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How can I use my miles to upgrade a discounted ticket?

Dear Tim,

I have a question for you regarding upgrades. I have a great number of miles on Continental and would like to use them on Northwest to upgrade my upcoming trip to China. I am going with an organized, private tour and have purchased the airfare at a group rate.

Northwest will not allow me to upgrade. I know there are seats available and I have elite status?Do you have any suggestions? Is there anything that I can do? I am willing to give them more miles for the upgrade and feel that it is unfair that I cannot upgrade due to the class of ticket that I purchased.


Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for the note.

Unfortunately, your options are limited.

Northwest is technically within its rights to restrict mileage upgrades to a limited number of higher-priced fares. This is standard industry practice, and group fares are typically ineligible for upgrades.

With that in mind, you can either ask that an exception be made in your case (due to your elite status), or work with the tour operator to purchase a more expensive ticket, which can be upgraded. (The tour operator may have to decouple the air and ground components of the package and sell you the ground portion separately.)

Regarding the first option, you might try asking the tour company to contact Northwest on your behalf. Their clout as a volume buyer of Northwest tickets in conjunction with your elite status could be enough to warrant an exception. To be frank, though, I rarely hear of exceptions in these cases, so keep your expectations in check.

With the second option in mind, obviously you’d be looking for the lowest available fare that still allows you a mileage upgrade. The tour company should be able to help make that determination.

In both cases, I’d suggest working through the tour operator, at least initially. I say this for two reasons: for one thing, they’re pros, and have dealt with these issues many times; secondly, they have an ongoing business relationship with the airline, which can be used to your benefit.

Hope this helps.

Tim Winship
Contributing Editor

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