Home Airlines It’s Possible To Upgrade An Award Ticket To First Class With Cash

It’s Possible To Upgrade An Award Ticket To First Class With Cash

by joeheg

I’m always reading about travel hacks online. Ways to work the quirks in the system to your advantage. I was interested when I saw an article on One Mile at a Time that gave instructions on how to buy an upgrade to first class on Alaska Airlines when checking in for your flight. I read this shortly after I booked a one-way ticket from Seattle to Orlando on Alaska Airlines using my British Airways Avios.

  1. You can book Alaska Airlines flights using British Airways Avios
  2. I don’t know why British Airways calls their miles/points “Avios.”
  3. To book with Avios, there needs to be saver space available on the Alaska Airlines flight (you can search on the Alaska Airlines or American Airlines websites)
  4. You need to call British Airways to book the award ticket

I was on a red-eye flight from Seattle that left at 9:15PM Seattle time and landed in Orlando at 5:18AM. I also was scheduled to be at work early that afternoon, so I wanted to try to get some sleep on the flight. I’m not great about sleeping on planes so I figured scoring an upgrade to first class would be the easiest way to try to catch a few hours of shut-eye. Granted, Alaska’s first-class seat isn’t that much to look at – Alaska elites refer to it as barkalounger class 🙂


The seats only recline a little but you have legroom for days. I figure if I could sleep on our La-Z-Boy chair at home, I could sleep in this seat. The question I couldn’t find an answer to ahead of time was if Alaska would let me upgrade a ticket booked with British Airways Avios?

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I think this man looks way too excited to be flying in Alaska’s first class seat.

I should preface this story with the reason I was in Seattle. Besides getting to visit the city for the first time and get to see the Pike Place Market,


I was also there to attend the Frequent Traveler University to learn everything I could about points, miles and credit cards.

Being surrounded by hundreds of people who are into learning about miles and points, several attendees were very willing to help me try and get the upgrade for my flight home. I have to give a shout out to the person at dinner who brought out his laptop to check current availability for the flight, also to Ben from No Mas Coach who was giving me pointers while we chatted at the Crowne Plaza lounge (lobby bar). 🙂 I learned all about Alaska Airlines’ upgrade policies and how to search for them using the ExpertFlyer website. This is a more advanced tool for booking award tickets that I don’t usually need, but it was worth the $9.99 for me to pay for a monthly subscription.

As it turned out, when I checked in for my flight 24 hours in advance, there were no upgrades available to purchase. However, there were still several seats available in first class. I was told this was a good sign and to keep checking for availability. When I woke up the next morning, I logged in and there was one seat available (U1 for those in the know). I went back to the Alaska website and checked in for my flight (again). This time I was provided a choice to pay for a to upgrade to first class. WINNER!!!!

Alaska paid upgrades vary in price depending on the distance of the flight:

  • 0-1,250 miles costs $50
  • 1,251-2,500 miles costs $100
  • 2,501-3,750 miles costs $150

Unfortunately, my flight clocks in at 2,554 miles. Just enough to cost $150 to upgrade.

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Still, for a flight scheduled for 5 hours and 11 minutes, that’s only $30 an hour for a first-class seat instead of trying to sleep in coach. I even was offered dinner (but I had already eaten at the AMEX Centurion lounge) so I just opted to get a salad and tried to get to sleep as soon as possible. I ended up watching an episode of MST3K on my iPad before I got tired enough to go to sleep. I was able to get at least 2 solid hours of sleep before waking up just before we were starting our approach to Orlando.

Now you know that if you book an Alaska coach ticket with British Airways Avios (miles), you can pay cash to upgrade to first class if a seat is available at check-in. I ended up paying 12,500 Avios + $5.60 in taxes + $150.44 upgrade cost for the ticket. I checked Google Flights and the usual price for a first-class ticket on this flight is $598.

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I received a value of 3.53 cents per point for this ticket. That’s an excellent use for my Avios. One more perk was that when I upgraded my ticket, my fare changed to U class. Since I booked through British Airways, my frequent flyer number was still listed on my reservation and a few days later, I noticed a change in my account balance.

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I earned 25% of the mileage flown credit in Avios to my account. Now, 636 miles isn’t much but considering I usually wouldn’t receive any miles on an award ticket, it was a pleasant surprise to get.

I’m almost more excited that I got this trick to work than I am about the sleep I got on the flight; I’m just not sure the $150 was worth the two-ish hours of sleep. As it turned out, the plane was pretty empty and I bet I could have found a place back in coach to curl up and take a short nap. If I were seated back there, I wouldn’t have been next to the couple with the newborn infant. Thank goodness the baby was still at the age where they just sleep most of the time. I do know that I slept much better in my own bed for four more hours that morning before I had to get back up to go to work.

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