Why 3 of the Next 4 Weeks Will Be Super Tough for Upgrades

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As A Million Miler premier gold on UA, I use to score 100% upgrades on off peak Saturday morning departures. Last Saturday I was #6 and #26 on the upgrade list. So much for gaming the system.

  2. Gray,

    In your post, you have a picture of AAs new domestic first class with personal tvs. I know they are retrofitting their planes with them. Is their away to tell if the AA 737 that you are flying on will have personal tvs?

  3. @Ted – it’s only 737s received in the past two years that have it. You can compare your flight to the most recent delivery tail numbers. But you won’t really know until close to departure, and it can change.

  4. I’ve been 1- K since day one and a 3 million mile flyer. I never failed to be upgraded by UA anywhere in the world I flew. Those days are clearly over. Example: Flying SFO/BOS several months ago I was number 5 on an already full upgrade list. There were 27 people behind me on the list! So now it’s everyone and his dog expecting to be upgraded. The answer? Sadly, is bite the bullet and pay for what you want.

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