eva air 787 dreamliner business class

Your upgrade has arrived. Well, if you do your homework.

Sorry, your sharpest suit or dress is no good here. As you know, asking for upgrades is for amateurs, the pros (which you’ll soon be) go out and get them. That’s because upgrades don’t happen because of arbitrary things, like fashion – they happen because of airline rules and opportunities. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to upgrade an international plane ticket.

If you want to trade your economy seat for a bed, you’re in the right place.

We’re going to show you how to upgrade almost any international airline ticket and the airlines which offer the most realistic opportunities to do so, using the least cash or fewest points. Oh, and upgrade availability changes daily, so don’t be afraid to keep trying up until check in!

an airplane flying in the skyAmerican Airlines – Miles And Cash Co-Pay….

What You Need: 25,000 Miles + $350 each way.

How Easy It? Moderately easy, and most fares can be upgraded.

Hot tip: Consider calling American and asking if any flights have upgrade availability before you actually book. If you want to do things the right way, sign up for ExpertFlyer, which shows you when upgrades are available.

American offers a solid value for upgrades. You can upgrade almost any economy ticket to a flat bed in business class for 25,000 miles and $350 one way. If you happen to be on a flexible ticket, you’ll pay just 15,000 miles and no co-pay.

It’s not the cheapest- but for a long flight, it can represent excellent value, especially for people who hold the American Airlines credit card and come by miles easily. If you happened to score a $350 economy deal round trip, $350 for an upgrade is nothing to cry about.

If you’re curious, check out the best ways to use American miles. For questions about how to go about booking award tickets with American miles, check out our complete guide.

an airplane with a seat and a blue pillowAll Nippon Airways (ANA) – Medium Priced Fare And Miles…

What You Need: 20,000-28,000 ANA miles or Amex Points.

How Easy It? Moderately easy, and moderately priced fares can be upgraded.

Hot tip: If you look at ANA itineraries on Expedia.com, clicking “flight details” will reveal the fare booking code, which lets you know if you’ll be booking one of these upgrade-eligible seats.

ANA has a reasonable method for upgrades, requiring you to buy only a moderately priced economy or premium economy fare, rather than the highest for an upgrade to business class. For a premium of roughly $200 over the cheapest tickets, any ticket in fare codes G, E, Y, B, M, U can be upgraded, and ANA makes it easy to find space.

a large white airplane flying over a cityAir France – Just A Lot Of Miles…

What You Need: 15,000-50,000 Flying Blue Miles, Amex, Citi Or Chase Points.

How Easy It? Easy. Almost all the cheapest fares can be upgraded.

Hot tip: Air France monthly promotional awards allow you to redeem miles for business class flights at rates as low as 26,000 miles one way. For that reason, it’s always worth browsing those before you book a cash ticket. It may save you miles!

Air France is a great airline for upgrades from economy to business class. They allow almost every booking class in economy or premium economy to be upgraded. The only catch: the cheaper the ticket, the more miles you pay. Fair enough, right?

A full fare Air France economy ticket between the USA and Europe can be upgraded for just 15,000 points, whereas a cheap ticket will run about 45,000 one way. Sign in to calculate how many miles you’d need.

British Airways – Usually Just Miles, Minimal Cash, If Any

a bed with pillows and a purse on it

What You Need: 10,000 -33,000 points and cash costs between $75-$250.

How Easy It? Semi. Only one cabin upgrades are allowed, so if you want business class, book premium economy.

Hot tip(s): Use this guide to figure out all the ins and outs of how to find seats for an upgrade. British Airways also now offers flash paid upgrade offers (in their app), which can be good value if you don’t have points.

British Airways made changes to its loyalty program, and one key improvement was upgrades. Now, almost all tickets in economy or premium can be upgraded. Unfortunately, moves from economy to premium economy require extra taxes and surcharges, so they’re rarely great value.

On the other hand, British Airways offers cheap premium economy fares, and they’re an excellent way to upgrade to business class for roughly 18,000 points and hardly any additional cash. The airline also now offers flash paid upgrade offers (in their app), which can be good value if you don’t have points.

Make sure you check out some of the best ways to use British Airways Avios.

Delta – Lots of Skymiles, or Money

Delta One Suite

What You Need: Skymiles, Amex Points or cash.

