Topic of the Week: Are Upgrades Worth It?

We’ve had a couple of interactions with upgrades lately and more often than not, mileage upgrades are becoming less useful.

First, we had someone flying Delta to Europe. The “M” fare that Delta requires you buy to use an upgrade with SkyPesos was so high that it was only a couple hundred dollars more to buy business class on Air France. Miles were useless.

Another effort looking at United to Hawai’i showed that the co-pays were so high that the First Class fares on other airlines were actually about the same price without having to use miles.

What have your experiences been lately? Are upgrades using miles still valuable to you?

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37 Comments on "Topic of the Week: Are Upgrades Worth It?"

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Hermann
Guest

Using it on LH-Group longhaul sometimes as lowest eligible classes are quite affordable (e.g. S and up und LX).

Bobber
Guest
In short, no. Not for lower tier elites in any case. There was a ‘glory year’ of 2009 when I managed to fly three times in C by upgrading, but then the co-pays came in and it was pointless. Also, the free, unlimited domestic upgrades on UA are also totally pointless for anyone less than 1K/Global Services – at least with the 500-mile tokens you could have a fighting chance of occasionally sitting a little further forward, which was a nice treat every now and again (which is what I presumed they were initially intended for), but since they’ve come… Read more »
Andrew
Guest
No. It’s totally insane what airlines want, and what some people are willing to pay for an upgrade (I’m thinking about international flights, but I suppose it applies to domestic as well). You’ve already shelled out money for your initial ticket, so why on earth would you pay $500 AND 30,000 miles on top of that? The bottom line is that even the longest flight just isn’t that much time out of your life…and most “longhaul” flights just aren’t that long. On most routes from the East Coast to Europe, you’re in the air no more than 8 hours, and… Read more »
David
Guest
Miles are simply a currency which the issuer (an airline) can choose to devalue whenever it likes – in effect it’s like investing in a country whose Government is known to pursue policies which may lead to high inflation, and the Government has export controls on how much cash you can take out of the country. Miles (at least in Europe) are pretty lousy for short haul flights when you compare all the extra fees + taxes against the price of a ticket on an LCC. Upgrades for sub 3 hours are rarely worth the bother. So the only thing… Read more »
Euan
Guest

One of the best uses of BA miles is to upgrade from Premium Economy to Club World (Business Class).

One way between LHR and the East Coast of USA is only 10,000 miles per person and you can upgrade from all Premium Economy fare classes (W, E & T).

Jason H
Guest
I’m in agreement with the other comments. The upgrade with miles days are gone. Even the pay at the gate to upgrade is getting crazy. DL now requires you to buy above a certain ticket class in order to have the pleasure of paying them to upgrade to first at the gate. I’m also a big detractor to the unlimited domestic upgrades. They leave people that buy at the last minute sitting in coach after paying a first class fare. It just isn’t a good impression when you pay that much. The award tickets have become a racket too for… Read more »
Dan
Guest
I haven’t used miles to upgrade a revenue ticket since, oh, 1999 or 2000. (Not a joke, I did it once in college…) But yeah, with the fare basis requirements + co-pay, it becomes steep. These days, it’s better to outright redeem miles for a premium cabin seat, skipping them altogether. That said, the wife and I are looking at flying VS upper class to LHR next year. Checking fares this year, I find something interesting: Round trip with miles is 80,000 miles + $1050 fuel surcharges/taxes/fees. However, an upgradable coach ticket is $1400 + 40k for the upgrade. (An… Read more »
Bill from DC
Guest

are you saying a “free” ticket using miles to the UK is still over a grand! are all airlines this bad or is this a VS thing? if so, we will all have to significantly diminish the value of our miles… once again! yikes!

Euan
Guest

The majority of EU airlines include YQ in redemption awards which makes Economy award tickets poor value as the actual price to purchase using cash is not much more (even more so if it includes LHR!).

Value comes from flying Premium products (Business and First) class to and from Europe. Whilst you still have to pay YQ, you are getting better value for your miles.

Bill from DC
Guest
generally, upgrades are not “worth it” but sometimes you do what you have to do! off topic – i know i am obsessed with new routes but can’t wait for CF’s comments on these: – NK back to DEN w/ ORD, LAS, FLL and DFW – JAL announces NRT to SAN on 787… not sure i saw that coming. BOS and SEA made perfect sense, SJC seemed a little out of the box but smart considering the whole catchment area and ability to differentiate from the myriad NRT flights from SFO but this is definitely a big “get” for SAN… Read more »
Jason H
Guest

I can say that the DEN political community is happy about NK. The flight time to FLL is a bit strange. Depart 12a arrive 6a?! I’m sure some people will take it, but you are left without your hotel room until that afternoon and (if you are like me) too tired to want to drive to another destination. Perhaps a feeder flight?

