My SWISS First Class Upgrade Experience (Finally)!!!

My SWISS First Class Upgrade Experience (Finally)!!!

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I’m excited to report that I’ll shortly be reviewing SWISS’ Boeing 777-300ER first class, as well as SWISS’ First Class Lounges Zurich. Let me explain…

SWISS’ consistent first class upgrade program

For those of us into miles & points, SWISS first class is a bit of an elusive product. The only way to redeem miles for long haul SWISS first class is to book through the Miles & More program, and to have at least Senator status (I say “long haul” because you can redeem United MileagePlus miles for SWISS first class between Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, but that’s only a short hop).

So for most of us, if you want to fly SWISS first class, you actually have to pay with cash. There is one potential trick, which I’ve written about before — SWISS consistently offers cash upgrades to first class at check-in, assuming there are a good number of empty seats. Best of all, this is permitted even on award tickets that are booked through partner frequent flyer programs, like Air Canada Aeroplan or Avianca LifeMiles.

If you’re on an award ticket, there are two ways to upgrade, assuming it’s being offered:

  • You might be offered an upgrade during online check-in, though the key is that your itinerary starts with SWISS; this detail prevented me from an online check-in upgrade on a recent SWISS flight where I was connecting off an Air Canada flight, as I was directed to use Air Canada’s online check-in
  • You can also inquire about an upgrade at the check-in counter; while this is usually offered if there are open seats, the catch is that if you check-in too close to departure, they might not have sufficient catering for you in first class, and therefore may not be able to offer the upgrade
SWISS often sells upgrades to first class

I was finally offered an upgrade to SWISS first class

I’ve been trying to find an interesting way to get to Europe for a trip I had planned, and I figured this was a good opportunity to try to finally review SWISS first class again:

  • My goal was to fly SWISS’ 777 first class rather than SWISS’ A330 first class, since that offers SWISS’ best first class proudct
  • I haven’t reviewed SWISS first class or the SWISS First Lounge Zurich in over seven years, so I figured it was time to revisit both, so I can update my rankings of the world’s best first class airlines and the world’s best first class lounges
  • Aside from the US West Coast, the only destination in the United States to which SWISS currently flies its 777s is Miami
  • I found a flight that not only had lots of business class award seats, but that also had seven of eight first class seats left for sale just a couple of days before departure
  • So I booked a business class award from Miami to Europe with 70,000 Air Canada Aeroplan points, and intentionally planned a 10-hour layover in Zurich, so that I’d have plenty of time to check out all the lounges
  • I booked the flight 36 hours before departure, and since Aeroplan allows award tickets to be canceled within 24 hours for no fee, I could always cancel the award in the event that I wasn’t offered a buy-up

So, I’m happy to report that this was a success… though it cost me a bit more than I was hoping.

I finally got offered a SWISS first class upgrade

My SWISS first class upgrade cost

Okay, let’s talk cost. Upgrades to SWISS first class aren’t cheap, though they are the most realistic way that most of us can access this product. SWISS first class upgrades seem to have dynamic offers, so you won’t always pay the same for an upgrade on a particular route. Generally speaking:

  • SWISS first class upgrades on shorter international flights (to the Middle East, India, the US Northeast, and Canada) typically start at around $1,000
  • SWISS first class upgrades on longer international flights (to Florida, the US West Coast, Southeast Asia, North Asia, South America, etc.) typically start at around $1,500, though are often priced at $2,000+

My hope was that I’d be offered an upgrade for around $1,500. Unfortunately that’s not quite how things materialized, as I was instead offered an upgrade for $1,920.

That’s obviously a bit more than I wanted to spend, but I figured it was a worthwhile opportunity, because it actually efficiently got me to my intended destination, it was from my home airport (so no positioning was required), it would allow me to maximize my time in the SWISS First Lounge Zurich, and I also wanted to try this experience again, to stay on top of the current status of various products.

I absolutely wouldn’t ordinarily spend that kind of cash to upgrade a redeye, as it’s simply not worth it. But for these purposes, it seemed like a fair investment.

For those curious about when in the online check-in process upgrades are offered, it’s after you enter all your travel details, and go through most of the check-in process. Then there’s a page with a bunch of options, and one of those is the ability to upgrade.

