a bed with a pillow and a purse on it

In the words of Beyonce “Lemme upgrade ya”. Perhaps it’s that this tune comes to mind every time an upgrade is mentioned, or the fact that an upgrade is an improvement on whatever seat you’re sitting in- but people get really excited about upgrades. So excited in fact- they become completely irrational. People pay foolish amounts of money, just because the airline offered. Here’s a logical look at what an upgrade is really worth.

a seat in an airplaneFactor One: How Comfortable Are You?

Some people can easily pay ridiculously overpriced amounts of money to wrangle themselves out of a bad seat. For others, getting caught in the upgrade game can put them behind. The first important factor in considering upgrades is: how comfortable are you parting ways with that money? And if you are comfortable, don’t forget to glance at the business class column when booking. Sometimes the difference is minimal and you’ll save more by booking business up front.

a red bridge over a stream

Factor Two: How Long Is The Flight?

When you spend all your upgrade money on a three hour flight, only to find yourself short on cash to upgrade the ten hour flight– you’ve failed. While we all seek the best possible comfort, short flights are hardly ever worth an upgrade unless the price is right (cheap). Plus- you should be looking at ways to upgrade to business class long before your flight departs.

a bottle of wine next to a glass of wineFactor Three: What Does The Upgrade Entail?

A lazy boy chair is awesome for watching football- but if that’s all you get, it better be a long flight. Airlines seats have reached luxurious new heights and so too has the food and beverage offerings. An upgrade from a cramped economy seat to a bed can be very worth it, but a few more inches of legroom will be a price decision. Hopefully a very low price decision.

a room with red couches and tablesFactor Four: Are There Additional Benefits For Upgrading?

An upgrade to business class at the gate isn’t worth as much as an upgrade before heading to the airport. Some upgrades earn miles in the new higher cabin (more miles and points) and also entitle you to use airport fast tracks and VIP lounges before the flight. This is worth a nice sum, so it can be a real deciding factor in whether it’s worth it.

Invalid request error occurred.What’s A Reasonable Price For A Premium Economy Upgrade?

On long flights over five hours, I’d say anywhere below $100 is often worth it. This number can jump to $300 or slightly more if the airline has a “real” premium economy and not just seats with a few extra inches and the flight is longer. Do your research on the best premium economy cabins before upgrading and be wary of “comfort plus” or seats that just offer an extra inch or two in the same cabin.

a bed with pillows and a purse on itAnd A Reasonable Price For A Business Class Upgrade?

On flights over 5 hours, when upgrades to business class are really worth it- they’re hardly ever cheap. Most upgrades from economy or premium economy to business start around $400 and often venture up to $1000. For flights over 7 hours that include fast track, a VIP lounge and a proper bed- $500 seems like a reasonable offer- if the number is comfortable to you. Don’t forget that round trip business class tickets can often be under $1500 round trip, so paying $1000 for a one way upgrade is kinda crazy, in most circumstances.

an airplane with rows of seatsBest Tip: Do More Research Before Booking.

No one wants to hear that effort is what will get them what they want- but it’s true. If you put in additional effort to research prices, nearby cities and flexible dates, while following this advice on error fares and how to get the best deals– you’ll likely end up booking the cabin you want for the price you were willing to pay for the cheap seats. This will earn you more miles and keep you out of the stress of the upgrade lottery.


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. Great Article! The auction type bid upgrades that are increasingly available, are likely worth an article in themselves. Certain airlines will price these very attractively, and contrary to common sense the min bids do not seem to consider how much you paid for the seat. What is clear is that the airlines are interested in the additionally revenue, not in being fair. With that said I have gotten some great value upgrades this way, this is based on a couple of factors. First , if applicable get the cheapest PE seat you can , most airlines offering bid upgrades will tier the min bids for PE to J at a very reasonable starting point. Secondly, If the loading in J is light you can bid low with a fair chance of success as your competition is the other pax in PE not Y. Very few in Y are bidding up to J as the min bid will be way too much. Using these I have generally scored J at about half the price I would have paid upfront, yes you dont get the credits but its pretty good. All that said, I agree that as with any auction have a limit in mind that factors in your original ticket price, more than once I have declined the bid upgrade, cancelled my ticket and rebooked the higher class ticket for less if a great promo occurs prior to the day, or sometimes I just stayed where I was.

  2. It’s informative. We bought a vacation trip to Egypt that included air fare. The flight was awful. So on the way back I up graded to business class for $600 for 2 and it was Egyptian air. It was no better just bigger seats . But you can upgrade cheaply on a better airline. We’re going to portugal in March next year and see if I can upgrade affordable. We’re Americans the cheaper the better.

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