Imagine buying an economy class ticket or booking a standard hotel room, logically for a cheaper, more affordable price, and then actually getting an upgrade for a small fee or sometimes even completely free. Who wouldn’t want to travel in a higher class or have the opportunity to stay in a hotel room above the class that was originally booked? The best thing about upgrades is they are often also available last minute and with short notice. The increased comfort will not only allow for a smoother journey but brings along with it a variety of additional perks and services.

In this guide, we are going to go through and explain how you can upgrade your ticket.

What types of flight upgrades are there?

There are several forms and types of upgrades available. They will differ slightly in regards to the services offered, but ultimately you will enjoy the full bandwidth of the upgrade in a higher travel class regardless of the type of ticket you hold. In other words you may be upgraded from economy to business, however, your ticket will still display a certain class type. Regardless, you most likely won’t notice any differences even if you had purchased the original business class ticket, to begin with.

Generally speaking, in the United States frequent flyers are automatically enrolled on a waiting list when they fly. Hence, the benefit of being upgraded is automatically higher in the region. On the other hand in Europe, generally speaking, there are no automatic waiting lists for upgrades. They may happen especially if you are a status holder of a frequent flyer program, yet, overall airlines do not automatically

Upgrading for a price

If you travel internationally, you’ll often find that airlines offer upgrades for remaining open seats on the day of travel. Hence, at a fixed price you are able to upgrade from economy to business or business to first by paying slightly more. This does not guarantee that seats are available on your flight, but if they are, then you can ask a check-in agent or at the ticket counter for the airline at the airport if there are any open seats available for a higher travel class. Generally, the prices here, if available, tend to be slightly lower than if you would have opted to purchase that specific ticket when booking (say online) from the get-go.

Things to consider when upgrading for a price is that a few things in regards to service may vary. While the upgrade may include new fare rules such as increased baggage limits, the miles you earn often stay the same with your originally booked class. Also, should you book very last minute, then on board you may not receive a business class meal and will have to suffice with a tray from the lower-class ticket.

Many airlines also offer the opportunity to book upgrades online while purchasing your ticket. Logically the benefits of flying in business are much better on long haul flights versus short trips, but either way, the additional fee, and surcharge are often very moderate compared to booking the full ticket. Best is to check upfront and do some research when it comes to the various class ticket prices.

Upgrading with loyalty miles or reward points

If you have read our article about status, then you will know that being part of a loyalty program at an airline may eventually pay off. This is also true when it comes to upgrades. Many airlines allow upgrades through the use of miles or reward points of their respective program. The way these upgrades are done vary by airline, but generally speaking most upgrades are done through a fixed mileage value, meaning the system calculates your route and ticket class and offers you the ability to upgrade with X amount of miles or points, accordingly. Alternatively some airlines offer bid systems, which allows you to place a bid with your miles equivalent to a monetary value. Should it be accepted, the points will be deducted and you’ll receive an upgrade.

One thing to note here though is that not all airlines offer full services of the next ticket class when upgrading with miles. Make sure to check your frequent flyer program and also whether or not it’s worth upgrading using your hard earned points.

Upgrading through bidding

Are you familiar with eBay? Well, many airlines use a similar system when it comes to upgrades in that you can bid for a spot. The highest bidders will then, in the end, receive the seat (upgrade). Bids are usually done right after your booking and up to roughly 72 hours prior to departure. Once the bidding has closed the airline will evaluate all offers and inform those passengers whether or not the bid went through and was accepted or not.

In regards to this process, do not expect a huge savings potential. Generally, airlines have a minimum and maximum amount in regards to the bid prices, hence forcing you to pay at least X amount of increase to obtain a potential upgrade.

However, should your bid be accepted, you will most likely receive almost all the benefits of your new travel class including priority check-in and lounge access, as well as higher mileage (points) credit. The things that often do not change with these forms of the upgrade are the tariff conditions, meaning the ability to cancel or rebook a flight. The upgrade is bound to that specific flight, and should you decide to rebook the flight you will not get the cost back and the upgrade will expire. Logically this is not the case with an involuntary booking on part of the airline for whatever reason there may be – flight delay, strike, etc.

Upgrading due to airline operations

In today’s ever-busy traveling word, upgrades through operations are fairly rare. These happen with unexpected situations, for example, an overbooked flight or an aircraft type change. These upgrades are not done at the counter. Today sophisticated software takes care of everything. The software will automatically assign people accordingly based on things like frequent flyer status, booking class, etc. On top of this, the software will look at things like the perceived value of the passenger (PCV) and then calculates how much money a given passenger is likely to spend on the airline. Should that be high, then you’ll receive an upgrade, creating an emotional bond to the airline where you may be willing to fly with them again.

Example: a business traveler, who often flies with a specific airline on higher booking classes, ultimately has a higher PCV value when compared with someone who may have a frequent flyer status, yet rarely flies with the airline or only purchases cheaper class tickets.

Upgrading due to irregularities

This type of upgrade is different from the operational upgrade in that it is done by the airline employees. Should you be rebooked because of irregularity such as overbooking or canceled flight, then someone may in goodwill, aside from other compensation you may receive, may also book you on a higher travel class. Take the overbooking example – perhaps the airline is looking for volunteers for a later flight and you say yes. As a result, you may receive an upgrade.

Either way, do not expect to receive an upgrade automatically because of an irregularity. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask when it does happen.

What upgrade method works the best?

If you are looking for a free upgrade, well those days are mostly past. Aside from the situations mentioned above, you’ll very rarely receive a free upgrade. Hence, what upgrades method works the best? Should you offer a bid after purchasing your ticket or wait until you arrive at the check-in counter?

Well, this question essentially boils down to two factors:

  1. The availability in your booked travel class
  2. The availability in the higher travel class you to upgrade too

The example being that should you class be fully booked, however, the next class barely booked, then, in this case, the airline will be looking to offer good upgrades at a lower price to move passengers and allow more passenger on the lower fare, in the end filling up the plane and maximizing profits.

Therefore, if you know from experience that a flight will be full, then it is better to make a bid in advance because checking at the airport might already be too late as all seats may be occupied. Should this be the case, then you may also want to check if using your miles/points may be useful, as prices for such upgrades may go up.

Nonetheless, recommendable is making a bid at the desired price you are willing to pay. Should that not work, ask again at the airport on the day of departure whether seats are available or not. It may be that your bid was rejected for no apparent reason, however, on the day of departure the same upgrade may still be available, even at a cheaper price.

There is no harm in asking.

In closing

You can still enjoy the convenience of a higher travel class for a very good price, should you be able to or have the opportunity to upgrade. Free upgrades, on the other hand, are very rare. When it comes to airline travel, there are lots of factors that make up the price. Depending on what you really want and can afford, that ultimately should be the primary factor of how you go about traveling.

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