Airline Upgrades: How to Get One Without Blowing Your Budget

Remember that gate agents have pretty stressful jobs dealing with harried travelers all day, so don’t be too put out if you get a no. But if you get a yes, rejoice and then relax in your more comfortable seat!

United’s Polaris business-class seat is an upgrade worth strategizing for.

Courtesy United

Pay for more legroom

If none of these options work out, you aren’t doomed to a cramped seat near the lavatory at the back of the plane. Several major airlines in the U.S., and even some low-cost carriers, have cheap premium seats you can pay for in cash or with a small amount of miles. Here are a few:


Not only does Delta’s Comfort+ seat offer up to three inches of extra legroom to stretch out, but travelers also get a dedicated overhead bin to place their bags. That means no more jostling with economy passengers for the last bin to place your suitcase in. What’s great about Comfort+, and makes it popular among even frequent fliers, is how cheap seats can be. Even if you don’t have tens of thousands of miles in your Delta account, you can still fly Comfort+, with some short-haul routes (typically between the same region of the US) for as low as 5,000 Delta SkyMiles each way.


American’s Main Cabin Extra includes more legroom and earlier boarding. A traveler in Main Cabin Extra can also enjoy beer, wine, spirits in addition to the free Biscoff cookies or mini pretzels and soft drinks served in regular coach. Seats start at just $20.


If you’re tired of having your knees jammed against the seat in front of you, JetBlue’s Even More Space is the way to go. JetBlue already has a reputation for having the roomiest economy seats among US airlines, but travelers who want extra space can book an Even More Space seat. These seats offer up to 38 inches of legroom—perfect for stretching out—and a few cool perks like early boarding and access to a priority security lane at a handful of airports, which will certainly make your travel companions who didn’t book the seat jealous.


While it’s not an airline that has the best reputation for its service, Spirit’s Big Front Seat is a pretty comfortable upgrade. The Big Front Seat measures 36 inches in pitch and 18.5 inches in width, giving travelers six inches of additional legroom compared to Spirit’s standard seats. And as the name suggests, these seats are located at the front of the plane. Depending on which aircraft you’re on, there are between four and 10 seats, so make sure you purchase ahead of time as the BFS has proven pretty popular among budget travelers.

Breeze Airways

Budget carrier Breeze Airways is known for connecting smaller regional airports across the country. If you’re flying in Breeze’s cheapest economy seat—called “Nice”—it could be worth it to pay a bit extra for the “Nicer” fare class, which is roomier and has more perks. “Nicer” seats have extra legroom (up to 39 inches in pitch, depending on the plane). Upgrades usually cost about $100, which might sound steep. But they also come with a free checked bag, a free carry-on bag, priority boarding, and a complimentary drink and snack, making the fare well worth the cost.

Alaska Airlines

Seattle-based carrier Alaska Airlines offers up to four inches of extra legroom in its Premium class. Passengers in Premium on flight routes of 350 miles or longer will also score free beer, wine, and spirits. Plus, upgrades from regular economy start at just $15.


Get up to six inches of extra legroom in United’s Economy Plus class. The roomier seats are at the front of the economy cabin and are relatively inexpensive, with upgrade fees starting at about $20. If you’re a frequent United flier, you could spring for the annual subscription to Economy Plus—it’s $599 and allows unlimited upgrades on any flight for a year. 

Consider premium economy

Although more expensive than buying an extra legroom seat, sometimes upgrading to premium economy is worth the price (which is usually about double the price of an economy seat, on average). If you’re flying long-haul or on an international route, research if your airline has a premium economy cabin. Typically, on these longer routes, premium economy seats are much more spacious and more comfortable, with full leg rests and deeper reclines. There are other perks too, like priority check-in and boarding, as well as more upscale food and beverage service. If your airline offers all of these bells and whistles in the premium economy cabin, paying for the seat would be a good investment.

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