When Buying an Upgrade Makes Sense.

In the past year so, I have flown on Alaska Airlines a few times. I did again today, concluding my trip by catching one of their flights from Oakland to Maui It was an early flight, departing Oakland at 7:00 a.m., which meant I rolled out of bed at the airport hotel in the very wee hours. In fact, I was on the hotel shuttle to the airport at 5:00.
The method to that madness was to see if I could score an upgrade to first class. I’ve managed that on an Alaska flight six months ago and was hoping it might happen again. So showed up early, asked if there might possibly be an empty seat in first class while I was checking in. Well, sure enough! There was indeed a first class seat available and it could be mine for $100. I grabbed it.
One more plus to this deal: because I was suddenly flying first class, there was no $25 fee for the bag I was already planning to check. That meant the net cost of the upgrade was just $75.
That’s a helluva deal in today’s air travel environment. The flight from Oakland to Maui took a little over five hours, so the upgrade, with it’s big wide seat, plenty of legroom, a nice breakfast and a variety of liquid refreshment (“Another glass of champagne, sir?”), cost me $15 an hour.
But filling up first class at a very reasonable price to the traveler makes sense for the airline, too. They get an additional $100 from me, of course, but that also frees up an economy seat that generates another $300-400 in revenue when they sell it to one of the stand-by passengers.
There are 16 first class seats in the Alaska Airlines 737. At least three other people on today’s flight bought an upgrade at the airport … and the back of the plane was full. So the airline made an additional $1,600-$2,000 on today’s flight, by selling upgrades for a measly hundred bucks.