David Klain, Mariner, aviator and technology innov… (more) Edit Bio
1 vote by Noleash Needed
I've been a top tier frequent flyer for over 10 years (defined as flying at least 100,000 miles a year and some years in excess of 300,000 miles. The rules of the game for upgrading have changed a lot and some of the old, traditional advice is no longer valid (i.e., suck up to the gate agent and be nice and you have a good chance at an OPUP (Operational Upgrade)). The reality is that in these modern times of maximizing revenue and getting every dollar they can, airlines no longer give their staff this kind of flexibility to give something away for free when they can charge for it.
Some specific examples/details on the rules these days:
– You can get a "free" upgrade if you purchase certain full-fare tickets (which come with an upgrade if space is available).
– You can get a "free" or "low cost" (relative to the cost of a full fare premium ticket) by using your miles to upgrade…but these days except for full fare economy tickets, they want miles PLUS a co-pay which can run anywhere between 100-900 dollars depending on the route.
– You can purchase a "low cost" (again, relative to full fare premium ticket) upgrade when you buy your economy ticket or when you check-in at the airport. To put it in perspective on my flight to Europe two days ago, the round trip ticket was around $2,000. I had the option to buy up to business for $800 each way. So I could have had business each way for around $3,600 as compared to $4-6,000 for a business class ticket.
– If you are a frequent flyer, there are also other upgrade programs you may be able to take advantage of. For example, at United:
- all elites qualify for complimentary upgrades on domestic flights (space available) but the upgrades are processed by category of frequent flyer (the high levels get it first) and fare class of ticket purchased. So if you are a global services flyer on an expensive economy, you have a good shot. If you fly 25,000 miles a year and are on a discount economy ticket, your odds may not be as good. It also depends on where you are flying from. Hubs like San Francisco and Washington are filled with elite flyers — it's not unusual to see over 40 people on the upgrade standby list. If you are flying out of a small market, your odds may be better (assuming it isn't a regional jet with a single cabin).
- At 75,000 miles and every 25,000 miles there after in a year I get two regional premier upgrades I can apply at time of booking for domestic flights. These used to almost always clear. These days, I am often wait listed and don't clear until the day of the flight (United seems to be holding upgrades back in the hopes someone will pay cash to upgrade and not releasing upgrades until the flight goes to departure management 40 minutes prior to departure).
- At 100,000 miles I get 6 global premier upgrades (the old system-wide upgrades) which can be used on any flight United flies (including international). These used to be great and almost always cleared, regardless of class of booking except on the tough routes like NYC-London where the Business cabin is almost always filled with people flying on business class tickets. These days United has changed the rules — do not apply for the lower economy fares on international flights and again they are holding back upgrade seats until day of departure or departure management queue more and more.
– You can purchase a discount premium cabin ticket. On United a 'Z' class business fare is often close to the price of a full-fare economy ticket if you purchase far enough in advance that the Z class fares are still available. The problem is that many people (and companies) are unwilling to even pay a Z Class (or full fare Y class) fare when they can pay discount economy. For example, on a recent trip I had between the US and Europe, a Z Class was $3,000. Full fare economy was around $2,700. Discount economy was $800. Really hard to make the argument to pay 3-4 times as much for a ticket to the finance people these days!
– A true OPUP. On a couple of occasions I have been upgraded when I got to the gate despite not having requested an upgrade. These were flights where economy was totally oversold yet there were empty seats in business. While no one will tell you, it is my belief I was one of the people they chose to upgrade because (a) I was an elite flyer and (b) I was flying on an expensive ticket. Note this has happened to me maybe 3 times in the 50+ trips to Europe I've taken in the last 2-3 years. If memory serves, it happened once out of the US heading over, once out of Europe coming back and once when our flight was cancelled leaving for Europe from the US. They were able to get me on another flight leaving that night to another city in Europe so I could make my connection but put me in Business.
Bottom line is that, in my opinion, the best things you can do to maximize your chances of an upgrade are:
1. Be an elite frequent flyer with the airline (which means flying a LOT) which puts you higher on upgrade lists and makes you eligible for upgrade instruments not available to others.
2. Buy an expensive ticket.
3. Fly from a place without a lot of elite frequent flyers.