a bed in a plane
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A bird in hand is worth two in the bush…

Caveats? Yes, there are undoubtedly some caveats here – but upgrades are precious, and thinking outside of the box is often the best way to get them, especially when turning a $563 error fare into a FIRST CLASS (not business class) ticket on a five star airline. One of the most common problems passengers face when trying to upgrade is availability. While solo travelers struggle plenty- bookings with multiple people are particularly difficult. Here’s a work around..

a bridge over water with a building and a bridgeA Little Backstory…

I managed to snag the incredible ANA Vancouver to Sydney round trip business class error fares offered just over a week ago for my wife and I. Be sure to read this post, so you never miss another one again. Flying business class from North American to Australia for less than $700 per person was already unheard of, but as a greedy capitalist pig, I decided to take it a step further, attempting to upgrade to first class. Possible? Yes. Much like many other airlines, upgrades are possible from more fares than ever. You can upgrade most ANA business class tickets to first for just 25,000 United MileagePlus miles using the Star Alliance upgrade program. But availability… eh.

an airplane cubicle with a televisionThe Flight Only Had One Available Upgrade, And You Have To Upgrade Everyone On A Reservation. &%*# No Luck. But…

Only one upgrade was available, and there are two passengers on the booking. Hence- no upgrade possible. Well, that is for “one” reservation. An overlooked move here is to “split your PNR”. This is where your ticket, seats, everything else on the reservation remains the same – but you are now on separate tickets. For example whereas we were both on reservation GIBNYC, we now have GIBNYC and LEBNYC, two separate reservations. No additional money, same seats, just different tickets without seeing the other persons name when you login to either reservation. To change, I stated that there was a chance one of us would need to change, and I would appreciate being on a separate ticket, just in case.

a plane flying in the skySo We Split PNRs And Managed To Upgrade One Seat. I Know What You’re Thinking… But You Gotta Get What’s Out There.

Availability comes and goes, so we took what was available- while it was there. This is definitely the best practice for upgrading multiple people. Yes, we’re now sitting in separate cabins (don’t worry, I upgraded Laura first). BUT- we took a seat while it was there. This far out (over a month) there’s high likelihood of another seat being released. I’ve set ExpertFlyer alerts to be first in line if and when that happens, and have miles in place to upgrade myself. Trust me, I want to fly First too. If you’re unwilling to sit apart, I suppose this does no good, but if you believe in playing the odds, hoping for a seat to open – this is your very best bet at the upgrade. As a matter of odds playing, it’s good to research patterns of upgrade availability. Some airlines notoriously release seats within 72-24 hours of the flight, while others are tougher to come by. Others, like British Airways tinker on a daily basis.

a view of the wing of an airplaneThis Strategy Applies To Most Carriers And Reservations…

As I mentioned: upgrading multiple people is hard. But seats for upgrades are added and subtracted constantly. If you have a flight you’d like to upgrade, with less seats available than passengers on your reservation, look into splitting the PNR’s – it should be free and no questions asked. Take the upgrades that are out there at the time, set alerts for future upgrades and then hope more open up. At the very least some people will be upgraded. Make sure you have the miles in place to upgrade, or that you know how long a points transfer from your credit card company to an airline would take, should space become available. You don’t want to transfer points, have the transfer take 24 hours only to find that the space is now gone. And yes, before you ask, using paid tools like ExpertFlyer to receive notifications the instant an upgrade becomes available is worth every ($9.99 per month) penny, especially since you can cancel at any time.


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. Hey Frank, Duh! I should’ve answered these questions in the post. Apologies!

      The upgrades are 25K United miles (and no cash) each way. I booked via ANA, but if you go to this link: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/apps/reservation/flight/upgrade/sauaawardUpgrade.aspx

      and enter your ANA confirmation (or any airline for that matter), you should be able to upgrade, provided there’s space. I used ExpertFlyer to find space. I just upgraded Laura today – so we’ll have to wait and see on my upgrade. Based on historical data- seats open up at least 7 days out, so I have my hopes held high! Cheers. We decided to just upgrade one way on the way home, Since we’ll be flying from Sydney to Tokyo, to San Fran, and then almost immediately boarding another flight to London! Yikes!

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