This Husband Always Takes the Upgrade and Leaves His Wife Back in Coach

Three years ago I wrote about husbands who fly business class while their wives fly coach. Last year the Washington Post‘s relationship columnist covered the issue, telling a woman whose boyfriend flies up front while he pays for her to fly coach that she should dump him: “His wife sat alone in coach: His epitaph writes itself.”

When only one premium cabin seat is available do you,

  • Decide that sitting together is more important, even if it’s less comfortable in back?

  • Offer it up to your less frequent flying partner?

  • Gladly take it yourself, you earned it?

And for the person left in back that’s resentful, what do they think of their partner that they’d wish for them to sit in coach? Maybe they should ask a flight attendant’s permission to split time in the seat?

Sometimes couples just don’t like each other that much and being in separate cabins is a great way to stay together. Over the holidays last year two American Airlines flights had to divert when couples got into fights on board.

Slate‘s “Dear Prudence” column stakes out a totally different position than past advice columns on what to do when only one person gets the upgrade.

  • Husband and wife are both elites
  • There’s often only one upgrade seat available, it goes to the husband and he takes it
  • The wife doesn’t want the upgrade – she wants them to both sit together regardless of cabin

Once this happened on a standard domestic flight. The rest of the time both husband and wife were in business class on three-cabin transcons (so flying American). On those transcons she feels safer sleeping beside someone she knows, and doesn’t want her husband leaving her behind for a stranger. She concludes,

This is domestic first class, so it’s not that great, just more room, and yes, he’s taller, but to me it’s the fact that he presumes entitlement over me and disrespects my feelings. Am I being petty?


American Airlines Airbus A321T Transcon First Class

Writing in to an advice columnist saying first class isn’t that great, “am I being petty” is ripe for mocking. Prudie does that, but also takes the question seriously: when upgrades are offered, you take them.

If only one of you gets the upgrade: The person who gets the upgrade takes the upgrade. Upgrades are to be taken. Who would turn down the upgrade? Conversely, who would fume because his wife gets a hot towel and a quinoa salad? If you get the upgrade and genuinely do not want it, give it to your husband, who wants it. Now you have two seats, unless the airline jams someone in there, so there’s no reason for you to be in the middle next to a stranger.

How do you handle upgrades when traveling with a spouse or partner? How about when you’re traveling with a co-worker, or – even more fraught – with your boss?

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. And there are also cases of a woman always flying first class and the man in coach.

    No one’s business but theirs.

  2. You have to admire a man who sits in first and leaves his wife in coach.

    Most guys like sex way to much to have such restraint.

  3. “Happy wife, happy life” – I cringe every time I come across this saying, I only ever hear it parroted by parasitic women or the neutered men they’re married to.

    More on topic, we decline the upgrade so we can sit together. If cabin class mattered (like on long-haul flights or red-eye) we’d have paid for F outright.

  4. No earthly way would I do that…we hold hands during takeoff and landing and always sit together.

    I WILL, however, put the kids in coach if it comes to it…they aren’t little kids, they’re young adults.

  5. In our situation, I am EXP and my SO is Plat Pro. If only one upgrade is available we tell the agents to upgrade #3 and we fly in Y together.

    For us flying is more comfortable and enjoyable when we are together regardless of cabin. We watch movies/shows together, we chat about different things, sometimes we play puzzles/games together, etc. Also in MCE booze is free, we have the extra legroom, and we share my free meal/snack which is probably better than the stuff AA serves up front anyway.

    I’d rather sit next to someone I know and I am comfortable with than a random stranger even in F.

  6. I’d give it to my wife.
    but – this is a first world problem & no absolute right answer, even if you try line it up with social justice/political correctness. as long as their family is happy, or not – who cares?

  7. I travel Delta with my wife and 4 kids ages 9 and under. Last year I got 2 JFK-LAX DL One seats and gave them to the (well behaved and respectful) older kids while my wife and i sat in back with the little ones. This year when we got the same 2 upgrades the purser said an adult needs to be with the kids in each cabin. My wife and I split the flight 50/50 giving each other a chance to relax. Honestly, having the two older kids upfront was the best. They just sat nicely the whole flight, relaxed and watched IFE.

  8. Yes, gender based. Alas, traveling in public, certain genders are far more likely to get groped, chatted up, or otherwise made miserable by the person sitting next to them. It doesn’t happen often, thankfully, but when it does, do you want to be sipping champagne on the other side of the curtain? That’s why taking the upgrade against her wishes is wrong. You can only lose.

