How to Get a Seat Upgrade

Posted by Andrea M. Rotondo on October 27, 2016 at 11:20:00 AM EDT | Post a Comment

Seat Upgrade

If you've been traveling for a long time, you might remember the days when it was fairly easy to upgrade your coach seat to business or first class. But rigid rules have made gettinga better seat more difficult, since they are usually reserved for an airline's top customers. Not an elite flyer? Here are a few ways to snag more legroom on your next flight.

PAID UPGRADES

Often, you can pay the airline for a better seat—whether it's in economy plus, business, or first class. You can usually buy up to economy plus—which has a little more legroom than economy—when you make your reservation. Upgrades to business/first are often available online prior to check-in or at check-in. You can also check for upgrade possibilities when you get to the airport.

Each airline has a slightly different system for paid upgrades, but most are only available after their elite customers have been upgraded according to specific rules of the program. Some airlines, like American, only offer paid upgrades to business or first to members of its AAdvantage frequent flyer program. If you don't have elite status, you can only buy upgrades for flights on which you've purchased a full-fare coach ticket in the Y or B fare class. The cost is $30 per 500 miles. On Delta, more fare classes are upgradable, but not all routes are eligible. The price will depend on your ticket's fare class and the distance you're flying. For example, upgrades from the continental United States to Hawaii range from $269 to 399 per person on Delta flights. Check with your airline for its rules on paid upgrades.

UPGRADE USING MILES

Most airlines will allow you to use miles to upgrade a coach ticket to business/first. Be aware, however, that it's usually not a great value and you'd be better off waiting until you have enough miles in your account to redeem a ticket instead of using them to upgrade. Not all tickets can be upgraded (it depends on the fare class of the ticket) and some airlines—like United—charge a cash co-pay in addition to the miles, making the proposition even less appealing. For example, if you're traveling within the continental U.S. on a United flight, you can upgrade for 7,500 miles and no cash co-pay up to 20,000 miles and $250, depending on the fare class of your ticket.

CHARM

If there are no seats available, no amount of kindness will make a difference. But treating a gate agent respectfully and kindly can go a long way toward helping your case—especially during irregular operations. (Whatever you do, though, don't try to bribe them!)

OPERATIONAL UPGRADES

Sometimes the airline needs to upgrade passengers for "operational" reasons. Most often, the company has oversold the economy cabin and now needs to upgrade some customers from economy to business/first in order to get everyone on the aircraft and into the air on time. The gate agent has latitude to upgrade whomever he or she deems appropriate. So how can you improve your chances of getting selected? When you arrive at the gate, introduce yourself to the agent (when he or she isn't busy assisting other passengers). Explain that you have a seat in economy and would be interested in upgrading if economy is oversold. Be friendly and straightforward. If the answer is no, offer your thanks and mention that you'll be in the gate area if anything changes. Stay in the immediate vicinity so you're easy to find if the agent needs to make an upgrade. This only happens rarely, but in the event that it does, you'll want to be in the best position to take advantage of the situation.

BE A LOYAL CUSTOMER

If you fly often enough on the same airline, you will become an “elite” member of that airline’s frequent flyer program. This will entitle you to access to complimentary upgrades on that airline and sometimes even its partners. Below you’ll find what it takes to become an elite at the most popular U.S.-based airlines and what upgrades elites are entitled to.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Elite Status Tiers

MVP: Fly 20,000 miles on Alaska Airlines, 25,000 miles on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners, or 30 segments on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners

MVP Gold: Fly 40,000 miles on Alaska, 50,000 miles on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners, or 60 segments on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners

MVP Gold 75K: Fly 75,000 miles on Alaska, 90,000 miles on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners, or 90 segments on Alaska and elite-qualifying partners

 

Alaska Airlines Upgrades for Elites

MVP: Preferred seating and first-class upgrades on Alaska Airlines, preferred seating and 50% off Main Cabin Extra seating on American Airlines, and preferred seating on Delta and unlimited upgrades on select flights

MVP Gold: Preferred seating, unlimited first-class upgrades for you and a companion, and four first-class guest upgrades per year on Alaska Airlines; preferred seating and complimentary Main Cabin Extra seating on American Airlines; preferred seating on Delta and unlimited upgrades on select flights

MVP Gold 75K: Preferred seating, unlimited first-class upgrades for you and a companion, and four first-class guest upgrades per year on Alaska Airlines; preferred seating and complimentary Main Cabin Extra seating on American Airlines; preferred seating on Delta and unlimited upgrades on select flights

 

American Airlines

American Airlines Elite Status Tiers

You can earn elite status on American in two ways: by reaching a certain number of Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) or Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) on eligible fares on American Airlines, American Eagle, OneWorld member airlines, Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, and any codeshare flight with an American Airlines flight number.

