Fifteen years ago most of domestic first class cabins were filled with upgrades. On average about 10% of domestic first class seats were sold for cash. That’s changed.
- The cost of first class came down. You don’t often see first class fares that are 8 times the cost of coach anymore.
- Airlines introduced fixed buy up offers to first class. Whatever the coach fare, there’d be a first class fare a fixed amount more expensive. As a result first class might be just 50% more than coach.
- Then carriers started monetizing the seats they didn’t sell outright. For instance as a non-elite on United I’ve been prompted to buy first class at check-in for very low amounts (less than $60) and even told how many elites were waiting for an upgrade as an inducement to buy.
Upgrades are far tougher than they used to be. American Airlines monetizes about half their domestic first class cabin. But how are the upgrades that still exist obtained? JonNYC shares some data from American.
Not same subject, but just if it's of interest:
75% of upgrades are 500 mile upgrade.
13% milleage awards
6.1% systemwide upgrades
— JonNYC (@xJonNYC) November 14, 2019
Unsurprisingly most domestic upgrades are part of the electronic upgrade system.
- Complimentary for ConciergeKey, Executive Platinum, and Platinum Pro members
- Complimentary for all members under 500 miles
- Otherwise supported by ‘500 mile upgrades” (formerly known as stickers) that are earned through flying or purchased.
About 20% of upgrades are confirmed – with systemwide upgrades given to Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey members and to million milers starting at the 2 million mile threshold (and each million thereafter) or with miles, generally 15,000 miles and $75 for most domestic tickets.
Confirmed upgrades can be reserved at time of booking, if space is available – in any case generally earlier than electronic upgrades are processed. And confirmed upgrades are actually reticketed – and protected in the higher class of service in the event of irregular operations.
Finally 5.6% of upgrades are ‘day of departure’ or what used to be known as ‘load factor based upgrades’ – upgrades offered for a price to customers at check-in. Generally American hasn’t monetized the way that United has, selling upgrades at check-in instead of giving upgrades to elites.
Just as notably, perhaps, are the things not on this list.
- Dressing nicely: 0%
- Saying you’re on your honeymoon: 0%
- Using the magic words “revenue management”: 0%
If you’re going to try a more unconventional approach the one I recommend is,
Disguise yourself as a mimosa: Alcoholic beverages are complimentary in first class, so if you dress up as a cocktail, you can sit down without anyone realizing you’re actually a human who belongs in coach.