Do Upgrades Get Better Than This?!

Filed Under: American

I’ve received some amazing flight upgrades in my day. Heck, I’ve even been apologized to for getting upgraded. But I don’t think anything is quite as satisfying as a last minute upgrade which you don’t expect to get, even if it’s not the best product in the world.

Yesterday I wrote about how I was flying from Los Angeles to New York in economy, and the upgrade on my New York to Madrid flight hadn’t cleared, with the business class cabin sold out. I hadn’t flown longhaul economy in over 10 years, so was preparing for the worst (even though the Los Angeles to New York flight was perfectly pleasant in economy).


Well, I landed in New York and received an ExpertFlyer notification that upgrade space had opened on the New York to Madrid flight.


I found that a bit odd since I was waitlisted (upgrade space should typically only open if there’s no one on the upgrade waitlist). But maybe there was a lag. So I called the Executive Platinum desk, and was confirmed in business class immediately.

This was me after I got off the phone:


I finally got to fly American’s new 767 business class. Admittedly it’s far from my favorite hard product, as legroom is somewhat restricted (it’s very similar to Delta’s product, which I flew from Los Angeles to London last month).



But goodness, compared to economy it sure was comfortable. Especially since I was seated in the last row of business class, so could see right into the (aged) economy cabin, which was as bare bones as it gets.


It also didn’t hurt that the flight attendant working my aisle was sassy, spectacular, and all smiles. As I boarded the plane I hit my head on the overhead and nearly tripped over a seat, so I turned to her and said “sorry, apparently it’s not my lucky day.”

She responded back with “honey, I’m working your aisle today. Trust me, it’s your lucky day.” And it was indeed! It’s weird how you sometimes hit it off well with a flight attendant with just a few quick exchanges, as was the case here. But Delphine was amazing across the board, and couldn’t have been more professional to everyone in the cabin.

Bottom line

Do I love when my upgrades clear in advance? Of course. At the same time, there’s something oh-so-satisfying about clearing a last minute upgrade, which makes you enjoy and appreciate the product even more.

My most memorable “upgrade” to this day was when I was booked to fly British Airways first class from Seattle to London to Dubai, and arrived in London to find that I had been rebooked in Emirates first class… without an explanation. Now that was a hell of a flight! And going from British Airways first class to Emirates first class is sort of like a quadruple upgrade.

Anyone else love the satisfaction of a last minute upgrade?

Goodness, I’m almost starting to hope all my upgrades clear this last minute, so I can get that same high. Or meh, maybe not. 😉

  1. Do flight attendants have a way to see how you got into business class – upgraded, booked an award, or paid cash? I suppose they can see it from manifest, is that right? Same for all airlines?

  2. Once again we are teased with a economy long haul flight and won’t get it. Your flight to NYC was in economy plus and now business class for the 2nd leg. For years you have promised us a long haul economy flight, guess we have to keep waiting…..

  3. The privilege of a hyper profiled blogger.
    I’m telling you, a lot of the upgrade/nice treatments you are experiencing in these situations should also apply to myself travelling 220 day a year with all travels paid in full. But you know what? it’s does not… I wonder why. Ohhh yea. You are a hyper profiled blogger that the travel industry monitors continously…. Just a shame that when someone is in the same situation as you…reality is very different from what you describe.. Maybe you should discuss with the airlines when you meet with them.

  4. Here’s one for you. My son and I were traveling on economy award tickets UA LHR-IAD. Not upgradable. At boarding the double beep. i was upgraded! Both of us? Yes, two upgrades! I dis not ask about the waitlist that existed, but We were not on. Perhaps full in econ? Very surprised that had space on a Monday morning flight.

