Are free upgrades a thing of the past?

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ddd

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I'm flying Etihad economy tonight out of SYD and when I checked in there was barely any line. I'm VA gold so I got to check in at the business counter (3 open counters with no passengers at them) and got chatting to the bloke at the desk. He mentioned that first class is empty and business is half empty. Thinking this would be my once in a lifetime chance to fly long haul business I asked if there was any chance he could bump me up, and he replied that unfortunately he can't - airlines (not just etihad) don't really do free upgrades anymore because they lose money from it.

Fair enough I'm not complaining, I've got what I paid for, but I was just quite surprised that's the case. I would have thought the cost to the airline of business over economy would be negligible if the seat is going empty anyway.

Anyone had similar experiences?
 

Boca68

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I'm flying Etihad economy tonight out of SYD and when I checked in there was barely any line. I'm VA gold so I got to check in at the business counter (3 open counters with no passengers at them) and got chatting to the bloke at the desk. He mentioned that first class is empty and business is half empty. Thinking this would be my once in a lifetime chance to fly long haul business I asked if there was any chance he could bump me up, and he replied that unfortunately he can't - airlines (not just etihad) don't really do free upgrades anymore because they lose money from it.

Fair enough I'm not complaining, I've got what I paid for, but I was just quite surprised that's the case. I would have thought the cost to the airline of business over economy would be negligible if the seat is going empty anyway.

Anyone had similar experiences?

The short answer, is pretty much that it doesn't exist anymore. For a multitude of reasons. One of the most prominent being the high number of "elite" frequent flyers, I feel. But of course the business case model of most airlines, as alluded to by the check in agent, is probably the highest.

Not to say that is doesn't happen, but increasingly rarely. If it does, its only the very high end flyer that would get it. (think QF P1, CL and the like).

But curiously, I often see "travel writers" do the "10 best things you can do to get a free upgrade" or similar. :rolleyes: Just click bait mostly. Or just plagiarism. Seriously think they recycle the same article every 3 or 4 months. I stand to be corrected, but I have not ever known of anyone whos asked at check in if they could be upgraded, that has ever been successful. Anecdotally I've heard the urban myths. But never known it to happen, despite dressing like a rock star or flirting with the check in agent. ( male or female) :cool:
 

elogic

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The short answer, is pretty much that it doesn't exist anymore. For a multitude of reasons. One of the most prominent being the high number of "elite" frequent flyers, I feel. But of course the business case model of most airlines, as alluded to by the check in agent, is probably the highest.

Not to say that is doesn't happen, but increasingly rarely. If it does, its only the very high end flyer that would get it. (think QF P1, CL and the like).

But curiously, I often see "travel writers" do the "10 best things you can do to get a free upgrade" or similar. :rolleyes: Just click bait mostly. Or just plagiarism. Seriously think they recycle the same article every 3 or 4 months. I stand to be corrected, but I have not ever known of anyone whos asked at check in if they could be upgraded, that has ever been successful. Anecdotally I've heard the urban myths. But never known it to happen, despite dressing like a rock star or flirting with the check in agent. ( male or female) :cool:


My wife asked at Lhr for an upgrade on BA to Hong Kong. Best way to pass 13hrs in J on cheap economy fare. It was 1999 though
 

dajop

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Have free upgrades (in the sense you’re talking about) ever really existed? Certainly haven’t in my “flying life” (last 20 years).

However airlines upgrade when they have to - when the economy cabin is oversold and there are empty seats in business - but even then that’s something that usually only top tier status holders would have the chance for , and entirely at the airlines discretion. Even these are becoming less common with the “bid for upgrade” systems that the airlines have introduced in the last few years, any empty seats in business when the economy cabin is oversold will go to the highest bidders first.

There are very sound reasons airlines do this, even though the costs on the day would be negligible in the long run it could be quite costly - as you are potentially teaching passengers not to pay for business class and to seek out flights that are empty to get an upgrade. It then becomes self fulfilling and the airline is not selling many actual business class seats any more.
 

Forg

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This is relevant to a year ago rather than now ... and things may have changed in the last year.
However, my wife was Platinum (not P1) on QF, and on both Qatar (OneWorld) and Emirates (that agreement with QF) she was getting free upgrades to J. She wasn’t asking, just getting them on checkin. QF wqsn’t giving her anything, this wqs only when she was booked on other airlines.
As I said; that was a year or so ago. May have changed.
 

Mattg

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Free upgrades still exist if Economy is oversold and the airline needs to free up seats by moving people to a higher cabin. But these are operational upgrades ("op-ups") and you almost certainly won't get one just by asking for it. The airline will do it if it suits them, not because it benefits their customers!