ORD and DFW are also a bit strange. I would see that as more business rather than ULCC fodder. LAS makes perfect sense and if they can depress prices on that route it would be nice.

Sanjeev M
Guest

FLL is purely for the morning connections to everywhere Caribbean and Central America.

@Bobber at least you can use miles to buy flowers. Flowers don’t have blackout dates :)

Bobber
Guest

Thanks Sanjeev, although the flowers would be pretty ropey by the time they to to us:(

Bill from DC
Guest

besides connecting to spirit’s caribbean and latin american destinations, i would also speculate the flight to FLL is a redeye so it can function as a “cruise ship” flight.

MeanMeosh
Guest
The big thing at DFW is, there really was a dearth of ULCC service until NK decided to set up shop there (Allegiant might have a flight or two, but I’m not sure). For that matter, there’s no ULCC service to speak of anywhere in the Metroplex, since WN ceased being “The Low Fare Airline” years ago. Although I’m not a particular fan of ULCCs, I have to imagine there’s some pent up demand for that kind of thing in a place as big as this. As an aside, it is kind of interesting seeing what NK is up to… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Need to remember that airlines really don’t want you to upgrade. If you upgrade they loose the chance of selling that seat to someone willing to pay the price even up to the last minute before the flight departs.

Bobber
Guest

Only they frequently don’t sell that seat, and then we have the situation we’re in now where there are more ‘Air Miles’ in circulation than hard currency!

The ability to upgrade is a reward for loyalty – if you don’t want people taking the piss out of the facility, then limit the number of times you can use miles to upgrade over a 24 month period, for example……

Paul
Guest

I fly AA, and since you can still upgrade from any economy fare (for a $350 co-pay) I think they are definitely worth it. For example, I bought a $899 r/t from EZE-DEN, upgraded both legs for a total of $700 and 50,000 miles, and it still cost me thousands of dollars less than a J class fare. I’m afraid that this will change, but I hope it doesn’t!

Henry Harteveldt
Guest
Upgrades themselves are among the most sought-after frequent flier benefits. As an industry analyst, I do not like the “free” domestic upgrades some airlines offer. This approach costs the airline money they’d otherwise collect from the sale of certificates/coupons (or reduction in liability from mileage redemption for the upgrade award), may create unrealistic expectations for loyalty program members, further demeans the value of the product, and further discourages the airline from investing in its premium product. I don’t mind airlines requiring the use of certain fare classes for upgrades, but when they add the co-pay, they undermine the appeal of… Read more »
Jake
Guest
I recently dropped $100 to upgrade a 2 segment one-way from NYC to YUL on US and didn’t regret it. I got no meals and limited snacks but I DID have an entire cabin to myself on one (albiet short) jump between PHL and YUL. It was a last minute decision because weather was bad and I had a hunch that we’d be sitting on the ground for awhile at LGA…and we did (for more than an hour). I’ll admit that I’ve overpaid for an upgrade here and there but I think on occasion it’s worth the perks. I agree… Read more »
Nick Farina
Guest
I am EXP on AA and have had great luck with upgrades, including the present time period. 95% on comp upgrades and 100% on SWU/Miles + Copay. As a Platinum a few years back I also had good luck, though on peak times and routes. AA will also allow you to upgrade off the cheapest fares, a benefit I dearly hope they don’t take away. As far as value, it’s of course dependent upon how you prioritize spending, but 25k miles and $350 on top of a cheap fare is worth it on flights over 8 hours… Plus don’t forget… Read more »
mjb310
Member

Unlimited upgrades have reduced my likelihood of upgrading from 80% to 20% and I’m premier exec on UA. I am NOT pleased. As for co-pays, the benefit of the miles upgrade for me was not having to pay actual $ for it.

ptahcha
Guest

Depending on the airline, pricing and route. Also, once the new UA system is up, upgrades with miles and certs are ahead of unlimited elite upgrades on the waitlist.

Biggiggles
Guest
Being 1K on UA, I’ve reaped the rewards of the unlimited domestic upgrades. It’s really pretty sweet – I sometimes get upgraded days before a flight even when there’s not much space left in business (and I don’t mind flying econ). The Systemwide and regional upgrades are fantastic as well – by far the best perk. I go to BKK/SIN once a year through NRT, and I can use a single systemwide on the whole flight (~17 hrs). I’ve only ever used miles & copay to get into intl first from LHR to SFO, from business, but it worked. The… Read more »
mandel.jerry1
Member
1. To go somewhere in Europe, BA charges the Avios (miles) to LHR and then adds more Avios to the final destination. Example: Flying Economy DFW to LHR is 50,000 Avios to LHR and another 9,000 Avios to CPH (Copenhaven). Other airline, such as AA or DL, only charge a flat number number of miles to anywhere in Europe. 2. The fees/surcharges to Europe on BA are so high that, without using any Avios, one could actually purchase a ticket for the same or less money. 3. The fees/surcharges and Avios required for upgrades or booking higher grades are even… Read more »
Don
Guest

No upgrades are ot worth it. I can fly economy over the Pacific, Atlantic, or cross country and survive. If there is little fare difference (i.e. – WN’s boarding early, B6’s EML, etc) then MAYBE I might take advantage of it. Otherwise, not really. The frequent flier programs have all revamped to my disadvantage.

