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Would You Ditch Your Travel Partner for an Upgrade?

Would You Ditch Your Travel Partner for an Upgrade?
Ariana Arghandewal

Traveling with others is challenging enough (in my experience), but imagine the following scenario: Before your flight, you find out you’ve been upgraded to business class. Only you. Your travel partner looks at you with confusion and a sense of expectation. What do you do? Do you decline the upgrade or ditch your travel partner and head up front? The proper thing to do depends on a few factors, including who your travel partner is.

As much as I dislike economy class, I would never take an upgrade if I was traveling with someone else. Most people don’t get to sit up front and if I’m flying economy with another person, chances are they’re one of those people. Why rub it in their face by ditching them for an upgraded seat? On those instances when I’m traveling with family and economy seats are limited, I’ll let everyone else sit up front and will gladly slum it in coach. If I’ve learned anything during a 16-hour flight in economy class it’s how to survive the experience.

There is one exception to this rule. If I’m planning a trip using miles and someone else decides to tag along (who isn’t an immediate family member), I don’t feel bad letting them book their ticket in coach. I’ve been involved in the travel hacking racket for almost eight years. I put effort into earning points for an upgraded travel experience and always make myself available to others for information. If someone isn’t willing to do that work and then pouts when they have to sit in coach while I fly in business class, that’s their cross to bear.

I think the decision is trickier for spouses or significant others. Do you take a seat upgrade and leave your spouse in economy class? Do you give them the upgrade? Or do you both sit in coach? I think if your travel partner has a worse seat than you and you don’t mind flying in coach, it would be a nice gesture to give them the upgrade. Some would say a gentleman would do the same thing. And there are those who would take offense to that statement. After all, “There are no feminists when the ship hits the iceberg.” To some, flying economy class would be akin to being on a sinking ocean liner. Do the right thing and let the ladies take the last lifeboat (i.e. the upgrade).

While I would personally opt out of an upgrade instead of ditching a travel partner, my only exception would be if I was traveling with a parent. I would take the upgrade and let them have my seat. It’s not absolutely necessary for us to be in the same cabin anyway and they’ll enjoy the business class cabin more than my company.

Would you ditch your travel partner for an upgrade? On the flip side, what if your travel companion took an upgrade – would you be okay with it?

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (48)


  1. Dublin_rfk

    March 14, 2019 at 11:55 am

    Would I ditch a travel partner? Heck yes! If it’s the +1 They get the upgrade I get the peacefulness. If they’re unrelated it’s I’ll see you when we land.
    PS: I enjoyed over three hundred hours in the air last year.

  2. nearlysober

    March 14, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    I’d take the upgrade every time. My friends all know what crazy lengths I go through chasing miles and they often reap the rewards with me.

    Sometimes I’ll take the upgrade and then swap seats with my traveling companion, especially if they’ve never been in first class before which was more common in my early days of getting the perks.

  3. fotographer

    March 14, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    well, since my wife now after a EXP challenge is also EXP, chances are if I were to get an upgrade (higher dollar spend) I would always give her my seat
    happy wife…. happy life

  4. Artpen100

    March 14, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    Depends. I’ve taken it when with family members who are fine with coach, but sometimes trade it back for a seat in Econ next to someone I want to help or talk to on the flight. For a work colleague, I’d ditch them in a second.

  5. sjspear528

    March 14, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    I would never give back an upgrade. If traveling with my husband, I generally give it to him (and he somewhat/sort of reluctantly accepts). I fly enough, and he puts up with my crazy schedule and quirks that I figure he deserves it. He’s always very appreciative, and I feel like I’ve done a good deed. 🙂

  6. Bradhattan

    March 14, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    I always take the upgrade then give my companion one of the legs and I take the other….unless it’s my friend Michael….he can sit in coach all the way….lol

  7. Betterthanyou

    March 14, 2019 at 2:34 pm


    As I say when it comes to seat-switch requests: adults can be apart for a few hours. This applies to different cabins as well.

    I am the one who earned the miles and flew weekly for years to be able to get up front most of the time.

  8. sm82

    March 14, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Always take a pass when I get it and my wife doesn’t – I’m EXP and she’s Gold on AA. The whole point of getting away and spending time together doesn’t work if we split up. Definitely lost out on some LAXHawaii upgrades but that’s life. AA has gotten better on status match of the upgrade list, or internationally, the SWU either goes through for both of us or neither. We’ve spent enough LAX>HKG or LAX>LHR>JNB in coach to be able to weather shorter flights w/o an upgrade

  9. zarkov505

    March 14, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    A former employer paid full-price Coach fares, so they could change our plans at the last second if necessary. I discovered very quickly that the cost to upgrade that to First, on American or Delta at least, was quite affordable, and well worth the out-of-pocket cost to me.

    Surprised the BLEEP outta some coworkers the first time American called First and I said “Woops, that’s my cue!”

    Once I explained, nobody had any issues with it.

  10. fullnelson3

    March 14, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Agree with the general sentiment here. I always take the upgrade and allow my spouse to sit up front. If traveling with work companions, they already know that I am going to the front if the upgrade goes through.

  11. jaimemayo

    March 14, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    I would absolutely take the upgrade. Why not? There will be plenty of time to talk with your travel partner on the ground.

  12. fairhsa

    March 15, 2019 at 1:57 am

    Not even a question. I often book flights where I fly in Biz and my husband in Economy. We each make our own choices about money and he values his money and I value my space. So yes, if I get an upgrade, I take it. Every time.

  13. txirish

    March 15, 2019 at 5:17 am

    I give my spouse the upgrade. It’s a treat for her, and I get plenty of other chances to fly up front. We’re hardly going to be conversing the whole flight anyway, we both don our Bose QCs as soon as we are settled.

  14. geminidreams

    March 15, 2019 at 5:28 am

    Never been in that situation. I have flown business and the wife flew coach. I have had paid business and swapped with the wife. It depends who has had the worst schedule as we usually started from different countries and were meeting halfway for onward travel. I never interact much on a plane so I have no qualms about ditching anyone for an upgrade.

  15. birdiedouble

    March 15, 2019 at 5:52 am

    We’ve been in this situation a couple of times. My wife isn’t bothered as much sitting in coach on long flights as I am. She doesn’t eat or drink much on flights so an upgrade is a bit of a non event for her. We had a flight to Maui a few years ago where I was able to upgrade the PHL>PHX and PHX>OGG legs for one ticket. She was coming off a crazy period at work so I upgraded her ticket. She flew the PHL>PHX leg and at PHX insisted that I take the PHX>OGG leg. It worked out well for both of us. A later trip back from the Big Island I was able to upgrade to FC from KOA>SFO>IAD for $250 each. She thought it was a waste of money. Oh my.

  16. wildcard442

    March 15, 2019 at 6:00 am

    When I travel with my wife or daughter, they get the upgrades first. If it was just one upgrade, my wife got first choice, and my daughter and I would sit in coach. My wife almost never wanted to sit up front alone and would take it if there was someone else to sit up there too. If there were two upgrades, my wife and daughter would get them (or my wife and I if it’s just the two of us). All three of us getting upgraded is only about 50% of the time(and usually only on the return flights – strange, eh?), but we enjoy it when we do.

    I took an upgrade over my wife once (just the two of us flying) and I felt terrible. I felt so low and selfish. It was terrible.

    Men who take the upgrades over their wives must be the worst people ever. They must be so cold and calloused to not let it bother them. I hate those people. Especially when I see it on the plane. I want to tell them to grow up, not be selfish and be a gentleman.

    The worst is when they joke to the flight attendants: “take good care of her, she’s really special”, etc. OMG what is wrong with thise people. Sad part is I guess they don’t get it and never will.

    If you fly with your wife, she gets the upgrade.

    Or split it 50/50 of the time with your wife. Take turns (I could never take it, but . It doesn’t matter how you got the upgrade or how hard you worked for the upgrades, they are not YOURS, they are BOTH OF YOURS. The upgrades are just as much hers as they are yours. You are MARRIED.

