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As I reported last week, I recently flew to Madrid to surprise a friend for her 30th birthday and got the chance to check out Iberia’s new business class aboard the A330. The way I got to fly business class was that I had purchased a roundtrip ticket earlier this summer on American Airlines’ website that included my Air Berlin business class flight from Berlin to New York JFK in August, and booked the return on Iberia from New York JFK to Madrid, all for the relatively decent price of $2,476.

A view of the business class cabin.
We both got to fly Iberia business class thanks to a paid upgrade.

I also received an extra 12,500-mile bonus on my flight for qualifying for the current transatlantic promotion on American, British Airways and Iberia since I flew business class on Iberia in an eligible fare class.

However, on this trip to Madrid, I actually had a friend traveling with me who decided to come at the last minute. Ticket prices were expensive by then, so he booked himself a roundtrip in economy on traveling from New York JFK-Madrid on my Iberia flight and Madrid back to JFK on a different flight from me (my review to come later).

I had set an ExpertFlyer award alert in the hopes that an award seat would open up, but even a few days out nothing was showing up so he decided to buy an economy fare just to be sure he would have a seat on the flight.

His ticket was booked in an M fare class, which is not one of the ones upgradeable using British Airways Avios or Iberia Avios since you have to book a more expensive Y, B or H fare aboard Iberia to use your Avios to upgrade from economy to business class.

Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 3.11.44 PM
His booking was an M class economy fare.

His roundtrip ticket cost $1,350 – $790 in airfare and the rest was taxes and fees including a $496 fuel surcharge (which is astronomical, but the new normal since Iberia raised its fees earlier this summer).

In the meantime, I searched the FlyerTalk boards, specifically this thread, to see if anyone had experience paying for an upgrade on the day of travel, and while some people seemed to have managed it in the past, most of the anecdotal evidence suggested this is now a thing of the past unless you just want to pay the fare difference from economy to business class.

Still, my mantra is, “It never hurts to ask,” so when we arrived at JFK to check in, I asked the agent whether it might be possible to upgrade my friend’s itinerary. She took a look through and said that yes, there was a note on the reservation that it was upgradeable – though we hadn’t seen anything on his reservation ourselves that indicated that – for $471 for the one-way. That seemed pretty reasonable, and in order to do so, we  just had to go to the ticketing counter and they could process the upgrade and we could pay for it there.

I used my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card to do so since it earns me3X points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines, which this charge was processed as, and I didn’t get hit with any foreign transaction fees since it was processed here in the US. The one drawback was that we couldn’t upgrade the return as well, but we’d just have to take our chances that it would work out (it didn’t – there was no upgrade space available on his return flight so he toughed it out in coach in the end and at least by checking in with me at the business class counter in Madrid he was assigned a great economy seat).

Ready for bed!
Being able to stretch out for some quality sleep in Iberia’s new lie-flats made the upgrade worth it.

Worth It?

If you ask me, paying $471 to upgrade to business is definitely worth it – we got to experience a great new product and we were well-rested and ready to hit the ground running for our quick trip to Madrid. In terms of money, as I mentioned, his ticket cost about $1,350 when he bought it a week out. So for the one-way portion of his ticket in business class, he paid $675 (half of his economy fare) plus the $471 upgrade fee for a total of $1,146.

To compare, I priced out a roundtrip business class ticket for next week on the same weekdays we traveled and the same flights he flew it came out to over $6,027.

Screen shot 2013-10-17 at 3.40.01 PMThat’s about $3,015 each way, so my friend’s fare was a significant discount over what he would have paid by purchasing the ticket outright. That said, paying a total of $1,821 for a roundtrip with just one way in business class and the return in economy is still a lot of money, so I know this isn’t for everyone, but it’s still nice to know you could have the option to upgrade if you wanted to spend a few hundred more dollars.

Mileage Earning

The one thing that I’m waiting to hear back about is my friend’s mileage earning. Since this was a paid ticket, he should at least earn his economy mileage, but since he paid for the upgrade, I think that he should get the 25% class-of-service bonus American gives you for business class tickets on Iberia. The thing is, when the ticketing agent reprocessed his ticket, it no longer had his American Airlines AAdvantage number on it, so it turns out that for the moment he hasn’t earned any miles. However, like any smart traveler, he retained his boarding pass and is submitting it to American to claim his miles so stay tuned for the outcome of that.

Have any of you had recent experiences of paying for upgrades at the airport – either on Iberia or other airlines? If so, share your experiences below.

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.

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More Things to Know
  • Receive 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No matter where you're traveling, when you use your Premier Rewards Gold Card there are no foreign transaction fees from American Express.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline.
  • Get a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at Terms apply.
  • There is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $195.
  • Terms and limitations apply. See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $195.
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

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