The “Spouse Upgrade Debate” Goes Mainstream

A couple of weeks ago, the “spouse upgrade debate” was raging here at BoardingArea: traveling with your partner, one of you gets upgraded, which one of you gets the seat?

That debate has gone mainstream with a piece in which I’m quoted at the top and bottom of the article, and which also draws on commentary from BoardingArea blogger Deals We Like and also from Online Travel Review.

I continue to reject the premise, a false dichotomy of “one of you takes the upgrade and the other doesn’t.” It’s important for you to both get the upgrade. And depending on the trip, I might even consider declining the upgrade, it’s better to be together than separated but with one of you getting a meal..

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. This is why I love US Airways. If there are only two people, they either upgrade both or neither. All but one time for me, it has been both.

  2. I’m glad you recognize the importance of sitting together–which is the whole point of a companion upgrade! While I still grumble when my girlfriend wants me to give up my upgrade to sit with her in coach, I understand her reasoning. And she’s nice enough that she’s never asked me to give it to her, only give it to someone else.

  3. Gary, if you were a larger fellow that fit in coach only with discomfort, say on a 5 hour flight((but not bigger than guidelines for a single seat), would you:

    1) forgo the upgrade
    2) see if you could get Tommy class for the two of you
    3) take the upgrade


  4. NQA, We would sit together. For one, that’s what travel is about and I would want to be with my SO. Two, my SO is quite afraid of flying (even though I’ve had her up at 1K about five of the past nine years) and I simply couldn’t imagine her having to deal with take-off, landing, turbulence etc., with another seat mate.

    Makes me recall one of the flights we had during our early courtship days. I was 1K (back in early 00’s when it actually MEANT something) and of course was upgrade. She was on a separate ticket and I couldn’t get her upgraded at the last minute. So, I boarded, she boarded and then after the plan was all boarded I went back to 57 something and asked the person sitting next to her if they wouldn’t mind swapping with me up in 3B. (mind you, I’m 6’5″ and E- doesn’t really work for me) It was in a word, a moment.

    Anyway, fast forward to today and sure enough even as both of use were 1K, or 1P or now 1MM 1P we’ll get SPLIT with the new United protocol of splitting people.

    The REAL issue though is seating. I don’t mind rolling the dice and trying to BOTH get upgraded, the issue is when one of us will decline and upgrade especially after it has done through, it is VERY hard to get back what was in 99% of the cases the EXIT ROW or E+ seat that is next to the other travel partner. I really hate that and it simply adds even MORE anxiety and discomfort to the whole travel experience. I’d really like to see a way to hold the seat, confirm the upgrades, either accept or decline and keep the seat you HAVE till either both have been confirmed or the one has been declined. It’s a crap shoot at the moment and a better system is needed.

  5. I take the upgraded seat and swap onboard to give it to my wife. She has back problems and needs it more than I do.

    We will even break a reservation into two locators if it looks like only one upgrade will clear to try and snag one. Several times, we were able to snag one upgrade and at the last minute, another one became available. By snagging the first seat early, we both cleared.

  6. So what IS the solution when you have a split PNR for United domestic hub2hub flight? I am already upgraded, and my spouse has no status.

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