7 times a flight upgrade might be worth your money
Airplane tickets can be extremely costly depending on your travel destination — and that’s before baggage fees, seating costs, and food on some airlines.
Upgrading your flight can be a good move if you want to accumulate miles, want to book a last-minute vacations, and the flexibility to depart at an unusual time.
If you’re looking to upgrade your flight without burning a hole through your wallet, here’s when your upgrade is worth the money.
I take dozens of international flights every year, which lends to the necessity of choosing upgrades for comfort. Between wanting more leg room to stretch out and ample seat space to get work done on my laptop, upgrades come in handy.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, the average domestic airfare was $352 in the first quarter of 2017. The high cost of airplane tickets, coupled with additional baggage and seating fees, can keep many people from clicking the “upgrade” option.
However, the advantages — accumulating miles, availability of last-minute fares, and time of the week bookings are all variables that can make upgrading a more economical choice.
Upgrading your seat may give you access to premium lounges
When I was flying from Istanbul to Malé, Maldives through Turkish airlines, I decided to upgrade from economy to business class. Instead of having to pay a couple hundred dollars for a hotel room during my 8-hour layover, I was able to use my business class ticket to enter the Turkish Airlines 20,000 square-foot lounge at Istanbul Airport— which included a marble shower with towels and luxury soap, food served 24/7 at several buffets, and comfortable couches to rest until my next flight. I felt the upgrade to business was worth it to be able to lay flat and sleep on my 7+ hour flight. I ended up paying $999 at the gate (compared to $2420 business class roundtrip).
Some airlines offer last-minute upgrade deals.
Some airlines, such as Emirates and Malaysian Airlines, offer last-minute upgrades that are markedly cheaper at the gate than if you book the business class ticket ahead of time. The downside is that you usually don’t earn the miles and may not have access to the business lounge.
On my Turkish Airlines flight from New York to Istanbul, I opted to upgrade this red eye leg so I could sleep better, but kept my economy seat for the daytime flight on the return leg. This would not have been possible if I had booked the flight outright round trip, as my whole itinerary would be designated business class rather than split between economy and business. In the end, my total flight expense cost less than if I had booked a roundtrip business class ticket upfront.
If you’re bringing kids on a long flight, consider an upgrade for better seating.
When traveling with kids on a long, overnight flight, families may want to upgrade so everyone can sleep peacefully and arrive at the destination energized and ready to explore.
Airline rewards programs may offer free or discounted upgrades.
When you accumulate high status or miles with an airline rewards program, you may end up paying only a small fee for an upgrade. I accumulated 25,000 airline miles on Delta, used the miles, and only paid $70 for economy plus including taxes for a one way flight from JFK to LA during the Christmas season in December, 2017.
The difference between economy and business class tickets could be small when booking last minute.
If you book a trip last minute and are faced with expensive economy tickets, the jump from a high-priced economy ticket to business class could be small (only $100-200 difference round trip, in my experience), which could make upgrading a good deal in return for comfort.
Taking flights on less popular days or time periods may increase upgrade probabilities.
When flying long-haul international, there are usually steep prices to get into business class or extremely restrictive limitations on upgrading with miles. In my experience, if you have accumulated a healthy amount of miles on airlines and have achieved a status (like Platinum on United or Delta Diamond Medallion), taking flights at odd days and times may increase your upgrade probabilities as business travelers.
Upgraded seats are more comfortable.
For business travelers, the ability to wake up from a flat bed, rested and ready for work in another country is worth the money for an upgrade. For example, a traveler on a business flight from Guangzhou to Paris may be looking at $600 USD for the upgrade to lay flat seats in business class. However, it could be worth not having to deal with passengers getting up from the middle seat or neighbors trying to chat with you while you rest.