Relationship Advice for the Frequent Flyer, Do You Take the Upgrade?

Two years ago I wrote about husbands who fly business class while their wives fly coach.

Now from the Washington Post‘s dating column,

I am in a fairly new relationship (three months) with an attorney who divorced after 25 years of marriage. He loves to travel and told me that since he has a lot of airline miles, he books coach and always gets an upgrade to first class.

So when he and his wife, and then one girlfriend before he met me, traveled together, she sat in coach and he took the upgrade and sat in first class. At first, I thought he was kidding.

I really don’t like the thought of that type of arrangement, as I find the message rather insulting. I think he should either sit in coach with me or pay extra for me to sit with him in first class. He has money, and I don’t. I also don’t know what to say to make him see that this is demeaning. Any suggestions?

American Airlines Economy on a Legacy US Airways Airbus A320

Their columnist declares he’s self-centered and she should drop him. Indeed, “His wife sat alone in coach: His epitaph writes itself.”

What do you think?

  • What does she think of him that she’d wish coach on him?
  • Should you give up an upgrade to sit together? If you like each other should you always sit together?
  • Since premium cabins are better than coach, when they’re traveling together maybe they should just take turns?

Is a willingess to take an upgrade a reason to break up?

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. My pov? Ridiculous. Is that one of those “parity” or “equality” discussions?
    There isn’t enough details to this article to judge that man who, apparently, has worked all his life and racked up millions of miles. BUT,I don’t agree with the fact that one should sacrifice an experience because his/her other half cannot. Yes, maybe this gentleman should sometimes be considerate of his (recent) gf but happiness doesn’t mean suffering in duo (I used suffering for a reason…)

    My wife and I travel a lot. If she gets an upgrade, lucky her, if she pays for it, good for her, I’m not going to force her staying with me in Y and eat crap food because I can’t affoard it.

  2. If it was the other way around i would never in a million years expect my wife or girlfriend to turn down an upgrade just for the fact that i wanted her to suffer with me?

  3. Of course not. If she’s really upset give her the first class seat on the way back. Also, you could make up an illness like ‘back pain’ to justify staying in 1st.

  4. Is this a rhetorical question? It is, right? I mean, who is going to say, “Naaaa, leave the wife or the girlfriend and coach.” Anyone who says yes to that probably needs a relationship rescue.

  5. Haha. I’ve done this before with one of my ex-girlfriends, back when I got airline status for the first time. I’m probably a bit of a jerk, but truthfully, I would hope you and your girlfriend/wife can survive a few hours of being apart.

  6. Depends on the couple. On my first date with my wife, we flew 8 hours across an ocean and she sat in Coach and I sat in Premium Economy. She felt it was fair as I was also connecting off of a 15 hour flight while she was just taking one. (We were super long distance dating). She still married me after that, she didn’t even think anything about it. After we got married, I routinely upgraded her to business class on many international flights without even telling her using my systemwide upgrades. The first time I upgraded her, I told her to make sure she selects a seat and she said the plane had a weird 1-2-1 config and it wasn’t until a few hours later she took a closer look and realized I upgraded her 😀 She actually asked me to put her back in Coach because she thought I had spent a lot of money on it but I assured her it was free. She’s pretty petite so even Coach seats are more than enough space for her.

  7. I always turn down the upgrade if my wife and I are traveling together.

    Maybe those who say that they don’t have an issue with the separation don’t really enjoy their spouse’s company all that much.

  8. Yuck. Totally disagree. My husband and I earn similar $, and have similar number of miles. Our traveling together is an experience *together*-I would never fly in business or first and him in economy. I can’t imaging my husband doing this to me. My advice to the gal would be to move along and find someone else. This is a window into what life with will be like with this guy. Yuck, again.

  9. When one of us get upgraded, we just take turns to sit in biz unless we buy up or turn down the upgrade.

  10. When me and my wife travel, there are many times I declined the upgrade to sit together in an economy plus.
    But I do remember from one of our recent trips where I took the upgrade and exchanged the seat with my wife. Its a time when I thought she was exhausted much and would just sleep.

  11. These days I always make sure my wife sits in the front with me. However, in leaner years there was occasionally a time when there would only be one upgrade. My wife would always say, “You are larger. You sit in the front.” Maybe that’s why we have been married for 51 years. I suggest this is less about the seats and more about the relationship they have. I would dump her.

  12. Usually when we fly my wife and I both get upgraded, but if not, we usually split the upgrades as we’re usually round trip and if only one seat is available both ways one will take it one way, one the other way. We went to Paris that way – she was upgraded on the way, me on the way back. Domestically we do the same, and we’re always happy that the other has a slightly better trip.

