Q. I recently read that upgrading an economy ticket to business class is becoming increasingly difficult, and that it is actually easier to use miles to get a "free" award ticket – if you have enough miles. This indeed has been my own experience for the past four or five years.
In a similar vein, if you want to use the miles you have with a U.S. carrier (Delta, American, United) to travel on one of their foreign partner airlines, it seems easier to spend the miles for a free ticket than an upgrade. In many situations, you are not even eligible for an upgrade for a flight on which you could get the complete “free” award ticket –if you have the required miles.
Both of these situations puzzle me. My sense of logic suggests that either the U.S. airline or the foreign partner would prefer getting some money- i.e., the price of an economy ticket, rather than just a bunch of miles for an award ticket. What’s wrong with my sense of logic? Is there something about the economics of the airline industry that they would rather that we spend down our mileage balances than give them a bit more of our money? Or, is there some other explanation for these policies that escapes me?
A. I’m finding that it’s just getting harder to find biz/first award travel in general, unless you book very close to departure, when the airlines seem to open up premium cabin seats that they weren’t able to sell. Airlines have reduced the cost of business/first (both retail and corporate negotiated rates) rather than give them away. Some even allow bidding for these seats, and offer last minute paid upgrades at check in or a few days before. And with these new fully lie flat seats, which take up more room per passenger, there are simply fewer of these seats to go around, whether paid or free.