SWISS first class upgrade offer

I have to say, SWISS could probably do a more compelling job selling people on these upgrades, in terms of how it markets the differences between cabins. 😉

SWISS first class upgrade offer

Bottom line

I’ve been chasing SWISS first class (and the SWISS First Class Lounge Zurich) for quite some time, though I haven’t had much luck. I finally ripped the band-aid off, and took advantage of a SWISS first class buy-up offer. The Miami to Zurich flight was operated by a 777 with a mostly empty first class cabin.

While the cost was a bit more than I would have liked, it was time to give SWISS first class another try, as it had been over seven years. Stay tuned for my experience…

Conversations (34)
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  1. Scott Reynolds Guest

    Swiss double charged (949) 842-9543 me for my first upgrade. Nearly $2000. They ‘lost’ my first confirmed paid upgrade and then said they would no longer honor it. But said they would refund me. Then three weeks later I snagged it again and paid again. But never got the previous refund. Credit card dispute ensues but still fighting them. They have the most poorly managed ticketing and receipt system and trying to get help is...

    Swiss double charged (949) 842-9543 me for my first upgrade. Nearly $2000. They ‘lost’ my first confirmed paid upgrade and then said they would no longer honor it. But said they would refund me. Then three weeks later I snagged it again and paid again. But never got the previous refund. Credit card dispute ensues but still fighting them. They have the most poorly managed ticketing and receipt system and trying to get help is tug of war with a pit bull. The seat and crew were fabulous though.

  2. Robert Guest

    Return it would cost almost $4000 - I agree with Ben - not worth it. Personally I often fly LX first ( cash only ) but somehow manage to book with reasonable fare.

  3. A.Azuha Guest

    Data point: Paid CHF1790 (US$2000) to upgrade from J to F during online check-in, ZRH-NRT (12hr flight), booked with LifeMiles. Totally worth it!

  4. Frank Guest

    what is the First class lounge situation in Miami? I assume you have to do the line for the Turkish lounge! :)

    1. Tom Guest

      Actually FCL gets escorted to the LATAM lounge where as J pax uses Turkish. It’s not great but not the worst.

  5. German Expat Guest

    Congratulations to get the upgrade and its worth it for the blog. But I would not pay this amount of money.

    Just had a longer day time flight BKK - ZRH and snagged one of the throne seats. I would not even bother bidding the lowest amount (I think around 1200 CHF was the lowest allowed bid) to get into first class, upgrade price was 3090 CHF. I can sleep well in business class, was...

    Congratulations to get the upgrade and its worth it for the blog. But I would not pay this amount of money.

    Just had a longer day time flight BKK - ZRH and snagged one of the throne seats. I would not even bother bidding the lowest amount (I think around 1200 CHF was the lowest allowed bid) to get into first class, upgrade price was 3090 CHF. I can sleep well in business class, was sitting alone and I drink barely any alcohol. Food is better but for the savings I can get much better meals on the ground.

  6. Eli Guest

    I recently tried to upgrade my friend from JFK-ZRH during check in and I got the same price $1920, but I kept getting an error so he tried by the counter in the airport where he was told that he can't upgrade since it was booked in I class, but when he got onto the flight he asked again and they offered him to upgrade for a $1,000

    1. Tom Guest

      At the gate or on the flight because once you board it’s impossible to upgrade “in flight”

  7. Ben Holz Guest

    And how do you plan to get back to MIA/US? I'd be keen on a UX 789 J review and I if memory serves me right, they deploy them to MIA ;) Award availability with DL isn't the best, but I think it's alright with FB...

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Ben Holz -- Europe isn't my turnaround point, so stay tuned, as there's more to my outbound journey.

  8. Ram Guest

    As the original booking was an award ticket, do you get any miles for the ~2K spend on upgrade ?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Ram -- Excellent question! Interestingly enough, the fare class still shows as being "I," which is for award business class.

  9. Joey Diamond

    I’m sooo excited for you! I know for Air France cash upgrades to La Premiere is also around $2000 for a transatlantic flight so the Swiss offer isn’t that bad. Yes I wouldn’t pay that much to upgrade for a red eye flight but I’m excited to read your review! Enjoy!

    1. Samo Guest

      Well, La Premiere is a completely different league than LH Group first, so I'd argue that offering the same price for both makes the Swiss offer pretty bad.

  10. Morgan Diamond

    How much would it have cost paying for an outright first ticket?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Morgan -- It depends on the market, because airline pricing is heavily dependent on the origin and destination. A one-way nonstop Miami to Zurich first class fare? That would have cost $14,388. Hopefully most people aren't booking those kinds of tickets, though.

    2. Morgan Diamond

      Yeah that's crazy pricing - so the 2k upgrade is cheap by comparison

    3. Samo Guest

      If people weren't booking these kinds of tickets, airlines wouldn't offer first class ;) They don't waste the space on board so they can offer cheap upgrades.

    4. AD Diamond

      Most people aren't paying that. But... There are going to be sufficient corporate travelers who are authorized for F to cover the cost of having the cabin. I don't know the incremental cost, but I suspect that filling one or two paid seats per flight covers the cost of having the cabin and a few upgrades are 99% profit.

  11. Alec-14 Gold

    You often never give a firm response if an upgrade to first is “worth it” or not since it depends on so many factors. Curious why in this case you gave an absolute no (outside of your review purposes)

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Alec-14 -- I'm not saying it's not worth it for anyone, but I think in general I'd have a hard time justifying a $1,920 upgrade under normal circumstances for myself, especially on an overnight flight.

      Why? Because in business class I already have a flat bed, and on an overnight flight I'll get some amount of sleep whether I'm in first or business. Maybe the sleep is a bit better in first than business,...

      @ Alec-14 -- I'm not saying it's not worth it for anyone, but I think in general I'd have a hard time justifying a $1,920 upgrade under normal circumstances for myself, especially on an overnight flight.

      Why? Because in business class I already have a flat bed, and on an overnight flight I'll get some amount of sleep whether I'm in first or business. Maybe the sleep is a bit better in first than business, but it's not $1,920 better.

      For me, I think the upper limit of where I could potentially find a business to first upgrade on a flight like this to be worth it would be around $1,000, and that might even be pushing it. But that's just me...

  12. Cedric Guest

    Mirors my rencent experience. Was the same price and I declined. SWISS seems to be less flexible with pricing for upgrades these days. I figure they are starting to get people used to the price hikes when the cabins go down to 3 seats...

  13. Ann Guest

    There is one potential trick: spend money.

    If that's not enough to revoke a points and miles blog license.....

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Ann -- Hah, touche. But in all honesty, there are very few airlines that let you upgrade a partner business class award ticket to first class, so I do think it's at least noteworthy.

  14. Joe Guest

    I get doing this for content for the blog.... but this feels like a terrible deal. You can often buy Swiss First cash ex-EU (Nordics or Eastern Europe) for that kind of price

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Joe -- Indeed, SWISS has some good first fares from Nordic countries to the Middle East and Asia, in particular. Neither the origin nor destination would be particularly useful for me for those fares, which is why I at least valued the convenience of this upgrade opportunity.

  15. Pat Guest

    I recently redeemed British First Class LHR-IAD for 64k Avios + $700. I thought that was a splurge...

  16. SMR Guest

    All the lounges and airplane melas (which hare never really good) are only cool when they are free.

  17. Northern Flyer Guest

    Oooof that’s a lot of money.

  18. Dealguru Guest

    "I absolutely wouldn’t ordinarily spend that kind of cash to upgrade a redeye, as it’s simply not worth it." Wouldn't a red eye make the most sense to upgrade as you can fully utilize the bed (which I would think is the most important part of flying first?)

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Dealguru -- I guess that's one way to look at it. The other way to look at it would be that you can enjoy the improved soft product a lot more on a daytime flight, where you're awake for most of the time. I guess it all depends on how well you sleep in business class.

  19. T- Guest

    I can’t wait for your full Swiss trip report. I imagine that it was a nice flight. Jetting off to MIAMI, sounds good to me.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ T- -- Thanks! Though in this case I was originating in Miami, and jetting off to (much colder) Europe. :-)

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Samo Guest

Well, La Premiere is a completely different league than LH Group first, so I'd argue that offering the same price for both makes the Swiss offer pretty bad.

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Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ Joe -- Indeed, SWISS has some good first fares from Nordic countries to the Middle East and Asia, in particular. Neither the origin nor destination would be particularly useful for me for those fares, which is why I at least valued the convenience of this upgrade opportunity.

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Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ Alec-14 -- I'm not saying it's not worth it for anyone, but I think in general I'd have a hard time justifying a $1,920 upgrade under normal circumstances for myself, especially on an overnight flight. Why? Because in business class I already have a flat bed, and on an overnight flight I'll get some amount of sleep whether I'm in first or business. Maybe the sleep is a bit better in first than business, but it's not $1,920 better. For me, I think the upper limit of where I could potentially find a business to first upgrade on a flight like this to be worth it would be around $1,000, and that might even be pushing it. But that's just me...

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