    Other family members and friends is more situational. If it’s just two of you, it would be rude to leave them. If your friends or family are traveling with their family or something like that, then it’s more OK.

  17. Travellingwithbaby

    March 15, 2019 at 6:06 am

    LOL Of course I have! But, I am not used to traveling in premium classes. AA offered me Plat Plus trial last year and it happened they upgraded me on a flight home from Jamaica. My husband and daughter sat in coach. I relished the peacefulness ha ha!! Our only premium class experience was flying to Asia on points. JAL only had 2 seats in business, but they did have First, so I took that myself… I did go back and give my husband the caviar….

  18. SayItAintSo

    March 15, 2019 at 6:15 am

    Let me think ab.. HECK YES!! Especially on a medium or lang haul flight!! It,s the luck of the draw, and I would not begrudge my travel partner if they got an upgrade. An upgrade is worth several thousand dollars and why not let someone enjoy it!
    Seems like a no-brainer to me!
    Truth be told, i have given my BC boarding pass to my SO (because i MUST) but anyone else.. I’ll pass you a glass of wine when the FA isnt looking LOL

  19. Whodunit68


    March 15, 2019 at 6:18 am

    I take it and tried “forcing” my wife to sit up front. She was po’d at me. I take it and she’s fine. It’s a little weird.

  20. Fsulaw1

    March 15, 2019 at 6:28 am

    As the woman who either paid for the seats or worked the money that got the miles for the seats, I will always leave my husband behind if there is only one seat! It has happened several times!

  21. John Aldeborgh

    March 15, 2019 at 6:40 am

    Yes, you always take the upgrade. The question is who get the upgrade. When I’m traveling with my wife, and this has happened on several occasions, I give her the upgrade. I’m old fashioned on that score. When traveling with work colleagues, I use the upgrade, as I travel more than anyone in our company. No, I don’t see that as selfish.

  22. ckfred

    March 15, 2019 at 6:45 am

    Back in the days of regulation, my father’s employer permitted employees at specified salary grades to book F. If a director and a subordinate were traveling together, both could book F. Then, the policy changed. If a person in a travel group was ineligible to book F, then everyone had to fly Y.

    Needless to say, a lot of F-eligible employees started finding excuses to fly separately from employees who had to fly Y.

  23. fasb43

    March 15, 2019 at 7:21 am

    In a heartbeat!

  24. bvb

    March 15, 2019 at 7:34 am

    On Alaska last week, took the upgrade and left the two teenagers in coach. In a heartbeat!

  25. TMOliver

    March 15, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Laugher! Several years back, y wife (of 50 years) and I were flying AA MAD/DFW on “points”, she in 1st, whilst I was condemned to Business. The AA cabin crew, led by a fusty harridan for whom “The Rules is the Rules!” wouldn’t let us sit together, even in “Bidness” where there were empty adjoining seats. Even conversation at the barricade was discouraged. I’ll always think that the lead FA had been either a WAC sergeant or a 5th Grade teacher in an earlier incarnation. The only moment when refusing an upgrade is justifies in during the first 24 hours of a honeymoon.

  26. ConnieDee

    March 15, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Naive question: Are people allowed to swap seats during a flight (I get the first two hours in the nice seat, you get the next two, whoever is most hungry gets the meal …)

  27. flyingchick

    March 15, 2019 at 8:36 am

    I have a couple of different scenarios here: Many a time I have given my husband my upgrade on a flight to Hawaii and now that he is earning his own miles on United and booking his own flight in first class, we just accept that we probably won’t be flying together because we have a young child who can’t be left in economy by himself – yet. Last year I took said young child on a trip to Thailand and I was upgraded on the long haul flight home from Hong Kong – he was not. I left him in coach with friends – I gave my friends my economy plus seats (we had originally had a whole row) and everyone was happy-ish. My son had a meltdown when he realized that our upgrade from SFO-SAN was not going to be in a lay flat seat. He got over it when I promised the next international trip would have him in first class on a lay flat – it wasn’t about being with me, after all, it was the experience he missed.

