Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs) are arguably the best perk of the Delta Skymiles Program. GUCs are available only to Diamond Medallions, officially the program’s top tier (not counting invitation only Delta 360 status). Each GUC allows a one-way upgrade of any coach fare (except basic economy) to business class. A Diamond Medallion receives no more than four GUCs per year. Any GUC not used with 12 months of issue, expires. I used two GUCs to upgrade a $613 roundtrip ticket from Dallas,TX to Berlin, Germany from economy to business class. Purchasing a business-class ticket on Delta for this trip typically costs $5,500 – $7,000. Clearly GUCs offer great value.
Having no more than four GUCs per year means it is important to get the most value out of each one. That is why it was so frustrating when Delta screwed up the application of the GUC used on the return flights. I was upgraded on the transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta but not the flights from Berlin to Amsterdam and Atlanta to Dallas.
Things got off to a bad start in Berlin when I was unable to check in for the flight from Atlanta to Dallas. Without checking in the waiting list does not display on the Delta app. I knew I had not been upgraded but had no idea where I was on the waiting list.
Before delving further into the GUC snafu, here is a short review the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Atlanta, GA where Delta managed to apply the GUC correctly. These are the other posts related to this trip:
Delta Flight 075 Amsterdam, Netherlands (CDG) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)
The equipment for this flight was an A330-300. Delta has 31 A330-300s in the fleet. Delta A330s average just under 12 years of age. That makes the A330 one of the younger models in Delta’s fleet. Delta has been known as an airline that likes to refurbish used aircraft rather than pay high prices for new ones.
That reputation is changing somewhat as over the next several years Delta will be acquiring new A220s, A330Neos, A321s, and more A350s (notice a pattern there). The A350s and A330Neos come with Delta One Suites. Delta has said it will add the D1 Suite to existing A330s by 2021.
Boarding had begun when I arrived. AMS no longer screens everyone at the gate. However, I was one of the “lucky’ ones selected for additional screening on a “random” basis. After answering questions about my trip and having my carry ons rifled, I boarded the aircraft at 12:35 through the second boarding door on the port side.
Flight attendants greeted passengers at the door and directed them to their assigned seats. The business-class cabin has 34 business-class (Delta One or D1) seats arranged 1-2-1 in a reverse herringbone pattern. Seats have 80 inches of pitch and are 21 inches wide.
My seat was 3A, a window seat on the port side. While the seating arrangement is state ot the art, compared to the latest business-class seats, these seats look rather antiquated.
Still, this D1 seat felt roomier than the D1 seat on the 767-300ER I had going to Amsterdam. The reverse herringbone arrangement provides more floor space and feet and legs are not inserted into the space under the console of the seat in front.
Seat controls and audio/visual remote are mounted beside the video monitor on the back of the seat in front. The video screen folds out for viewing and, somewhat annoyingly, must be stowed for taxi, takeoff and landing.
The triangular console by the window is not large but at least the tray table underneath can be deployed without removing items from the console. These seats have no secured storage compartment, although I used the space between the seat and the window to hold securely items I would need in flight.
The great-circle distance between AMS and ATL is 4,401 statute miles. The flight was scheduled for just over nine hours and 30 minutes. Delta supplied an amenity kit, duvet and two pillows, LSTN noise-cancelling headsets, and bottled water as amenities. There was no mattress pad, slippers or pajamas.
After settling in, the flight attendant offered pre-departure beverages. I asked to combine champagne and orange juice and she agreed to my mimosa request cheerfully.
Pushback was one minute prior to the scheduled 13:15 departure time. It took nearly 20 minutes to navigate the AMS taxiways to position for takeoff on Runway 36L (Three Six Left) at 13:32.
This is the information the in-flight entertainment system displayed for the flight and aircraft.
Once airborne, it was time to relax and let the Delta flight attendants to do their thing.
The first meal service was preceded by drinks and warm nuts.
The meal service followed.
Delta now sends an email to passengers in business class letting them order entres online between three days and 24 hours prior to departure. I ordered the chicken thigh entre online.
After dinner, there was plenty of time to peruse the IFE and do some work on the internet. I still could not check in online for the next flight though. I wasn’t worried because I had almost six hours in ATL before the flight to Dallas. That should be plenty of time to get the GUC straightened out.
Ninety minutes before landing the flight attendants served the arrival meal. I chose shrimp and white wine rather than the breakfast options.
