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‘A First Class Upgrade Every Time’? C’mon!

“How to Get a First Class Upgrade Every Time”

So trumpets the headline of a Bloomberg article published this morning. An upgrade every time. That’s a promise guaranteed to perk the interest of a wide range of travelers, from business flyers, who actually stand a chance of being upgraded, to armchair travelers, whose only experience of first class is being herded through it on their way to the coach cabin.

Having read the article, I can confirm what I already knew: Ignore the headline—it’s clickbait. There is no way to get a first-class upgrade every time.

As the article rightly points out, elite upgrades, which were never guaranteed, have become ever scarcer, as airlines increasingly treat their first-class seats as potential sources of revenue rather than as perks reserved for their most loyal customers. Better to sell a first-class seat for a hefty discount than to fail to monetize it at all.

So, fewer first-class seats available. Then there are the myriad hoops would-be upgraders have to jump through in order to snag one of those few seats. In Delta’s case, for example, the first cut is based on elite status. Higher-level status obviously trumps lower-level status. Next is fare basis. Those traveling on higher-priced non-refundable tickets get higher upgrade priority than those flying on discounted tickets. After that, preference is given to customers holding the pricey Delta Reserve credit card. Next: travelers affiliated with Delta’s corporate travel program. Then, holders of co-branded credit cards who have spent $25,000 or more. And finally, if all the foregoing were equal, the upgrade goes to the lucky traveler who requested it first.

With so many variables in play, the very idea of a guaranteed elite upgrade is ludicrous. Nobody gets a first-class upgrade every time.

The only way to avoid the uncertainty of the elite upgrade scrum is to purchase a first-class ticket, either with cash or miles or both. One way or another, it’s going to cost you.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your success rate at scoring elite upgrades?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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