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TPG reader Jeff emailed me to ask about upgrading flights booked through a third party:
“If I book a flight through Citi ThankYou Rewards, can I then use my airline miles to upgrade my ticket?”
One nice aspect of credit card loyalty programs (including Citi) is that you can use points to book flights and still earn rewards in the process. Since you’re seen by the airline as a paying customer, you can accrue both redeemable miles and elite credits like normal. You may also be able to upgrade your ticket with miles, but to make sure, you’ll have to dig into the rules for your specific fare.
To purchase an upgrade award, you have to first book into an eligible fare class. If your fare is normally eligible for an upgrade (when booked directly with the airline), then it will still be eligible when you book a similar fare through Citi ThankYou Rewards (or another third party). The opposite is also true: If your fare is normally ineligible, then booking through Citi won’t help. The trick is identifying which class you’re booking into in the first place.
Citi doesn’t make it easy, but you can see the fare class after adding an itinerary to your cart in the Citi ThankYou Travel Center. Click on Rules, Policies, Cancellations, and look under the rules for each segment for a line that says “Fare by rule text base …” followed by various numbers and letters. The first letter in the last string of characters is your fare class, so if you see something like 011/9M57/URWUA0MC, then you’re looking at a U fare. You’ll have to then check the airline’s rules to make sure that fare is upgradeable. This process is a bit easier when you book by phone, since you can request a specific fare class (or at least avoid booking one that’s ineligible).
You can find similar information when booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or Amex Membership Rewards Travel. Chase tells you the fare class before you add the flight to your cart: You can find it by clicking on View Details > View Rules and Policies > Airline Fare Rules. For Amex, click on Fare Rules in the Review Your Trip window, and you’ll see the fare basis code without all the other characters in front of it. As with Citi, you can ask to be booked into a specific fare class over the phone.
Once your flight is booked, it’s a good idea to check with the airline and confirm that you’re eligible for an upgrade. If it’s not working out for whatever reason, you can take advantage of 24-hour cancellation policies to get a refund and try again.
For more on upgrading flights, check out these posts:
- How to Upgrade with Miles on American, Delta, United and Alaska
- How to Upgrade Flights on International Carriers
- Do Flight Awards or Upgrades Offer Better Value?
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards