How Much Would You Pay for Unlimited First-Class Upgrades?


Let’s be honest: We’d all fly first class if we could.

We don’t, of course. And it’s not because we can’t. I could charge a $12,138 first-class flight to Tokyo on any of several credit cards in my wallet, and pay it off over time. So could you. We don’t, because it’s a bad deal. Because even on a 12-hour flight, we can’t justify paying 10 times the price of coach for a cushier seat and a nicer meal.

But what if first class were only twice as expensive as coach? What if it was just $1,000 more? Or $500? At what point does the value proposition become a compelling one?

JetBlue’s Mint service, which combines aspects of business and first class, certainly raised that question. And, with prices initially offered on some flights for as little as $399 each way, it proposed an answer that many travelers were satisfied with. By all accounts, Mint has been a great success.

South Korea-based Asiana has its own answer to the question. Although its appeal is decidedly limited, it does move the conversation forward.

Offer Details

This week, Asiana introduced Asiana First Membership, a pass allowing subscribers to upgrade from business class to first on flights from Los Angeles, New York, and Frankfurt. The passes come in two flavors:

  • A one-time pass, good for one roundtrip upgrade. Price: 700,000 Korean Won ($612)
  • A one-year pass, good for unlimited upgrades. Price: 1.3 million Korean Won ($1,136)

Deal or No Deal

Two limiting factors here: 1) The upgrades are only offered from full-fare business tickets; 2) they’re only available on select flights.

It’s a decent deal, for those who’d normally be paying for business class and fly regularly on the designated routes. But it’s hardly disruptive, the way JetBlue’s Mint was.

On a more hopeful note, it is, perhaps, a marketing move that will trigger competitive responses from other airlines. Or at least get them thinking about ways to make first class more accessible to more consumers.

A small step, in the right direction.

Reader Reality Check

How much extra are you willing to pay to upgrade to first class?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.


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