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What’s the Best Strategy to Upgrade on US – UK Flights?

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TPG reader Ryan tweeted me to ask:

@thepointsguy – “If you’re not the most frequent traveler, but travel between the US and UK occasionally, what’s the best strategy for upgrading from Economy to Business class?”

It’s getting harder and harder to use miles to upgrade these days. More business travelers are back on the road on those premium routes, so those seats are often full. Most US carriers offer premium products on their London routes, and airlines want to sell those seats to customers paying in cash, not miles. You’re going to encounter pretty hefty fees on American and British Airways if you want to upgrade.

Flying British carriers like Virgin Atlantic may make it easier and cheaper to upgrade from the US to the UK. Photo courtesy of Shuterstock.
Flying British carriers like Virgin Atlantic may make it easier and cheaper to upgrade when flying from the US to the UK. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

My tip is to fly British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Compared to US carriers, they make it relatively easy and inexpensive to pay for Premium Economy and upgrade with miles to Business class. Delta requires almost a full-fare business class ticket, depending on your elite status (if you’re a Diamond elite, that might help). If you’re not traveling that much, without elite status, and you’re hoping to get bumped if the flight is oversold, I would suggest purchasing Premium Economy, which sometimes doesn’t cost too much more than Economy. This way, if your upgrade doesn’t go through, at least you’ve got a better seat!

On British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, the Premium Economy seats are much better than typical Premium Economy seats on US carriers, where they’re pretty much the same old economy seat with a bit more recline. Instead,you actually get a different and better seat. In conclusion, the UK carriers offer better value for your money if you want to upgrade, so I’d go that route.

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

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