  5. As Patrick said… When? When are you going to deliver? It is starting to get boring to see glowing review after glowing review of how nice it is to travel in B or F, without even paying for the full privilege. Getting old…

  6. @hasse – actually anyone can sign up for ExpertFlyer – $10/month or $100/year. While Ben is a known entity, this had nothing to do with his upgrade. He wisely (like me and a lot of other Expert Flyer subscribers and AA Executive Platinum flyers) sets an alert for an upgrade inventory seat and when you get the notification you call AA and bingo.

    While status (as in none, Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum) matters, Ben’s *status* as a blogger had nothing to do with this upgrade.

    The reality is exactly as he said. No favoritism.

  7. So you got an upgrade without using a certificate for international? Maybe it’s time to switch to American next year

  8. I’m with Patrick and Chambo.

    You need to man up and test Economy! On an airline you haven’t status matched, no less 🙂

  9. I was looking forward to the coach review too.

    I don’t underatand why the haters show up on this blog so often. I really don’t.

  10. For the haters, the reality is that Ben never flies in coach because he basically doesn’t fly if he can’t get upgraded (correct me if I’ve overstated this, Ben).

    When I was younger, I used to be able to pull this off. I’d plan my trips so that I was sure I’d get the upgrade.

    Now I don’t have the luxury. Now I fly red-eyes in coach because I have a dinner meeting on the west coast and a breakfast meeting on the east coast the next morning, and I have to be home the following day for my kids’ parent-teacher conferences. There are basically only 2 flights that I can take that make that schedule possible, and if there’s no upgrade space available, I’m hosed – I’m sitting in coach.

    Good on Ben. He’s been able to craft a spot in life where he basically flies in premium class for a living. It doesn’t make him a bad guy, it just makes him have a very different job than most of us.

    I’m jealous, but I wouldn’t want to do it.


  11. I agree that this post is pointless and obnoxious. I was sitting behind Lucky (heard him addressed as Mr. Schlappig) recently on a AA flight. The FA came up to him and stated that there was some special notation on him specifically (not me, an EXP, or any other passenger in the F cabin) that she had never seen before. He feigned ignorance (or really was ignorant who knows). Anyone who thinks these magical upgrades that happen to Lucky will also happen to schmucks like them is living in a fantasy world.

  12. I guess Delphine was super-pleased to be working the J cabin, hence her good mood!
    And, so thrilled you managed an upgrade for the MAD sector; slumming it in Y would have been absolute torture for someone your age, hmm?

  13. You don’t think AA knows who Lucky is? You don’t think they have made a note in his profile that he is a popular travel blogger? If another EP called in, they are probably not the highest in the queue and don’t get upgraded. I suggest Lucky take a few flights without his FF number and then review how airlines treat 95% of their customers. How can always request the miles to be added later.

  14. @ Haters (Hasse mainly) Jealous much? Personally I think Lucky writes interestingly, with character…and what I like the most ….WITHOUT ENTITLEMENT.

    He stated repeatedly (even to the point of paranoia) that he didn’t expect an upgrade, and wasn’t too good to fly coach.

    He is extremely knowledgeable, a good teacher and doesn’t think he’s a travel god or demands freebies with stupid egotistical obsession (Gary and Rene ring a bell?….actually Gary is clearly a nice guy too, sorry,)

    Ben… Congrats, you deserve it. The upgrade and all the success you’ve had.

  15. @ Jackie — To clarify, there was confirmable upgrade space and there was no one else on the upgrade list. How exactly is that preferential treatment? If I received preferential treatment, wouldn’t they have cleared me in advance? Or on the LAX-JFK flight? Goodness, I can’t even get a legitimate battlefield upgrade without people suspecting foul play!

  16. @ LIH Prem — I suspect there might just be a lag in the system. Not sure where else I’d get an explanation.

  17. @ John B. — Please say hi next time. 😉

    And ah, yes, that flight. Funny thing happened. The flight attendant came up to me and said I had a weird designation on the manifest, whereby I apparently showed as being both a non-rev and an Executive Platinum member. That’s the only time that has ever happened. Actually saw my name on the manifest last night, and it just showed my status.

    Agree it’s strange, though I’m not sure I follow how incorrectly being marked as a non-rev is foul play?

  18. @ Chambo — I’ll write an economy trip report when my upgrade doesn’t clear. I have 12 systemwide upgrades. Why wouldn’t I try to request an upgrade, when they likely wouldn’t otherwise be used? American’s 767 business class is a product I haven’t yet reviewed. The point of my blog is in part to compare premium cabin configurations. Economy internationally is unpleasant, especially on American’s 767s. I think we all know that. If my upgrade doesn’t clear one day I’ll absolutely fly it, but I’m not going to voluntarily turn down an upgrade to a product I haven’t yet reviewed.

  19. @ echino — It all depends on the airline. For example, on Emirates they can see if you upgraded, but can’t see if you’re on an award. So if you book a first class award it shows the same on the manifest as someone who paid cash.

  20. Lol l – he’s s blogger. In my company we don’t give a damn what a nobody blogger says – and we’re still making plenty of profits.

  21. @ Sam — While your company doesn’t, clearly you do. 😉 Or otherwise you wouldn’t have left 100+ comments on this blog over the past few months, no?

  22. I don’t understand the use of the term “hater”, whenever a post is contrarian. Hatred is an action to hurt a person, humiliate and violate their dignity. If being critical is hatred, then every parent in the world hates their children every time they demand an explanation, forbid an action or refuse to allow a request by the child.

  23. I have to laugh at some of you. I was going to be clever about this but, unfortunately, Greg99 already beat me to it. Oh well.

    Basically, when you can fly (almost) whenever you want, subscribe to Expert Flyer, and are EXP, you can get upgraded practically every time.

    In the real world of working folks, that doesn’t, um, fly.


  24. 1.Who wants to read about coach any hows?We all know how that plays out.This blog draws so many readers because it’s essentially about aspirational travel at low “cost”.If you want coach reviews then this is obviously not the blog for you.

    2.Delphine needs an agent.

  25. My sister just got upgraded on her flight from MEL to DPS. She booked and checked in on economy, but when scanning the boarding pass, the guy (apparently the same one who was working check in) said “Oh it’s you”, and gave her a new boarding pass, which was in business. She didn’t realize it at first, so she asked if it was the same seat, as she was with her friend (who was on a diff ticket), and the guy said “I’ll let you see for yourself”.

  26. Yet again…more requests for a review of a long-haul flight in standard economy. Why? We all know what it’s like. And this blog is blatantly about scoring upgrades to get out of economy. So I sense that the real reason for these requests is to foster a childish desire to see a successful & knowledgeable blogger somehow degraded. Jealousy rearing its ugly head!

    Having said that, I do think it would be fascinating for a member of the OMAAT team to start reviewing some of the long-haul premium economy products. A few airlines are really upping the game in premium economy and it would be awesome to get some firsthand reviews.

    And I would LOVE reviews of the business class offerings from such airlines as VN, SA, AY, LY, SU, CZ, MS and Hainan (don’t know its code).

    In the meantime, I shall be looking forward to Ben’s review of AA’s 767 business class.

  27. Wasn’t there a kickstarter non-starter for Ben to fly a penthouse in the sky? How about a campaign to buy him the longest economy flight in the world? That’s my three-beer idea.
    My four-beer idea will involve longhaul on an, um, up-and-coming airline.

  28. What I want to see is Ben fly the Ryanair long haul they’ve been considering if it ever materializes. That would be true torture, as their short haul is bad enough. The cabins are bright yellow, the food costs more than gold, and the airports they fly to are in the middle of nowhere (they used to fly to FMM instead of MUC – if anyone knows where that is without google, you deserve a cookie). If their long haul product is anything like their short haul, it will be a living nightmare. Plus they have no loyalty scheme, of any kind, whatsoever.

  29. Best upgrade I ever got was coming back from Japan with my family… NWA from Osaka to DTW in 2008 I think… 6 of us, booked in coach.. at check-in they upgraded my wife and I as well as my parents to WBC… I asked the agent if my sister and her husband could have my exit row seats…. upon which she upgraded them as well.. I guess Y had been severely overbooked so we got lucky!!!


  30. Ben! One word. trolls. Your blog is specifically about flying premium cabins, lounges and all things glamorous. I’m sure there is some blog out there that is middle of the mall that they can read. You not only explain but SHOUT how you fly these cabins. If anyone is seriously reading your blogs and still flying long/haul in economy they have no one to blame but themselves. Haters going to hate. #bloop

  31. Congrats on the upgrade Ben. I agree that in person and on your blog you come across as a humble and enthusiastic traveler. You didn’t whine about traveling almost half your flight to Madrid in coach (LAX-JFK) and were very grateful for the JFK-MAD upgrade.

    My only criticism is that AA didn’t properly upgrade according to how they advertise the Executive Platinum SWU system and you had to use ExpertFlyer and phone for the upgrade that was rightfully yours anyhow. In fact the AA system of not confirming in advance like they used to in past years and the lack of transparency (you cannot even see the upgrade waitlist until the airport ) is why I gave up with AA status.

  32. @Lucky Why is Y especially bad on AA 767s? I thought it was AA 777s that were especially bad with 10-across seating. (And AA 787s with 9-across.) AA 767s have the same 7-across seating as on DL and other carriers with 18 inch width seats. The AA 787/777 Y seats are 16.9 or 17.0 inches.

    For the coach cabin, wouldn’t you prefer to be in a 767 over a 777 or 787 on AA?

    Have a great time in Madrid. I’d love to see some street scenes near your hotel or exterior architecture around it. Madrid has great squares, streets, parks, and public spaces.

  33. Was curious to see what the economy review would have been like! But congrats on the upgrade. Genuinely curious about the new 767 J product as well.

  34. @Lucky,
    You have been spending quite an effort communicating how you played your cards bad etc ect. and you would end up in Econ.
    Then suddenly: “But maybe there was a lag” – which there might have been – and you magically manage to benefit from it.
    I’m somewhat sceptical that any other person would have been able to just call in and immediately get confirmed as easy as you. And with the fact that you, in your descriptions, always luck out in these situations I just find a bit “too good to be true” if I remove you bloggin status from the equation.

    @All the rest of you.
    Don’t worry, I also do have my privileges. I also have hotels that treats me so well I call them my homes – I also, sometimes, get amazing treatment on airline travels. Yes I also sometimes get upgrades. So no, I’m not jealous and full of hate in any kind – I’m just applying a good portion of scepticism to some of the things I read on this blog.

  35. Wow. All the critics. Expert Flyer is invaluable in these situations. I had a very similar experience on an DFW HKG flight in August. I requested upgrade when booked in March. 25 hour window approached and no upgrade. Got a an alert from EP that C space was available. I called and was confirmed on likely the most difficult upgrade in the AA system. Did I skip the line? I don’t know. Would I have been upgraded anyway? I don’t know. But I do know I got the upgrade on the 16hr flight. I am an EP for less than one year so I am sure I was not given preferential treatment.

  36. Nice one, Ben! – I wish Expert Flyer covered more airlines as I’d love to have it when trying to get award space too.

  37. for all you whiners, let me offer some advice. actually travel at some point in your lives and you’ll understand why a review of Y is pointless.

    i don’t need lucky to tell me how shitty a Y flight was. i need him to tell me why using my miles on J in an AA cabin is worth it for me.

    get it?

  38. I want to brag about my only ever refusal of an upgrade. It was the first time I travelled as a conference ‘wife’ with my partner to the USA west coast from Sydney, Australia. For work he is entitled to business class travel, but because I couldn’t afford business we both booked economy. We get to the gate at boarding, and I’m asked to step to one side. As I waited I chatted to an elderly women who was visiting her son in California for the first time. Finally when there was a lull in boarding, they came over and discreetly offered me an upgrade to business. We asked if there was a possibility of us being upgraded together, but no. Only one seat available. So I reluctantly declined the upgrade. I was in love, and couldn’t imagine enjoying the flight without being with my partner. But I did say to the Agent, that you should give it to the lady I had been chatting to earlier. At those years I had no status as an FF so it was weird that I was top of their list. Anyway, they gave it to the elderly lady. My good deed for the day.

  39. Congrats on the upgrade!

    Please don’t review Y. Please don’t even fly Y. Its boring. Who cares what the rest of the plebes do with their depressing life? I’m here to learn how best to play this game & it’s been fun reading ALL the posts on this blog.

    Anyway, Mark Twain was so right – never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

    So, have even more fun. Looking forward to even more F reviews. Life AF’s La Premiere on their 777s.

  40. Although I love this blog, I do think that it would be wonderful if you could review some of the Y products out there. Your travels are spectacular and something that most, if not all, of us also want for ourselves. But, the reality (unfortunately) is that most of us are in Y. It would be wonderful to hear your experiences and thoughts about the products that the majority of Americans fly and use — at least out of a desire to present a 360-degree picture of aviation experiences today. You’re clearly an influential blogger, and by giving your honest two-cents about what most Americans go through, you could help change the quality of flying that the majority of us endure annually. Just a thought.

  41. So, there is another JohnB on here? Ok, since I’m the old one, I’ll change my posting handle. I do not have AA status, and have not flown AA for over 5 months. But, I do know AA keeps track of certain flyers. That tracking is sometimes way more important than FF status.

  42. I just don’t understand why they didn’t do reverse herringbone. It seems it would have taken the same amount of space and been so much nicer.

  43. My best upgrade experience was similarly, when I didn’t expect it. My wife was spending a couple months hanging out in Hawaii (we had shipped our Westfalia over on Matson) and I took some long weekends off work to visit. I was redeeming Alaska miles on Alaska at I think 20K each way PDX-KOA, and since airlines don’t upgrade award tickets, I showed up last-minute for one flight in shorts, tshirt, flip-flops and likely had been drinking. I handed over my boarding pass, and got upgraded to First. It was a really nice surprise, and I’m not sure why they upgraded me ahead of a paying passenger, but I was glad for it.

  44. For those who can’t do the analysis and figure it out, those of us who regularly fly (real, nonE +) economy wanted him to fly for hours in the very back of the plane, have the “service ” we are accustomed to, and post “wow, I can’t believe what you poor people put up with-it was awful.” He would then be filled with sympathy and admiration for us.
    THAT’S what we wanted and why. No one wants Lucky to suffer, and I sure don’t care to read a review of economy seats. I just want his unadulterated admiration! ;.)

    (I assume English is not Hesse’s first language. If it is –OMG.)

  45. For the humor factor I was looking forward to a review of TATL Economy.
    I know what it’s like to travel in Economy. I’ve done round trip UA ORD-SIN. (And I agree with mbh — we Economy types want some admiration for our grit. We’re tough.)
    But it’s the Business and First that I want to know about. Without Ben’s advice, no way would I be a new AA EP and traveling to far away places in Business class at economy prices. I’m 6 for 6 on AA systemwides: PHL-DUB, DFW-HKG and DFW-PEK. Fingers crossed for systemwides #7 & 8 in November.
    Thanks, Ben! And enjoy Madrid. Olé!

  46. @ tara — I don’t think there’s any airline which has reverse herringbone seats on the 767. I think it comes down to cabin width.

  47. @Lucky – Any official review of that AA product coming? I’m flying it to Paris next year and would love for you to review it in advance.

  48. How does row one of business start on the window sides – seat next to window or seat next to aisle? So you can calculate alternating back where you choose seat next to window or aisle.

    Also – which is preferred – next to window or next to aisle?

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