  28. Shygnome

    March 15, 2019 at 8:38 am

    I have this down to a fine art:

    With wife, and make sure we are both in First, one way or another.
    With family. Sorry kids, see you when we get there.
    With friends. If I upgrade I upgrade. If with a friend that never gets to experience First, I let them upgrade and stay back.

    Wife, same.
    Family, All first across overnight. All Premium Econ return during the day. I find this the best value. I do try and upgrade wife and me for return.
    Friends, have yet to cross that bridge.

  29. jeyawilson

    March 15, 2019 at 9:24 am

    No question – Husband gets my upgrade. The only exception was when I was travelling with him after I’d had an operation. That time, I used my upgrade. Last year it gave me great pleasure to give my upgrade to my oldest and dearest friend who had never travelled first, let alone business.

  30. critterchick

    March 15, 2019 at 9:46 am

    We’ve only been faced with that once, just last month when a paid business class passenger on a later flight took one of the last 2 available seats (we were 1 and 2). I took the upgrade and DH will get the next one if it happens again. I don’t see why the wife should always get it.

  31. windygal21

    March 15, 2019 at 9:58 am

    I did take the first class set one time and left my husband in economy, but he cares less than I do. We originally had two first clas seats on FF miles, but our dog got sick and we got to trade our reduced rate first class tickets for economy class tickets and use more miles. When I told the nice FA my story she said that there was one seat that we could have, and of neither of us questioned who woulld get it. I do all of the FF work after all.

  32. NotSoFrequentColorado

    March 15, 2019 at 10:10 am

    I never get a FREE upgrade (no status). I sometimes get a last-minute discounted upgrade to Premium Econ or, rarely, business. I usually snap it up. The friends I travel with never want to pay extra so I figure that’s their choice and I’ll see them later. If it happened when traveling with my (adult) daughter, I’m not sure. It’s never come up. I guess I would feel her out about it….

  33. c1ue

    March 15, 2019 at 10:22 am

    I would always give my upgrade to my wife. Work-mates, only if there is a medical reason but this was never an issue as you’ll see why below.
    I always got really few op-upgrades. Whether it is because I dress for comfort when travelling, never paid for biz/1st, and/or had really low average ticket prices, I averaged 2 or less op-ups per year in which I was travelling over 100K miles.
    My wife, using many of my same pricing strategies but without the corporate payer, consistently received at least 4 or more every year – including multiple instances where she would get upgraded even while I was not … on the same flight but different itineraries.
    No big deal from my point of view because any op-up I receive would go to her, but given my (somewhat) greater spend, higher ticket price – this always seemed odd to me.
    Of course, she dresses better and is much better looking, hopefully without incurring charges of misogyny.

  34. FlyfromLAS

    March 15, 2019 at 10:59 am

    If traveling for business I take the upgrade. From my perspective I have put my time in the air to get to a point where I am offered upgrades. With family I keep us together, all up front or all in Coach.

  35. sexykitten7

    March 15, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Ha. I recently did the opposite with my mommy PWM-ORD. I got the mileage upgrade but her award waitlist did not clear. I offered to switch or both fly coach but she insisted that I keep my upgrade since I love flying first class (who doesn’t?). She mostly slept and the FA was kind enough to send a drink back. Thankfully we both got upgraded on the 2nd leg ORD-SRQ.

  36. respawn

    March 15, 2019 at 11:31 am

    I gave one up once. I was flying with my wife, same flights but booked at different times so different itinerary. DL wouldn’t (or couldn’t) link the tickets up, so when I got the bump, she didn’t follow. Since there were still open seats in first I pleaded my case with the GA, but she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help me out. And since I was flying with a broken arm, we needed to stick together.

    It was only domestic first class on a short haul flight anyway, so no huge loss for either of us. In fact, I mentioned the scenario to the FA when we boarded and since we were bulkhead behind first, he was nice enough to perform first class drink and snack service for us as well.