Gold: 25,000 EQMs or 30 EQSs

Platinum: 50,000 EQMs or 60 EQSs

Executive Platinum: 100,000 EQMs or 120 EQSs

 

American Airlines Upgrades for Elites

Gold: Complimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles processed 24 hours before departure, free Preferred Seats, 50% off Main Cabin Extra seats, which are complimentary at check-in if still available

Platinum: Complimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles processed 72 hours before departure, free Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats

Executive Platinum: Four one-way systemwide upgrades with the ability to earn up to four more for a total of eight per year, free auto-requested upgrades that are processed 100 hours before departure, free Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats

 

Delta Air Lines

Delta Elite Status Tiers

You can earn elite status on Delta by reaching a minimum number of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).

Silver Medallion: 25,000 MQMs, or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MQDs

Gold Medallion: 50,000 MQMs, or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs

Platinum Medallion: 75,000 MQMs, or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs

Diamond Medallion: 125,000 MQMs, or 140 MQSs and $15,000 MQDs

 

Delta Upgrades for Elites

Silver Medallion: Unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades for all revenue tickets except E fares and Pay with Miles tickets, Delta Comfort+ upgrades, unlimited complimentary companion first-class and Delta Comfort+ upgrades, complimentary preferred seats

Gold Medallion: Unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades for award tickets and all revenue tickets except E fares and Pay with Miles ticket, Delta Comfort+ upgrades, unlimited complimentary companion first-class and Delta Comfort+ upgrades, complimentary preferred seats

Platinum Medallion: Unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades for award tickets and all revenue tickets except E fares and Pay with Miles ticket, unlimited complimentary Delta Comfort+ upgrades, unlimited complimentary companion first-class and Delta Comfort+ upgrades, complimentary preferred seats

Diamond Medallion: Unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades for award tickets and all revenue tickets except E fares and Pay with Miles ticket, unlimited complimentary Delta Comfort+ upgrades, unlimited complimentary companion first-class and Delta Comfort+ upgrades, complimentary preferred seats

 

JetBlue

JetBlue Elite Status Tiers

You can earn elite status on JetBlue by reaching a certain number of points based on the dollar amount spent per ticket.

TrueBlue Mosaic: 30 segments plus 12,000 base flight points within a calendar year, or 15,000 base flight points within a calendar year

 

JetBlue Upgrades for Elites

TrueBlue Mosaic: Redeem for Even More Space seats at reduced rates

 

United Airlines

United Airlines Elite Status Tiers

You can earn elite status on United Airlines by reaching a certain number of Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) or Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS). Residents of the United States also need to meet minimum Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) requirements.

Premier Silver: 25,000 PQM and $3,000 PQD, or 30 PQS and $3,000 PQD

Premier Gold: 50,000 PQM and $6,000 PQD, or 60 PQS and $6,000 PQD

Premier Platinum: 75,000 PQM and $6,000 PQD, or 90 PQS and $9,000 PQD

Premier 1K: 100,000 PQM and $12,000 PQD, or 120 PQS and $12,000 PQD

 

United Upgrades for Elites

Premier Silver: Complimentary Economy Plus access at check-in for you and one companion, complimentary Premier upgrades for you and a companion confirmed as early as the day of departure, and instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets

Premier Gold: Complimentary Economy Plus access at booking for you and one companion, complimentary Premier upgrades for you and a companion confirmed as early as 48 hours before departure, and instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets

Premier Platinum: Complimentary Economy Plus access at booking for you and eight companions, complimentary Premier upgrades for you and a companion confirmed as early as 72 hours before departure, instant upgrades on Y- or B-class full-fare economy tickets, and Regional Premier Upgrades eligibility

Premier 1K: Complimentary Economy Plus access at booking for you and eight companions, complimentary Premier upgrades for you and a companion confirmed as early as 96 hours before departure, instant upgrades on Y- or B-class and M-class full-fare economy tickets, and Regional Premier Upgrades eligibility

Photo Credit: Tea | Dreamstime.com

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