Mixed Cabin award tickets are those that include more than one class of service on the same ticket. You usually refer to an award ticket with a mixed cabin if it includes Economy and Business/First Class on the same ticket – however tickets that include only First and Business Class are also considered mixed cabin award tickets.
The beauty of booking mixed cabin award tickets is that you can usually later upgrade the Economy Class flight segment to Business Class or First Class if it becomes available if you paid the Business/First Class price on the entire ticket… for free.
Mixed Cabin Award Ticket Examples
The following are considered mixed cabin tickets because they contain more than one class of service.
- Seattle – Los Angeles in Economy Class, Los Angeles – Hong Kong in Business Class
- Seattle – San Francisco in First Class, San Francisco – Los Angeles in Economy Class
- Seattle – San Francisco in First Class, San Francisco – Hong Kong in Business Class
You can generally book mixed cabin award tickets with most major frequent flyer programs.
Why Book Mixed Cabin Award Tickets?
Why would you ever want to fly a lower class of service than the one you pay for? To help you get to your gateway city from your home city. For example, say there is Business Class award availability from Los Angeles to Hong Kong but there is only Economy Class award availability from Seattle to Los Angeles. You would book Economy Class on the first flight and then Business Class on the second flight, but you would still pay the Business Class award price for the entire ticket as you always pay for the highest cabin of service on an award ticket – even if it is only one flight in the highest cabin.
The beautiful aspect of booking mixed cabin award flights is that you can usually upgrade the Economy Class segments, for free, to a higher cabin if they become available later. For example, if you book New York to San Francisco in Economy Class and San Francisco to Hong Kong in Business Class and the first flight becomes available in Business Class later, you can call in and switch it for free… because you already paid for Business Class the whole way.
The one very important thing to note is that the same flight must open up in the premium cabin in order to “upgrade” it for free. It must be the same flight that you previously booked in Economy Class as otherwise you’d have to pay a change fee since you wouldn’t be upgrading the flight but rather changing to a new one.
Frequent Flyer Programs Allowing Free “Upgrades”
The following is a list of the major frequent flyer programs that allow free upgrades to a higher cabin if you already paid for the higher cabin but are booked in a lower cabin of service on any flight in your booking.
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
If you think this is a short list, then you’re right. However, these are the only airlines that officially state this process is possible. You can usually also upgrade on other airline award tickets, but it just depends on the agent you get. For example, with United Airlines, you are also entitled to the higher cabin of service however it gets really confusing as United will want to rebook all of the segments in the itinerary instead of just one, so it becomes a big mess… unless you find someone competent enough to help you.
With other frequent flyer programs (that are not distance-based), it should also generally be possible to upgrade your tickets as long as you speak to an agent who is competent enough to complete the process.
Searching for Award Space
How would you search for available upgrades on your lower cabin of service flights? It is quite simple. You would search only for the segment you want to upgrade. For example, if you booked Seattle – Los Angeles in Economy and Los Angeles – Hong Kong in Business, you would search only for Seattle – Los Angeles for premium cabin award space on the same flight you booked. If you see space available, you can call your frequent flyer program and switch the class of service.
Remember that award space must be available at the Saver Award Level, and not the Standard Award Level.
Once your upgrade is complete, you will receive a new eTicket number and will be able to assign seats in the new cabin of service. The important thing to note is that you may need to pay a few dollars of additional taxes – however this shouldn’t be more than a few dollars, as this is based on currency exchange rates.
Here is another trick you should know. If for some reason your Economy Class flight segment doesn’t become available in the premium cabin before departure, you may be able to standby at the airport for the premium cabin. The best example is with Air Canada – if you book an Aeroplan ticket in a premium cabin and it includes an Economy segment on Air Canada, you can standby and be placed on the upgrade list at the airport for the premium cabin and if there is a physical seat left, you will get it.
The airport standby is only an officially published benefit of Air Canada/Aeroplan tickets, however you may be able to do it on American and Alaska if you ask nicely and explain your situation at the airport – however do note this isn’t officially published as a benefit.
Booking mixed cabin award tickets is a great way to complete your trip from your origin to your destination all on one ticket. Just knowing you might be able to upgrade your flight later to a premium cabin is a great aspect – however do note that you aren’t ever guaranteed that a seat will open up in a premium cabin and should account for the fact that you might fly in Economy Class.
If you have any questions or need more guidance, please post them and I would be happy to help further!