Does Booking an Enhanced Economy Ticket Increase My Upgrade Eligibility?

May 29, 2018

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Associate Editor Brendan Dorsey.

The ever elusive upgrade to first class… how can you get it? Are there any tricks to get bumped up to first? These are the questions that keep those with airline elite status up at night. TPG reader Phil asks if booking a “better” economy seat will increase his chances of being upgraded…

Does booking a flight and paying for Delta Comfort+ increase my chances of a first class upgrade more then if I just booked regular economy?

TPG Reader Phil

The three legacy US airlines — American, Delta and United — all offer a form of what I’ll call “enhanced economy.” This usually means a bit more legroom and sometimes even a few extra perks and amenities. When someone with airline elite status buys a regular economy ticket, they’re much more likely to be upgraded for free to the enhanced economy section than they are to first or business class. In fact, some of the higher elite tiers even allow those with status to select a preferred economy seat when purchasing a ticket.

Normally, upgrade priority is first based off elite status, fare class and a variety of other factors. But what if you just outright purchase one of these enhanced economy tickets? Would that help you get bumped up to first class since you’re essentially skipping that part of the upgrade process?

Generally the answer is no… or at least mostly no, buying one of these tickets won’t help you get seated in the front of the plane. Except that when it comes to Phil’s specific example, the answer is actually yes, it helps a little bit. Sound complicated? Let me explain.

American offers Main Cabin Extra as its enhanced economy product, featuring early boarding and extra legroom. In American’s case, upgrades are doled out based on one’s elite status. So paying the extra fee to put yourself in Main Cabin Extra won’t help your case. The upgrade list doesn’t even prioritize premium economy tickets over economy tickets, let alone Main Cabin Extra.

United offers Economy Plus on all its mainline aircraft, but just like American, it’s an add-on feature that won’t change the fare class of your ticket. Therefore, it doesn’t bump up your fare class or increase the chance of an upgrade. We can demonstrate this during the United.com booking process: when selecting Economy Plus on this Newark (EWR) to Phoenix (PHX) flight, it doesn’t change the fare class status, therefore relegating you to whatever other methods you have available to upgrade.

The same seems to be true for Alaska when booking its Premium class. It’s just an addition to the ticket, like prepaying for priority boarding, and didn’t change the fare class of the ticket when we tried booking it.

But when it comes to Delta, things are a bit different. Delta Comfort+ is the airline’s version of enhanced economy, and Google Flights even treats it as premium economy. Delta considers Comfort+ an add-on, but does categorize it with a special fare class: “W.” We confirmed with a Delta representative that a “W” fare would actually rank higher than other main cabin economy fares. So for instance, if there were two Delta Silver Medallions vying for a complimentary upgrade and one purchased a “W” fare and another purchased a main cabin fare, the Silver with the “W” fare would have a slightly better chance of getting bumped up.

The Delta representative emphasized that upgrades are mainly based on Medallion status, so buying a seat in Delta Comfort+ may only marginally improve your chances of being upgraded. The representative also pointed us to this chart for help:

Fare class is actually the second criteria, so it does have some bearing (though note the criteria is “fare class groupings,” not the direct fare class). But even if one does buy straight into Comfort+, it’ll still prove difficult to be upgraded considering the number of high-tier elites and the significant percentage of first class seats sold as paid upgrades.

So buying Comfort+ isn’t going to vault a lowly Silver past a high-tier Diamond or Platinum on the upgrade list. But if you want the perks and space of Comfort+ anyway, it could help you just a little bit in your quest to move further up the cabin. Thanks for the question, Phil, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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