Why can’t I get an upgrade?

Beryl is a seasoned flyer who’s never been bumped up to business class, even when the pointy end of the plane seems empty – and she wants to know why.

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Q. Beryl
I must have flown around 12 times in the last two years, all with Qantas, and on every flight there have been spare seats in business class. On my last four flights, I’ve asked if there’s room for an upgrade and on all occasions, I’ve been told no, and that I’d have to pay for it. My question is why can’t I get a free upgrade if I’m a good frequent flyer with the same airline; and will I ever get one?

A. Fair question, Beryl, and one that I’ve been asked before. First, on occasion, airlines will offer frequent flyers an upgrade to business class, but to do so, the airline has to be overbooked.

A business class seat costs an airline around three to four times what it costs to service an economy seat. While your requests won’t have fallen on deaf ears, check-in staff or gate agents would be more likely to give you a premium economy seat than a business or first-class berth.

Just because business class is under-booked, it doesn’t mean an airline will automatically fill those seats with bodies from economy. If that was the case, the airline would lose too much money, as anyone sitting in business class would enjoy all the services and perks of those seats, including fine dining and free beer, wine and spirits.

Also, if it got around the cabin that a passenger who paid $200 is sitting in the $800 seat next to you; well, you can imagine how that would damage an airline’s reputation.

So, unless a flight is 105 per cent overbooked, which does happen, those business class seats will remain empty. In that case, the airline will occupy five per cent in business class and 100 per cent in economy, because it’s cheaper than the airline having to pay for accommodation, transfers, meals and a replacement flight.

An airline’s generosity is largely driven by money, nothing else. Unfortunately, loyalty has its limits. But do keep asking for that elusive upgrade, as one day, you may get lucky.

If you have a Travel SOS question, send it to [email protected] and we’ll do our best to answer it, or find someone who can.

Related articles:
How does upgrade bidding work?
Can you get free upgrades?
Using your points for upgrades

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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