Upgrading to first class at airport?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Ronald Epstein, Sep 29, 2006.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Once in a while, when my accumulated points permit, I enjoy
    flying first-class. When doing so, this is a decision that I make
    at the time of booking since I know that I have the points and/or
    finances to cover it.

    So it surprises me as of late that whenever I fly I see a
    standby list for upgrades at the airport. I particularly noticed
    this with a recent flight aboard American Airlines.

    It *seems* people go to the counter as soon as it opens, putting
    their names on a list, and hoping to nab unfilled first-class seating.

    My question is, what is going on here? What kind of discount
    opportunity is available to people who nab extra seats that are
    available in first-class?
     
  2. Patrick_S

    Patrick_S Producer

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    I don't think there is any special deal that they are getting. They still have to pay miles or use upgrade coupons.

    I used to fly 100k a year and I found that people, (me included) would upgrade as a spur of the moment type thing. What the heck, after a long week of business on the road the thought of sitting in comfortable First Class for the flight across country was very appealing.
     
  3. Craig S

    Craig S Producer

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    I suspect these folks are "Elite" members (to use Continental's terminology) of the airline's frequent flyer program. These are almost always business travelers. The Elite membership requirements are usually something like a minimum number of miles or segments in a calendar year. For Continental, you gain the 1st level of Elite status after 25,000 miles.

    There are several perks for Elite flyers, one of which is free upgrades on a space available basis. These days, with most flights always full, the competition among Elite flyers for what few unfilled first class seats may be available is pretty stiff. Hence the rush to the counter you mentioned.
     
  4. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    Makes sense. Thanks Gents!
     
  5. Lynda-Marie

    Lynda-Marie Supporting Actor

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    What you might be seeing, Ron, are people putting themselves on the list to be "bumped" - that is, often airlines overbook the flights to make sure said flights are full, because there are passengers who are late or fail to show up for one reason or another. In that instance, the airlines will ask if anyone want to voluntarily give up their seats for someone else. In exchange for someone saying yes, they will be moved to another flight, and "upgraded" to first class for free, and there are other compensations to be had as well, which depends on the airline.

    Found this out when my brothers went to Vegas a couple of years ago, and they were doing all they could to save money - using the book, "The Frugal Gambler" they had checked out of the library.
     
  6. CameronJ

    CameronJ Stunt Coordinator

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    Craig is 100% correct - these are elite fliers.

    Unless you are in the top-tier of elites (which on American I believe is Platinum - which requires 75,000 flight miles a year), putting yourself on the upgrade list at the airport is usually not going to cut it. The following applies to United, as it's the airline I fly almost exclusively.

    1. There are really two upgrade lists, the list before the day of departure and then the departure list.
    2. The airline maintains an "upgradeable" inventory of first class seats. If on the day before departure there are 5 total unsold first class seats, a percentage of those will be available for upgrades (maybe 3).
    3. On United, how early your upgrade can "clear" is dependent on your status. For top tier (1k members) you can clear 100 hours out. For Premier (the first elite tier) I believe its 48 hours (I haven't been Premier in years, so it may have changed). For general (non-elite) members, it's 24 hours out. There are a few
    4. Once the day of departure hits, the upgrade list is essentially sorted by two factors, level of status first, then time placed on the upgrade list. If my upgrade request hasn't cleared before the day of departure, I'll check in online as soon as I can - which then places me on the list.
    5. United (and I believe American does the same) offers complimentary upgrades to elite members if you purchase a full-fare economy class ticket.
     
  7. andrew markworthy

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    You can also get bumped up to first class for other reasons:

    (1) I'm 6ft 9" and to say the least, leg room in a standard cattle class seat is cramped. If a flight isn't overbooked, I've frequently been put in first class. Before anyone of average height starts envying this, trust me, this is one of an extremely small number of perks of being tall, and there are a heck of a lot more disadvantages.

    (2) you can simply get lucky - if the booking clerk is in a good mood and your face or something else appeals you can get upgraded on non-busy flights. I have a couple of friends who regularly have had this happen to them. The only distinguishing features I can think of is that they both dress reasonably smartly, have titles (Dr or Prof) and are well-spoken.
     
  8. Craig S

    Craig S Producer

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    The only time I've been bumped up a class it was for being prompt. [​IMG]

    Back in 1985 I went to England with two other friends. It was the first time traveling out of the country for any of us (we were in our mid-late 20s) and we were all really excited. So excited, we took the advice to get to the airport early for international flights (Continental flies direct to Gatwick from Houston) to the extreme, and were at the counter waiting when they started the check-in process. We were the first on the entire flight to check-in.

    Just before they started the boarding process, we were called back to the desk. Seems they had oversold coach, had already bumped all Elite members up to first, and were now bumping regular flyers up to business class starting with the earliest check-ins. We all got upgraded without even asking!

    Best. Flight. Ever. [​IMG]
     

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