The Wall Street Journal covers the disappearing perk of the road warrior: upgrades are getting harder and more expensive.
There are (5) reasons this is true.
- Airlines are selling discounted first class fares far more than they ever used to.
- Airlines are making aggressive buy up offers to first class.
- The economy is doing better.
- Airlines aren’t expanding. As air travel grows, and the number of seats stays constant, there’s more demand for a dwindling number of available upgrade seats.
- Lots of people confirm their upgrades in advance – in part because of all the miles that are out there, and in part because of how tough the competition is.
It used to be that 100,000 mile flyers found themselves in first class nearly all the time, and even mid-tier frequent flyers found themselves in first class most of the time.
Some still do of course, it depends on the routes they fly — and when they fly them.
But there’s little question that upgrades are harder than they were 5 years ago and 10 years ago.
Delta has gone from generating revenue from 31% of first class seats in 2011 to 45% in 2014. This includes post-purchase upsells.
Still, There are Tricks to Make Sure You Can Get That Upgrade:
- Here’s How You Can Fly Up Front Almost Every Time
- Get Free First Class Upgrades You Aren’t Entitled To
I still almost always clear my upgrades as an American Executive Platinum flying over 100,000 miles per year. My United 1K colleagues do not do nearly as well. Lower tier elites? Better be avoiding peak business travel routes and times if they hope to see the front cabin.
Huge kudos to Scott McCartney for getting United on the record about failing to refund the extortionate cash co-pays they charge along with miles for international upgrades when those upgrades don’t clear. (Prior to the merger with Continental, these fees were charged only when upgrade actually went through.)
United says only a “small number’’ of customers haven’t received such refunds automatically. The airline says it isn’t sure why but hopes to have the problem fixed this year.
Scott misleadingly though mentions that Delta doesn’t charge these cash co-pays, without noting that you need to buy a nearly full ‘M’ fare before being eligible to use miles to upgrade internationally at all.