    In my case, I insist my wife take the (short haul) upgrade, even though she insists that I should take it, since I tend to eat more of the food and enjoy the free drinks. But that’s my point: at the end of the day, I gotta go home with her, and I’d rather we be equally hungry.

  9. First, I have taken an upgrade on Alaska while my boss sat in coach. We were both United Platinum and I told him I status matched to Alaska even though we both never fly it. Not a big deal.

    Second, my wife and I rotate who takes the upgraded seat. Don’t see what’s so hard about that. But we’re talking about CPUs on sub 4 hour flights. If it’s a long flight I’m going to aim for confirmed upgrades (or none at all) long beforehand.

  10. @Steve S — “Second, my wife and I rotate who takes the upgraded seat. Don’t see what’s so hard about that.”

    Yeah, that’s less dramatic, but isn’t that what most couples do? I always offer the seat to my wife, and I’d guess she insists I take it about half the time. We factor in things like who needs to be rested for the next day, who has work to do, who hasn’t sat up front recently, who’s actually hungry for the food, etc. Isn’t that how most people make decisions?

  11. If my wife had earned an upgrade I’d totally expect her to take it, and I’d sit at the back of the bus with no qualms.

    By the same token if the roles were reversed I’d hope she’d feel the same way.

  12. Whoever has the bigger back problems gets the upgrade.

    Kidding aside, we’re used to flying coach everywhere, and be together everywhere… so neither takes it, and we get to make someone’s day.

  13. It’s always sad to see seemingly smart people reduce themselves and their spouses to characters from Leave it to Beaver.

    It’s 2019: Be kind, loving, and make decisions as if you were two people and not two genders.

  14. My husband is a big guy whereas I’m petite and can actually fit into an economy seat. I’d never ask him to suffer just for the sake of us sitting together. TBH, premium seats don’t impress me unless they’re lie-flat anyway.

  15. My less than 5 foot, small frame wife loves her over 250lbs loving husband. I take the upgrade at her instance … I always genuinely offer but she knows that I will be more comfortable. This works for us …. There is no hard feelings …. btw …. I always attempt to book her tickets upgrades on SWUs when I have them available.

  16. @Bubba

    A female first class is more likely to get groped where the booze is free, and that’s in first

  17. I give it to my wife because she doesn’t fly that often and domestic F still holds some sparkle for her (I’m disgruntled by now). Her happiness makes me happier than having a slightly bigger seat and subpar catering.

    For flights where J matters (international), we pay for the class of service we want (J/F). If I got bumped from J to F I’d give it to her and I’m sure she’d turn it down to continue to sit next to me in J (or I’d expect her to sneak me a glass of Krug)

  18. My wife and I always sit together on flights. She is a seasoned flyer and would expect me to take the upgrade as I am 6’4” with bad knees. However, we have never had to make this decision. If we do encounter such a situation, we will stay together. By the way, I would like to see someone try to grope my wife. She would slap the bejeebers
    out of him, or I would, after we landed. No woman hasto put up with that boorish behavior!!

  19. On domestic flights 9/10 I’m in an exit row or bulkhead. All I care about is legroom. So in that case I always give it to significant other or we stay together.. her call. On TPAC to TATL, if I can’t get upgrade with mikes or copay to start with , and we are talking about lie flats, at 6’4” 230 lbs I would take the upgrade and switch off with significant other as well as give her all food. I really just want space. I won’t sit in coach for 11 hours. I would be ok with PE I believe

  20. I live a rocking solo life so no need for me to worry about this.

    And I too cringe at the happy wife, happy life quote as well. I don’t think that sentiment is either good for men or women.

  21. I’ve played this all the different ways.

    I’ve taken the upgrade. I’ve let my wife take the upgrade. I’ve skipped the upgrade.

    Truth is, I generally don’t care that much and neither does my wife. She makes a point of insisting I take the upgrade when it’s a longer flight that’s primarily for my job and she’s just tagging along. I make a point of insisting she take it when it’s a shorter flight. And I generally just book us into a premium cabin when we’re on vacation.

  22. I once watched ex Texas Sen Phil Gramm take a waaay oversized roll on (roll on garment bag that was clearly not a normal sized roll on) into first/business LIS-EWR while his wife sat back in coach with us. I thought he was a dick for that.

