If you want to have the best change of an upgrade, you want to fly when there’s the least amount of competition for scarce upgrade seats.
- Stay away from premium routes with limited capacity. People actually pay for business class between the US and Sydney. London is a premium route, but from New York there are tons of flights. Timing will matter, but there are enough seats, more so than Sydney.
- Stay away from the highest status upgraders. Don’t fly when most business travelers do, Monday morning first flight and Thursday and Friday afternoons between 5 and 7:30pm. If you want to upgrade without competition, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are your best bet and middle of the day.
- Fly during the holidays. There are fewer business travelers on the road.
American Airlines New Domestic First Class
Cathay Pacific Business Class
Even routes, days, and times where upgrades are usually easier will see increased competition for 3 of the next 4 weeks. And January will be worse.
That’s because the end of year — outside of holiday travel weeks — there are more elite frequent flyers competing for upgrades.
Everyone who made status in 2014 for the 2015 elite year plus everyone that earned status anew this year and is flying will be your competition.
- Elite ranks swell at the end of the year.
- This is most acute at the very beginning of the next calendar year. United and Delta status expires at the end of January, American status expires at the end of February (but they’re expected to change to a January end).
- Once 2014-qualifying elites lose status either February 1 or March 1, elite ranks shrink back down to normal, and upgrades get a little easier.
Despite swelled elite ranks, though, both Thanksgiving and Christmas travel — packed as planes may be — tend to be good times for upgrades.