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Trip Coach: March 27, 2006

updated February 21, 2017
Matthew Bennett, editor of FirstClassFlyer.com, answered your questions about airline upgrades.

Matthew Bennett: Hi, it's Matthew Bennett here. Thanks for joining me. There are a lot of questions here so I'll try to keep my responses brief to cover as many questions as possible.


Salt Lake City, Utah: What's a methodical way to research how to get first class tickets? It's incredibly daunting for a beginner to the upgrade game, since the best way to get from A to Z isn't necessarily a straight line. I am planning a trip with my husband to Ireland in October (no exact dates yet). We have plenty of American Express Rewards points and Delta miles, but I don't want to squander them--I'm also planning a trip to New Zealand for us sometime next January or February.


Matthew Bennett: I'd start by learning ALL the Amex point-transfer partners. There are a number of them and I'd take whichever has the best availability of mileage seats. Check availability with the partner before you transfer your Amex points into airline miles -- as you can't transfer back. I'd even look at flying Virgin Atlantic via London, as it has the best Business Class transatlantic.


Sydney, NSW, Australia: Hi,

I travel to the US every 12 months and to Europe occasionally and have never been able to get an upgrade. On August 28 I am flying from Sydney to London and back on September 19 - Copenhagen/London/Sydney. I have asked when I have booked, at check in and at the service desk and everyone tells me it is someone else who makes the decision. I dress neatly, only carry a large purse and sometimes a camera case and always check in as early as possible. Help?



Matthew Bennett: Without a confirmed Business Class ticket in hand before you're off to the airport, you're really leaving it up to (not good) chances. Nowadays, the flight must be oversold before gate agents are interested in moving passengers to Business Class. You might ask a travel agent to look at the seat map to find a full row of empty coach seats, which might allow for some decent sleep.


Tinley Park, IL: We're going on a cruise out of Miami in June. We're leaving the night before to make it easier to get on the boat early.

We're leaving 6/15/07 on AA 1048 at 8:10a from O'Hare and returning on AA2773 on 6/23/07 lvg. Miami at 3:55p. We're a family of 4 - 2 adults and 2 kids (16 & 12). We usually board at the very end and also dress up a little and always ask if we can be upgraded - but it never works - we do this when we travel as a couple also - and have never been successful - any tips or advice? Thanks.


Matthew Bennett: Here again, the upgrades doled out at the airport are few and far between. You might check fares into Ft. Lauderdale (a "low-fare" airport) as they can often be much less than Miami -- and the airport is a lot easier to navigate!


Dana Point, CA: My husband and I are flying to Rome, Italy the beginning of May. We are 64 and 62 years old respectively. Our Delta flight departs from LAX with a change of planes in DC. We have our reservations and have our seating selection which is not optimum. I have a leg condition that makes it very difficult to sit still on a long flight. When permmissable, I get up and walk so I always request an aisle seat. We prefer bulkhead or exit isle seating so I can stretch my legs out. Even though I told the airlines I have a letter from my doctor, they would not accommodate this request at the time we made our reservations. Also, on two legs of our journey, seat selection is made at the gate. Any suggestions on how I can get better seating?

Thank you.

Matthew Bennett: I'd buy a one-day pass to the airport lounge. Asking for a better seat in economy is not too much to ask for, and agents are more empowered in the lounges to take care of visitors than gate agents -- who are in a rush to get you on the plane and gone.


Jefferson City, Missouri: How can you know if the ticket you are purchasing online from an airline's website is a ticket that might, or might not, be upgradable?

Matthew Bennett: Make sure to identify the one-letter "booking code" (i.e. Q, V, S, etc.) when you're making a reservation for the fare being quoted. Before you hit the "buy" button, go to your airline's web site and look at the fine print underneath the "Mileage Award Chart"; here the applicable fare codes are usually always identified.


Granville, Ohio: My sister and I are traveling from Columbus, Ohio to Amsterdam. What is the best strategy to try and get upgraded without paying an arm and leg? My sister is not a very good flyer and gets nervous, this is her longest trip yet!

Matthew Bennett: If you're willing to pay a little more, and you don't have the miles to upgrade, you might consider United's "Economy Plus Access." For $299/year, it upgrades you to coach seats with five inched more legroom, for you and a companion, for a full year's worth of travel. The five inches of extra legroom may not sound like a lot, but it can indeed make you feel much less like a sardine.


LAS VEGAS, NV: My parents are going to fly out to visit me in May. They usually fly Delta airlines from Sarasota. They do have frequent flyer miles, however, I do not think they will be using them for this trip. They are both in their 80"s and they have problems with the cramped seats. Is there any way that I can upgrade them after they purchase their tickets. They have limited money and I would like to make their trip more relaxing.

Matthew Bennett: You can always pay the "fare difference," after you've already purchased a coach ticket to upgrade, which isn't always as bad as you may think. It's always worth asking what the difference in fares is as you may occasionally be surprised.


Los Gatos , California: We frequently fly between San Jose, CA ans Maui, Hawaii on a variety of airlines. How do you get an upgrade? I have lots of frequent flyer miles on United and American. Nancy

Matthew Bennett: Great question. I'd try upgrading on United first, as it doesn't have the "upgrade surcharge" American just instituted on this route. Try to book as far in advance as possible for the best availability of seats, and just call the airline direct.


Savannah, GA: In September my husband and I are flying to Barcelona for a Mediterranean cruise. I have about 60,000 Skymiles and will have more by then. If we get cheap tickets now, will we be able to upgrade to Business Class? Is it possible to upgrade at least one way? Thank you.


Matthew Bennett: Delta has the worst upgradeable fares of any airline I know. You have buy a fare booked in "M" class, which can be double the normal fare, if not triple. What's worse is if you buy the M fare now, you might not even be able to upgrade! Stay away from Delta miles/upgrades as much as possible.


DENVER CO: My question is not so much about upgrade but about how does one go about getting moved to one of the 5 or 6 first rows that the airlines hold until day of flight and say that they can only be released on that day? When you book on line the rows always start with 10 or 11.

Matthew Bennett: These seats are usually reserved for elite status mileage club members. If they don't fill up, they can be given away just before departure. Try boarding just before departure and asking an agent just before you do.


Queens, NY: I've been a silver medallion member with Dleta for 3 years, and have well over 200,000 frequent flyer miles with them, but I have never once been upgraded by Delta. Is there something that I should be doing?

Matthew Bennett: I hear this from elite members of airlines that give away "free" upgrades all the time. The promise is alluring, but, with so many looking for the freebies, there are simple not enough to go around. Try another program if you can.


New York, NY: If I purchase coach tickets to a destionation and a friend wants to give me reward miles to upgrade to first or business class, will most airlines allow this?

Matthew Bennett: Yes. The rules allow one person to redeem their miles for another person's travel, no problem.


Sarasota, Florida: I visit Ireland annually July thru Sept. Since flying business on several occasions I am spoiled, however, always thru upgrades with mileage. What is the best way to attain upgrade seats. I paid $1,825 for the upgradable ticket plus 50,000 miles. Any suggestions to improve the process will be greatly appreciated.

Matthew Bennett: This sounds like a Delta fare as it's quite high. If you're considering paying this much, I'd either ask what a Business Class fare is to purchase outright, and save your miles -- or, use another 30,000 or 40,000 miles for a free Business Class ticket, and save the money.


Copenhagen, Denmark: I have quite a few United Mileage Plus miles, however, because I'm temporarily living in Copenhagen, I frequently fly SAS (5-6 times/yr) back to the States.I earn UA miles for these flights through Star Alliance, but it doesn't seem like I can use my UA miles for upgrades on SAS. Is there a way to use UA miles for their partner airline flights? Thanks.

Matthew Bennett: Yes, through United's "Star Alliance Award Chart," you can redeem miles on any of the partners. See its web site or you can call them directly.


Scottsdale, AZ: I travel often for business, lately my bags have not been arriving when I do and are delivered to my hotel after arrival. Stressful to say the least. A friend said she noticed the same issue and felt the delays were because of security checks on her bags being triggered by a hair dryer that resembled a weapon. She began carrying on the hair dryer and no more issues with late bags. I also notice when I check my bags with the skycap, they seem to arrive as well. I always have them tagged with priority tags, makes no difference. Any other tips you can offer to make sure the bags arrive when I do?

Matthew Bennett: Yes, stop getting to the airport so late : )


Nashua, New Hampshire: Dear Matthew,

My husband, aged and I, both in our 60's, are going on a vacation to St. Thomas, USVI, on May 13 and returning on May 27, 2007. We are flying out of MHT, Manchester, NH, on award tickets on USAirways. We will have 1 stop in Philadelphia on the way there, and 1 stop in Charlotte on the way back. Do you have any suggestions for upgrading these seats?

Thank you,

Barri Jo

Matthew Bennett: Award tickets are not upgradeable. But you can redeposit the miles and pull out enough for First Class if they're available.


Moderator: Is there such a thing as non-refundable first class tickets?
If so, if you cancel a non-refundable first class ticket, must the airline refund your taxes in full?

Matthew Bennett: Good question¿fortunately, yes.


Dallas, TX: If you purchase a package trip (say thru Gate 1 or Globus), can you use airline miles to upgrade to business class?

Matthew Bennett: Usually yes. But again, make sure you find out the applicable fares from your airline, BEFORE you call the tour operator to book.


Washington D.C.: One advantage of elite status used to be, at least I thought that was the case, you get preferential seating not only on the airline you accumulated the miles, but other members of your airline's alliance. But apparently no more. I'm elite status with U.S. Airways, but noticed that I'm no longer entitled to up front (coach) seating on United, another member of the Star Alliance. Is this true for all the airline alliances? I remember being silver elite on Northwest, and getting a first place upgrade on Continental. Are those days over?

Matthew Bennett: No they're not. But you're probably looking at Economy Plus seats, which are not game. All other economy seating on other carriers are usually available for preferred seating privileges between partner carriers.


San Diego: We are planning a trip to Italy. We have enough points on United to use toward upgrades. What class of ticket must we buy to guarantee our upgrade to business or first class?