How Easy It? Moderately easy, and most fares can be upgraded.

Hot tip: Consider booking your Delta flight using Virgin Atlantic miles for amazing value.

When it comes to ease, Delta is now one of the easiest airlines for using miles to upgrade, but that doesn’t mean they’re one of the best. When you log into your booking online, Delta will display a price in SkyMiles or cash which you’d pay to upgrade. In terms of ease, it’s super easy to understand – but in terms of miles required, it may be totally insane.

Here’s a guide on how to check your upgrade price using cash or Skymiles. In general, you’ll do best if you check the offers early, or really late in the game — within the week before your flight leaves. Just keep in mind that some basic economy fares may not be eligible for upgrades, but it should tell you that during the booking process.

a large airplane flying in the skyEmirates – Lots Of Miles Or Some Last Minute Cash…

What You Need: 18,000- 95,000 Emirates, Amex or Capital One points. Or, last-minute cash.

How Easy It? Pretty Easy. Almost all cheapest fares, excluding promo fares, can be upgraded.

Hot tip: This guide offers more info on some of the sweet spots for upgrades on Emirates.

Emirates offers a few mechanisms for upgrades, like last minute “instant” miles upgrade offers, but for most people- the best method (for your wallet) is to use miles. Emirates allows you to upgrade almost any ticket to business class – and though it requires a lot of miles, it can be great for saving cash.

Use their calculator to find out how many miles you’ll need, and be sure to check for space in “Z” class to know if an upgrade is possible, ideally before booking. You can also call Emirates, and they’ll be happy to tell you if an upgrade is available. Booking flex tickets can often result in the best balance between how much cash and how many miles you’ll need to upgrade.

a bed in an airplaneEtihad – Bid Cash, Use Lots Of Miles Or Ask At Airport…

What You Need: 20,000- 97,000 Etihad, Citi, Capital One or Amex points. Or, last minute cash.

How Easy It? Pretty Easy. Almost all cheapest fares can be upgraded with a variety of means.

Hot tip: Etihad has a great chart for redeeming your points, rather than upgrading, so consider taking a peek at that before forking over all the cash for a ticket, and then still needing a lot of miles.

Etihad has a whopping four ways to upgrade – miles, bidding, push upgrade and instant airport upgrade. Basically, you can bid on a seat in an online auction, you can use (a lot) of miles, you can call for an upgrade 48 hours out, or you can use miles or cash to upgrade at the airport.

The price in miles is usually heavy (here’s a calculator), but you can create Etihad miles instantly from two credit card programs so, in the event you got a great deal, it’s not a bad option. Airport upgrades can be lucrative though.

For some in-depth info on how to use Etihad Guest miles for award tickets and a few fun sweet spots, check out our complete guide.

a seat in a planeQatar Airways – Miles, Special Offer Or Airport Upgrade…

What You Need: 40,000-10,000 Qatar QMiles, Citi or Capital One Points, or last-minute cash.

How Easy It? Pretty Easy. upgrades can be done last minute, and most are fares eligible.

Hot tip: Seek out flights which don’t appear too full in business class using ExpertFlyer. These flights are more likely to offer cheap upgrade offers, which can result in you scoring the deal of a lifetime for one of the very best seats.

Qatar has a pretty generous upgrade program, allowing you to accept a fixed cash price, or use miles to upgrade, all the way up to the check-in counter. Almost all fares except promotional economy fares booked into classes T, O, W or G  are eligible for upgrades and, since there’s no premium economy on Qatar, it’s straight to business class. Always keep your eyes peeled for those famously tempting upgrade offers using cash.

You can also use Qatar QMiles to upgrade tickets to all destinations. Qatar charges extortionate rates, at about 80,000 points for a one way upgrade on a long haul flight on discount economy tickets, but Qmiles are one of the easiest currencies to earn, given the regular 4x points promotions and ability to transfer credit card points.

Here’s the calculator to find out how many miles you’ll need to upgrade. Also, don’t be afraid to glance at the business class column from the start – no airline offers better business class fare than Qatar, like the $700 Europe to Tokyo business class deals they famously offered.

a row of seats in an airplaneSingapore Air – Bid Your Way Or Book Premium

What You Need: 15,000-95,000 Singapore Miles, Amex, Capital One, Citi Or Chase Points.

