Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades
Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Southwest Offers Discounted Upgrades at Check-In
Southwest Airlines is well known for not assigning seats, instead having passengers line up for boarding groups A, B and C. While you can pay extra to board earlier, there's no guarantee you'll get an empty seat next to you. But Southwest does offer discounted upgrades to move to the front of the boarding line, which can increase your chances of scoring some extra elbow room.
These upgrades are only available at the airport check-in counter on the day of departure. You can't pre-purchase them online. The airline offers them on select flights, so not every single Southwest departure will have upgrade options. Still, it's worth asking about them if an empty middle seat is important to you.
Upgrades start at $30 each way and can cost over $100 on some peak flights. While not exactly cheap, that's less than you'd pay if you booked a more expensive fare class just to board earlier. Southwest's upgrades simply let you jump ahead in the boarding order, but don't actually assign you a specific seat.
The airline posts signage at the check-in counters indicating if upgrades are available for a particular flight. You can also ask the agent when you print your boarding pass. Upgrades are capacity controlled, meaning there are only a set number offered on each flight. So the sooner you check-in, the better chance you have of scoring one.
According to passengers who have purchased them, the upgrades are usually a decent investment if you're looking for some extra personal space. Boarding in the A group means you'll have your pick of any open middle seat. You can also choose an aisle or window with empty middles, allowing you to spread out a bit.
Upgrades aren't available on flights that aren't likely to sell out. So don't expect to find them on early morning or late night departures. Your best bet is booking heavily trafficked routes at peak times, like Friday afternoons.
Southwest loyalists say the airline seems to manage the upgrades well, rarely selling more than are needed to satisfy those willing to pay extra. So while nothing is guaranteed, ponying up for an upgrade gives you pretty good odds of getting some breathing room.
Of course basic economy fares that don't allow seat selection are out of luck. But most others report a satisfying experience when purchasing Southwest's discounted upgrades. It's significantly cheaper than buying Business Select fares just for the early boarding privileges.
What else is in this post?
- Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Southwest Offers Discounted Upgrades at Check-In
- Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - American Lets You Bid on Premier Upgrades
- Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Delta's Day-Of Upgrades Can Get You More Space
- Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - United Premier Members Get Complimentary Upgrades
- Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Check Partner Airline Policies Too
- Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Ask at the Gate for Any Last Minute Deals
Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - American Lets You Bid on Premier Upgrades
While Southwest takes a more egalitarian approach to scoring a vacant seat, American Airlines plays the upgrade game like a high roller's auction. Loyalty members can throw down their elite status miles and cold hard cash to bid for precious First Class seats.
This service, called 500-Mile Upgrades, has evolved into a complex metagame for road warriors and card-carrying AAdvantage devotees. By leveraging miles accumulated from travel and co-branded credit cards, elites can enter an online bidding war for domestic upgrades starting 5 days before departure.
But playing the 500-Mile Upgrade game takes insider knowledge and nuanced strategies. Successful upgraders caution against blindly maxing out your bid, as savvy regulars wait till the end to snipe the auction. Timing your bid right before the 24-hour check-in window seems optimal for solid ROI. You want to top the bid, but leave little room for others to outflank you.
Upgrades start at around 15,000 miles plus $150 for short hops, scaling up based on flight duration and demand. Cross-country redeyes can run 60,000 miles plus $400 or more during peak holiday times. Perpetually oversold Monday morning Boston-Chicago shuttles are notorious upgrade bloodbaths.
Participants say too many rookies blow their mileage wad chasing ultra-competitive routes, leaving them empty-handed later on. Being selective and surveilling price trends across routes can help increase your upgrade probability and mileage savings. Avoiding married segments with high elite demand also improves the odds in your favor.
Upgrades used to clear at booking, but now only confirm after check-in. So you're committing your precious miles on a gamble. And upgrade space shrinks as the departure nears, forcing you to recalibrate your bid strategy based on demand. Successful upgraders plot upgrade viability on specific routes and study historical bid patterns when formulating bids.
Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Delta's Day-Of Upgrades Can Get You More Space
While American takes more of an auction approach to upgrades, Delta keeps it simple with same-day confirmed upgrades to First Class when available. It’s all based on your Medallion elite status and fare class purchased. The higher your status, the more likely you’ll score a sweet space upfront on the day of travel.
