Upgrading Your Airline Flights

Everyone wants to have them, few get them: upgrades with airlines. It’s one of the most common questions I hear: “I’ve booked an Economy Class ticket for Flight X, can you upgrade that to business for me?” The problem is that most people who ask this have booked the cheapest Economy Class tickets, and you can not upgrade them with miles, nor are you high on the list for so-called “operational upgrades” even with high frequent flyer status.

For an “operational upgrade”, ie one at the check-in or at the boarding gate, a prerequisite must first be fulfilled: the economy class must be overbooked. Because upgrades are different than in hotels, where these are used as a “goodie” for particularly good customers, airlines rather born of necessity, namely that more people want to fly than there are places in the booked service class. That happens quite often. But then there are more things to be on top of the airline upgrade list.

Frequent flyer status and booking class

It is about the combination of frequent flyer status at the airline with which one flies and booking class, which expresses the value of the booked ticket. At the top of the list of upgrades are those with the highest frequent flyer status, at Lufthansa so the HON Circle Members, then the senators. Within these groups, sorting is done by booking class. Finally, there may be other influencing factors that influence the upgrade probability. If you travel about two (possibly even with a child), but there is only one upgrade space, then you may be skipped in favor of a single traveler. Hinderlich for upgrades, it is always, for example, if you have ordered a special menu.

How to upgrade pros

Upgrade professionals check the flight statistics of certain routings, have travel agencies or the airline provide information about the booking status and then book flights that are highly overbooked. They also have a high status with the airline and book tickets in a slightly higher booking class. A classic for flights with good upgrade opportunities are those at the beginning of the summer holidays, for example, go to the US. During the holiday season the Business Class Flights are booked rather less, while the Economy Class is usually overcrowded.

Paid upgrades

But apart from these free upgrades, there are of course other variants, namely payment upgrades and upgrades with miles. Some airlines offer cash upgrades a few days before the flight. Most of the price is one-way at 500 to 800 euros. Sometimes you can also offer an upgrade. In both cases, everyone has to decide for themselves what it’s worth to upgrade. Also at the check-in counter you can ask for a paid upgrade.

Miles upgrades

It is now interesting. The Lufthansa Miles & More program made a very positive change last year. While in the past it was only possible to upgrade from the highest Business Class booking classes C, D and J to First Class, this is now possible for all Business Class booking classes. As such, one of the best upgrade options is booking a very affordable Business Class fare on a sale and then upgrading. While cheap business class tickets cost between 1500 and 2000 euros, the normal first class prices range between 5000 and 10,000 euros.

business class flights

Of more relevance, however, are upgrades from economy to business class. Unfortunately, the cheapest booking classes K, L and T are excluded from upgrades. The following random example shows the difference. If I currently book a flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles with Lufthansa in May 2019 in Economy Class, I pay 457 euros nonstop in the cheapest fare. If I book the same flight in an upgradable booking class (H, M, Q, S, U, V, W), then the price jumps to 939 euros. That’s more than double. In addition, a return flight upgrade on this route costs 100,000 miles. If, on the other hand, you book the entire flight with miles, you would pay “only” 105,000 miles plus about 500 euros in taxes and fees.

So if a business class flight is available on miles, it usually makes more sense to book it. And if none is available, then there are no upgrade options anyway at the time of booking. You would then, if you want to get the upgrade opportunities, since a few days before departure often still upgrade options, in our example, a 500-euro risk, because that is the surcharge for upgradeable ticket.

That’s why Lufthansa’s mileage upgrades only make sense in very special cases. Such is given when the employer pays the ticket (usually it is a higher upgradable booking class) and then uses private miles to upgrade the flight. Or you can upgrade from cheap business class to first class as described above.

How to use Lufthansa Upgrade Voucher

Lufthansa customers often have the upgrade problem as they always receive upgrade e-vouchers for status (re-) qualification. For more expensive paid by the employer flights, these are very useful. But for private holiday travel you should use it only if there is already an availability for an upgrade when booking the regular ticket. Exceptions are upgrades from business to first class. Here are the upgrade vouchers the perfect way, whether you travel for business or pleasure.

Which airlines are worth upgrading?

But what about other airlines and miles programs? Is Lufthansa an isolated case where mega upgrades are not worthwhile in most cases? We compared eight popular frequent flyer programs in one study and identified only two that were worth mile upgrades in most cases: British Airways and Emirates. At British Airways it is an advantage that all Premium Economy and Business Class booking classes can be upgraded. At Emirates, it’s an advantage that regular award tickets result in very high taxes and fees (usually $ 600 or more) and you save on them in the event of an upgrade.


The upgrade myth is alive, but in practice everything looks a bit more sober. For “Operational Upgrades” the frequent flyer status is decisive, for Lufthansa upgrades it pays to upgrade from Business to First Class. Otherwise, mileage upgrades are an option primarily for foreign-paid flights – but not for self-payers on most airlines. Then all that remains is the pay upgrade, where everyone can test out their own pain threshold for an upgrade, so that in the end it still says: You’ve been upgraded.

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