How Easy It? Easy using bidding, semi-easy using points.

Hot tip: Before you book a seat, always check the Singapore Airlines Promo Awards to see if you can get a great flight for 30% fewer points, and avoid paying lots of cash for a ticket too.

If you have an existing booking, Singapore Air allows you to use miles, or bid cash for upgrades. You can bid with cash within 7 days of your flight if you get an email invitation – or upgrade using miles at any point after booking.  Bidding for upgrades from economy to premium economy using cash can be a great value. Just keep in mind that Singapore offers lots of great sales on their premium economy as well, so be sure to check the price tag there first.

If you want to use points, going from most economy fares booked into in M, H or W booking classes to premium will require 47,000 points each way. If you want to go all the way to business, figure upon 90,000 miles for a one-way upgrade between the USA and Asia. Since Singapore Airlines offers great promo awards starting at 65,000 points for business class without needing to buy a cash ticket too, upgrading from paid economy to business is not often a great value.

turkish airlinesTurkish Airlines – Cheap Ticket And Upgrade With Miles…

What You Need: 25,000+ Miles & Smiles. Patience.

How Easy It? Moderately Easy. Usually Need To Call.

Turkish Airlines offers upgrades using their Miles & Smiles loyalty program on almost all fares, which makes this one of the friendliest upgrade programs using points. Since Turkish doesn’t offer premium economy, all upgrades from economy go directly to business class. a one-way upgrade using miles between the USA and Turkey goes for 45,000 points, and nearer destinations are about half that.

If you don’t have miles, Turkish is famous for really great airport upgrade offers, so don’t be afraid to ask at the check-in counter, or on the phone beforehand. Since Turkish offers some of the best prices in economy class, this is a great program to use. With the Middle East to Turkey only requiring 17,500 miles or a one-way upgrade, that’s a great way to save big on a ticket and still enjoy the comforts.

inside a plane with rows of seatsVirgin Atlantic

What You Need: 16,000-80,000 Virgin Miles, Amex, Citi or Chase Points, last-minute cash.

How Easy It? Moderate. You need a classic or delight economy ticket.

Hot tip: Here’s a guide to upgrades with Virgin Atlantic and how to get yours. Generally speaking though, you may be better redeeming miles outright, rather than paying cash first and then using miles.

Virgin Atlantic allows you to upgrade from economy to premium or business, which is cool. You can do so using an upgrade bid, by paying cash or by using Virgin Flying Club miles.  If you are hoping to go all the way from economy to business, you’ll pay a crazy amount of miles circa 72,000 one way plus at least $220 in cash!

An upgrade on Virgin Atlantic from economy to premium will cost roughly 17,000 miles each way and around $200 in cash. It’s worth checking the price difference first, since it may only be $200 more expensive without needing to use miles.

Virgin switched to a new system of fares in economy, offering economy light, classic and delight, so only classic or delight fares can now be upgraded. Classic is generally very affordable though and can be good value. From premium economy to business, you’ll pay far fewer miles, but keep in mind that tickets booked into the (K) premium economy booking class can’t be upgraded.

Check out the best ways to use Virgin Atlantic miles for some inspiration. For a rundown on award rates and award ticket rules, check out our complete guide to redeeming Virgin miles.

Should You Redeem Miles For An Upgrade?

Whether you should redeem miles for an upgrade is very much situation dependent. With British Airways, it often makes sense to upgrade a great fare deal instead of booking an award ticket with Avios because of the steep surcharges on award tickets. On the other hand, you’ll find that you’re better off booking an award ticket with miles if you can find award space rather than paying for a cash ticket then upgrading.

Of course, if you’re locked into specific travel dates or work is paying for your economy ticket, you might not have a choice. Just make sure you take a look at your options before you make a decision so that you can get the best deal for your travel needs.

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s a special occasion or you do a ton of work travel, everyone can appreciate wanting to lie down on long international flights. Of course, the service and the upgraded food and drink menus don’t hurt either. So, the next time you book a trip, take a look at how you might book an award ticket or upgrade your economy or premium economy ticket before you book. You might be surprised by the options you find.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Is it possible to upgrade a business class award flight on BA (having used american advantage miles) to first class using avios?

