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If you're traveling with your partner, would you take a solo upgrade?

Nov. 24, 2019
6 min read
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Slate's "Dear Prudence" advice column this weekend touched on an issue near and dear to any TPG readers' hearts: the ethics of taking an upgrade if your travel companion remains relegated to cattle class.

Prudie, as the columnist is colloquially known, essentially said that it was a non-problem, and the letter-writer should stop complaining about something so trivial.

But we knew that wouldn't be the last word for our community, so we posed the question to the TPG Lounge on Facebook. Not surprisingly, you all had some strong opinions on this issue, which essentially fell into three camps when traveling with a life partner. (When it came to platonic fellow travelers, however, people seemed much less willing to give up that coveted upgrade.)

Here's what the TPG community had to say:

Always give the upgrade to your partner

The most common response among our readers was that the non-upgraded traveler (specifically, in this case the wife) should always get the upgrade.

Aaron M. wrote, "Always always always willingly give it to my wife. She probably enjoys it more than me anyway. She never demands it, and even tries to make me take it — but no thanks. After 25 years of marriage she is still my passion. I want her to be comfortable. And we always have more fun when she arrives rested. I don’t get much sleep on planes anyway so who cares."

Sonia C. said, "Our family rule: Mom always gets the upgrade!"

Ann B. said, "My husband usually gives me his first class upgrade unless he has a lot of work to do on the flight. The really heroic feat is that he chooses to sit with our 6-year-old twins in the back while I knock back a few mimosas lol."

Samina S, said, "My husband gets upgraded all the time, and he always offers it to me first. I don’t always take it because I’m short and he’s really tall. He needs it more than I do. I feel better knowing how kind and considerate he is. Many times he will then decline too so he can sit with me. That’s a good dude folks!"

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David S. said, "I was platinum with Delta for many years and occasionally had status on American. I would often get upgraded and my wife not get upgraded. However, I never once sat in first class and my wife in the back. We would take the upgrade and I’d sit in the back and my bride of 46 years would sit in my seat in first class. ALWAYS!"

Lorraine M. said, "Hubs and kids always let me have it. It’s the single nicest and most appreciated thing that my family does for me."

Stacy W. said, " I always give to my husband. I fly a ton and he doesn't, and doesn't care for it, so the upgrade makes it a better experience for him."

Angela F. said, "Ha! I’m sitting on a plane right now and we only got one upgrade based on my status. My husband is enjoying first class while I “enjoy” coach with the kids."

Luke V. said, "100% of the time I give my upgrade to my wife when she travels with me. I travel first class all the time for work, and she makes a sacrifice of her career to stay home with the kids ... it’s a small gesture of appreciation to let her have my upgrades and one I’m happy to make."

Whoever's tallest gets the bigger seat

Similar to the idea that the upgrade should always go to the spouse, many agreed that whichever partner is taller should take advantage of the more spacious accommodations.

Emma R. wrote, "I’m 4’11 and my SO is 6’6.” If there was only one upgrade to be had, it would go to him. If I’m traveling with a girlfriend, I’m taking it even if that means we get split up."

Deena S. said, "My husband is 6’2” and doesn’t fit well in an economy seat. We often buy him a premium economy for just him and I take a regular economy seat. When presented with the opportunity to upgrade he takes it. (And I completely understand and encourage him to!)"

David M. said, "I’m 6’ 8” ... if I get the upgrade, I’m taking it. Planes are already not made with people of height in mind."

Lindsay B. said, "I’ve flown at least 3 flights with my husband in biz and me in Econ. He has back issues so the more comfortable seat is better for him. Not gonna lie though I do get a little bitter."

Whoever earns the upgrade, gets the upgrade

This was a pretty common refrain. This line of thinking essentially goes, "if I've done the travel time, I should reap the travel rewards."

TPG's own Victoria Walker kept it short and sweet: "See you when we land."

Susan S. said, "We both have status, but mine is higher. If I get upgraded & he doesn’t I take it. He would sleep through the flight so doesn’t matter to him. If we have a guest with us we give the upgrade to them. If there is active military on board we give up our 1st class seat the them."

As Kristen J. wrote, "totally fine with this, plus last time my spouse got bumped to first, it left my ENTIRE EconComfort row empty so I was able to lay even flatter than he was. The only difference was the snacks, I still got whatever drinks I wanted and SPOILER ALERT: We somehow STILL ended up landing in the same destination at the same exact time."

Jared S. said, "We have a deal. If you get it, take it."

Chelsey T. said, "I earned those upgrades ... goodbye, my dear! See you in a few hours!"

Bottom line

Some other outlier responses included formulas for splitting the upgrade between legs or even midflight, a few "if not both, then neither" mentalities, and still others said that they usually offered their upgrade to active duty military members. Very few TPGers said they'd give up their upgrade outright, unless it was a short flight, but David Boone may have had the deepest insight into the original letter: "This is not about the upgrade."