Airline upgrades: what are the logistics?

upgrade on flights for frequent travelers from Ahoy

The upgrade game is one where the rules aren’t as simple as the Internet would have you think, with many sites and blogs stating what are no more than mere myths to get an upgrade.

Dressing well, being early, not having special meal requests are not things that are going to impact your chances of getting an upgrade – because at the end of the day it is all about the numbers to the airline.

upgrade on flights for frequent travelers from Ahoy

Different Policies

On top of this, each airline has different policies when it comes to upgrading. For example, some airlines operate on a policy that will only provide upgrades if the economy class is overbooked and then people will “spill” into the business class.

On the other hand, some airlines have a policy of filling every single free premium seat as a way of building loyalty. They will normally offer this to their elite flyers, rather than the casual flyer.


As a frequent flyer, it is no longer as simple as assuming that you’ll be automatically upgraded if there is the space. Most airlines are in a catch-22 situation, where they need to get the maximum revenue they can from a flight, which usually comes from the sale of premium seats. Whilst this is true they also need to maintain their ever-growing base of frequent and elite flyers which is dependent on how valued the flyer feels. The “value felt” can be paired down to how many seats an airline will leave for the opportunity to be free or mileage upgrades. Hence creating the catch-22 for airlines, to make maximum profit on these seats but also appease its loyal flyers, their other main stream of revenue.

So…can you get an upgrade?

Airlines are rarely releasing their “upgrade available” seats to their frequent flyers until, in some cases, just minutes before the flight’s departure, to give maximum time to selling the seats at full price. This causes a race between frequent fliers to get the coveted premium seat and free upgrade, so just how can you win this race?


  1. Try and check flight availability as far in advance as you can. When an airline initially posts the flight, they generally will release a few mileage eligible upgrade seats but not for awards. It is key to understand this point, as you can book an inexpensive economy ticket and then use your miles to upgrade to the business class seat, and in the process, you will earn qualified miles on the original economy booking. As soon as you know you will be travelling somewhere – it is well worth checking if these seats are available.


  1. Upgrade availability is constantly changing, so even if there wasn’t an option to upgrade when you purchased your ticket, checking back in is well worthwhile. Even up until you’re ready to go, you can still check to see if the upgrade is available and then use your miles to snag it!


This can seem like a lot of time and stress spent on tenterhooks waiting to see if an upgrade will become available, and not the best use of your energy as a frequent traveller. Ahoy can look after your upgrade options, making sure that if there is ever any availability to upgrade or use your miles to snag a premium seat that you will know instantly! Find out more about Ahoy here.