RICH
Guest
I agree; being a 1 K on United use to have major benefits; Now they are slowly disappearing. 50-50 shot on free upgrade with UA depends what Hub you are flying out of. If flying out of SFO or LAX or MCO almost impossible.. each flight has 25-30 1 K members on it. May 25 thru Sept 15 free upgrades are all but gone. But, I did just land a deal with UA using miles I got two rd trip Business Class ORD to Sydney Australia for 270,000 miles regular miles are 600,000 rd trip for 2. I save the… Read more »
Scott
Member
I wouldn’t mind paying the co-pay and miles to upgrade to business on long haul, but the problem is that this inventory is rarely available. You can get on a waitlist, but I hate the anxiety of not knowing for sure if your upgrade will clear. I’ve mostly done it on AA, and they often wait until the very last minute (at the gate prior to departure) to let you know. It’s just too much of a beta on a 9-10 hour flight to Europe to have no idea whether I’ll be able to sleep and get some decent food… Read more »
marshall
Member

The answer to this question is a healthy “it depends.” Its never worth it for flights under 3 hours. I would always compare the price of just buying biz across the pond to buying an upgradeable coach ticket and then paying the mile plus copay. Sometimes it’s a good deal to use miles to upgrade and sometimes it isn’t in that case. I’ve certain used miles to upgrade transcontinental flights. 15,000 miles and 75 bucks is a decent deal to me.

ro
Member
Yes the airlines have all the fun with upgrades. We fly to TLV from EWR and the upgrades have gotten totally out of hand at $600. each way plus 35,000 miles. It’s a nice ride in Business First but hard to justify since the base el cheapo Economy ticket is already around $1200. I have begged Continental (now United) to offer a Seniors pass (we are Platinum Elite ….golden oldies) and feel like locked accordions by the time we land but it’s hard to convince my fellow pensionnaire that it’s worth $1200. one way for the little stretch room and… Read more »
asad
Guest

Upgrades are not worth it anymore, HK to SFO was 30k miles and 550 to upgrade to business. I am not renewing my United credit card anymore. There is no point in collecting miles if you can’t even use them anymore.

MeanMeosh
Guest
Upgrading with miles with a copay is usually a waste, but not always. The miles + copay can be an OK deal on AA, which still allows upgrade awards from any coach fare. I once did a routing DEL-ORD-DFW-MAD-LHR-HYD where I bought the cheap seats and upgraded DEL-ORD and DFW-MAD. The coach ticket was about $1,300, and the upgrade was 65,000 miles + $700. If I had booked those sectors in J, the ticket would have been about $4,500, so your “value” is using 65,000 miles to save $2,500, or a redemption rate of 3.8 cents a mile. A saver… Read more »
ICUDoc
Guest
It all depends on your comfort and size. At 6″2′, 275 lbs – anything over 2 hours in the back is just plain torture for me – and worth the price of an upgrade. It is funny, though, when I get emails from TripIt telling me that I could exchange my ticket and pay less when I have to pay the higher fare codes to qualify for the upgrade. What is the WORST deal is the American Express Platinum Card International Companion program – buy one Business class – get one free with a companion flying with you. The fare… Read more »
rene
Guest

There are much better ways to spend Skymiles and upgrades are not one of them unless your business is paying for the ticket. With work 100k redemption even peak times is good and renting cars in with points can be a real value.

Danwriter
Guest
It looks pretty clear from the responses that AA has the best deal when it comes to upgrades, domestically and internationally, thanks to its policy of allowing upgrades from any fare and any fare basis. As an EXP, I’ve been upgraded virtually 100% of the time since the first Clinton Administration. The quid pro quo is that I give AA 100% of my air travel dollars (and they are mine — I’m self-employed). My biggest concern is that AA will segment the Y cabin, as other airlines have done, and create a “premium” coach class, an oxymoron if I ever… Read more »
John M.
Guest

After flying 16 hours from Atlanta to Seoul in a middle seat in coach, crappy seats just don’t bother me anymore. I can zone out.

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