Johannesburg (Photo courtesy of Darren Murph / TPG)

Delta has no published extension policy for its Regional and Global Upgrade Certificates, which can be selected as part of its Choice Benefits program for top-tier Platinum and Diamond Medallion elites. Those expire one year from their date of issue, which means that a RUC/GUC selected on Jan. 31, 2018 will expire (if unused) by Jan. 31, 2019.

Delta takes a hard line on these expiration dates, with absolutely no exceptions. In fact, I called the Delta Diamond line today (Jan. 30, 2019) and attempted to apply two of my expiring Regional Upgrade Certificates to a Delta flight on Feb. 3, 2019 and was denied. Granted, the agent was sympathetic and I got the feeling that she’d love to do it if her system would allow her, but it was a no in the end.

Sadder still, Delta will not allow you to gift RUCs/GUCs unless the passenger is flying on the exact same flight as you. Bah, humbug!

United Airlines

United is the clear winner in terms of leniency with expiring upgrades. The carrier went so far as to announce an extension protocol back in November of 2018.

Assuming you’ve already requalified for Premier 1K or Global Services status, United is once again offering to extend the expiration of two GPUs to April 30, 2019, giving members an extra three months to use them up.

As in past years, the following restrictions apply:

  • You must have already requalified for Premier 1K or Global Services status for the 2019 program year.
  • You must call the MileagePlus Service Center at 800-421-4655 to request the extension.
  • You can extend a maximum of two GPUs — regional certificates may not be extended.

Note that the only way to extend these upgrades is by calling the number above, and the process can be quite lengthy, depending on the agent you get. Assuming you still expect to have two GPUs left over when the clock strikes midnight on January 31, 2019, it’s certainly worth the effort to call and get them extended through April.

Your Experiences

Of course, these policies detailed above may not match what you personally have encountered with the three legacy carriers in the US. If you’ve had a different experience, please share in the comments section below! You never know when your advice may help a fellow TPG reader successfully utilize an upgrade certificate that was set to expire.

And finally, just a reminder that tomorrow (Jan. 31, 2019) is the last day that many of these upgrade certificates are valid without being granted an exception, and it also happens to be the last day to select your Delta Choice Benefits. Don’t let these valuable perks go to waste!

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