SWISS First Class Cash Upgrades (Including On Partner Award Tickets)

SWISS First Class Cash Upgrades (Including On Partner Award Tickets)

36

I’d file this more under “worth being aware of,” rather than “what a deal, do this ASAP.”

SWISS first class is pretty exclusive

SWISS offers first class on its long haul fleet, including 777s, A330s, and A340s. The product is solid, and ranks on my list of the world’s dozen best first class experiences.

The catch is that redeeming miles for SWISS first class isn’t easy:

  • SWISS doesn’t make first class award seats available to members of partner frequent flyer programs
  • SWISS first class award seats can only be booked by Miles & More Senator elite members and above; not only is Senator status hard to earn, but Miles & More has steep carrier imposed fuel surcharges on award tickets, and the points currency is hard to come by (Miles & More doesn’t partner with any major transferable points currencies)

For a vast majority of people, the only real way to book SWISS first class is to outright pay for it. Fortunately SWISS sometimes has good paid first class fares, in which case first class could be a bargain. However, this is usually between more competitive city pairs (like Stockholm to Dubai, for example), rather than for itineraries to & from Zurich (where SWISS has a lot more pricing power)

There is one other way to get into SWISS first class, which I think is worth highlighting.

SWISS’ 777-300ER first class seat

SWISS sells first class upgrades at the airport

I fly SWISS a fair bit — typically in business class, and almost always with miles earned through a partner airline frequent flyer program, like Air Canada Aeroplan or Avianca LifeMiles. This way I can get a great award rate and don’t have to pay carrier imposed fuel surcharges (which for a one-way award ticket from the United States to Europe in business class would run $800).

SWISS has a first class bid upgrade program, whereby you can bid on an upgrade that could clear between 48 and 132 hours before departure. The catch is that you have to be on a ticket issued directly by SWISS. That could be useful if you find a discounted business class ticket, but isn’t ideal if you’re booking a ticket with miles through a partner program (in which case another airline would be issuing your ticket).

This is where there seems to be an interesting trick — it seems that SWISS allows upgrades for cash at the airport from business to first class, including for partner award tickets. In other words, subject to availability, you can upgrade a SWISS business class partner award ticket to first class on the day of departure for cash.

Funny enough, in the past 24 hours I had two friends flying on partner SWISS business class awards from the US to Zurich, and I asked them to inquire about upgrade costs. In both cases the agents seemed familiar with the policy and consulted a chart that listed the pricing.

How much is SWISS charging for business class to first class upgrades on partner award tickets?

  • Chicago to Zurich costs $999
  • Los Angeles to Zurich costs $1,789

Now, I’d love more data points from OMAAT readers. If you have a partner SWISS business class award ticket anytime soon, I’d appreciate if you could ask how much a paid upgrade is at the airport. I’m curious if it’s different if originating in Europe vs. the United States, and if the upgrade cost is consistent for a given market. All I have is those two data points.

So my theory is that the “shorter” long haul flights cost $999 to upgrade, while the “longer” long haul flights cost $1,789 to upgrade.

SWISS’ first class catering

Is a SWISS first class cash upgrade worth it?

It goes without saying that SWISS first class cash upgrades aren’t some incredible value on the day of departure, unlike the opportunities to upgrade Emirates flights with Skywards miles on the day of departure.

That being said, depending on how you look at it, this could be a good value for a special occasion:

  • I’d definitely say the $999 upgrade cost could represent a good value, while the $1,789 upgrade cost is much harder to justify, since there aren’t really any incremental services on longer long haul flights
  • I don’t have any data points confirming this yet, but assuming that pricing is the same if originating in Zurich, I’d say this could be worth it on a daytime flight to the United States, especially if you can use SWISS’ incredible first class lounge, which I rank as one of the best in the world

This really is all about how you frame it. On the one hand, many people would correctly wonder why they’d pay an extra $1,000 for first class on an eight hour flight when they already have a flat bed in business class, with solid food & drinks.

SWISS’ 777-300ER business class seat

On the other hand:

  • The $1,000 upgrade cost is only marginally more than the $800 fuel surcharge you’d pay if booking a first class award from the United States to Europe through Miles & More, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that most of us don’t even have the status required to book these awards
  • Paid upgrades on the day of departure generally get you last seat availability, rather than being restricted to award availability
  • SWISS has some pretty incredible seasonal menus in first class, depending on how much you’re into that; we’ve seen the airline offer everything from caviar to truffle tastings in first class

Is the upgrade worth it in absolute terms? It depends who you ask, and how you value premium travel. But in relative terms I’d say this is almost on par with the only option to redeem miles for SWISS first class, which is only available to select elite members of Miles & More.

