My Unscientific Way To Determine Whether I’ll Get an Upgrade While Flying

When it comes to upgrading while flying, there are three basic ways of moving into the forward cabin:

  • Paying for it.
  • Using miles or upgrade instruments.
  • Relying on complimentary or discounted upgrades because of elite status.

If you’re using complimentary or discounted upgrades because of your elite states, you’re probably wondering what the chances are that you’ll be able to move to the front. If you have access to a system like ExpertFlyer, you can see the flight loads real time, and then estimate from there. In some cases, you may be able to see the specific upgrade inventory available, which is the best case scenario. However, some airlines do not publish their numbers to ExpertFlyer, so it’s not a system you can reply on 100% of the time. Besides, the system costs $99 to renew every year, so some folks want something for free…

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I have a very unscientific way to estimate whether I’ll be getting upgraded on my next flight. When I say very unscientific, I really mean it. In fact, there’s no guarantee about this whatsoever – it’s just another way of looking at things.

Here’s the seat map for my upcoming flight to Los Angeles, operated by an American 737-800.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 6.16.37 PM

If you’re allowed complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seats at time of booking, as Platinum and Executive Platinum members are, there’s several coveted seats you’ll probably be going after:

  • 7C, the bulkhead aisle
  • 7D, the bulkhead aisle, usually blocked by airport control until day of departure
  • 18C, the exit row aisle with extra legroom and full recline
  • 18D, the exit row aisle with extra legroom and full recline
  • 16C, the exit row aisle with limited recline
  • 16D, the exit row aisle with limited recline
  • 8C, 8D, 9C, 9D, 10C, 10D, 11C, 11D, 12C, 12D, 13C, 13D, Main Cabin Extra aisle seats.
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Sure, there might be other “prize” seats, but in general, if you’re in the back, you’ll probably be snagging one of these at booking. In fact, I can probably guess people will:

  • Choose seat 7C first. This is my favorite seat, and it seems to be others as well since I see it go first on many flights. THEN…
  • Choose seats as far forward as possible, and on the aisle before moving back. THEN…
  • If those seats aren’t available, then next go for an exit row aisle or window seat.

So, if seat 7C is occupied, then the exit row seats are occupied, and then other aisle Main Cabin Extra seats are occupied, I can probably assume that there are other elites in front of me on the upgrade list in terms of time-stamp (American runs on a time-stamp system, so the sooner you book, the better). Sure, all of these folks might be Platinum members, which would put them lower on the list than me, but, again, this method isn’t scientific or always reliable by any means.

In fact, I’ll choose flights where these key seats are still open, since if they haven’t already been grabbed, that probably puts me in a good spot for an upgrade up front.

Of course, there are many factors to to disprove this method, including First being sold out, lower, but still eligible elites grabbing the extra legroom seats, etc., but it’s just one way I use to gauge my chances, without looking at any backend information like ExpertFlyer.

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Have you used this method before to try to determine if you’ll get upgraded?

Find those elusive Awards & Upgrades – Find Flight Availability, Flight Upgrades & Awards, Frequent Flyer Information and more with

Find those elusive Awards & Upgrades - Find Flight Availability, Flight Upgrades & Awards, Frequent Flyer Information and more with

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