  13. Take the upgrade half the time, offer it to the other person the other half. I understand wanting to be together, but I also understand wanting to be comfortable on a long flight.

  14. *By half the time, I mean every other flight; NOT switching seats halfway through the flight, which most airlines frown upon.

  15. If my wife and I are traveling together, I will generally only take an upgrade if there are two (so we can still sit together). If I am bringing my whole family, I usually split my reservation from the rest of the family so that I will get upgraded, then I let my wife sit up front while I stay in coach with my kids.

  16. I’m no saint, but I always give my former GFs and now wife the upgrade. (And plenty of times when on vacation, I just paid (miles or cash) for First, and we were upfront together.) I sit up front 85% of the time either upgraded or when the client pays for business. If she preferred to sit with me we sat in Premium Economy together. I follow the Golden Rule on this, and it pays off big time. If it didn’t, that was a clue to me that maybe she wasn’t “the one.” Folks who read this column are probably like me and are up front a lot. Try giving up some of that entitled attitude and see if it pays off in your partners attitude, and when it does you’ll be a lot happier for it. And sitting in coach every now and then is okay, makes you really appreciate those upgrades when you get them. (I’m in the Delta lounge in Seattle on my way back from Shanghai to NYC, and bless my client, they let me fly Delta One (business). What a gift!

  17. Dump this narcissistic jerk. This says a lot about him…and not in a good way! To the men who take it and give it to their spouse or partner…smart move and you value your relationship! Thank goodness my husband is not that way…hence we have been happily married over 40 years.

  18. Easy solution to avoid the drama. Say you can only use miles for a particular flight and that paid seats are too expensive to fly together. Buy her a coach seat on a flight that leaves a few hours after and wait for her at the destination. She won’t be the wiser you flew in biz or first. If she isn’t willing to be a “team player” and be economical then as I like to say, why take sand to the beach anyway? I’m looking at you @Gina! And anyway where does it end? If you are living in different cities does your partner now expect to fly in biz to the destination if you did?

  19. If only 1 upgrade clears when I travel with my wife, I always give it to her and I sit in back. When I book our seats I always book my seat under her and hers under mine just in case only 1 clears

  20. Granted the original writer was in a new relationship, but if your relationship is threatened by one or the other getting an upgrade because of status, you have bigger issues in your relationship. The guy should have offered it to her or to sit together since they are new, and she is petty.

    My BF of a few years has higher status than I do, and we have been lucky enough to get upgraded together often. When somehow he gets it over me, I would rather one of us have it and enjoy than neither. He has given it to me a few times since I fly less. I know we are solid enough to sit apart and be together later, especially since it he earned it through his flying.

    Now, if he were to purchase F and expect her to pay for Y separately, that probably signals being a jerk.

  21. I guess my wife and I have a different relationship – that works.
    Today is our 45th anniversary and she wrote on her anniversary card to me “I love you more than ever”. I’m 6’4″ and when we fly SW here’s what we do. I go first and if there is one open exit row seat she has no problem if I take it. She will head to the back sit in an aisle row and read the whole time.
    You guys make me sound like a jerk!
    In my defense if it’s the new 173 passenger SW I wouldn’t do it because they have an extra inch or so for legroom..

  22. I can’t imagine the nightmare it would be to be in a long-term relationship with @Gina or @SJ. They express a world-view that if/when something good happens to their partner, they see it as something bad happening to them. Unless the good thing also happens to them, or happens ONLY to them. Then everything is right in the world.

    That worldview must impact the way they treat their husbands and the world every day of those poor men’s lives.

    I have been involved in this situation 4 times. Twice, my wife was offered the upgrade. Twice, it was me. (Like others, we had years where one or the other had better status on different airlines.)

    When it was her, I smiled, gave her a kiss, and told her to have a nice flight as she left for the more comfortable seat. (One time leaving me in a middle coach seat, pee-soaked from the previous flight, on a 100% full flight.)

    When it was me, she did the same.

    Both times, the flight attendants happily escorted her forward. Both times, I was given a hard time by the flight attendants (one to the point I filed the only complaint I’ve ever submitted in millions of miles of flying).

    These are just some of the stories my wife and I tell about our travels. Even the pee-seat is kind of funny 10 years later. What we never talk (or think) about is that every once in a while we didn’t sit next to each other for a few hours.

    As for the flight attendants who didn’t like our trading off, I know I wake up happy every day, while they, @Gina, and @SJ wake up miserable, in a never ending search to find the next thing they can blame for making their unhappy lives a little more unhappy.

    I feel sorry for them.

