Airlines in the USA have an upgrade list for their elite frequent flyers. Free upgrades are offered as a perk of reaching a higher status and once requested you are put on the upgrade list. The list is ordered by your status and is quite democratic. Any unsold seats in First Class are then allocated to those on the list at the gate before flight.
Frequent flyers from elsewhere in the world generally have to use their miles to get an upgrade. British Airways have a certain number of seats available for upgrade before the flight, you use your miles to pay and you immediately have a seat in the higher cabin. At Qantas it’s more a hybrid where you request an upgrade with your miles beforehand and it is granted sometime closer to the flight whereupon the miles are debited. Either way, the upgrades are not free.
Free upgrades are seen as a reward for loyalty. You were loyal to the airline, so the airline provides you with some free upgrades to thank you. This is the main benefit and people enjoy it.
At the airline it means first class seats will often be completely filled. This would make planning catering and drinks loads a lot simpler.
Going on the upgrade list does not automatically mean you will be upgraded. Finding yourself number 17 on the upgrade list for a flight with 12 first class seats could result in a negative attitude towards the carrier.
Some people have speculated that first class in the USA is full of upgraded passengers so it is not worth paying to fly in first class. Certain people would be upset to know the person beside them paid nothing extra to be there.
Trying to make up my mind on this is difficult. Upgrades make me happy but the uncertainty about whether I would get one or not would be irritating. The fact someone was upgraded to a cabin I paid for does not bother me. What are your thoughts? Are there other things I should consider in my argument for or against? Thanks for reading and please leave your comments below.