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Last-Minute Upgrading at the Gate is Not for the Faint of Heart

September 13, 2011 at 8:35 AM | by | ()

Every frequent flyer worth his or her salt has a history of how-I-got-my-upgrade stories. We've got another one to throw on the pile, but it's also a cautionary tale for the next time you think you can swing a comfy seat at the very last minute.

Picture this: it's morning in Las Vegas and after a few days of taking care of business in Sin City and enjoying the nightlife, we've not slept and are facing three flights over a span of 20 hours to reach Southeast Asia, all in Economy. On top of it, we've got to spend at least a solid three hours working on our laptop on the flights. What to do?

Using the check-in kiosk as Las Vegas-McCarran, United popped up a sweet offer: Upgrade to Business Class for an extra $619? We'd already upgraded to Economy Plus for one leg, and were impatient to check in, so we turned down the offer and zipped through security to the gate. By then, the upgrade was looking pretty good and since United hadn't asked for any miles in addition to the money, it became a serious option. It's not like we'd have many United MileagePlus miles to offer anyway; we're not huge United flyers in general (though we do love us some Star Alliance).

So we did it. We went up to the gate agent—a nice lady already obviously overwhelmed with other passengers requests—and she made it happen. Weird thing though: she asked us how much the kiosk had quoted for the upgrade. We wonder now if we had said a lower price, would we have only had to pay that? But being dishonest in such a way would have us fearing a lightning strike over the Pacific or something.

Upgrade processed, we chilled in Business Class on the two international segments. Later we discovered that another traveler on a similar routing had paid $600-something plus 12,000 miles for a Business upgrade. This made us feel nice and smug...until we remembered that we're still facing return flights in Economy.

Overall we got lucky. There is a big lesson or two (or three) here, however. Don't flaunt your upgrade deal. The upgrade deals you get at the gate won't necessarily be better than what a kiosk offers. And the earlier you upgrade the better chance you have of scoring it at all. In the end it's just money.

[Photo: Jaunted]

Archived Comments:

Battlefield Upgrades

There's nothing better.


I actually told your story to my Virgin Atlantic check in lady yesterday - they were asking $2200 for an upgrade to biz from SFO-LHR. she asked which airline this was and I totally forgot. but then she sniffed and said "still, for $600, they can't be offering much in biz class". how was it?

expect a full report

Both flights were so different. Trust I will have full galleries and reviews! The 747 between NRT and BKK takes the cake for the day, though.

Never bothered

I have never before even bothered inquiring about an upgrade but after reading your post I will definitely take a look from now.

takes the cake

is that a good thing or a bad thing?

good thing

Taking the cake is typically a good thing, as it is here.

taking the cake

hurrah! it's opposite where i'm from. can't wait to read the second review!