SWISS’ first class lounge Zurich

Bottom line

SWISS seems to offer upgrades to first class for cash on the day of departure, even if you’re traveling on a business class award ticket booked through a partner airline. My initial data points suggest that you’ll pay $999 for an upgrade on a “shorter” long haul flight (like Chicago to Zurich), and $1,789 for an upgrade on a “longer” long haul flight (like Los Angeles to Zurich).

I’m not at all suggesting that this is a great deal, but rather just that it’s worth being aware of, given how elusive SWISS first class is otherwise. For some people, the $999 upgrade cost could be worth it, while for others it will seem like a total waste.

If you’re flying in SWISS business class anytime soon on a partner award ticket, I’d love some more data points about upgrade costs (even if you have no intention of actually upgrading)!

Does anyone have experience with paid upgrades to SWISS first class on day of departure? Would you upgrade to SWISS first class for $999?

Conversations (36)
Newest comments are displayed first.

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Miramar

    Over this labor day, the upgrade at check in for EWR-ZRH was 1700 USD from business to first, and 1729 CHF from ZRH-JFK. If it matters both flights were direct, like I was traveling to Zurich/Lucerne from NYC.

  2. Jack Attack

    Was quoted $2k for SFO > ZRH late 2019 (paid business ticket issued by United). On return the cabin was full but day before departure one seat opened—I called United to reprice the ticket with second leg in First, fare difference was $187 :) best $187 I’ve ever spent

  3. Ben

    I flew IAD-ZRH-FCO one way on a United reward ticket last week and they offered a me a business to first upgrade for $1,499.

    They lost my bags too…

  4. VD

    While this not about Swiss but about Air France but I was offered an upgrade to La Premiere on a business award ticket from IAH to CDG for $2,300.

  5. Frederik

    I personally would not worry about First class disappearing on SWISS, it is probably Europe’s most premium heavy carrier and the Flagship of Central Europe’s Lufthansa Group. Of all the global carriers even including Emirates (post a380), I can see SWISS most likely keeping First class, it is actually Asian carriers who are following America in dumping International First at a rapid rate eg Malaysian and Korean. Whereas Air France, Lufthansa and BA do still...

    I personally would not worry about First class disappearing on SWISS, it is probably Europe’s most premium heavy carrier and the Flagship of Central Europe’s Lufthansa Group. Of all the global carriers even including Emirates (post a380), I can see SWISS most likely keeping First class, it is actually Asian carriers who are following America in dumping International First at a rapid rate eg Malaysian and Korean. Whereas Air France, Lufthansa and BA do still seem to be planning keeping both First Class specific amenities and lounges and smaller First class cabins on their new next generation aircraft.

    If you are wanting to try some current First Class before it disappears, better trying it in Asia eg Thailand, Korea and Japan. As like the states, I can actually see it going in the East on international aircraft before Europe.

  6. Cedric

    There is an entire thread on FT about this. 1k USD is the cheapest for sure. Lowest I’ve seen from MTL is 1500 CAD for the night flight. Keep in mind the E First Class lounge is closed. I would say it’s way more interesting flying F FROM Zurich on a day flight but the prices from Zurich are not as low and in CHF.

  7. mateo

    im confirming, johannesburg to zürich (business class ticket using miles) was 1000 usd to upgrading to first.

  8. Alex

    I get it that if you're already ticketed in J on Swiss, the following comparison won't help but I still think it's fair.

    LH F will normally cost you extra 24K-44K miles over J depending on how you book it. I would much rather pay these miles than $1000+ for a similar upgrade on LX.

    Monetary $1000 will buy you 2-3 great meal experiences, each way better than LX F food.

    So really hard for...

    I get it that if you're already ticketed in J on Swiss, the following comparison won't help but I still think it's fair.

    LH F will normally cost you extra 24K-44K miles over J depending on how you book it. I would much rather pay these miles than $1000+ for a similar upgrade on LX.

    Monetary $1000 will buy you 2-3 great meal experiences, each way better than LX F food.

    So really hard for me to see how this upgrade makes sense. And yes, a bunch of screaming kids in J is no fun but I presume it was their initial reaction and they quickly calmed down once the plane took off.

