Wow: Xiamen Air Lets You Double Upgrade At The Airport

Filed Under: Other Airlines

As I wrote about yesterday, Xiamen Air is launching nonstop flights between Seattle and Shenzhen (with continuing service to Xiamen) as of September 2016. This represents the SkyTeam airline’s first route to the US, so it should be a great opportunity for SkyTeam members to earn and redeem miles.


Perhaps most noteworthy is that Xiamen Air has some incredible introductory fares out of Seattle. You can fly roundtrip business class between Seattle and Shenzhen for just ~$1,580, which is a steal for such a long flight. You can continue to other points in Asia for just a little bit more.


I’ve already booked my flight on Xiamen in the first couple of weeks the route is operating, and am quite looking forward to reviewing their business class. Their hard product looks decent, as it’s fully flat and in a 2-2-2 configuration.


Perhaps the best part is that there are just three rows of business class, so it should be a fairly personalized experience.

What’s also interesting is that Xiamen has four first class seats on their 787s, consisting of one row in a 1-2-1 configuration. I’m fascinated by their first class product, though unfortunately first class fares are $7,500+, which is significantly more than their excellent introductory business class fares.


However, it looks like Xiamen Air actually offers a paid upgrade program at check-in. Xiamen Air even lets you double upgrade at check-in, from economy all the way to first class.


According to Xiamen’s website, they charge the following amounts to upgrade one-way on a flight between the US and China:

  • $500 from economy class to business class
  • $500 from business class to first class
  • $1,000 from economy class to first class

I don’t know of any other airline that will let you double upgrade at the airport. I’m not sure if there are any fare restrictions with these upgrades, though if there are, they’re not indicated on Xiamen Air’s website. The only notes regarding paid upgrades on Xiamen’s website are as follows:

1. If a companied child applies for himself but the adult stays at the original class, this child is seen as unaccompanied child.

2. Since upgrade is just applied by checking-in, we cannot guarantee the meals. Whether the upgraded meals will be offered depends on the situation of the flight.

In theory it’s possible that there are restrictions on the required fare class in order to upgrade, though I’m guessing their system isn’t that sophisticated (perhaps by design). After all, they’re allowing double upgrades from economy to first class, so clearly they’re not too concerned about people upgrading from cheap fares.

Bottom line

I can’t wait to test out Xiamen Air’s paid upgrade program at the airport. If it’s at straightforward as it sounds, I’ll certainly be upgrading one way in order to experience their first class, especially so I can compare it to the first class product on China Southern, given how that experience was. 😉

Regardless, this must be one of the most generous paid upgrade programs I’ve seen, at least in terms of the ability to double upgrade. I also think $500 is a reasonable upgrade cost for a ~14 hour flight.

Do you know of any airline that allows double upgrades at check-in?

(Tip of the hat to Richard)

  1. $500 for either a Y to J, or J to F upgrade is incredibly reasonable. I expect pax will be lining up before check in opens to secure this and the upgrade costs will eventually double.

  2. @ Tim — In my case I’m thinking of crediting to Korean Air SkyPass, since those are the SkyTeam miles I value most. But any SkyTeam program will work.

  3. @ Ben — You’d think so in theory, but I suspect:
    a) Most people won’t know about it
    b) For flights to/from China, many passengers are traveling on consolidator fares, and probably wouldn’t be willing to part with $500 for a one-way upgrade; between business and first I’m not sure most people would either, given that both have flat beds

    I guess we’ll see!

    I agree with you the value is excellent, but for example I was amazed recently when almost everyone was turning down $130 upgrades from economy to premium economy on SAS for the 11 hour flight from Los Angeles to Stockholm.

  4. I love a great deal like the next guy. However, aren’t you even slightly concerned flying on a carrier that is much like Asiana? I mean, the fact those Asiana pilots didn’t really KNOW how to land the plane themselves at SFO in broad daylight, is frankly disturbing.

  5. @Lucky

    When did you schedule your flight? You never shared much detail on the upcoming trip. Looking forward to it!

  6. @Ben – I’ve lived in China for 14+ years and have experience with this on Chinese carriers. Basically what these programs are is a seat upgrade but less so of an upgrade in the class of service/the soft product. On Air China upgrades can be purchased even in flight but they offer only a seat upgrade but not the service itself. Just an FYI

  7. @ JJ-Na — Not much to report yet, given that it’s just a simple roundtrip to Shenzhen for a couple of days. I’ll be taking it within a couple of weeks of the launch. 🙂

  8. @lucky I onetime used Bank of America points to pay for an economy ticket to Tahiti. At the airport, we upgraded to Business class (skipping premium economy). It was a very good deal as well for the 9 hour flight.

  9. @Lucky, Thanks for the article link! Well argued. I guess if I was seriously concerned safety, I shouldn’t have gotten on that bush plane in Alaska last month. They navigated purely on visual.

  10. “Since upgrade is just applied by checking-in, we cannot guarantee the meals. Whether the upgraded meals will be offered depends on the situation of the flight.” So, if you are booked in business and upgrade to first, do they guarantee you will get a business class meal on first?

  11. Ben, can you please review the Grand Hyatt Shenzhen? I’m thinking to book a stay for my parents there.

  12. @lucky
    I booked a ticket from LA to Tahiti with Bank of America points on Air France in economy. At both the airports in LA and in Tahiti, they allowed us to upgrade to business class. That was a double upgrade. They charged us about $375 per person each way from Y-J which was awesome!

  13. @Ben, you mentioned that you believe Korean Air skypass are the skyteam miles you value the most. Why is that the case or how did you determine that?

  14. Do you really think the J hard product looks decent? Maybe if flying with a companion – otherwise not.

  15. Incredible! Booked mine to my hometown in northeastern china, which requires a overnight stay. But should be fine since Xiamen Air will provide free accommodation according to their website. Not sure if there will be openings in First class in December as I know a lot of people will travel to China during the Christmas season. Looking forward to see your review!

  16. The experience shouldn’t be much different than China Southern. They are the parent company now.

  17. I lived in Xiamen for several years until 2011, and flew weekly from Xiamen to all points through China and SE Asia, most of the time on Xiamen. I know that it is 5 years since I left Xiamen, but here’s the scoop. Xiamen was easily the worst airline in China, and practically the world. Seats were paper thin padded, first and/or economy. Many flights were local, to Hong Kong or cities within 700km. The fleet was relatively modern and expanding, and all Boeing , predominantly 737’s. This was right before the airline opened routes to Europe (Amsterdam) and eventually other long haul routes. Food was no better than when I first flew 707’s from HKG-CAN in the mid-70’s to visit the Canton Fair, when China opened its doors to Americans. Meals appeared to from an old style collective kitchen, void of taste, quality or selection. Flight Attendents, not exclusively women, were brusque. The females were extremely attractive, and typically used cosmetics, but were dour in demeanor. Could the airline undergo a major service overhaul to enter SkyTeam? Perhaps. Xiamen is part-owned by China Southern, and that airline, during my years in China was a SkyTeam member, and was just a half notch better on international routes.

  18. @ Ben — This seems to be a different upgrade program, one you can do in advance and even with miles, rather than their upgrade program at check-in.

  19. Just as a heads up: AFAIK Shenzen does not participate in the TWOV program. So visitors will need a visa, regardless their original and final destination.

  20. Does anyone know if the at check-in upgrade allows to earn business class miles (e.g. credited to Flying Blue) or if they retain the economy class miles?

  21. I’m planning on flying from LA to Xiamen on Xiamen Air on June 28th (the inauguration flight)! Hope I can upgrade at the airport then

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