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If I Upgrade With Miles, Do I Earn Miles as If I Flew Coach?

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TPG reader James tweeted me to ask:

@thepointsguy—”If I book an economy ticket and then use miles to upgrade to Business/First, do I still earn miles as if I flew economy?” 

Using miles to upgrade from economy to business (or even business to first, like I recently did on a British Airways flight) can be a really great value, especially if you were planning to pay for business or first class out of pocket. However, if you upgrade using miles, airlines will almost always award you miles for the fare class you purchased, not the one you upgraded to, at least in most cases.

If you upgrade with points or miles, expect to earn economy miles. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
If you upgrade with points or miles, expect to earn economy miles. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

This could actually work out in your favor if there’s a schedule change of some sort. If the airline sees that you’re in business class and then books you in business class on a new flight, they might not be able to tell that you were in business class due to an upgrade booked with miles. It all depends on the airline and the operating systems.

Some airlines may just boot you back down to economy and say tough luck. If that ever happens to you, you can always call and say you booked the economy ticket solely because you saw upgrade space. I always point out that I’m too tall to fly in economy and ask what they can do to help me. Being friendly can go a long way.

If you switch flights (even on the same day), that can sometimes trigger re-booking into the actual business fare class as well, but typically if you use miles to upgrade, don’t expect to earn those extra miles for a full fare business or first class ticket.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at

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