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No front cabin available

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I've never used miles to upgrade and would like some help, please.
We have flights booked from IAD to CDG on Continental in May. On their web site I am offered the option to upgrade to first and I would like to do that (20,000 mi and $550 each OW). However, the site also says, "No front cabin available." I'm assuming front cabin means first class?
I do see 11 empty first class seats if I try to book that same flight without using miles, so before I charge $1100, can you tell me if the odds are good I will actually get first class seats?
It is odd because on the screen that takes my charge card information, there is a button that says, "Purchase then select seats." Ai yi yi. Are seats available or not?
Anyway, I understand they will refund the money and miles if I don't get the first class seats, but will I at least get to keep the extra leg room seats I already purchased?
Thanks for your help.

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