Death of the free upgrade?

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This topic contains 43 replies, has 29 voices, and was last updated by  kmcottrell 20 Mar 2014
at 15:11

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 44 total)

  • Anonymous

    Dear readers,

    We are looking into the topic of paid-for hotel room and airline cabin upgrades and how they can be perceived to undermine your chances of getting a free upgrade as an elite loyalty scheme member.

    How often do you pay for upgrades with cash? Do you think it’s a good idea? What are the pros and cons in your experience?

    Also, what is your experience/opinion of software that allows travellers to bid against each other for airline upgrades? (American Airlines, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic are some that already offer it.) Would you use it?

    For example:

    We look forward to hearing your thoughts.


    Personally I have no issues with paid for upgrades. The airlines are running a business and are looking to maximise revenues for their shareholders. Why give away something for free if you can generate income. No-one is entitled to a free upgrade, nice when they happen but that’s the luck of the draw.

    For the same reason I think a lot of the FF programs have lost their lustre, inevitably airlines are focused on revenue bookings as opposed to people travelling on miles.

    I generally don’t bother with either paid upgrades or the auctions. I chose what I want to travel in and leave it at that.


    +1 simon, my views exactly


    I’ve paid for upgrades at the airport with cash. It all depends on the flight and the price. If it’s a long-haul flight, and most of mine are, I’m more than happy to fork out a few hundred quid.

    I must say I prefer to book the premium cabins right from the start, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

    As for auctioning the upgrades, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the airlines’ seats and they can do with them what they wish.

    I don’t think it will be long, actually, before we see the airlines offering them on eBay. And why not?


    Whilst I personally do not like and would not enter into an upgrade auction, I have no problems with airlines selling the upgrades to customers. It would still be nice if airlines could offer some reward to the loyal customer base, maybe pay for one and get two upgrades, if travelling with someone, or discounted upgrades for higher tier members?
    It seems that loyalty schemes remain popular and I believe they should think carefully about what benefits to offer. It would still be nice to know you are in with a chance because you have a higher tier status with the airline.
    At the end of the day, I agree with the other comments, they are a business and need to make money. I would rather they kept the tickets competitive and if that means selling upgrades rather than giving them away, so be it.
    If they can’t sell them, push people up and let them enjoy the fabulous product, after all it is a great marketing tool that may encourage them to spend more with you in the future.

    Now, thats airlines, but hotels are a whole different game. They offer very little in terms of rewards nowadays, and as we read in the latest BT, it seems that they are just getting worse. Soon you will need 100,000 points and 30 nights to just earn a free car parking space! They can’t continue getting away with “free internet” for high tier members. It should be free. Hilton has even started introducing faster internet now, so you all get it free but gold and diamond, get faster internet?! What is next? hold your gold card against the lift and it gets you to your floor quicker? bigger ice cubes for diamond guests?
    What I mean by this is that there are fewer perks with many of the hotel schemes and it seems “space available” upgrades are the main one and it probably costs you less in service cost than it does an airline. Again, its a good chance to let customers see your upgraded products and I would suggest that hotel loyalty is much harder to retain than some airline loyalty. I think hotels need to keep the free upgrades or improve the offerings to more loyal customers.


    Never have and never would pay for an upgrade at either a Hotel or an airline. But just got upgraded on Korean Air 2 days ago. Get Hotel upgrades all the time because of tier.


    Don’t get me started with hotel loyalty schemes! They have been useless for me.
    When I travel on an airline, any airline, my FF number is recorded and unless it is a discounted airfare on some airlines, I am accorded the points or the mileage. The airline doesn’t care if I pay in cash, if my company pays for me or if I pay and then get the company to reimburse me. But when I stay at a hotel with several of my colleagues none of us get points if the company pays for all of us. Only if we pay individually do we get loyalty points. Despite the fact that we all checked in with loyalty card numbers and occupied a room each. What’s with that?


    I certainly get the odd European upgrade travelling with KLM, but see little benefit these days.

    As for long haul, KLM also have introduced a “Bid” for an upgrade, though I usually Book Business Class with them. Like others, the uncertainty of being in a more spacious cabin with good sleep or rest on long , or ultra long haul flights, is not something i want to gamble, maybe i will or won’t.

    Etihad offered a couple of weeks ago, for me to bid for any sector of a trip LHR-AUH-SYD where we had already booked Business class, upgrading to First. This was and excellent idea, and the barometer you moved ran from £400 up to around £900,each per sector. Putting in a modest bid of £580 for the AUH-SYD sector, this was accepted 2 days before the flights, so we greatly benefited from 1st Class on the 15 hr ultra long haul flight.