Platinum and Diamond Medallions have the best shot at riding in style. Complimentary upgrades start clearing 72 hours before departure, giving elites a decent confirmation window. Upgrades are prioritized by fare class, with full-priced First Class fares cleared first followed by discounted business class, then main cabin.
Within each fare class, upgrades are sorted by elite status, with Diamonds at the top. After that, it’s based on the time of request. So Platinums who asked for an upgrade earlier get cleared before those who just requested one. This creates an interesting strategy where timing your upgrade request can make a big difference in scoring that wide First Class seat.
Savvy Delta elites recommend requesting the upgrade as soon as allowable, right when booking the flight or exactly 120 hours pre-departure. Even if you end up with a lower fare class, asking early apparently gives you an edge over other Platinums. Status can trump fare class, so don’t wait on requesting an upgrade if empty First Class seats are a priority.
Monitoring upgrade lists can also provide valuable intel. Delta shows all upgrade requests and current clearance status online, allowing you to gauge demand on your flights. Routes with a dozen other Platinums ahead of you in the upgrade queue suggest slim odds. But only a few other elites in line means solid chances.
Same day upgrades are capacity controlled, so nothing is guaranteed. But Delta elites report solid success, especially on hub routes and red-eyes where upgrades often start clearing 24 hours pre-departure. Being flexible with changes helps too - elites say rebooking to a flight with fewer upgrade requests can instantly boost your chances. Award tickets are not eligible for complimentary upgrades, so booking the cheapest revenue fare that your status allows maximizes opportunities.
First Class prices fluctuate wildly, with some routes exceeding $2000 for a one-way ticket when demand spikes. But Delta’s complimentary elite upgrades let you lock in the cheap economy price while potentially sailing up front for free. Elites rave about the savings compared to buying upfront seats in advance. Of course, upgrades are never a sure thing. But Delta’s generous day-of complimentary upgrades give elites great odds of stretching out without paying full fare prices.
Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - United Premier Members Get Complimentary Upgrades
Scoring a free upgrade to business or first class is the holy grail for United loyalists. As a Premier elite, those coveted complimentary upgrades are within reach if you play the mileage game just right. United's upgrade policies reward high-tier elites first, but even mid-tier Premiers have a shot at moving up - if they strategize wisely.
It all comes down to three key factors - your status level, fare class purchased, and route competition. Global Services members almost always get the upgrade. Then it goes in order to 1Ks, Platinums, and Golds. This elite hierarchy matters, as a 1K will trump a Gold with the same fare class.
Within status level, fare class takes precedence. Full-fare first class purchases are cleared first, followed by various discounted business class fares, then full-fare economy. Cheap economy fares board last, so elites buying those should temper expectations. However, elite status can still override fare class in many cases.
The third factor is competition. Some routes are fiercely contested with lots of elites vying for upgrades. Study ExpertFlyer to gauge demand. Midcontinent banks like Houston to Chicago see brutal upgrade battles. Connecting over empty Midwest hubs better your odds.
Upgrades start clearing at booking for top-tier Global Services, then phase in around T-120 hours before departure for other elites depending on fare class. Monitoring the upgrade list provides intel on your chances. With lots of elites above you still on the waitlist, temper hopes. But few other Premiers ahead puts you in prime position.
Techniques like scheduling short connections can sometimes boost your priority. Elites report better chances on late-night or red-eye flights with fewer business travelers competing. Being flexible with changes to less crowded departures or aircraft also improves the odds in your favor.
It's a high stakes game of strategy, but United Premiers excelling at the upgrade metagame swear by the thrill of that glorious moment your name appears on the cleared upgrade list. Scoring a business class lie-flat pod on an overnight Hawaii redeye for the economy price you paid makes the effort worthwhile. Even mid-tier elites have a decent shot on routes with light competition.
Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Check Partner Airline Policies Too
Upgrading on partner airlines should absolutely factor into your elite strategy. Thanks to alliances like Star Alliance and OneWorld, elites have options to use miles and status perks across a network of international carriers. Policies vary, but many extend elite benefits like upgrades to members of affiliated loyalty programs. Do your homework before assuming alliance status gets you nothing on partners.