  9. Tom

    I’ve normally used the bid upgrade on LX/LH and usually offer either 1100 USD/ 1100 EUR as this is what I find worthwhile for LAX-ZRH/FRA or SIN-ZRH/FRA. Not much more. And thus far, 100% of the time I got the bid. Because if one is to pay more, may as well just buy the F fare directly instead of J. Nowadays, often we can find F fares roundtrip for about 6000 USD or 5000 EUR...

    I’ve normally used the bid upgrade on LX/LH and usually offer either 1100 USD/ 1100 EUR as this is what I find worthwhile for LAX-ZRH/FRA or SIN-ZRH/FRA. Not much more. And thus far, 100% of the time I got the bid. Because if one is to pay more, may as well just buy the F fare directly instead of J. Nowadays, often we can find F fares roundtrip for about 6000 USD or 5000 EUR from smaller EU destinations such as OPO/LIS/NCE. I’ve never tried to ask for cash upgrade at check in though. Will ask next time when I fly out of ZRH at the end of September.

  10. AJ

    Flew ZRH-SFO J class and the price was around 1600 CHF if I recall correctly. I considered it, and passed. I would do it for about $1,000, not more. I do think that LX F class is absolutely delightful, though.

  11. Hiro

    Swiss (& Lufthansa) really tries hard to sell their premium products these days. From Tokyo where I'm based now, the return fare to Johannesburg via Europe is sold from US$6,300 in F and US$2,700 in J, where all 4 segments are 10hr+ flight. The itinerary can also be split between half Swiss and half Lufthansa as well.

  12. Weymar Osborne

    Since First Class appears to be a dying breed, I've been making it a point to spend the extra miles/cash to be able to experience it while I can, and then long-term down the road I'll be happy to fly in Business Class all the time. This is something I'd probably pay for just once to be able to experience it, and then I probably wouldn't do so again, unless the experience absolutely rocked my socks off.

  13. MKLDH

    Booked roundtrip P fare between ORD and ZRH for November. The online bid upgrade section is shown as unavailable. Will check what can happen during check-in

  14. Xyz

    Last week LAX - ZRH with paid business class ticket, upgrade offer to F was USD 1,609 when checking in on the LH app.

  15. Frank Valentino

    I have a Swiss biz flight coming from Venice to Bos next May through Zurich . Would I ask when I check in at Venice airport regarding the paid upgrade to first ? Thanks

  16. Dan

    Two years ago on a paid ticket from ORD to ZRH inquired at check in and was offered $1,000 to upgrade to F. Was told that it is special pricing due to business being overbooked. Didn’t take the offer. The same was true a year prior to that on a business award booked through United.

  17. jordan23

    AF offered an upgrade from J to F on award booked directly. Was about 1700 cdg-ord. I passed

  18. Veldo

    Confirming ORD-ZRH business to first upgrade is $999. My P2 and I both took the offer when checking in at the airport in July 2021. For the experience, it was absolutely worth it!

  19. El Plauzo

    Hello Ben,
    This is unrelated but may be of interest to you. I searched FRA-SIN in December and January and saw that the cheapest business class fares on QR are now P fare, not R fare. P is still listed as First Class on American Advantage. So if you are looking for a status run, this would be a good opportunity.

  20. Daniel

    ZRH->DXB award ticket in February 2021 (booked via M&M). Same-day upgrade into an empty F cabin was ~1000 CHF per person.

    For comparison, cash upgrades from Y to J on the same flight were 750 CHF.

  21. Dean Flynn

    I flew SFO-ZRH in Dec 2020 on an UA award in Business, when I asked at the gate about the F upgrade, I was quoted $1500...I declined as I was perfectly happy being in the Stübli mini cabin.

  22. Clem

    In July, I had an award business class ticket CDG > ZRH > JFK booked through Lifemiles. I had every intention to ask for a F upgrade at the airport, but to my surprise, when I checked in online, they offered me an F upgrade for 1000 euros. I jumped on it, knowing how hard it is to fly that product and I thought it was very worth it (although in the end I've never...

    In July, I had an award business class ticket CDG > ZRH > JFK booked through Lifemiles. I had every intention to ask for a F upgrade at the airport, but to my surprise, when I checked in online, they offered me an F upgrade for 1000 euros. I jumped on it, knowing how hard it is to fly that product and I thought it was very worth it (although in the end I've never flown Swiss in J so I guess I can't compare, hah). The caveat is that the F lounge was still closed so the ground services were inexistent.

    I wonder if it's like those cheap discounted upgrades that Air France offers to lure people in, that they will give you once every few years, since it was my first time flying Swiss ever.

    1. Peter

      Into which booking class does it book? Did you get any miles for that, if yes, earning as F cabin?

    2. Clem

      @Peter it remained in I, the original class, and I didn't earn any additional miles. I believe that's pretty standard for check in/discounted upgrades, at least with the other airlines that I regularly do that with.

    3. John Giannone

      Not necessarily, I took a buy up offer from Economy to Business on Qatar and it was reticketed into a discount business class fare, I received the appropriate mileage.

      But yeah, It was mentioned in the offer online for LX- no additional mileage or elite credits.

  23. Stuart

    Everyone is doing this now, but was also a thing pre-pandemic. I have used this at the airport check-in numerous times, often on award tickets in Business. To IAD on BA they usually want around $900.00. Air France has been around $1200.00. They seldom offer it. You normally have to ask the counter check-in agent.

  24. Philipp A

    I flew ZRH-SFO early August and they offered first upgrades at the gate. I only overheard someone asking for the price and it was a little over 2000 (not sure if CHF or EUR).

  25. John G

    @Ben

    I would suspect the chart they came back with is likely the same used at the airport. It was a region based chart, almost like an award chart. It was printed and laminated. I saw from Y to J was 1499 Euros (because the crew member at first pointed to this then I commented and he pointed to J to F at 2499 Euros).

    Also this trip out of 4 others in the past...

    @Ben

    I would suspect the chart they came back with is likely the same used at the airport. It was a region based chart, almost like an award chart. It was printed and laminated. I saw from Y to J was 1499 Euros (because the crew member at first pointed to this then I commented and he pointed to J to F at 2499 Euros).

    Also this trip out of 4 others in the past two years on LX was the only time I saw the online check in offer. First was nearly full, only two seats were left at the morning of the departure, so I suspect a few people may have took the bait as there was 4 open when I checked in.

    FYI, I was on a partner award ticket as well. Forgot to mention that.

    Hope this helps.

  26. Bubba

    I'm curious if they even sell upgrades at ZRH. It's worth noting that you can also buy into Business from Economy in the US at check-in. In January, such a Y to J upgrade EWR-ZRH cost me $809. In the past, I've seen similar prices from SFO (so, maybe 8-900 bucks).
    Of course, there has to be availability, and their price might change for a variety of factors. But it never hurts to show up early and ask if they're selling upgrades.

  27. John G

    Two weeks ago, I flew NCE-ZRH-LAX and during the online check in process I was offered an upgrade to First on the LAX sector for 1300 euros. Since I had a throne seat in J and intended on sleeping the entire flight, I didn't click the offer. When I got on the plane, I was surrounded by screaming children (behind me, in front of me and beside me).. I immediately asked the crew if it...

    Two weeks ago, I flew NCE-ZRH-LAX and during the online check in process I was offered an upgrade to First on the LAX sector for 1300 euros. Since I had a throne seat in J and intended on sleeping the entire flight, I didn't click the offer. When I got on the plane, I was surrounded by screaming children (behind me, in front of me and beside me).. I immediately asked the crew if it was still possible to upgrade. They inquired with the gate agent and came back with a chart and it was 2499 Euros and I was told the meal will still be from J. I declined.

    The deal seems to be during online check in.. those deals also go away pretty quickly so if you see one you should just take it and not think about it and it expect it to be there in an hour.

    1. Ben Schlappig

      @ John G -- Very interesting, thanks for the data point. For what it's worth, both of the other data points I had were from the airport rather than during online check-in, so I wonder if pricing is just higher onboard, higher ex-ZRH, or what.

    2. Eskimo

      Or you could have tried to bribe the kids for 1300 Euros to shut up.

    3. Wilhelm

      I’m sure the parents would have agreed to a much lower bribe than that hahaha

  28. jfhscott

    I am just left to wonder WWED (What would Endre do?).

    1. Florian

      He doesn't bother with miles or upgrades as we all know - straight to booking class F, fully flexible, of course.

      At least that was before he acquired his own fleet of jets.

    2. Endre

      During Covid, I book all seats in First Class to have more privacy.

Featured Comments Load all 36 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Veldo

Confirming ORD-ZRH business to first upgrade is $999. My P2 and I both took the offer when checking in at the airport in July 2021. For the experience, it was absolutely worth it!

Florian

He doesn't bother with miles or upgrades as we all know - straight to booking class F, fully flexible, of course. At least that was before he acquired his own fleet of jets.

jfhscott

I am just left to wonder WWED (What would Endre do?).

Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,523,713 Miles Traveled

25,807,500 Words Written

28,675 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT