Continental adjusts day of departure upgrade policy

For nearly a year now Continental has been offering customers the opportunity to upgrade their tickets to a fare that would get them into the first class cabin. In many cases the cost for that change, particularly for non-elites was somewhat prohibitive, but if the original purchase was expensive enough then the incremental cost to get into the front cabin was not particularly significant. While the up-take on that offer was not incredibly high, the numbers add up across the fleet every day to the point that the revenue realized from this policy was quite significant.

In addition to the above the airline has also been offering non-elites the opportunity to purchase upgrades at a discount to the fare difference on a segment-by-segment basis if all elites were accounted for on the flight. This program has also realized a notable revenue gain for the company but without interfering with the elite upgrade program.

The two programs operated very differently, however, with the fare-up program working on an itinerary basis and the buy-up program working on a per segment basis. This was confusing for customers and Continental employees alike. Starting yesterday the company has made changes to the fare-up program on the day of departure to address this issue.

Here’s the policy as stated in yesterday’s internal documentation:

All customers who check-in at a Continental kiosk,, or through their mobile devices, will now be offered the opportunity to purchase a fee-based upgrade and secure a seat in First Class when there are more Elite members than unsold seats within 24 hours. Fees will be based on Elite status, market, original fare paid and the applicable first class fare, and additional factors. Upgrades will continue to be processed through EDD.

OnePass Elite customers will be able to view where they stand on the upgrade standby list to determine the option of purchasing the upgrade. Those who choose not to purchase the upgrade will continue to be added to the standby list to be cleared at the gate.

Customers may continue to redeem OnePass miles or pay the difference in fare for upgrades outside of 24 hours.

This change is being made to offer customers the chance to upgrade to unsold seats for a fee. This fee will generate additional revenue for filling a seat that would have otherwise gone empty.

Putting aside the fact that the “Why” section is pretty much wrong – the seats will be going to elites on EUAs in pretty much every case – this change will be standardize the upgrade process to a per-segment system; there will be no more fare-ups for an entire itinerary on the day of departure. The rates will still be determined by the fare difference between the coach and the cheapest eligible forward cabin fare but that difference will now be calculated on a per-segment basis, even for passengers on a connecting itinerary. This change is designed to remove the potential frustration of a customer buying up to a F fare on connecting flights where not all segments are available to upgrade. Customers performing a fare-up change in advance of the day of departure will still be able to upgrade the entire itinerary, assuming there are seats available.

Continental has been very aggressive in marketing these fare-up changes to customers and they have been successful in realizing revenue gains from those efforts. This change will simplify the process on the day of departure. Despite earlier panic that this would mean all passengers would be able to buy cheap upgrades on the day of departure before EUAs were accounted for, that is not the case.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Continuing to downgrade the “unlimited complimentary” upgrades CO offers…

  2. It really depends on the route flown. I’ve got numbers that suggest plenty of folks get upgraded all the time. Just not on the high demand/peak routes/times. This doesn’t change much from previous policy other than that some elites will actually make out a bit better on upgrade costs if they want to pay for it rather than hope for the day-of EUA.

    Still, it is obvious just how hard the company is pushing for incremental revenue in any way they can find it.

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