UPGRADES: Ways to win and lose.


Getting an upgrade these days is like playing monopoly. There’s a hundred ways to win, and lose.

Upgrades are naturally limited because they represent the last seats. They usually appear from last-minute cancellations, reserved for operational reasons or simply unsold.

When one becomes available, the game begins. As passenger numbers grow and airline profits shrink, the day of free and unscripted handouts are long gone. Today, upgrades are run by an airline process, involving both staff and systems working together.


So who gets upgraded?

Most airlines allocate them based on a ranking algorithm that considers the following from each passenger:

  • Loyalty status

  • Fare type/class

  • Size of travelling party

  • Timing of your request + original booking

  • Type of flight, length, connecting route etc.


It’s important to understand the considerations above, so you can increase your chance by positioning yourself ahead of the pack. After all, you are not the only one who wants to upgrade. There is a plane-load of fellow passengers who don't want to endure Economy either.



Upgrade Invitations

Not all upgrades happen at the gate. Airlines in recent years have been improving their pre-flight upgrade options by developing ‘bidding’ systems that are run by algorithms to offload business class seats on specific flights.

You may be invited by email or sms to upgrade using cash, or more often - your points.

The number of points needed for an upgrade is now very close to that needed for a full business class redemption. So is it worth upgrading? That is the question! Let’s take a look at one example below...


Upgrade With Points

Let's use the example of flying one-way Sydney to London.

Upgrade: Discount Economy to Business Class = 120,000 Qantas points.
Not confirmed until 24 to 48 hours before departure. This is a ‘bid to upgrade’ system.

Full redemption: Business Class = 128,000 Qantas points.
Confirmed upon booking.

Note that the upgrade is only 8000 points shy of an entire reward seat booking! When you 'bid' or 'request' to upgrade, you aren't guaranteed the seat. When you book a full-reward fare, you seat is confirmed. 



Make It Count

Upgrades are wonderful, but only if you can grasp one. Capacity is growing on popular routes, and the price of Business Class doesn’t seem to be coming down anytime soon. So unless you have the quick-cash to throw at the boarding gate, you may need to rethink your strategy.


So next time you hear someone got an upgrade, ask them three questions:

  • What is their loyalty status?

  • What type of ticket did they purchase? Flexible Fare? Premium Economy?

  • Did they fly alone?


You will most likely get the answer of: solo flying, high loyalty, a flexible fare ticket with a dash of luck. That’s the common reality of upgrades.


The other reality is that loyalty is expensive. Unless your employer is funding your travels, the price of maintaining Gold or Platinum status with an airline runs into thousands of dollars annually. And even with all that loyalty, you’re not guaranteed the upgrade! (We’ll talk about this more in our next blog...)


The most affordable way to treat yourself to the front of plane is by using your points. Save them up in advance, don’t buy the golf club or toaster with them. Pick a travel goal, earn the points and search for a reward flight fare. That way, you’re getting the best value for your points, AND securing a seat up the fun side of the plane.


Like monopoly, upgrades are a roll of the dice.


5 Upgrade Myths

As a bonus, let’s talk about five common myths that people believe will score them an upgrade:

  1. Say it’s your birthday. (they know your birthday, and that’s not a valid reason)

  2. Be super nice at the gate to the staff. (you should be doing this anyways!)

  3. Dress for success. (a gold suit and entourage still won’t get you the upgrade)  

  4. Sit near a crying baby and complain. (flawed logic, and rarely results in cabin upgrade)

  5. Give the crew a gift. (this can net you a gift back from the airline, but not an upgrade)


Enjoy your flight! Comment below with your ‘upgrade story’ and share this with your friends.

Got points? Want to use them to fly business class?

Our iFLYflat Flight Concierge team can help. We've book thousands of reward flights, getting you the best value for your points. Fly the smart way, and explore your world with points in comfort.  

Lachlan Nicolson