    Having said that…since I’m a 1K due to hubby’s million miler, and my name starts with J and his with M…sometimes my upgrade clears and his doesn’t. Both domestic and international. Happened twice FRA-IAD…battlefield upgrade, but I took it anyway. Hubby ended up in E+ bulkhead (side with 2 seats) to himself and preferred that anyway…not me…

  23. @Mom of 4 – Wendy is a very modest person. If they wanted to buy premium cabin tickets they are certainly able to do so, no upgrade needed. But no I haven’t found Senator Gramm to be among the more self-aware individuals out there.

  24. To expand on the “happy wife, happy life” thought, I saw a sign once that read:
    “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. If papa ain’t happy, ain’t nobody cares”

    Not condoning the thought process, just sharing.

  25. >This is domestic first class, so it’s not that great, just more room, and yes, he’s taller, but to me it’s the fact that he presumes entitlement over me and disrespects my feelings. Am I being petty?

    >just more room, and yes, he’s taller

    >just more room, and yes, he’s taller

    >just more room, and yes, he’s taller

    Seems like a valid reason to prefer the extra room. On average men are taller and wider, it’s just life.

    @George has the right idea.

    >Whoever has the bigger back problems gets the upgrade.

    @David SImon

    Maybe you can just get longer arms?

  26. What a ___ hole. It’s very simple, either you both get upgraded or neither gets upgraded. That’s the rule my wife and I have always followed when I was the EXP and now that she is the EXP and I am pretty much lead.

    I once saw the “dad” take his first class upgrade while his wife and the 3 kids sat in the last row. . .NICE. Come on gentlemen, man UP.

  27. I think the taller spouse should take the upgrade.

    Taking the upgrade for one might get you a last minute upgrade for the other. I once took an upgrade when traveling with a family group of 7 people (all the kids were older teens so no issue with child minding), once we were all seated the FA came by and asked where the rest of my party was so they could upgrade 2 more. They did the same for a couple where one was still in the back.

    Im the wife and I’m taller than my husband.

  28. Other posters have mentioned several ways to handle who gets the upgrade, and they are all valid. It’s a personal decision between the couple, and we shouldn’t judge them.

    I too cringe at “happy wife, happy life” – I have seen that to be “wife’s way or the highway” and that isn’t healthy for the husband or wife.

  29. Actually I thought the Slate answer was mediocre, basically ripping the letter writer for even raising the subject as kind of a 1% problem.

    Personally I find it pathetic when couples cannot sit apart on domestic flights (yes this was international). But if your relationship is that fragile (or you have too much anxiety to sit next to a stranger) then by all means decline the upgrade as there are 20 people behind you who would be delighted to take it. Or pay for F like the rest of us do.

    In my family if we are traveling together as a couple and only one clears (typically me as I’m the one with higher status) then I will offer it to my wife though we tend to alternate who takes it. When traveling with kids sometimes 2 will clear and 2 won’t, in which case we alternate who gets the upgrade. The kids understand how it works.

  30. @ sunviking82 you are very sure of yourself and also come across as a rude person. Your so confident and forcefully expressed opinion is not shared by all or even most of the respondents. For myself, I try to book us both into the same cabin, if possible in J, but if I get an upgrade when we are both in coach (me paid and she usually with miles), she is quite OK with it, and being much smaller recognizes that coach is more tolerable for her than for me …

  31. Generally we will have MCE or exit aisle and middle booked. If it comes down to only one seat, I take it. I weigh 100lbs more than my spouse, and he knows I want it more. And I’m the only reason we are getting upgrades in the first place. But I always make sure agent moves him over to the aisle seat.

  32. Neither my wife or I fly for business. When we travel for vacation we always plan way in advance and we only want to fly business or first class. We have had occasion where we could only book 1 first class seat and a business class seat. I do all the heavy lifting to accumulate and spend points so I feel that I deserve the extra of first class (I enjoy the flight geek experience more). And, I don’t feel too guilty for my wife suffering in international business class. Last trip on AA there really wan’t much difference between first and business on a 777-300 and we were less than 10 feet apart. We had one flight from Moscow to LHR on British Air on 1st class award tickets. But, on this leg of our trip a 2nd 1st class seat never opened up. I let my wife have it and she talked the attendant into letting me come up and join her. Next trip it’s British air on a380 and only 1 first class seat available. But, always hope that one more opens up or my wife can convince someone to let me in.

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