15 Times When Upgrading Your Plane Seat Is Actually Worth It

Find out how to transform your travel with strategic seat upgrades.

Woman smiling at camera in private plane
Updated May 28, 2024
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Whether you're flying a state over or across oceans, it can be worth upgrading your seat on a flight if you snag a good deal, have elite status, or simply want to arrive at your destination rested and refreshed.

In many cases, you can travel for nearly free (upgrades included) if you use rewards from a top travel credit card.

Let’s explore different situations when it might be worth getting a seat upgrade.

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You’re using points or miles

PaulShlykov/Adobe businessman looking at window in plane

Credit card rewards, such as points and miles, can often be used to upgrade your seat on a flight. This can be an easy way to avoid paying cash out of pocket for a better seat.

Similar to using points and miles to cover expensive travel costs, there are plenty of other savvy hacks you can use to save money on travel and step up your travel game.

It’s not a huge cost

terovesalainen/Adobe hands holding tablet with cheap flights

In some instances, the cost of a premium seat upgrade might not be all that much. That could be because a flight is relatively empty, and the airline is trying to make a bit of extra money.

If that’s the case for you, take full advantage of your lucky situation and spring for the seat upgrade.

You can get lounge access

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe businessman eating salad in private jet

It’s common for business and first-class fares to provide airport lounge access in addition to a better seat.

Many lounges provide complimentary food and beverages, as well as relaxing environments away from crowded terminal gates.

If you value these types of benefits, it could be well worth paying for a seat upgrade.

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There’s a last-minute deal

Song_about_summer/Adobe flight search on internet website

Certain airlines will reach out to ticketed passengers about last-minute seat upgrade deals within a day or two before departure.

These types of deals typically have huge discounts over standard upgrade pricing. You can also manually check your reservation to see if there are any deals available.

You want a premium experience

Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe plane table with champagne

If you’re traveling for a special occasion or simply want to treat yourself or a loved one, consider getting a seat upgrade.

Some of the benefits of premium fares include airport lounge access, priority boarding, additional baggage, comfortable seating, in-flight entertainment, and onboard meals.

That certainly sounds better than being packed like sardines in economy class.

You’re traveling with kids

nimito/Adobe stewardess talking to little girl traveling with pet

If there’s one thing many little kids don’t like, it’s being confined to small spaces where they can’t move around. In short, flying with small children can be an absolute nightmare.

Fortunately, the remedy is a few seat upgrades away. In most cases, a seat upgrade gets you more space to spread out, which could be a real lifesaver if you’re traveling with kids.

You have elite status

oneinchpunch/Adobe businessman flying on his private jet

If you have elite status with an airline that grants you free or discounted seat upgrades, it’s typically a no-brainer to go for the upgrade.

For example, you can receive complimentary upgrades on American and Alaska Airlines flights with AAdvantage Gold, the lowest level of American Airlines' elite status.

Depending on how much you travel, it could be well worth sticking with a specific airline loyalty program to take advantage of valuable elite status benefits.

You need to rest

luengo_ua/Adobe traveling at first class

If you’re the type of person who can snooze the flight away in an economy seat, you’re lucky. It’s a commendable skill, but not everyone has it.

Most of us need a more comfortable seat to get to sleep, which often calls for a seat upgrade.

Having even a few hours of sleep on a flight can really affect the first day of a trip, especially if you’re on a red-eye or crossing multiple time zones.

You’re able to bid on an upgrade

khosrork/Adobe girl in hoodie showing passport

Some airlines allow you to bid on seat upgrades against other passengers. This can be helpful if you’re interested in an upgrade but don’t want to spend over a certain amount of money.

For example, if you bid up to $100 for an upgrade, you’re guaranteed not to pay more than $100 if an upgrade is available.

Of course, someone could outbid you, but at least you won’t end up paying more than you want to.

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You need the legroom

kasto/Adobe tired lady napping on airplane

Unfortunately, airplanes don’t typically cater to tall individuals. As legroom on planes has gone down over the years, the discomfort of our elevated friends has gone up.

But a seat upgrade can help solve that issue, and it could be well worth the cost if it means avoiding extreme soreness for hours on end.

It’s a one-way upgrade

Friends Stock/Adobe happy family traveling together

If you have multiple flights and want to save on seat upgrades, consider an upgrade on only one of the flights. For example, only buying an upgrade on the return leg of a roundtrip flight.

It’s not the perfect solution, but it could at least give you some reprieve on half of your flights. And you won’t be breaking the bank by splurging for multiple upgrades.

You have a friend with elite status

BullRun/Adobe Airline passenger reading email

If you have a friend with the right type of elite status, you could potentially get a complimentary upgrade if you’re traveling with them.

For example, United MileagePlus Premier members can qualify for complimentary upgrades for themselves and at least one travel companion on the same reservation.

You need more baggage allowance

Space_Cat/Adobe male passenger standing on plane putting luggage in overhead locker compartment

This likely won’t make sense most of the time, but you could pay for a seat upgrade if you want to check more bags.

This typically won’t make sense simply because it would likely be cheaper to actually purchase more baggage allowance separately rather than pay for an upgrade.

But if the math makes sense, definitely get a better seat and more bags at the same time.

You have a long flight

Parilov/Adobe male passenger of airplane listens to music

Regardless of how tall you are, taking a 10-hour or longer flight isn’t the most comfortable when you’re in economy class. A better seat can go a long way in making the flight more bearable.

It’s interesting to think about how such a slight change in leg and arm space can make a long journey so much more palatable, but that’s generally the case.

You get flight anxiety

Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe travel stressed and black woman at airport with headache

It’s not uncommon for even some of the most avid travelers to get some flight anxiety. There’s no shame in it.

But if you get anxiety on flights, what helps? Being comfortable is certainly a step in the right direction, which means purchasing a seat upgrade could be the best move.

Reducing your flight anxiety could also make you more able and willing to start traveling more.

Bottom line

Falk/Adobe businessman in a luxurious first-class cabin

It can be worth it to upgrade your plane seat in a variety of different situations, including if you can use your credit card travel rewards or if there’s a last-minute deal.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a high-rolling jet setter to travel with ease and comfort when you take advantage of these seat upgrade hacks.

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Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is credit cards specialist. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.