Upgrd Podcast 14: Unimerican vs Deltinental

Join us for episode 14 of the Upgrd Podcast as we compare American/United and Delta/Continental’s mileage programs. As usual, Hunter makes outrageous claims. 😉

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Can you shed some light on the upgrade magic on United? You said you always have enough “upgrade instruments” and I can’t reconcile the math, maybe you could help out here…

    (FYI I don’t have UAL status but I do have 2nd tier on AA and I’m always short upgrade segments and I think the rules are similar. Would appreciate learning how to do better. I used to have lowly UAL status and could never cash in my upgrades due to being too low on the list.)

    Normally, for every 10000 flown miles we earn 4×500 mile upgrades. In theory that’s a 20% ratio although don’t 2×600 segments use up 2? By my math that means 20% upgrades at best, less than 20% in practice? Let’s say its exclusively transcons JFK-LAX (2475 miles I think) it’s very close to that, and so with that example you have 500-mile upgrades to upgrade 1 trip in 5.

    You said something about upgrades being calculated based on direct distance as opposed to flown-miles. Can you explain that a bit better? I assume that increases your upgrade percentage?

    You also said as a 1K you get 2 confirmed region 1 upgrades every quarter you fly 10000 miles so that should be 2 more roundtrips, in theory that should cover another round-trip transcon (for those who don’t have creative routings). So following my earlier example you’re up to 2 trips in 5 upgraded, on average, a good advantage of being 1K?

    Then things specific to your situation / choices:
    a) You said you can’t upgrade TED flights. So you’re earning upgrade segment miles while unable to burn, which improves your ratio. Sort of a wash vs. regional jets flying, but it does raise the question of what happens when TED goes away, do you start to run out of upgrades?
    b) Sometimes you choose to forgo an upgrade, say on a red eye where you want to sleep. Again, earning but not burning. It’s a reasonable choice to “save upgrades for when they mean more to you”, but here your Delta friend (Hunter?) doesn’t have to make that choice and I think he could have taken the point, as you have enough upgrade instruments in the sense that you have them when you *want* them, but maybe not as many as you need to cover all your flying?
    c) Something with your confirmed regional upgrades giving you ‘extra’ bang for the buck. I’m sure most people don’t know how to do that, could you advise?

    Anyway, hope you can share some insights and strategies here – while I can’t benefit directly maybe some of your ideas will also work on AA and other ideas will benefit other readers. Thanks!

  2. Good questions, NYCguesser! Let me clarify a few points.

    When I say United bases the number of upgrades pulled based on the origin and destination I mean that flying TPA-IAD-JFK-SFO-LAX, for example, only takes five 500 mile upgrade instruments, since United bases the number of upgrades pulled on the direct distance between TPA and LAX, in this case. Since TPA-IAD is Ted, I’m out of luck, but when first class returns I’ll be able to upgrade that as well without paying extra. That’s assuming the upgrade clears before check-in, though. Otherwise they charge me the cost based on a segment-by-segment basis, like American does.

    In my case, 500 mile upgrade instruments cover about 40,000 miles of travel, since I use them creatively (with routings similar to the above).

    Then there are confirmed regional upgrades. I get eight of those a year. I typically use them for at least 4,000 mile flights each. That means either Hawaii, or sometimes something like IAD-SFO-ORD. If your layover is less than four hours, United will often only pull one for a trip like that.

    Then 1K’s also get six systemwide upgrades. Assuming you do any international travel at all, these are incredibly valuable. They can easily cover as much as 50,000 flown miles, when traveling to Singapore or Sydney, for example.

    Also, as I mentioned, I don’t always use my 500 mile upgrades, especially for flights like SFO-IAD that are redeyes on the 767. While Hunter doesn’t have the hassle that I do with 500 milers, he also can’t choose to sit in coach and “cash in” his 500 mile upgrades. SFO-IAD takes five 500 mile upgrades, and I’m able to convert those into 2,500 redeemable miles. I, for one, value 2,500 redeemable miles at more than an upgrade on a redeye to a basically equivalent seat.

    Also, let me say this. I agree that Delta’s system is easer and more practical, but that’s only try IF you don’t travel to Hawaii and IF you never travel with companions and IF you never travel internationally. Otherwise it’s not nearly as straightforward, simple, or lucrative, in my opinion.

  3. Thanks for the clarification (and lesson! 🙂 ).

    You’re doing a lot better with these upgrades than I would have imagined – the direct distance rule doesn’t exist on American and it seems like a very nice benefit, same with the expiring certificate-to-miles option. I hadn’t thought of upgrading Hawaii/4000+ as that obviously increases value of using an upgrade nicely and makes for a nice trip, don’t think Delta allows that. Unfortunately I can’t avail myself of the extra 1K-level benefits – on any carrier – as I don’t fly that much.

  4. I’m happy that cleared it up, NYCguesser. You’re right though about mid tier members at American and United. They don’t have it nearly as good, and upgrades definitely aren’t as abundant. If we’re talking just about upgrades at the mid tier level, I’d say Delta is probably the best.

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