There is a thread here where AFFers share their op-up experiences: The Operational Upgrade Thread

Personally I've had a couple of free upgrades this year due to Y being full, but I had status with the airline so that would have helped.
 

oz_mark

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By and large, the authority has been taken out of check-in agents hands (as have other things, such as discretion on overweight baggage). If they happen, more likely the decision is made by someone else these days...
 

Lemon_Party

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In my younger days of less frequent travel I would always enquire in a number of different fashions about being granted an upgrade. I was never successful no matter how charming or well dressed I attempted to be...
Experience and AFF have taught me the easier way to get up the front of the cabin without paying full price.
I’ve had a few OP-UPs but they’ve always been when I’ve been a high flyer in an airlines FF scheme. The holy grail is an SQ op-up, only happened once and due to VA status...
 

harvyk

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I don't think free upgrades have ever existed, at least not in the way travel hacks click bait articles say they do.

Sure, once upon a time an airline might have delegated op-up assignment responisibility to checkin agents.

These days airlines are doing all they can to make sure every person sitting in the nicer seats paid something for them. Personally I expect that's 100% the reason why QF sends out those "make us an offer to upgrade" emails at random so that op-ups become a thing of the past.
 

Dr Ralph

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Within the last 3 years I was upgraded in a Thai Airways from economy to business on a flight from Sydney to Bangkok. This was because the flight was full.
 

Happy Dude

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The cabin loading info told to the OP suggests that the excessive surcharges relating to Velocity rewards brought in a while ago may have had their desired effect.
 

Denali

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My friend often gets upgrades. Shes a FF with qantas (not sure what but she has access to the Flounge) and always flies solo to someplace at short notice (ie, shes currently in Russia/Georgia at a days notice). She also often gets an entire row to herself as well.
 

VPS

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I am WP and got an at the gate upgrade from J reward on the flight from LHR to DXB last November without asking. I had been chatting to the lady when I checked in as whether I had the best seat because I like to be on the aisle so not sure if that had anything to do with it.
 

Forg

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Within the last 3 years I was upgraded in a Thai Airways from economy to business on a flight from Sydney to Bangkok. This was because the flight was full.
My better half stuck her nose into the Y cabin when she was upgraded at check-in to J on EK last year; it was about as half-full as J was.

To compare to QF, EK seems to want pax to experience the wonders of upgraded classes & be willing to pay more in future; plus to fly EK because of the chance of upgrade.
QF by comparison wants pax in upper classes & with coughloads of status to feel more special; “no plebs mingling with us Serious Travellers”.
 
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As a long time QF SG I used to get a number of op-ups to J in 2014/15 with MH and EK (moreso with MH) but those days are long gone. Nowadays I believe EK prefers to upgrade its own elite flyers or those that have paid into a higher Y fare bucket than the usual discount Y tix I fly on. Seems MH has also tightened their op-up policy. Don’t think I’ve had a QF op-up since 2009 and never on CX, BA or AA.
 

dk4

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I would have thought the cost to the airline of business over economy would be negligible if the seat is going empty anyway.
Everyday some of the biggest airlines in the world give away tens of thousands of "free" upgrades for just this reason!

There are many operational models for how to run an airline, each with their pros and cons. Some of the posts above refer to airlines with marketing models, where they don't give away "free" upgrades into empty Business Class and First Class seats, and explain why - so now it's time to mention a different approach.

What some of the largest airline operators in the world do, is upgrade their most frequent fliers for "free" into empty seats in the next class, just before boarding at the gate. Many frequent fliers on those airlines specifically choose that particular airline for all their travel, because of the possibility of getting that upgrade!

Using the 80/20 rule (often around 80% of business comes from 20% of the customer base) it can make competitive commercial sense for airlines to do exactly as you say, it is an excellent way of keeping their best customers happy for minimal outlay. In some airports there are actually upgrade monitors/screens in the gate lounge areas, which display the rank and list the order of passengers for upgrades. The gate agent then works down the list until they fill up all the empty premium seats, before they start boarding the aeroplane.

For management of those companies, this proves to be an extremely cost effective loyalty and retention mechanism.
 

MEL_Traveller

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...and he replied that unfortunately he can't - airlines (not just etihad) don't really do free upgrades anymore because they lose money from it.

Welcome to reason #165 for politely refusing an upgrade request at check-in :)

I'm sure staff get dozens of these requests and have probably worked out what's the best response by now to cut off conversation and allow them to continue checking in the flight (or move on to the next task).
 
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