    Indeed it was excellent in every way.

    Checking it out with a mock booking, Etihad had a fair amount of spare seats in both Business and First cabins. When we came to fly, the Economy and Business were completely full, and still only 4 of us in First out of 8 Suites.

    Bidding for a Business to First upgrade is more useful to me, than Economy to Business, as the certainty on a long haul trip for me, needs to be there.

    Having a Platinum Accor / Le Club card for around 5 years now, i always benefit from a room upgrade at the higher grade hotels, Sofitel, Grand Mercure, Mercure, M Gallery, but less so at Novotel and Ibis levels. All have a variation of levels of room from the basic.
    I find your regular hotels more likely to upgrade you, this being a good rapport and relationship with them, and creating a friendly welcome, getting to know you.

    Booking direct with your hotel is really More important than ever if this is to be achieved, and in your name not an agent or Company. then the systems recognise and notify the hotel, or automatically upgrade.
    So many hotels no longer award miles or points or upgrades unless you book direct.
    The same could be said for checking in early, often off long haul flights early in the morning, you get a much more sympathetic hearing. Adding “I would be happy to pay a small supplementary charge”, often will enable this, most often without a charge!

    Airlines and hotels generally i agree, upgrade less.
    Asking for a paid upgrade will often give you a decent deal, and extra revenue for the Company, and some perks for you. It is far more polite to ask for a paid upgrade, and is highly likely if available to be accepted, than implying a free one.

    Many irregular flyers ask for upgrades from Airlines these days, so the check in counters get used to this. A frequent flyer, card in hand, offering to add to revenue, smart in appearance (i really think how you look and behave is quite key in presenting yourself), polite and to the point, if effective.

    Again, booking direct with the Airline or hotel these days is vital, for upgrades, or any perks.this the Companies value and appreciate more, and your likelihood of getting something extra is greater. You have already given them extra revenue booking without a 3rd party, so they are happy to add to your loyalty with a better experience i feel.


    Why give a free upgrade if they can sell the seat for money? All airlines want to maximise revenues so I can understand why they would resort to auctioning or offering an upgrade for cash at check-in.

    Personally I’m with Simon and Steve on this one though an opportunity for Mrs. LP to upgrade to F from JNB to LHR for just R. 5,000 (+-£300) was to good and quickly accepted!


    I frequently use the BA option of upgrades in Club Europe from Stockholm to London for trips with no weekend stay involved (which allows for the cheapo CE returns for £245). The one-way upgrades are roughly £60-80 each way, and given that most ARN-LHR flights end up in the 2:45hrs time frame door-to-door it is worthwhile for me.

    The second options I have used is paid upgrades in hotels where I have no status, WiFi is charged and/or my rate excludes breakfast. I’ve done this a few times, let’s say extra £25 for upgrade to next room category with lounge, and free WiFi.


    I was checking in for a VA flight MEL-BNE last week, a 2 hour sector, and was asked if I would like to buy an upgrade. My cheapo ticket was about $175 AUS, and when I asked the upgrade price was quoted $745.

    Naturally, I declined, but was amazed to see that all 8 “business class” seats were empty for the flight. Had they quoted $250 or so, I would likely have said yes. How do they work out their opportunity cost?


    @LagunoPirate – that was a bargain. I’ll be going to Cape Town with Mrs TOH in April, BR Club World, and would love that.

    Especially as the return fliht is in a 380.

    Esselle – it might have something to do with the number of First Class meals they have on board. I have no idea how many ‘spare’ meals they usually carry. In fact, there’s an interesting question: who can give me an answer?

    I have taken advantage of the BA cheap upgrades from ET to CE many times.

    At the airport I have only paid once to upgrade from WT to WT+. I was basically forced to as I was told the Economy cabin was full. In hindsight, I don’t think I should have had to pay but at just over £100 it represented good value.

    On a longhaul Condor flight, paid-for upgrades were available on board and I wish I had jumped at the chance.

    I have had free upgrades twice, both on BA and on the same trip – outbound WT to WT+ and on the inbound WT to CW…very much appreciated.


    I’ve had several free upgrades on both BA and Virgin, from WT+ to Club (Prem Econ to Upper) and from Club to First. Like many others, I wouldn’t risk not getting a fully flat bed overnight on long haul to book premium economy and hope for an upgrade, free or otherwise at the airport. I might on a day flight. I’ve never been tempted by the paid for Club Europe upgrade as I can use the lounge anyway and don’t really think any extra cash for CE is worth it on a short flight.

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