  23. Each couple is different. The bigotry of these prehistoric social dictums is sad. All this judgement.

    The idea that fitting next to each other is ALWAYS more important than getting a good nights sleep and doing otherwise is a sign of lack of love, or not wanting to be together is ignorant.

    When we were younger, I got the upgrade when there was only one as my wife is petite and I have sciataca. Now that she is no longer young, she gets the paid F and I rely on an upgrade if it comes (I have high status).

    She and I were always happy traveling together.

  24. My spouse and I (of 12 years) have evolved on this over the years. We are both Diamond Medallion on DL now, but this wasn’t always so. In the very beginning, when I was a Diamond, and my spouse Gold or Platinum, I would let my spouse take the upgrade. Next phase, if I got the upgrade and he was still in coach, I would wait until the door closed – just to make sure no upgrade was coming his way, and then I would go back and hand my boarding pass to the person sitting next to him in coach and say, “You have just won the lottery, your new seat is in 2B” and take that person’s seat next to my spouse. Then we started alternating – you take it this time, me next time. Now that we are both Diamonds and sometimes one gets the upgrade and the other doesn’t, we just accept it and take what DL give us. Maturity!

  25. My husband was the FF before I became the traveler for work and he always gave me his upgrade and sat in coach. I cannot believe a gentleman would handle it any other way.
    And now that I’m the FF, I’m the one who will give up my upgrade to my husband.

  26. On a recent flight a family of 5 (husband, wife and 3 kids) boarded the plane and we all walked back to coach. Husband was loud and obnoxious talking on his phone during the entire board process. He walked back, seated wife and kids in coach and then marched himself up to first class. I thought he was a bit of a jerk before that moment and that sealed the deal for me. But honestly, she was probably much happier without him near her.
    Side note: on a couple of occasions both my husband and I have been offered one seat upgrade into first without an option of the other being seated and each time we’ve passed. We like and respect each other. Of course there may be times when I would insist he go ahead and take it, but in general I appreciate that he wants to be in the cheap seats with me if that’s where I am.

  27. “He has money, I don’t.”

    So most likely he pays for the flights, the hotels, the dinner but you should run away from him because he’s selfish since the airline chose to upgrade him and he took it?

  28. Surprised to learn about this issue. I have Delta status and when my wife accompanies me and I get upgraded, she is upgraded as well – the right thing to do for the airline.

  29. Hmm. This happens to me a lot but I dont complain at least. He has bigger things that make me happy than few hours in a crappy plane.

  30. And to those who give their business class seat paid for by theirbusiness or a client, giving that seat to someone else while you fly in coach is fraud (absent company policy to the contrary)

  31. How lame of a husband are you that you d let your wife sit in coach.

    Especially if the upgrade is because you fly OPM (ie. didnt earn it), and the wife already has to put up with you being away from home all the time.

  32. If you are going paid business on other people’s money, and give the seat away, then you are committing fraud (absent policy to the otherwise). Think the client would buy a ticket for your spouse if you submitted the expense as spouse travel?

  33. Obvious that some of the commenters value “class” and cash over relationships.

    Honestly, I can say I’d rather be just about anywhere with my spouse, than next to strangers.

    I can’t even imagine my spouse considering taking an upgrade and leaving me behind–that’s so tacky!!!

    We’ve never “suffered in coach”, we tend to choose to be happy.

    We’ve been married 35 years. Perhaps it’s because neither of us would dump the other to get a better seat.

  34. I think his behavior is very rude and at the very least they should share the better seat. His request for her to be in coach says so much about what he thinks of women. She should drop him. He has already been dropped twice.

  35. I’ve been married 35 years. If it is possible to alternate so you each get it sometimes, that would be ideal. If it’s not possible (airlines seem stricter these days about people trading seats) then I would rather my husband have it than neither of us, and he would rather me have it than neither of us. Ultimately we care as much (actually even more) about each other’s comfort than our own. I guess that that explains the 35 years. I think the argument that “the guy earned it by flying all those years” does not bode well for a relationship. If I earned more money in my life than my spouse; does that mean I should drive a better car and have a better bike and spend more at restaurants? That would be quite insulting. I don’t see how this is any different.

  36. Unless there is a health consideration (i.e.: sciatica, as mentioned above) I’d much rather my wife get the upgrade than me…and there is no way I would take the upgrade without her. There might be situations in which we would decide to both sit in coach because we would prefer to be together, but I can’t imagine sacrificing her comfort for mine. I want her to have the best experience possible, and if I have an opportunity to do that for her — regardless of whether I get the perk, or not — then heck yes, every damn day.

  37. There may be a different socioeconomic thing going on here, but I paraphrase her statement as

    “He’s been this way 25++ years, but I’m going to change him”

    Yeah. Good luck with that.

  38. In my marriage, if one of us is working when we land and the other isn’t, or one of us is just more exhausted than the other from his recent schedule, that one gets the upgrade. Or, of course, if one of us is flying business paid by his employer, he keeps it. Otherwise, we try to take turns.

  39. No offense, Gary, but this is one matter where the comments are more interesting than the post. Since my wife and I almost always fly on the same reservation and since for anything but short flights I get us upgrades or award tix for premium cabins, we’re lucky to have avoided this issue. The one time it did come up on a cross-country flight when we were on separate reservations and I was offered an upgrade, she insisted I sit up front because I’m tall and have a bad back, while she’s short and when traveling coach alone never even bothers to get an extra legroom seat she’s entitled to. I like to think that if it were to come up for a short-haul flight I’d give here the upgraded seat, if she’d let me

    Anyway, I think the various replies reflect various dynamics in relationships, including whether one or both partners care equally, whether one is quite tall, etc.

  40. Narcissistic jerk. That’s what I would call the gentleman in this case. We have been married for over a decade and have two young kids. My wife is putting up with my business travel and the kids. I use my upgrade coupons to get my wife upgraded during all of our world travels. I spend time with my kids in coach and gives me yet another great opportunity for me to connect with them. She gets pampered. Wife loves it. Happy wife – happy life!

  41. My husband and I have the same status but I’m always ahead of him on the upgrade list because my name comes first in alphabetical order so we take turns when we’re not both upgraded. I think it would be silly to break up with someone over where you sit on an airplane.

  42. Any guy who does not figure out a way to sit with his GF, either innF or coach, is a supreme idiot, case closed, the end.

    No surprise this guy is divorced.

    Signed, a guy married 32 years.

  43. Great polarizing topic!

    When we are in coach, I like an aisle and S.O. likes the window. Often there’s a stranger in the middle wondering what’s going on. There will be plenty of time for togetherness on the vacation.

    I do all the work booking flights and hotels, managing credit cards and collecting miles so she is happy to take whatever free travel I can arrange.

    Thoughtfulness goes a long way. Once I was on a paid business class long-haul flight for work that she wanted to tag along on. Nothing available with miles and paid business was exorbitant so we bought her coach with extra legroom on the same flight. I asked an FA to send my ice cream sundae back to her which went over a treat. Another time she took a trip without me, and I ordered Lounge Club cards via Chase Ink for all of the friends she was traveling with.

  44. Here’s my view on things. There’s no way I would let my wife fly in coach if I was in business class. And I don’t fit into coach seats, so I’m going to be in business class. So we both fly in business, or we don’t go. I’m using business and first interchangeably here. Of course, she insists that for the goal of saving points/miles and getting more distance from what we have available, she’s more than willing to sit in the back, but I see this for the trap that it is, and I’m not falling for it.

    THAT BEING SAID…. this specific scenario only applies to my wife. If the (grown) kids are travelling with us, on our dime, I have absolutely no issues with them riding in the back while we enjoy the seats up front, and will gladly wait out in the terminal for them to stumble off the plane 20 minutes after we do. I won’t even feel guilty about it.

  45. The relationship is doomed. It’s not about the seat. You should want your spouse or friend to enjoy the better seat not suffer with you in coach. You also should want to suffer in coach to avoid being apart. There are always exceptions to all this of course. It also not practical to try and gain an upgrade for a mate once you’ve cleared the upgrade list. You have to think ahead.

  46. Obviously this situation is more about the involved people than the situation itself.

    in general

    -those in a more codependent relationship (using world in judgement neutral way) dislike the idea of being apart for the flight. More independent people don’t care about that

    -concrete thinkers and rule-driven people take a more militaristic view. “If both can’t be in J then neither should. Ever”

    -traditional people may lean towards always giving the woman the J seat in an act of chivalry

    -those in an Independent relationship would rather have at least one person enjoy the flight. And might therefore problem solve who best to get it (injury? Tired? Trade off? Etc)

    -more abstract nuanced people would also take a more flexible approach (but not always)

    From the original story: the woman is clearly very rule based
    We don’t know the man
    If he is also ruled based and inflexible, then this relationship will fail (likely given his past relationship history)
    If he is super flexible it might still work

    FWIW: I’m obviously an independent nuanced person. As is my other half
    We always value comfort over sitting together
    We give the upgrade to whoever has the harder work week
    Or we trade

    We realized a few years ago we just read anyway and 80% of the time we can’t talk in J anyway because of those darn reverse herringbone seats!

    Thus now we book a window and aisle and leave middle seat open in economy
    And on some international J flights we both choose a window unless there are “honeymoon “ J seats

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