    1. Only possible to upgrade with the miles you originally used. In this case, since it’s a mileage ticket, you’d need to use the miles required for a first class ticket using miles. You can upgrade a British Airways paid business class fare to first, using the miles of the airline you booked the ticket with. So if you booked your BA flight with American, you’d use American miles. If you booked your BA ticket with BA, you’d use BA miles.

  2. So how do you actually do this?
    Buy your ticket and then immediately call them to do the upgrade?
    And if you have the proper fare class can you always upgrade as long as there is an empty seat or do they only allow so many?

    1. Hey Patrick, Great questions. Thank you. Best practices:

      1) Call in and ask about availability (with as much flexibility on your end as possible) during dates you’d like to travel. If they say yes to Tuesday but no to Monday, and you have that kinda flex, all the better.
      2) There needs to be availability. Each airline has slightly different policies and some are more and less generous. Keep checking back if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for. The week before a flight things start to change – if space wasn’t there before.

      Hope that helps.

    1. In most cases: you’ll need less miles and less cash to upgrade almost any business fare to first! Enjoy.

  3. Hey Gil,

    Thanks for the post, really helpful. Quick question, if the AA flight I’m looking at is operated by a partner airline, in this case Cathay, does this still apply?


  4. What about Premium Economy to Business class using BA Avios on partner airlines, for example on JAL or AA? Can you get upgrade directly with partner JAL/AA with cash offer?

  5. Hi! Great post, something I’ve definitely been wondering about. I noticed that you didn’t mention two of the major airlines, Delta and United. Do these two not offer the ability to upgrade, or would they follow similar rules within their airline alliance? For instance, would KLM follow Air France’s? Hoping to fly business or first class to Europe this fall, and wasn’t sure whether to book it as such, or upgrade. Thank you!

    1. Hey Jessica, If you can book business – definitely book business. Earning rates, etc are fantastic. If upgrades are more feasible- Air France/KLM offer good opportunity, same for American. Delta and United keep you to very restrictive fares- at which point you probably could buy business for the same or similar amount. Hope that helps!

  6. You forgot to include the ol’ “Sweet talk the ticketing office at the airport”, I’ve managed to get 3 economy to business upgrades on Qatar Air by doing this, all whilst at the lowest form of membership (burgundy). This has been twice at Heathrow and once in Delhi.

    I always try my luck, except in Doha, there is no point even trying there, it’s impossible to strike up a conversation, let alone get to the point of getting offered an upgrade.

  7. I have a BA CW cash booking from ORD to LHR next month. I called BAEC and enquired about an upgrade to F and was told it was not possible with Avios (no availability) or cash.

    Also OT, I booked CW LGW-KIN & FLL-ORD-LHR. Saw it £60 cheaper on Travelup.co.uk but was unable to claim the difference back as there was an AA flight included. You can’t always rely on the BA Best Price Guarantee.

    From BA
    “As advised previously, our Best Price Guarantee is only valid on flights purchased on ba.com where the flight is operated by British Airways. Your flight BA4399 is operated by American Airlies, so, I’m afraid we can’t uphold your claim. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

    Thanks again for following this up with us.

    British Airways

  8. The AA chart says 25k miles and $350 will only get you from economy to premium economy. How about economy to business class?

  9. “Since the airline offers many cheap premium economy fares, this is an excellent way to upgrade to business class with no additional cash. ”

    This really is not correct. BA demand a steep increase to the “carrier imposed charges” to do this. The last time I tried it was about £500.

    1. That’s not correct. I am sorry you had that experience, but it’s not correct. Agents occasionally miscalculate the difference when reissuing the tickets, but I’ve never had a difference any more than £50. There are countless reports of agents spitting back £500 figures, only to realize they are wrong when prodded. I do this all the time, all around the world. It’s because Premium to business falls under virtually the same taxes. Econ to premium triggers a larger difference than prem to business.

  10. This was a BA agent and after significant prodding…… Also the BA website does exactly the same thing.

    Also, it’s not taxes. You are right that taxes are pretty close. This is the sinister “carrier imposed fee” that used to be the fuel charge.

    If there is a trick to this I’d love to hear it. I’ve tried about 5 times unsuccessfully…..

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