Matthew Bennett: While there is no guarantee, applicable fares are C, D, Y, B, M and H class.


Union, NJ: Hi Matthew!

I am traveling from EWR to Honolulu on May 20 and returning on May 28. My boyfriend (29) and I (24) are on the non-stop flight both ways. We are currently booked in coach, but would like to upgrade to first class. I have enough miles to make the upgrade and my boyfriend is about 3,000 miles short.

Can you help us? I don't know if I can stay in coach for 10 hours straight!



Matthew Bennett: Ten hours is indeed a lot of hours in coach. It might even feel like 20 if you're not careful. So, you should know that you can buy the remaining miles directly from Continental, through its "top off" program.


Henderson, Nevada: Hello,

I was a United Premier member but it lapsed at the end of February 2007. I purchased a ticket from Las Vegas to SFO to Shanghai (PVG) on May 10 and got stuck with a middle seat. All the other legs are fine but I would like to get an aisle or window on the long flight to Shanghai. I actually use the United credit card for purchases and even used it for this ticket. I think the problem is that I booked it through a travel agent and not United itself.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,


Matthew Bennett: Here again, this is a great opportunity to get value out of United's "Economy Plus Access" program, especially when you're stuck in the worst seat imaginable.


San Juan Capistrano, CA: Is there a way to upgrade airline tickets made through a cruise agency? On April 7th we are flying from LAX (Los Angeles, CA) to Honolulu, HI and then have a seven day cruise around the Hawaiian Islands on NCL cruise lines' Pride of America ship. We got the best airfare through the cruise line, but wonder if and how to upgrade the flight? Passenger info: 2 males, ages 50 and 67. Also, can you upgrade tickets made with frequent flyer miles without using more miles? Thank you. Lon James

Matthew Bennett: You should be able to use your miles, but make sure it's an "upgradeable fare" you bought. While cruise lines don't often promote them, there are often special "negotiated" premium fares that can be available. But you must ask for them specifically.


durango colorado: when is the best time to be able to upgrade a class ? Especially if i want to upgrade using frequent flyer miles.

thank you very much

Matthew Bennett: Off season, morning flights to Europe, newly introduced routes, and partner carriers are best.


Sonora, CA: My wife and I (both seniors) have economy coach seats from

SFO to London (and return 3 weeks later) on British Air May

18. We don't have miles accumulated on BA, but we do on

one of their "partner" airlines. Is there any way to use these

"partner" miles to upgrade to business class on BA?


Matthew Bennett: Remember, you can buy 20,000 BA miles annually directly from the airline, and it only takes 25,000 to upgrade from Premium Economy to Business. A good value for the airline's lie-flat seats. You can buy another 5,000 Starwood Starpoints, which you can then transfer to BA.


Austin, TX: I am flying to Shanghai, China on American Airlines on April 20th (Austin to Chicago to Shanghai) and returning through Tokyo on March 2nd. I am interested in finding out ways to upgrade.

Ages of travelers, 33, 43 and 40.

Matthew Bennett: Here again, if you don't have enough miles to start with, the airline will sell you enough miles to upgrade. For this long a flight, it's well worth considering.


Santa Cruz, CA: My fiance and I, both 26, will be traveling to Italy for our honeymoon this June. This will be his first trip out of the country and I am very concerned with his comfort on a long flight as he is six foot six. I wouldn't mind being upgraded to an exit isle as long as we aren't directly over the wing, but being upgraded to First Class or Business Class would be ideal, especially since this will be our honeymoon. Any ideas?


Thurs June 7th:


SFO to ATL 8:45am

ATL to MXP (Milan Malpensa) 5:30pm

Sunday June 24th:


FCO (Rome Leonardo da Vinci) to CVG10:45am

CVG to SFO 4:40pm

Matthew Bennett: Seatguru.com will show you where the best seats are.


St. Louis, MO: My fiancée and I are getting married in September and traveling the world starting most likely Oct 1-ish. What are the chances of getting upgrades on any flights since we are newlyweds?

Matthew Bennett: This is the one time gate agents might respond. Let everyone around know about the occasion!


Tulsa, OK: I have been upgraded to first class twice. How does an airline choose who it upgrades? I've heard the earlier booked passengers get the upgrade or frequent flyer members have priority for upgrades. What helps?


Matthew Bennett: You're right, it usually goes in order of the highest elite status member to the lowest, then it goes by who paid the highest fare.


Foothill Ranch, California: In April 2007 issue (page 48, "HOW"), "A Back Door to VIP Status," Budget Travel talks about the AA 90-Day challenge. Is this promotion still on? If so how/where to find it on web at AA.com? ---


Matthew Bennett: Yes! And it's one of my favorite elite fast-track strategies. You must call American, and specifically as for "AAdvantage Customer Service." They will know all about it, and give you all the specifics.


Matthew Bennett: I can't remember an hour that went so fast! Sorry if I didn't get to your question and thank you all for taking the time to discuss with me my favorite topic: Upgrading! Matthew Bennett, aka Mr. Upgrade, Editor firstclassflyer.com


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