How Much To Upgrade To First Class: A Detailed Guide

With the hassles of modern air travel, upgrading to first class can seem like a tempting indulgence. But is it really worth the extra cost? This comprehensive guide examines everything you need to know about airline first class upgrades.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Upgrading from economy to first class on domestic flights generally costs $100-500 each way, while international upgrades are $500-3000+. But many factors influence upgrade costs and availability.

In this detailed 3000+ word guide, we’ll cover the typical first class upgrade costs for both domestic and international routes on major US airlines. We’ll look at the different types of upgrades, from automatic elite status upgrades to mileage upgrades to day-of-travel upgrades.

We’ll break down the first class experience on various airlines and aircraft. And we’ll give insider tips for scoring the best deals on upgrades.

The Costs of Upgrading on Domestic Flights

When it comes to upgrading to first class on domestic flights, the costs can vary depending on the airline and various other factors. In this guide, we will explore the upgrade costs for some of the major airlines in the United States and discuss the factors that can affect these costs and their availability.

Upgrade Costs on American Airlines

American Airlines offers several options for upgrading to first class on domestic flights. The cost of upgrading can range from $100 to $500, depending on the length of the flight and the fare class of the original ticket.

Elite members of American Airlines’ AAdvantage program may be eligible for complimentary upgrades.

Upgrade Costs on Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines also provides options for upgrading to first class on domestic flights. The cost of upgrading can vary depending on the route and the fare class of the original ticket. On average, the cost of upgrading on Delta can range from $200 to $700.

Delta SkyMiles members who have achieved a certain elite status may be eligible for complimentary upgrades.

Upgrade Costs on United Airlines

United Airlines offers various options for upgrading to first class on domestic flights. The costs can range from $150 to $600, depending on the route and the fare class of the original ticket. United MileagePlus members with elite status may be eligible for complimentary upgrades.

Upgrade Costs on Southwest

Unlike the other major airlines, Southwest Airlines does not have a traditional first-class cabin. However, they do offer an upgraded seating option called Business Select. The cost of upgrading to Business Select can vary, but it typically ranges from $30 to $50 per flight segment.

With Business Select, passengers enjoy priority boarding, extra legroom, and other perks.

Factors Affecting Domestic Upgrade Costs and Availability

The cost of upgrading to first class on domestic flights can be influenced by several factors. These factors may include the route, the fare class of the original ticket, the airline’s upgrade policies, and the passenger’s elite status or loyalty program membership.

It’s important to note that upgrade availability can be limited, especially during peak travel periods. Therefore, it is advisable to book early or consider alternative options if upgrading to first class is a priority for your travel experience.

International First Class Upgrade Costs

Upgrading to first class on international flights can be a dream come true for many travelers. However, it’s important to understand the costs involved before making the decision. Here is a detailed guide to help you navigate the world of international first class upgrades.

Typical Transatlantic/Transpacific Upgrade Costs

When it comes to upgrading to first class on transatlantic or transpacific flights, the costs can vary depending on the airline, route, and availability. In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for an upgrade.

However, it’s important to note that these are just rough estimates and prices can fluctuate based on factors such as demand and the time of year.

For example, a one-way upgrade on a popular transatlantic route like New York to London can cost around $1,500 to $2,500, depending on the airline and class of service. On the other hand, a one-way upgrade on a transpacific route like Los Angeles to Tokyo can range from $2,000 to $5,000.

Upgrades on International Partner Airlines

If you are flying with an international airline that has partnerships with other carriers, you may have the option to upgrade to first class using miles or points from your loyalty program. This can be a great way to experience the luxury of first class without breaking the bank.

For example, if you are a member of an airline’s frequent flyer program and you have accumulated a significant number of miles, you may be able to use them to upgrade to first class on partner airlines. This can be particularly beneficial if you are traveling on a long-haul international flight.

Challenges Getting International Upgrades

While upgrading to first class on international flights can be a wonderful experience, it’s important to be aware of the challenges that come with it. First class seats are limited and in high demand, so getting an upgrade can be a difficult task.

One of the main challenges is availability. Airlines often prioritize their frequent flyer program members and high-paying customers when it comes to awarding first class upgrades. This means that if you don’t have elite status or haven’t spent a significant amount on your ticket, your chances of getting an upgrade may be slim.

Additionally, certain routes and flights may have lower upgrade availability due to high demand or limited first class cabins. It’s important to do your research and understand the likelihood of getting an upgrade before making any decisions.

