Checking for Cheap First Class Upgrades

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.

I wanted to share a quick travel tip related to upgrades that many of you probably already know, but that may come as a surprise to others.  There are lots of ways to find yourself sitting at the front of the plane ranging from paying full fare to lucking into an upgrade because they oversold coach or otherwise desperately need your specific seat.  Most people sitting in first class probably fall somewhere in the middle of having paid full fare and benefiting from random luck.  In fact, you may be surprised at how affordable it sometimes is to go from a coach seat to a first class seat, at least domestically.

Today I was helping my husband manage some of his upcoming trips to make them as easy as possible given a recent foot injury (in foot vs. moving heavy table, table wins every time).  This included calling the airline to add an e-cart designation to the reservations so he can cruise in the cool golf carts at the airport, making sure his seats were as close to the front of the plane as possible, and ensuring extra legroom when possible.

On some of his flights the cost to go from economy to first class was just $1 more than to go to extra legroom seats.  In this case, the cost to go to domestic first was just $23 (or 15,000 miles, but that is a terrible value).  What this likely means is that his economy ticket was probably not far off from the price of a first class ticket to being with, but at just $23 it still makes sense to go from the back of the plane to the front – especially if you are 6’3″ with a foot injury.

Cheap Upgrade

Every airline handles paid upgrades differently, but if you want to sit up front it pays to periodically check your reservation online and see what it would take to upgrade.  Sometimes you may have to call to find out that info, and sometimes the best deals won’t be available until T-24 hours from departure or less.  Airlines give out upgrades to elite travelers, but they would basically universally rather get some cash by selling the upgrade to you rather than hand it over to an elite “for free”.  The exact price to upgrade will likely often be out of your accepted range, but sometimes it might just be $23.

Have you scored some pretty inexpensive upgrades?

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. This subject is a new phenomenon to me, and I’m excited to report on my recent experience. I must’ve had a seat they needed because I was given the very Economy Plus seat I considered buying just the night before for $69. Ok, it wasn’t first class (it was full) but still a good seat – aisle/bulkhead. There were plenty E+ middle seats available but no other E+ aisle or windows free.

  2. This is why United is terrible. Good for your husband but not the 1K who flies all the time in coach unable to secure upgrades. Smizek will sell anything including a middle seat on a transcon to make an extra buck.

  3. I noticed it in the past, and with a limited amount of effort I was able to secure a one-way upgrade to business for a EWR-VCE flight for ca. $250. Pretty good value to have a flat seat on a red-eye, if you ask me…

    • Very generally speaking the routes where you will see this the most are likely routes/times where there aren’t a ton of business travelers. Shorter routes also help, and if you happen to already be on a relatively high economy fare that can also help.

  4. My first long haul flight in business was on AA DFW-LHR. Economy was overbooked so AA bumped some people to business at no additional cost. I was one of the lucky ones.

  5. Yeah…. I’m a Plat and it’s discouraging to be #10 on the upgrade list, even for a route like sfo-san.

  6. I see this a lot on United flights between Ohare and Cincinnati. $39 to upgrade on a $350+ ticket. Granted the seats on those little planes are barely better than coach but it also gives you an extra half segment if you are trying to get status that way.

  7. Question – so have you checked your credit card statement on this upgrade? I recently paid a $23 upgrade (the exact same price as this) on United and was actually billed $102. I’ve requested a refund, but even the receipt I was sent shows a $102 upgrade fee, not a $23 fee – a big difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *