New: Lufthansa Upgrades For Cash

Filed Under: Lufthansa

Across the airline industry we’re seeing a trend where airlines are trying to do everything they can to sell as many premium cabin seats as possible, even if it’s at discounted rates. Some revenue is better than no revenue, after all.

The airlines have finally learned that there’s a middle ground between being focused almost exclusively on full fare premium cabin tickets and (what they sometimes view as) “giving away” tickets on awards. Over the years we’ve seen many airlines offer paid upgrades, including Austrian, Etihad, SriLankan, United, and many more.

The ways in which airlines offer paid upgrades can vary significantly. Some airlines allow paid upgrades in advance, while other airlines only allow them at the airport. Some have fixed upgrade prices, others have variable prices, and others have bidding systems.

Well, through a new trial program Lufthansa is now allowing passengers to pay cash for upgrades.

Lufthansa 747-8 at Frankfurt Airport

Paid Lufthansa upgrades will be available in advance (up until four hours before departure) and will be capacity controlled. With Lufthansa’s new paid upgrade program you can upgrade from:

  • Economy to premium economy or business class
  • Premium economy to business class
  • Business class to first class

To start, Lufthansa is trialing paid upgrades on the following longhaul routes out of Munich and Frankfurt:

  • Munich-Los Angeles
  • Munich-Seoul
  • Frankfurt-Toronto
  • Frankfurt-Shanghai
  • Frankfurt-New Delhi

Here are the fare classes which are eligible for paid upgrades:


That means:

  • All revenue fare classes are eligible for economy to premium economy upgrades
  • Some discounted economy fare classes aren’t eligible for economy to business class upgrades
  • All revenue fare classes are eligible for premium economy to business class upgrades
  • All revenue fare classes are eligible for business class to first class upgrades

When you upgrade you’ll receive the miles for the cabin you upgrade to, while the ticketing conditions of your original fare class will apply (in regards to changes and refunds).

Here’s Lufthansa’s trial pricing for paid upgrades:


Lufthansa seems to be taking a conservative approach with this pricing, and is clearly trying to skim the market. They’re trying to price the upgrades high enough so that they don’t think they’ll be cannibalizing their premium cabin bookings, but low enough so that some people will “bite.”

For example, the cost to upgrade from economy to business class on Munich to Los Angeles is 999EUR, meaning a roundtrip upgrade would cost ~2000EUR. Assuming you paid ~1000EUR for your ticket, you’re paying ~3000EUR for the ticket with the upgrades. For that price you could often get a discounted business class ticket, without the risk.

Upgrade from economy or premium economy to business class with new paid upgrades

The upgrades to first class are a good deal compared to most first class revenue fares, though also aren’t exactly a “steal.”

To check if there’s availability you’ll have to log into your booking on, and if there’s availability there will be a prompt giving you the option to upgrade. As mentioned above these upgrades will only be available in advance and not at the airport.

Lufthansa-First-Class-747 - 1
Upgrade from business to first class with new paid upgrades

Bottom line

I’m not surprised to see Lufthansa adding paid upgrades, especially now that they’re introducing premium economy. That creates a lot of potential for them to maximize revenue between their four classes of service. Lufthansa’s upgrade pricing is far from aggressive, though. They’re really trying to “skim” the market of potential upgraders, rather than giving people an offer that’s tough to refuse. But that might just be a function of this being a trial, as that could change over time.

Lufthansa Premium Economy Cabin
Lufthansa premium economy

I suspect it will be expanded soon enough to more routes, as there’s limited downside for Lufthansa.

What do you make of Lufthansa’s paid upgrade pricing? Do you think it’s fair?

(Tip of the hat to Lufthansa Flyer)

  1. Since LH doesn’t offer complimentary upgrades anyways, outside of SEN instruments, it looks to be a win-win for them monetizing an otherwise empty cabin. Though I’d imagine this would make F a bit more full and less exclusive.

  2. Interesting that they published a J-F upgrade price for FRA-YYZ when this route is currently operated by a reconfigured 744 that doesn’t have a first class cabin.

  3. There’s another angle here too. Some of the companies I’ve worked for will only allow me to purchase Economy or Premium Economy, even on longhaul sectors, when traveling for business.

    Allowing this to be purchased separately allows me to be compliant with policy but also put a little money into my own comfort if desired. Doing it this way also lets me make a “play time call”- which I could see happening non-trivially often, especially the Prem Econ to Biz.

    Agree that if you do want to travel in a class for sure, you’re better off just booking it upfront when possible.

  4. The prices seem very high. I’ve upgraded on Lufthansa on some of the routes listed above for a lot less. Of course, that was last minute at the airport and I only got miles for my original class of travel.

    Im not quite sure how I feel about this. Maybe it’s worth the price for being able to secure an upgrade in advance and get miles for it…

  5. Ick! Hope they don’t expand to FRA-DXB before May, anyways. Hoping to change an award ticket when I hit the fourteen day window to go from J to F…. don’t want them selling out first!

  6. I took a paid upgrade from economy two weeks ago at check in on the SEA-FRA 747 route. $799 to a nearly empty business class. And I was flying on an Aeroplan award ticket!

  7. I agree that they’re being conservative with their pricing; I personally wouldn’t pay those rates, except possibly Economy to Premium Economy. A discounted premium cabin ticket is much better value. Plus, I think they’re missing an opportunity to sell otherwise empty seats by only offering cash upgrades in advance. I like SK’s system, Optiontown, since the upgrades are more affordable but are only processed close to departure (even at the airport). While there is greater risk of not getting upgraded due to the cabin(s) selling out, it seems to be a win-win for both the airline and passengers. Other airlines use OT as well, but I don’t have experience on them.

  8. Air New Zealand has a great “bidding” system where you will get an e-mail a few weeks before the flight where you can use a sliding scale to bid on what you would be willing to pay to upgrade to a higher class. If you are one of the highest bidders then you get awarded the upgrade.

  9. Would a paid upgrade then potentially make award tickets eligible for points? nice 😉

    The article doesn’t say if the upgrades apply to specific tickets or routes, e.g. Since I will always have a feeder or a connecting flight after, will I be offered the upgrade? I’m asking because BA only offers POUG if you do not have a feeder
    feeder. I hope thist isn’t the case with Luftwaffe

  10. @Travelista

    You need to reread the article. Lucky wrote: “All revenue fare classes are eligible” aka NOT award tickets.

    Would have been nice, but Lufthansa thought of just that.

  11. Even if its not much ‘savings’ vs just paying for the J ticket up front I think it could convince a lot of people to upgrade. Say you bought and paid for your economy ticket 3-4 months before your flight. You’ve long since paid off that credit card bill and are more likely to view it as “$1000 for a much nicer flight” as opposed “I’m spending $3500 for a business class ticket when coach is only $1200.” By breaking it out into some smaller purchases i think more people would bite than would be interested in just buying the J fare in advance.

    And yes, they should be priced high enough to not piss off the true J passengers. Why pay $5000 for your ticket in advance if you could be $1000 for Y then another $300 for the upgrade? I’ve done this on El Al several times and its been great, but i’m sure the folks in J who shelled out in advance wouldnt be happy to hear this.

  12. I totally agree with Alex!
    Furthermore I could see a lot of people chosing to upgrade only the night flights in order to be able to get some rest. Is this possible under the Lufthansa trial?

  13. Never understood the “people who paid for J/F wont be happy” attitude. Are people really that conscious of what others pay? (and if they are, why don’t they just upgrade themselves?) Or is it about more J pax somehow making your service significantly worse?

  14. Having booked n Y recently on AF SIN-CDG, I was offered a paid upgrade from Y-J for 300 EUR on the new 77Ws on both legs. I guess my economy trip can wait huh? 😉

  15. Considering one gets the upgrade class mileage credit, there could be considerable value in gong from a K fare (which garners 25% or nothing in various STAR programs) to premium economy for E249-E299 (which gets at least 100% mileage credit).

  16. LH just offered a paid upgrade in BKK. BKK – FRA from premium economy to business was 11000 THB (about €279). I paid it. Let’s see what a mileage credits will be.

  17. Doesn’t seem to work any more. Booked economy T and the site showed one flight with an upgrade to premium economy and another leg with upgrade to business. Neither worked. The premium economy seat map for that leg has 6 occupied seats out of 21 on an A330-300. The other flight – an A321 – the business seat map had no one on it. I called and they told me “sometimes they show but are not available because upgrade seats have been sold for that flight”. Clearly the business flight hadn’t used up all it’s upgrade seats (if indeed there is an allocation per flight) since no one is currently booked in that cabin. Crazy. First time with LH too, and likely my last.

  18. I can confirm the miles: I upgraded recently one way, and not the other. The upgraded route ended up in class N and got 100% miles, the non-upgrade direction was in W and got 50%.

  19. Wait, is there any predictability to what upgrade will be available for what ticket?

    At worst, can you purchase and then test the upgrade availability within the 24 hour cancel window?

    I can confirm the miles: I upgraded recently one way, and not the other. The upgraded route ended up in class N and got 100% miles, the non-upgrade direction was in W and got 50%.

  20. 1. The Munich-Dulles(IAD) Jan 6, 2017 also allowed an upgrade. I was offered an upgrade from economy to either premium or business. The interface has a minimum prince on the slider-selection bar, and the business class was not a deal due to reasons already mentioned above. I bid 135 on upgrade to Premium Economy and it was received. You only learn if you won a day before the flight.
    2. Flying Lufthansa economy on normal seat was Hell (IAD-MUN a few weeks ago). For my sins, I’ve been flying transatlantic in economy since 1993 and this experience was horrible. I sat in a seat with, perhaps, 20 cm width for the legs in the leg-cage. And I’m a small guy, and it was till unbearable. So an upgrade to premium economy seems a must.
    3. The IAD-MUN flight made the way with one completely empty business class. I mean EMPTY. This translated into better service in economy, but suggests to me they could have adjusted their interface to make the bid to business a bit more reasonable given they’ve given up dozens of seats.

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