Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
First class upgrades. Most of us would like them, but not all of us have the elite status or miles/cash to burn to regularly spring ourselves out of coach and into the forward cabin. Assuming you are typically in the majority that sits “behind the curtain” in coach and just hear the occasional clanking of real glasses and plates in first class from afar, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, most domestic first class upgrades aren’t that great.
Yes, you often get served some sort of food in first class for no additional charge, but that may or may not be a good thing. Seriously, this is the “improved” meal I was served yesterday. I was sick last night….coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
You will get served drinks upon request, again, which may or may not be a good thing (and that you can buy for $7 in the back anyway). You will have more space than in economy, but keep in mind you can buy the “big front seat” on Spirit Airlines that is very similar to most domestic first class seats for about $40 on many routes, so the seat itself often isn’t super special.
First class is of course almost always more comfortable than economy, but not all first class upgrades are created equally. While many domestic first class cabins aren’t that special, there are exceptions, and if you are ever going to strategize and spring for a little extra to sit up front, I’ll tell you when to do it.
The best domestic first class upgrades are on internationally configured planes that are flying a domestic segment. Interestingly, they can also be some of the easier upgrades to get simply because of the large number of first class seats on these large planes.
I’ll give you a real life example, yesterday we flew into the NYC area from Houston for some holiday fun, and I purposefully picked a flight into Newark, not because I had lost my mind or thought Newark was the most convenient airport, but because there is an internationally configured two-class 777-200 on the schedule that United flies from Houston – Newark as it positions from one international flight to another. In this case, the plane had just flown in from Japan to Houston before it got shuffled to Newark, where I’m sure it got ready for another exciting destination.
In the meantime, it was doing a short hop between Houston and Newark. This means we could fly to the NYC area in lie-flat United BusinessFirst seats that are pretty darn comfortable for lounging around and even sleeping. It also means that each seat (even in economy) has their own complimentary in-flight entertainment screen.
I picked this plane on purpose as I knew it would be exciting and enjoyable for us to fly on, even though lie-flat seats on a 3 hour flight are obviously totally unnecessary.
The combination of a nice big seat and good in-flight entertainment made the flight a total breeze for all of us.
Many domestic first class cabins have somewhere between 12 – 20 seats in them, but this plane has 50. That means there are lots of additional upgrades that will clear beyond what is typical on most domestic routes. I used confirmed upgrades in advance for our flight, but even those with low tier silver elite status can sometimes clear on these sorts of flights simply due to the large number of available first class seats.
If you ever have the urge to splurge with miles or money to get yourself or your family into first class on a domestic flight, don’t be plane agnostic. Be very particular with your type of plane when you upgrade because some upgrades are much more “worth it” than others.
Our flight yesterday was not just transportation between Point A and Point B as many flights are, but instead it was a part of the adventure that we looked forward to in the weeks leading up to the trip, and enjoyed very much while it was happening. The first class upgrade isn’t the focus of our trip, but it sure was fun. Much more fun than an upgrade on a 737 probably would have been.
Do you ever pay special attention to aircraft type and seat maps when booking flights for your family?