For example, United elites can tap into upgrade opportunities when flying ANA, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and other Star partners. Just linking your United and partner frequent flyer accounts unlocks access. On ANA, United Golds and Platinums even get added to the upgrade waitlist 48 hours before departure - earlier than mid-tier elites on United-operated flights.
But every airline handles alliance upgrades differently. Singapore only starts clearing United elites 24 hours out, and some discount economy fares aren't eligible. Lufthansa offers decent odds, especially on intra-Europe flights where United elites report an amazing 75% success rate. But they confirm closer to departure, so don't expect to relax in business class after takeoff.
American and Oneworld partners also extend elite benefits, but the specifics vary. Qantas only offers complimentary upgrades to AAdvantageExecutive Platinums on discount economy fares. British Airways Confirm Upgrade certificates let American elites snag business class seats in advance on BA flights.
Even low tier elites have shot on alliance airlines. Alaska MVPs rave about smooth upgrades to Virgin America First Class when flying partners. Delta Silver Medallion members say flying KLM frequently scores them a World Business seat, a rarity on Delta-operated flights.
Partnership policies are complex, but well worth studying for elites. Having backup options on alliance airlines means more opportunities to put your status to use. Focus on carriers that generously grant upgrades to affiliate elites rather than hoarding them for their own top-tier flyers. Avoid ones that arbitrarily restrict upgrades on certain fares.
Don't assume alliance elite status gets you nothing just because the marketing partnership exists. Airlines want to incentivize loyalty across their group. Do online research on recent experiences booking partners with your status. ExpertFlyer lists alliance upgrade priority tiers for United, American and Delta flyers. Read FlyerTalk trip reports to learn which airlines cater well to visiting elites.
Maximize your chances by being flexible across alliance partners. Let upgrade policies guide booking decisions rather than always sticking to your home airline. If you have status on multiple carriers, choose the one most generous to visiting elites on international routes. Consider mileage earning and upgrade ease together when evaluating partners.
Get an Empty Middle Seat Without Paying Full Fare: The Airlines Offering Discount Upgrades - Ask at the Gate for Any Last Minute Deals
Even after the cabin door has closed, hope for an upgrade isn’t necessarily lost. Savvy travelers know gate agents hold the power to conjure last-minute seat swaps, even moving economy flyers up to first class free of charge. But scoring one of these mythical gate upgrades relies entirely on charming the gate crew with tactics bordering on hostage negotiation.
Your starting leverage is zero - gate upgrades depend wholly on the agent’s generosity and aircraft occupancy. Don’t expect freebies on packed flights. Focus on uncrowded legs and red-eyes, when empty premium seats abound. Smaller airports see more success than mega-hubs clogged with elites. Regional destinations like Milwaukee-Madison or Austin-San Antonio offer better odds.
Gain intel before making your stand. Nonchalantly ask how full first class booked or if they expect available seats after boarding. This plants the seed and gauges viability. If totally sold out, politely stand down. But a few empties crack the upgrade door open.
Now summon your inner thespian. Gate agents withstand constant passenger begging, so creativity counts. Spin an emotionally-charged narrative to spark their sympathy. Newlyweds reuniting after months abroad. Loyal customers celebrating decades of exclusive Delta flying. Frail grandmothers traveling to visit family one last time. The more poignant the tale, the better the results. But keep it honest. Outlandish sob stories breed skepticism, not sincerity.
Having status helps immensely, even low-tier, so lead with your loyalty credentials. Note exact years and miles flown if possible. First-timers or infrequent flyers are largely ignored. Your unwavering dedication holds more sway. Deflect discussion of miles or vouchers. Those can be promised later once upgraded. For now, emphasize how profoundly humbled you would be by their gracious gift.
Avoid sounding entitled or demanding. This is key. Gate agents constantly deal with rude, unreasonable flyers. A polite, earnest appeal casts you as the passenger they want to reward. Say you know upgrades are rare and reaffirm respect for their decision. No pressure.
If shot down, accept it graciously. Lingering would only frustrate the agent. But nicely ask to be waitlisted, as space could open up. Occasionally the generous ones surprise you at the last minute if seats free up.Then thank them again for considering it and board as assigned. You’ve shown appreciation for their time and built goodwill for next time.