It was after landing at ATL and seeking assistance at the SkyClub that the GUC snafu began in earnest.
Global Upgrade Snafu
Snafu is an acronym dating from World War II. It stands for “situation normal, all fu..ed up.” That is a pretty accurate description of the GUC fiasco at ATL.
When Delta decides not to apply a GUC at booking, the passenger is placed on a waiting list. Miraculously for this trip the agent on the Diamond Line cleared my GUC on the transatlantic flights (Detroit to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Atlanta) and the KLM flight from Amsterdam to Berlin when I purchased the ticket. She placed me on the waiting list for the domestic flights (Dallas to Detroit and Atlanta to Dallas).
Usually, it is the other way around. GUC upgrades for domestic flights often clear at booking and it is the international flights that are waitlisted. I had only one other instance in four years when a GUC failed to clear on a domestic segment. That gave me some confidence that the Atlanta- DFW segment would clear as the DFW – DTW segment had on the outbound trip.
With respect to this situation, the procedures on the Delta website have two key provisions:
- If a seat becomes available in the cabin you are waitlisted for, upgrades will clear automatically based on Medallion Status. If multiple Members on the waitlist have the same Medallion Tier, upgrades will clear using the date and time each request was added to the waitlist.
- If your Upgrade Certificate doesn’t clear before check-in, you will be added to the airport standby list. While Upgrade Certificates clear the airport standby list before Complimentary Upgrades, they do follow the same clearance hierarchy.
Knowing how the process should work, I was confident that the GUC issue would be fixed. In ATL, I went to the F Concourse SkyClub. SkyClub agents are very helpful in resolving travel issues. When the club agent checked me in I finally appeared on the waitlist but as 46 of 48 with two seats available for upgrade to domestic first class. That placement was obviously wrong. The agent said he would review the situation and page me when he had more information. Famous last words.
I entered the club and called the Diamond Line while I waited. The Diamond Line rep was unable to explain or change my placement on the list. After about 30 minutes I went back to the front desk. The agent who had promised to get back to me was gone. Another agent tried to convince me that being 46 of 48 was where I should be on the waitlist.
Given the procedures quoted above, there was no way I should be at the bottom of the waiting list. Since GUCs have upgrade priority over complimentary medallion upgrades, no complimentary upgrades should have been issued for the flight if anyone with a GUC was on the waitlist. Furthermore, being 46 of 48 on the list could be correct only if there were 45 other Diamonds using Global Upgrades on the flight and they all requested using GUCs before I had.
To make a long story short, no one could explain it, no one could fix it, and no one knew who could. The SkyClub agent said that a redcoat (Delta customer service manager) could correct the situation at the gate. I spoke to a redcoat at length – no dice of course. I flew to Dallas in coach in a Delta Comfort Plus seat with an empty middle seat. The flight was very comfortable. I enjoyed the free drinks that Delta serves in Comfort Plus while still steaming somewhat from the whole snafu.
Final Analysis and Recommendations
Missing out on a domestic upgrade is certainly not the end of the world. The insulting and frustrating part of this episode was the lack of assistance from supposedly knowledgeable Delta employees. While the Customer Service department later added 25,000 SkyMiles to my account for the foul up, even they were at a loss to explain what happened. Without understanding why the GUC was improperly applied, it is possible that a similar situation could happen again.
So what might be done to prevent a recurrence of this experience or to address the problem if it crops up?
- If a GUC fails to clear, periodically ask a Diamond Line rep or supervisor to review the reservation to ensure the GUC has been properly requested.
- When problems occur escalate to a supervisor or manager. This won’t always help but you never know.
- If the agent does not have the answer you want, HUCB (hang up call back).
- Use Delta Assist, the Twitter connection to Delta customer service. I could have even done so when online over the Atlantic.
- If a problem is not corrected, ask for compensation. On this trip the video problems on the flight to AMS (15,000) and the GUC problem on the flight to DFW (25,000) added 40,000 SkyMiles to my account. Diamond Medallions earn 11 Skymiles for every dollar Delta receives from flying. 40,000 SkyMiles equates to spending $3,636 on Delta flights not counting taxes and government imposed fees.
What could have happened? Your guess is as good as mine. I believe the GUC must have been somehow incorrectly coded when the original agent applied it to my ticket. Unfortunately that is pure speculation on my part.
Have you had any similar problems using a Delta GUC or have thoughts on why it did not work on the flights from Berlin to Amsterdam and Atlanta to Dallas?