I Got An Upgrade I Didn’t Expect…Or Really Want

a group of airplanes in the sky

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Although I find myself flying British Airways short-haul quite a bit (usually to position myself for a good-value Business Class fare with another carrier) I don’t have British Airways status. I credit all my OneWorld flights to American Airlines AAdvantage and hold Executive Platinum (OneWorld Emerald) status in that program.

Because of this I never expect to get upgraded on British Airways – I always assume that, if BA need to move passengers around, they’ll upgrade their own top-tier flyers before considering other OneWorld elites and I have absolutely no problem with that.

Right now, however, I’m typing this post from the front of a British Airways A319 en route to Rome despite having held a seat in Economy Class right up to the point I went to board the aircraft.

As the gate agent scanned my mobile boarding pass her screen brought up an alert and caused her to pause. I assumed the alert was to remind the agent to check that I was eligible for the exit row seat I was booked into….but that wasn’t the case.

A little bit of typing and a few moments later I had a new boarding pass in my hand with “Club Europe” and seat 5A printed on it.

The operational upgrade was a double surprise to me as not only do I not hold BA elite status but I’m also traveling on an Avios redemption and not a cash fare. I would have assumed that had the airline run out of Gold tier members to upgrade they would have upgraded other cash-paying passengers before upgrading OneWorld elites traveling on awards…..clearly not.

Under most circumstances I would be delighted with an upgrade to the pointy end of an aircraft but “most circumstances” doesn’t include travel on short-haul BA.

I have reasonably long legs so legroom is a big consideration for me when I’m booking flights and this is one of the reasons I value my OneWorld status. My status allows me to select a seat on the aircraft at the time I book a flight and that almost always means that I get to sit in an exit row where the legroom is adequate.

British Airways Economy Class A320The legroom on BA’s A319/320 aircraft is pretty good in the exit rows

Unfortunately British Airways is one of those airlines where the legroom in the short-haul Business Class cabin (Club Europe) is exactly the same as it is in most rows of the Economy Class cabin….which in turn means that Economy Class exit rows have more legroom than the rows in Business Class.

The upshot of all this is that I now find myself in a rather cramped seat with barely enough room to work on my 15” MacBook (it’s currently on my lap) wishing that I was back in Economy Class.

British Airways Business Class A320Club Europe seats on a BA A320

Yes, the empty seat next to me is nice…but I’m not the broadest of people so I don’t really need the extra shoulder width this offers. I had a perfectly acceptable breakfast in the lounge before departure so I have no need of the complimentary meal that has just been served, it’s still morning so I have no real need for the free alcohol that’s on offer and I didn’t really need the free cup of tea that I’ve just been handed.

All I really wanted on this flight was a bit of legroom and, somewhat ironically, the fact that I got a complimentary upgrade means that’s the one thing I don’t have!

Clearly this falls into the category of “first world problems” but it still says something about an airline’s offering when a passenger would prefer not to be upgraded into the premium cabin.

As I look around the cabin I really can’t help but wonder who would actually use their own money to sit up here because I can’t see the value.

Perhaps if you’re broad at the shoulders having an empty seat next to you is desirable and may be worth the high premium that Club Europe often demands…but are there any other circumstances where booking Club Europe over Economy Class makes sense?

I can’t think of any but, if you can, please let me know in the comments as I’m genuinely interested to hear if I’m missing something.


  1. I do sometimes pay to upgrade lhr – Düsseldorf when I am flying out on the last flights to and from – FRiday and Sunday! Why – gives me access to the business class lounge and supper on board. Champagne is good and welcome. I have found that when I book economy I get allocated the worst seats b or e which I hate, even for a short flight. This is always a full flight and if I don’t want that seat, I end up paying for a better seat!

  2. The thing with subjects like this is that they’re very, very subjective and there really isn’t a right or wrong answer….and a lot depends on the passenger’s budget. Clearly the difference in cost between a Club Europe seat and an Economy Class seat will be key as will be the ability to select a good seat if you pay extra for that privilege.

    My experience on this route is that the difference in price between a weekend, round trip, “Plus” Economy fare (which gives free seat selection 48hrs before departure) and Club Europe is, on average, around £170. Now, if one was able to secure a decent seat when the selection window opens up 48hrs before departure, that £170 difference could be put towards a couple of nice meals in the terminals before departure with quite a bit of change to spare.

    However, having said that, not only would one have to be sure that a decent seat would be available 48hrs out but one would also have to arrive at the airport earlier to give time to have a meal…..so time constraints come in to play too.

    What this all comes down to is that while I would be unlikely to pay to sit in Club Europe (although I have done just that when circumstances dictated that I had to) I can fully appreciate that others may have very valid reasons why they would.

    As long as passengers are really considering the value they’re getting when booking a Club Europe seat and as long as they understand what the differences are between the Economy Class product and the Club Europe product, there is no wrong answer here – how people choose to value a product or service and how people choose to spend their own money is nobody’s business but their own 🙂

  3. It’s really quite simple! Ask the crew to down grade you and I am quite sure the person in your original seat would be over the moon to be upgraded in your place! Simples!

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