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There are many ways to fly in comfort in First and Business Class – even Premium Economy Class can be a great way to fly. Whether you are buying a decent cash fare or redeeming miles/points for a premium ticket, there are plenty of ways to book yourself into a luxury flight experience. While most people usually use miles to book award tickets directly into the premium cabin, you can also use miles and points to upgrade a cash ticket – with restrictions.

There are plenty of ways you can upgrade a flight – ranging from complimentary upgrades for elite members to miles to vouchers to cash upgrades, etc. – there are a number of ways to turn your Economy Class ticket into something more premium and luxurious.

will you upgrade your next flight?

will you upgrade your next flight?

Upgrade Flights with Cash

Many airlines allow you to upgrade your ticket into a higher cabin using cash/money with a credit card, usually online or at the airport. Do note that upgrading a ticket is usually less expensive than changing your ticket into a premium cabin. There’s a difference – you can rebook your entire ticket to be a premium cabin ticket (which will usually be expensive) or you may be able to upgrade individual segments at a fixed cost, this method is usually less expensive and also allows you to upgrade the flights that matter the most to you.

Bid for Upgrade

Airlines have introduced the ability to upgrade a ticket at a price you can select, in the form of a bid. The highest bids will obviously be selected first and depending on how full the flight is, more offers could be taken into consideration. You can usually bid for an upgrade up to 48-72h prior to the departure of a flight. You should be notified within 24h of your flight’s departure if your offer was successful, at which point your credit card would be charged and your boarding pass would reflect your new class of service.

Do note that not all airlines offer the ability to bid for an upgrade. Every airline is unique in the services it offers and therefore your travel experience will vary from airline to airline.

Upgrade with Miles

The most common form of upgrading a flight is with miles and points from a frequent flyer program. There are a few restrictions to be aware of – firstly, sometimes the cheapest tickets cannot be upgraded as the booking class is too low, there are exceptions to this, however. If you are upgrading a flight using the operating airline’s frequent flyer program and you purchased your ticket directly with the operating airline, there are sometimes ways where you can upgrade even the cheapest tickets using miles – usually the cheaper the ticket, the more miles you will pay to upgrade your flight (if possible). There obviously needs to be upgrade availability.

Some airlines allow you to upgrade a partner airline’s flight using miles – so you might be able to fly on airline A and use airline B’s miles to upgrade the flight on airline A. Do note that in cases like this, you almost always have to have a ticket in a high fare class – so a flexible ticket in most cases, and these are more expensive than the cheaper tickets. Basically with partner upgrades, you have to be booked into a higher fare class in order to be eligible, and as always, there has to be space.

Do note that some airlines also charge you a co-pay when upgrading with miles – this is very common with US airlines and not with foreign ones.

Upgrading a Flight with Vouchers

Frequent Flyer members with elite status may receive a certain number of upgrade vouchers per year or per miles flown – these then can be used to confirm an upgrade on a flight. As with upgrading using miles, there are restrictions such as having to book above a certain fare class to be eligible. If a confirmed seat is not available, you can usually waitlist and you will be notified if your upgrade confirms and if it does not, your vouchers would be returned to you.

Complimentary Elite Upgrades

US airlines upgrade their frequent flyers on certain routes on a complimentary, space-available basis. You’ve often seen upgrade lists on flights and these would be eligible elite members listed for a certain flight – it all comes down to last seat availability in these cases. Though keep in mind that the higher elite status you have and the more expensive ticket you have booked, the higher are your chances of an upgrade. These waitlists can sometimes feature over 75% of passengers – so a complimentary upgrade is usually hard to get, especially since premium cabin fares have gotten more reasonable over the years.

In the case of other airlines which do not offer complimentary upgrades for elite members on a regular basis, they can sometimes upgrade certain elite members on full flights to a higher cabin – these are called operational upgrades. If Economy is oversold or fully booked, the airline could upgrade elite members on high fares to a higher cabin to make more space in Economy. This is never guaranteed and all depends on the load factor of a specific flight.

upgrade your flight to elevate your trip

upgrade your flight to elevate your trip

All in All

There are several ways to elevate a flight to experience more luxury and comfort throughout your journey. Remember that when upgrading, you are restricted to certain aspects and must follow all of the rules in order to be eligible. Double upgrades are not allowed – so you can’t go from Economy to First Class if there’s a Business Class cabin on the flight.

These days upgrades with cash have become much more reasonable and lots of travels opt to upgrade their flights using this method. Upgrades with miles can sometimes be complicated due to all of the restrictions, but they can be worth it if you understand the rules and hold an eligible ticket. Airlines have introduced more ways to elevate tickets over the years as travel with more comfort has become more popular and more affordable to many and therefore an upgrade on a flight is well within reach these days. Remember that even if you don’t fly with the airline you want to upgrade on with frequency and don’t have miles with them, you could potentially transfer those in from a flexible and transferable bank points program.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.