Is It Wrong To Leave Girlfriend’s Parents In Coach When You Upgrade To First Class?

In travel, like in life, you can be happy for other people when they get to experience something you don’t and it costs you nothing or you can be bitter and resentful. You don’t even have to be happy! Just be indifferent!

Or, like the parents of one man’s girlfriend, you can resent that your daughter gets to travel first class while you’re stuck in coach. The boyfriend shares the story of how he surprised his girlfriend with international first class tickets on a trip they were taking with her parents. He paid their way, the parents bought their own travel.

  • He was an NCAA Division II Tight End. He’s a big guy. He values the extra space of premium cabins more than most. He travels a lot for work. They buy coach, but he often upgrades, and he “make[s] a decent enough living.”

  • They were taking a 7 hour flight. He told everyone he’d paid for tickets for himself and his girlfriend in business class, and her parents purchased economy. Everyone was good with this.

  • Since his girlfriend had never had the opportunity to fly first class, he managed to confirm an upgrade from business to first.

So we get to the airport and when the first class passengers are called, I looked at my girlfriend and told her “let’s go”. She said they didn’t call our cabin yet, and I told her to look closer at her boarding pass, she looks and is stunned.

Her father “just laughs and shakes his head,” while her mother “is stunned but doesn’t look happy.” They loved first class and the girlfriend gushed over it “again and again.” Her only regret was that she hadn’t “dress[ed] more bougie.” (While you should dress comfortably and modestly, you don’t need to dress up to act the part.)

At the end of the flight, things took a turn for the worse because her mother was angry.

She said how could you leave [them] to rot in coach while we live it up in first. ..[H]e said he slept the whole way [and said] he’d have left us too if he had the money.

[She] said we should all go first together or not at all, that it isn’t really fair or a good look to have two parties be in different classes like that.

His girlfriend’s mother said he should have paid to upgrade everyone rather than invest in first class for the two of them. And that spoiled the experience for his girlfriend, who decided that he “should have saved it for a private trip for the two of [themm] rather than with her parents.” Let’s be clear:

  • This wasn’t selfish, it was done for his girlfriend. The parents should be happy for their daughter!

  • They were going to be in a different class of service anyway – business versus coach – so what difference does it make if the couple enjoy first class instead?

You shouldn’t wish discomfort on anyone, and should be happy that anyone you ostensibly care about can escape coach. Leave an expectation for ‘solidarity’ (shared misery) to the French.

At the end of the day, be happy for anyone who upgrades when it isn’t taking an upgrade away from you.

(HT: Paul H)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The statement in question is so trivial that it’s almost comical to even give it serious consideration. To dissect this matter further seems like an exercise in overthinking the mundane. Let’s break it down:

    His girlfriend’s mother’s opinion on how he should have spent his money is quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It’s a classic case of unsolicited advice that hardly warrants much attention.

    The entire debate revolves around the seating arrangements on a flight, which, in the context of life’s challenges and complexities, is the epitome of a trivial concern.

    The notion that upgrading to first class for a more comfortable experience should be seen as a selfless act for his girlfriend is a stretch. It’s a luxury choice that shouldn’t be overanalyzed or moralized.

    The distinction between business class and coach class is already a significant upgrade. Arguing about whether the couple should have opted for first class instead is like debating the color of the icing on a cake when the cake itself is already delicious.

    Wishing discomfort on anyone, even indirectly, is an unproductive and negative mindset. Celebrating someone’s improved travel experience should be a natural response, not a cause for debate.

    Trying to impose a sense of “solidarity” in shared misery is not only illogical but also quite absurd. Why should anyone purposefully seek discomfort when they have the means to enjoy a more comfortable journey?

    In the grand tapestry of life’s challenges and meaningful decisions, this debate about an airplane upgrade is a thread so thin and inconsequential that it’s almost amusing to give it any serious thought. Let’s save our mental energy for matters of more substance and importance.

  2. Mom is DEAD wrong. She HAS a husband. And if she wanted a first class upgrade then she needs to take it up wither HER husband, not her daughter’s boyfriend. Stop being jealous of your daughter and be happy that she is with a man who is able to provide her with those experiences.

  3. I fear that there will be trouble if he upgrades from girlfriend to wife if his girlfriend’s mother acts that way. Sometimes it takes an unusual situation to see behind the veneer. About the relation, he calls them MIL and FIL but she is his girlfriend so there is no law for them to be called in law.

  4. I feel badly for the girlfriend. Her mother is a horrible person who ruined boyfriend’s gift, and for entirely selfish reasons!

    That she agreed with her mother in the end, in some way, suggests a person in an ongoing struggle with horrible parents. Ultimately, she needs to decide whether her controlling, bitter, resentful mother deserves a place in her life, and if so, what that place is. Because I can assure you, if this is what she does in public airplanes, she acts much worse in private.

  5. @A.J.: If mom wants an upgrade, she doesn’t need to talk to her husband, she can buy it herself!

  6. A little bit against the grain here, but I would have saved this type of special experience for a separate trip with my significant other. I am sensitive that others may not be as prosperous and I don’t like to accentuate that. If flying with my own parents who cannot afford the luxury I’d probably upgrade them instead. All of this aside, it still sounds like a toxic family dynamic so maybe I would upgrade just to get some privacy from them!

  7. This has to be Mom thinking that the upgrade to first class was free or almost free to the pro athlete boyfriend due to frequent flyer status and therefore an easy thing for him to do for everybody. Surely Mom would not expect him to shell out thousands to upgrade the parents when the deal was each couple were buying their own tickets. That said, when I take my family on flights, I buy us all the same class which is coach, and if I can upgrade I do it for everybody or nobody at all. I could make a case that I am 74 and need comfort more than my 20-something age grandkids but it is more important that we all share the experience together.

  8. The mom should have just bought themselves a business or first class ticket if they wanted to.
    If they bought coach they should live with that decision and not unload it on anyone else who are more fortunate.
    That’s their decision.
    End of story.

  9. When there is a single upgrade, I always give it to my SO. When I travel with family, always to the elder. It is just a show of respect.

  10. Interesting timing on this article because I just booked a trip for my girlfriend and her parents as an anniversary present to her parents from us (my girlfriend and I). Given my specific situation it is definitely different because the trip was directly a present for her parents. With that in mind my goal was to book us all tickets to the same place in this priority order: 1. Her parents get business, while we (my girlfriend and I fly economy), 2. We all fly Business. 3. We all fly economy.

    Luckily, I was able to book all 4 of us business/first class (only because of my obsession and long term experience with points and miles).

    If It wasn’t as a present and I wasn’t a (self proclaimed) points and miles savant. I don’t see any problem with the situation in the article.

  11. Moms are the crystal ball of the daughters in the future. If you dont want a wife like the mother, get out when you can. Patti is right on the mark, see below.

  12. She will get even at the wedding when roast beef jerky Is served as the main course
    With iced pop tarts stacked for the wedding cake

  13. The oarents could have oaid for their own upgrade and be glad the boyfriend paid for his girlfriend and his own flights!!!

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