    March 15, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    It depends who it is. With my wife I would give it to her. With a kid that’s old enough to sit alone I would either take it or offer to share the time. WIth a business traveler it would depend who it was. If it was a customer I wouldn’t take it. If it was someone I managed I would either not take it or would offer it to them. If it was someone senior I would probably take it or offer it to them unless I needed the time to speak with them.

  38. picturegal

    March 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Interesting. When traveling with my husband, we’ve both been offered the upgrades based on my status. But we did refuse an upgrade once when we were offered middle seats and we preferred to stay in the back with our window and aisle seats.

  39. chicagoflyer1976

    March 15, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    I’ve had this situations several times with my spouse. If we book economy, we generally will book an aisle and middle. If my upgrade clears, he always moves over to my aisle seat. He’s fine with me taking the FC seat and him sitting in coach. He knows I care much more about these things than he does, so really isn’t an issue.

  40. Minnie Sota

    March 15, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    Last month on SYD-LAX I was offered the last seat up front, I said yes so my husband could sit there. He refused so I turned it down and made someone else very happy. I don’t sleep on planes so lay flat is wasted on me.

  41. Flyingbiker

    March 15, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    Travelling in business, BKK to CDG a couple of years ago on Thai, I got an upgrade to first. Handed the boarding pass to my wife as we boarded and went to the Business seat followed by smiles from the FAs. After take off the purser came up and invited me to sit next to my wife, apologised that they would only be able to serve me a business class meal, happy days.

  42. frieswiththat

    March 15, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Uh, heck yeah. I fly all the time. He doesn’t. Usually use miles to upgrade him, but if I was offered a move to the front it would be “later! See ya on the other side!”

  43. blissing

    March 16, 2019 at 12:21 am

    No one’s old enough to remember one of the best Seinfeld episodes about this?

  44. dankim78

    March 16, 2019 at 2:29 am

    For a shipwreck? Yes, the last life boat for females and children for the sake of human race.
    For an upgrade? Why? Defining a “gentleman” is as a sexist as defining a “fair lady.”

  45. IanFromHKG

    March 16, 2019 at 2:32 am

    If I’m with colleagues or one of the Offspring, it’s “see you at the other end!”. If I’m with the Memsahib, we will usually have a brief argument over who gets the upgrade. Over the years it’s probably been 50/50. Only time we have refused an upgrade was when we were travelling with both Offspring when they were young and it was just unfair to leave one parent to deal with both.

    Two funny related stories. Many years ago I paid to upgrade to F on a flight to BKK on CX without telling the Memsahib, and booked the two seats together in the middle of the plane, as a special surprise. She was very happy, but then asked, slightly sheepishly, if I would mind if we didn’t sit together because she wanted to enjoy the luxury in peace and quiet and do her own thing, so we ended up sitting as far apart as we could! On another flight many years later I was booked in F on BA (the only redemption seat available) and she and the Offspring were in J, and the purser offered to upgrade her on the flight, and was a little surprised when I said “oh yes, that would be lovely, just don’t sit her next to me, she doesn’t like that!”.

  46. Xrayman

    March 17, 2019 at 6:32 am

    This comes up not infrequently with me and my family (spouse and 8 year old) over the past 6 or so years. We all have elite status but I’ve got the highest status as result of business travel and would be highest on priority upgrade list.

    It’s understood between my family that if only a single seat is available spouse will get it. If two available spouse and kid. As result when booking seats in a single row for family intentionally put me in middle seat at booking or aisle seat accross from family (aisle and window). That way when upgraded I can accept the upgrade but have spouse go up and I sit in her seat with the kid. No need to go through any complex stuff to my spouse is upgraded before other elites on the list.

  47. kkua

    March 18, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    Hell yeah, I’d take the upgrade. The travelling companion is already riding on my coat-tails of my travel benefits. So, yes, I’ve earned the upgrade based on the merits of my frequent flier status….

    but ultimately, I’d give the seat to the companion if I want to get a proper night’s sleep and rid myself of the moral conscience.

  48. Dalewood

    March 20, 2019 at 5:04 am

    I am 6′ 3″; H-e-doublehockeysticks-yes!!

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