Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades Using Awards Or Miles

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Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades Using Awards Or Miles

Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades Using Awards Or Miles

If you’re looking for sweet spots for flight upgrades, here’s a look at best options. Upgrade options can come in several forms. Maybe you have status, so you’ll count on upgrades as a perk. In this article, we’ll look at the other 2 options: upgrade awards and using miles to upgrade an existing ticket.

What Are Upgrade Awards?

There are a few rules to highlight as we jump into this. Upgrade awards are generally offered to either A) those with elite status or B) those who earn them during a promotion. Having an upgrade award allows you to upgrade to the next higher flight class than your current booking. However:

  • You typically cannot upgrade ‘basic economy’ tickets
  • Award bookings cannot be upgraded
  • It’s based on what the airline makes available, which is never guaranteed
  • Must be operated & ticketed by the airline that gave you the award
  • Only certain fare classes qualify

Considering the last point, you can use ExpertFlyer and set alerts for the fare class you want. It will notify you if/when it’s available, so you can request an upgrade. Note that this feature isn’t included in the free membership on ExpertFlyer.

These have special rules within each airline and are not available to everyone. These are not the upgrades we will discuss in this article for finding sweet spots.

Using Miles To Upgrade

You can pay to upgrade using miles. Most airlines have options for upgrading your ticket using miles. While the majority only allow you to go up 1 class (ex: from economy to premium economy or from premium economy to business), some allow you to move up multiple fare classes using your miles.

  • Again, this applies to cash tickets–not awards
  • Certain ticket types cannot be upgraded, so check before booking
  • You cannot book through airline A then use miles from airline B to upgrade

Why would you buy a ticket and then use miles to upgrade it? Why not just book what you want? Here’s an example.

Maybe you can get a cash ticket for $400. The business class ticket costs $2,000. Or I could use 80,000 miles for that business class ticket. A sweet spot would be upgrading my economy ticket for 25,000 miles. I’ve now booked a business class ticket with 25,000 miles + $400, which is a better deal for most people.

Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades Using Awards Or Miles
American Airlines upgrade award chart

Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades

Now that we know what they are and how they work, what are the sweet spots for flight upgrades? Here are some good ones.

American Airlines Departing North America

This has a lot of options. Departing North America, you could fly to southern South America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, East Asia, or the Middle East. If you score a cheap flight in economy, you could upgrade to business class for 25,000 miles + $350. That plus your sale fare turns into a discounted business class ticket. Remember that basic economy fares won’t be eligible.

The chart pictured above is at this link, and you can use ExpertFlyer to search for “C” space to upgrade into business class. “C” is for upgrade-eligible business class awards with American Airlines.

Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades Using Awards Or Miles

ANA Flights To Japan

For flights to or from Japan with ANA, economy to business class is one of the best sweet spots for flight upgrades. From the U.S. West Coast, use just 25,000 miles. For the rest of North America, use 28,000 miles (one way). If you find a great deal on economy, upgrading for 25,000 miles to fly in business class is a deal.

However, remember that you need certain fare classes for upgrades. When searching on ANA’s website, ‘special’ and ‘basic’ economy fares cannot be upgraded. While ANA will show ‘waitlisted’ or ‘seats available’ when searching for upgrades, their website makes you go 1 day at a time. It’s not the best when trying to snag a deal & transfer miles over for the upgrade.

You can use ExpertFlyer, but you also can use United’s search engine. United lets you see 30 days at a time and will indicate saver awards on partners. If United can see it, you can upgrade into it!

British Airways Across The Atlantic

What do people dislike about British Airways awards? The fees! However, if you find a cheap premium economy ticket, you can upgrade to business class without paying any extra surcharges. This avoids the most expensive part of the award, and you’ll wind up using the same cash but fewer miles. God Save The Points has a great write-up on this here.

You can only go up one fare class, so book premium economy tickets if you’re looking to move into business class.

For British Airways, the miles you’ll use for your upgrade will be the difference for a standard award of your current vs new booking. If that flight costs 100,000 in business class, but premium economy costs 60,000, then the difference is 40,000. You’ll use 40,000 miles to upgrade without any extra surcharges. Just pay the mandatory taxes, which isn’t much, about $20-ish.