The First Class Experience by Airline and Aircraft

When it comes to flying in style, first class offers an unparalleled level of luxury and comfort. Each airline and aircraft has its own unique features and amenities that make the first class experience truly exceptional.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the top airlines and their first class offerings.

American Airlines First Class

American Airlines offers a fantastic first class experience with spacious seats, personalized service, and a wide range of amenities. Passengers can enjoy lie-flat seats, direct aisle access, and a luxurious in-flight dining experience.

The airline also provides access to exclusive lounges and priority check-in and boarding.

Delta One Suites

Delta Airlines takes first class to the next level with their Delta One Suites. These private enclosed suites offer maximum privacy and comfort, complete with a fully flat bed, direct aisle access, and a personal entertainment system.

Passengers can also indulge in gourmet dining and enjoy premium wines and spirits.

United Polaris Business Class

United Airlines’ Polaris Business Class offers a first class-like experience with its spacious seats, enhanced privacy, and luxurious amenities. Passengers can relax on lie-flat seats with direct aisle access, enjoy a chef-inspired menu, and unwind with a selection of premium wines and spirits.

The airline also provides access to United Polaris lounges, where passengers can enjoy pre-flight dining and other exclusive services.

Comparing the Best Transcontinental Products

When flying across the United States, several airlines offer exceptional first class products on their transcontinental routes. JetBlue Mint, American Airlines Flagship First, and Delta One are some of the top choices for travelers seeking a premium flying experience.

These airlines provide spacious seats, enhanced amenities, and delicious in-flight dining options.

International First Class Cabins to Look For

When traveling internationally, certain airlines are known for their exceptional first class cabins. Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Etihad Airways are just a few examples of airlines that offer luxurious private suites, shower spas, and onboard lounges.

These airlines redefine luxury travel and provide an unforgettable first class experience.

For more information on first class experiences and to compare different airlines and their offerings, you can visit websites like AirlineQuality and Skyscanner. These websites provide detailed reviews and ratings from passengers, allowing you to make an informed decision when upgrading to first class.

Tips for Scoring the Best First Class Upgrade Deals

Upgrading to first class can greatly enhance your travel experience, providing extra comfort, space, and luxury. However, the cost of upgrading can often be quite high. Here are some tips to help you score the best first class upgrade deals and make your travel dreams come true without breaking the bank.

Leverage Your Mileage Status

If you are a frequent flyer and have accumulated a significant amount of miles with an airline, you may be eligible for a complimentary upgrade. Airlines often prioritize their loyal customers when it comes to upgrades, so make sure to leverage your mileage status.

Check with your airline to see if you qualify for any complimentary upgrades based on your frequent flyer level.

Use Miles from Co-Branded Credit Cards

Another great way to upgrade to first class without spending a fortune is by using miles from co-branded credit cards. Many airlines offer credit cards that allow you to earn miles with every purchase. These miles can then be used to upgrade your seat.

Make sure to compare different co-branded credit cards to find the one that offers the best mileage rewards for your specific travel needs.

Bid for Upgrades Closer to Departure

If you are willing to take a chance, bidding for upgrades closer to your departure date can be a cost-effective way to secure a first class seat. Some airlines allow passengers to bid for upgraded seats through online auctions.

This gives you the opportunity to bid an amount you are comfortable with and potentially secure an upgrade at a lower cost than the standard price.

Be Flexible with Airlines and Routes

Being flexible with your airline and route choices can also increase your chances of scoring a first class upgrade. Some airlines may have better upgrade availability than others, so it’s worth exploring different options.

Additionally, consider flying during less busy times, such as weekdays or early morning flights, as these tend to have a higher likelihood of available upgrade seats.

Travel During Less Busy Times

Finally, traveling during less busy times can also improve your chances of getting a first class upgrade. During peak travel seasons or holidays, flights are often full, making it harder to secure an upgrade.

However, during off-peak times, airlines may have more vacant first class seats, increasing the likelihood of an upgrade. Consider planning your travel during quieter periods to increase your chances of getting that coveted first class upgrade.


While first class fares are often exorbitant, strategic travelers can score big savings on upgrades with advance planning and flexibility. Following the tips in this guide will help you lock in the substantial comfort and amenities of domestic and international first class cabins while minimizing your out-of-pocket costs.

Safe travels in first class!

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