Which Airlines will Upgrade you to First Class if You Have Elite Status?

Contributor: David Bernard

Earning status can be exciting, especially when you realize that it comes with the strong possibilities of a first class or extra legroom complimentary upgrade. However, just as all airlines are not created equal, their frequent flyer programs are not either. In an effort to provide information to our readers, we’ve compiled a list of airlines that currently offer complimentary upgrades (to any higher class) as a part of their loyalty program for elite members.

Airlines Within North America:

  • Delta Air Lines
  • United Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Virgin America (Upgrade to Main Cabin Select Seats ONLY)
  • AeroMexico
  • Copa Airlines

Obviously the budget airlines, which don’t offer first class, will not have a product to upgrade you too, but elite status with them can still be valuable.

Overall, upgrading with an airline can be lucrative and difficult. It really depends on two factors. Your elite status tier is the most important factor of course. Those with higher status will clear upgrades with priority and sooner than other flyers. The other important factor to remember is the booking class. Those infamous letters that you see on your boarding pass that never seem to be the same as other passengers directly reflect which fare level you paid for within a class of service (i.e. an X-class seat in Economy class). Those letters have a hierarchy which reflect the amount of money that they cost, those higher up in the tier will be the next determinant within each elite tier for who gets upgrades.

For example, let’s say we have a 50-seat plane. Let’s say that there are 6 seats in first class left open, and there are 12 elite members on this flight. Let’s say that the airline has 4 elite tiers. 1 passenger is the top tier, 2 passengers are the second-highest tier, 2 passengers are the third-highest tier, and 4 passengers are the fourth tier. Since we have 6 seats, all members of the top three tiers will upgrade because there are only 5 of them. Now we have just one seat left for the 4 fourth-tier elites. They would then be ranked by the letter, and the person with the highest-ranked letter would get the upgrade.

Typically, upgrades are only domestic flights within North America, and most coveted routes (i.e. JFK-LAX/SFO) are not covered by this since they offer premium business class services. Bot overall, any upgrade is still nice even if it’s just a short route.

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