A great way to travel in premium cabins without giving up a ton of miles is to book a paid seat and upgrade using miles. For example, if you pay for an economy seat, you’ll be able to upgrade using a fraction of the miles you would have had to give up if you paid for the whole fare on miles.

It’s important to keep in mind that most airlines won’t allow you to upgrade any further than the next class of service. If you pay for an economy seat, you’ll only be able to upgrade to business or premium economy class, and so forth.

The introduction of premium economy by most airlines really screwed travelers when it came to upgrading with miles. For example, American occasionally flies A330s on transcon routes out of Philadelphia. Prior to the introduction of premium economy, you were able to buy an economy ticket and upgrade directly to lie-flat business class seats. Now you have to buy a more expensive premium economy seat if you want to grab a lie-flat seat, since upgrading an economy ticket would only get you premium economy.

Earning miles on an upgraded ticket

If you’re looking to upgrade your seat using miles, you might be wondering at which rate you’ll earn elite qualifying miles for the flight. Unfortunately, most airlines will only let you earn miles in the class of service purchased and not flown.

This means if you pay for a premium economy seat and upgrade to business class using miles, you’ll unfortunately only earn elite qualifying miles based on the premium economy rate. Another nuance to note is that earning redeemable miles is purely based on ticket price.

Below is an example of a flight from Philly to San Francisco. This fare is booked in the ‘N’ class, which is a discounted economy fare. Per American’s mile-earning chart, N class fares earn 1 elite qualifying mile per mile flown.

Philadelphia to San Francisco is roughly 2,500 miles each way so you’ll earn 2,500 EQMs. If airline policy allowed you to earn EQMs based on the class of service flown, you would earn 3,750 miles since premium economy tickets earn EQMs at a 1.5X multiplier on American.

Final Word

Do I agree with the airline’s policy? As a consumer, of course not, but I could understand where they are coming from.

In the above example I used American, but I also reached out to Delta and United and they both confirmed that they too award miles based on class of service purchased and not flown.

Just something else to look out for when booking!


Featured image courtesy of Omar Prestwich.

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