Sweet Spots For Flight Upgrades Using Awards Or Miles

Turkish Airways To Many Destinations

While Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles is famous for its cheap (but sometimes difficult to use) awards in the U.S., look at upgrades as well. Since there’s no “premium economy”, you can upgrade directly to business class. Find a cheap fare from North America to Turkey and then upgrade to business class for 45,000 miles. Transfer your miles from Citi ThankYou Points. Check pricing and availability for your ticket here.

Upgrades on other routes and destinations exist, but the sweet spot here is North America to Turkey for 45,000 miles.

Yes, that’s the same amount of points as what you’d need for an award booking. The reason why this deal is good is because you can avoid the terrible fees on Turkish award tickets. It might cost less to buy a cheap economy ticket in cash + use miles to upgrade, rather than just booking an award ticket. Additionally, while Turkish can be stingy with its award space, they are much more liberal with upgrade space.

Alitalia Flights To Italy

SkyTeam member Alitalia charges per sector on upgrades. That means this isn’t ideal if you’re flying US to Italy to somewhere else. However, you can pay 25,000 miles one way to upgrade from economy to business. This covers fare classes Y, B, M and H according to the terms here.

The best part about upgrades with Alitalia is that you don’t need to search for certain fare codes of availability in business class. If there’s a seat open & for sale, you can upgrade. That’s probably the easiest upgrade option on this list.

The caveat here is that Alitalia’s info is not very clear, and their agents sometimes contradict each other.

Singapore KrisFlyer 5th Freedom Flight to Germany

A sometimes-forgotten flight, Singapore Airlines flies from New York JFK to Frankfurt, Germany before continuing to Singapore. You can book their famous first class suites on this flight and don’t need to continue to Singapore. This JFK-FRA route also has a great sweet spot for flight upgrades.

Depending on the fare you book, you can upgrade from economy or premium economy to business class on the JFK-FRA route for 22,000 to 52,000 miles. This is for the full range of ultra-discounted economy fares to the most flexible premium economy fares. This pricing is for “saver” award space. See the chart here.

If you bought a business class ticket on JFK-FRA with cash, you can upgrade to first class with just 40,500 miles if saver space is available.

Final Thoughts

Using miles and points to fly for free is awesome. However, don’t forget that you can stretch your points (and their value) by taking advantage of great cash fares, cash + points, or booking a cheap economy ticket then upgrading using miles. These are the best sweet spots for flight upgrades using your miles. Let me know if you book any of them!

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. On which flights do they serve Perrier Jouet champagne like the one we see on the main picture? I have to fly this route/company! Thanks

  2. Nice topic. Upgrades are often overlooked because they exclude cheap economy booking classes. In case of Alitalia and others on the list this remains the case. Business saver fares will most likely be cheaper than Y,B or M economy fares. Only use case is if your employer pays economy only and doesn’t care if you buy a cheap or fully flexible fare. Upgrades from Business to First are an absolute sweet spot since they often apply to all Business booking classes and let you book a cheap sale fare, collect miles AND fly First

    • Dave – that’s another good option (biz to first upgrades) though getting harder to come by these days with a lot of airlines removing their first products / not flying them right now.

    • Yes! To Dan’s point, TK charges the same to upgrade a flight as it does to get an award ticket. This isn’t always a slam dunk deal for upgrades vs reward tix but there are a few times that it is worthwhile. The one I think is most pertinent to most is to remember that TK charges high YQ, so sometimes it works out to be a similar price vs. straight up reward ticket. That’s the real sweet spot with TK upgrade awards because by buying a revenue ticket instead of just paying the taxes/fees, you now have a flight that you can credit to your favorite StarAlliance program and earn EQM’s and/or EQD’s (or equivalent) for about the same price as the reward ticket, even for those low fare classes that only credit to 25%.

      You can also upgrade directly on the website, which as far as I am concerned, not having to call TK customer care line (or any airline customer service, but TK in particular…uff.) is it’s own sweet spot. 😉

      • And also the fact that TK can be stingy with award space but super liberal with upgrade space. I should’ve mentioned that. Will update to make it clear why this is a good option.


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