Just saying the word upgrade sounds nice. Sitting in a better seat, perhaps even a bed, complete with a refined experience feels even better. Thinking about all the questions that go into whether you can or can't upgrade, if there's space or how much it's going to cost, is the only problem with the word upgrade. Fortunately, that will all soon be very clear...
First Things First, Being Able to Upgrade Starts At Booking...
Believe it or not, it's getting a bit easier to upgrade these days. To ensure you can upgrade, you'll want to book directly with Virgin Atlantic. That's not to say booking in some other places will definitely make you ineligible, it just may complicate things and we don't want that. One thing to definitely avoid? Group bookings offered by strange travel agents or student discounts, those can never upgrade in any standard way.
Don't I Need To Book An Expensive Fare To Upgrade Using Miles?
Happily, that's old news, it's easier now! For those that don't know, tickets are far more complex than just business, premium and economy and in the old days you had to buy a special ticket to upgrade using miles. Now virtually all Virgin Atlantic fares are eligible to upgrade using miles, with no penalty for buying cheaper tickets. You can upgrade any ticket booked in W, S, H, Y, B, R, L, U, M, E, Q and X, which is basically every fare you can buy. Simple.
Ok, I'm Booked Properly, What Are My upgrade Options?
You have three choices: cash, auction or miles. In almost every case using miles is going to be your best friend, but unlike using cash, it's not ALWAYS an option (more on that shortly). Up to three days before your flight you can pay the difference in cash between the current business class fare and what you paid for economy or premium. That's almost always going to be crazy expensive, but in certain cases it may not be. Second, you can enter an online auction, where you bid for upgrades blindly. This can be cheaper than using cash, but is also often going to be very expensive. Using Flying Club miles, which you can create from shopping, flying, spending with your credit card or transferring points from Amex, Chase or Citi to upgrade with miles is almost always your best bet, when available.
I Want To Upgrade Using Miles, How Do I Know If That's Available?
Virgin Atlantic make this super easy. Go to VirginAtlantic.com, put in your dates for the flights you've already booked and instead of clicking "Money", click "Spend Your Miles". You'll see a calendar and three colors will come up. Purple for Upper Class, White for Premium and Red for Economy. If you see White or Purple on your date, you'll want to click on it and see if your flight on the day offers a seat in your desired cabin. If it does, you simply call in and lock it in. If you don't see the color you want on your date and flight, keep checking. Availability can change every day.
Does Availability To Upgrade EVER Change?
Yes, totally and this is really important for actually scoring the coveted upgrade. Availability for upgrades can change daily, especially in the week or two weeks before your flight. If it's not sold out up front, Virgin Atlantic are much more likely to open up seats to use your miles or to offer auctions. The smart traveler will keep checking daily up until the day of departure and even then, they won't give up.
I Found Upgrades. How Much Will They Cost Using Miles, Cash Or Auction?
There's a very clear chart HERE (scroll to Upgrades Table) showing how many miles you'll need to upgrade to any cabin one way. In general, expect roughly 15,000 miles to upgrade from Economy to Premium, 20,000 to upgrade Premium to Upper Class and 35,000 miles to upgrade all the way from Economy to Upper Class. The price to upgrade with cash will be different in every single situation and the cost to upgrade using an auction can be anywhere from $150-$2500 depending on the competition and which cabin you're going for. As a matter of note, there are government added taxes charged on upgrades to premium and business class cabins, though they shouldn't be too painful...
What About At The Airport? Can I Still Upgrade?
Virgin Atlantic is notoriously good at "up selling" at the airport. It's not at all uncommon when all else has failed before check in, to be offered an upgrade at check in... for a price. You can expect a number of a couple hundred bucks to upgrade to premium and a number north of seven hundred bucks to upgrade to Upper Class. In general, though tempting while you're in the moment, I can't say I advise this in most cases, since it can end up being more than you would've paid in the beginning to book the highest class. It's a personal choice. Don't be afraid to ask about using miles at the airport when offered to upgrade using cash, sometimes it works.
Ok, I Need More Miles To Upgrade, What's The Easiest Way To Get Them?
You can earn Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles from home without moving an inch. Virgin Atlantic have "Shops Away" where without even signing up for their credit card you can get at least one mile for every dollar, pound or whatever you spend on every online purchase. Sometimes you can get more than 25 miles per dollar, meaning a single laptop purchase could score an upgrade! Other than online shopping, check out the Virgin Atlantic credit card which gives you at least 1 mile for every dollar you spend everywhere. If that's not for you, keep it simple and stick to flying Virgin Atlantic and their partners. You can even earn Virgin Atlantic miles when flying on Delta, Singapore, Air China, Virgin America, Virgin Australia and more...