Can Standby Get First Class? The Insider Guide to Luxury Flight Upgrades

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Flying standby can be a great way to snag a seat on a flight, particularly if you’re flexible with your travel dates and times.

While standby typically applies to economy class travelers, the possibility of obtaining a first-class seat as a standby passenger might seem like a dream come true.

However, the rules and policies regarding standby travel and upgrades to first-class vary among airlines, and it’s essential to understand the ins and outs before trying to make it work for you.

Travelers who choose to fly standby often do so with unreserved tickets, which can be advantageous if you have a sense of adventure, patience, and time. Although there are no guarantees that you’ll get a seat on the desired flight, the opportunity to experience first-class accommodations may be worth the gamble.

It’s also important to note that some airlines prioritize elite members when it comes to upgrades and standby tickets, so being aware of your loyalty membership status and benefits can play a role in that process.

Key Takeaways

  • Standby travel may provide opportunities to fly first class, but policies vary among airlines
  • Travelers with unreserved tickets, flexible plans, and elite membership status may have a better chance at obtaining first-class accommodations
  • Understanding standby procedures and the benefits of your loyalty membership can help in securing a first-class experience
First class passenger wearing headphones

First Class vs Standby Status

Defining First Class

First class refers to the highest level of service and comfort offered on a flight. Passengers with first-class tickets enjoy luxurious amenities such as spacious seating, fine dining, and personalized service. Upgrading from economy or business class to first class is often a goal for many travelers.

Understanding Standby

The standby list, on the other hand, consists of passengers waiting to secure a seat on a flight that is already fully booked. Standby passengers may be trying to catch an earlier flight or have missed their original one. Elite status members and those with higher fare classes typically receive priority on the standby list.

When it comes to securing a first-class seat through standby, the process can be challenging. Availability depends on several factors, including the airline’s policies and the number of unsold first-class seats. Travelers on the standby list for first class can potentially upgrade their seat if openings become available.

Same-day change and standby rules vary by airline, but both options involve trying to secure a seat on a different flight than the one originally booked. The difference between the two lies in the confirmation process. A same-day change is confirmed immediately, while standby status is only confirmed if seats become available shortly before the flight departs.

To increase the chances of getting a first-class seat on standby, travelers should maintain elite status with their preferred airline and familiarize themselves with the airline’s specific policies. Always arrive at the airport early, as this can facilitate communication with gate agents and improve the likelihood of securing a first-class seat.

First class airline seats

Airlines and Their Policies

American Airlines

American Airlines offers standby tickets with a $75 fee. Military members, business class, and AAdvantage Elite members receive a fee waiver.

United Airlines

Starting in 2021, United Airlines allows all customers, including Basic Economy, to fly same-day standby. However, Basic Economy ticket holders will be placed on the list after all other customers.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines charges a $75 fee for standby and follows the majority of airlines’ policy to prioritize elite members.

Alaska Airlines

Although information on standby for first-class upgrades at Alaska Airlines is limited, their MVP Gold and 75K members may receive complimentary first-class upgrades when available.


JetBlue’s Mosaic program provides a chance for their members to upgrade to “Even More Space” seats, which offer additional legroom and comfort.

Air France

Air France Flying Blue members may access preferential treatment for upgrades and standby, giving an opportunity for first-class upgrades when possible.


Emirates Skywards Gold and Platinum members have a higher chance of receiving upgrades to first-class, but the availability of upgrades for standby passengers depends on the situation and demand.

Upgrading to First Class

Methods of Upgrading

There are multiple ways to upgrade to first class, one of which is using your frequent flyer miles to request an upgrade. Alternatively, you can achieve elite status in an airline’s loyalty program to become eligible for complimentary upgrades. Last but not least, you can purchase a first-class upgrade at the airport upon check-in or at the boarding gate if seat availability permits.

Upgrade Eligibility

Upgrade eligibility depends on factors such as your fare class and seat availability. Fare classes determine your place in the upgrade hierarchy, typically coded as B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, V, or X. Generally, higher fare classes have a higher likelihood of being upgraded. For instance, B, M, and H fare classes may have a greater chance of an upgrade compared to L, U, or T classes.

The number of first-class seats available on a specific flight impacts your chances of being upgraded. If there’s limited seat availability, passengers with higher fare classes or elite status will likely be prioritized for upgrades.

Note: Keep in mind that being on standby for first class may not guarantee an upgrade, especially on popular routes or during peak travel seasons.

Flying first class emirates flight

Standby Tickets and Procedures

Types of Standby Tickets

There are two main types of standby tickets: unconfirmed and confirmed. Unconfirmed tickets have no reserved seat yet, while confirmed tickets have a specific seat reserved for the passenger. Airlines also offer same-day standby tickets, allowing passengers to change their itinerary on the day of travel.

Standby tickets are often used by airline employees and their families who fly for free or at a significantly reduced cost. These passengers are also called non-rev or buddy pass travelers.

Standby Process and Guidelines

To fly standby, you will need a reservation and a standby ticket. When purchasing your ticket, you may be given the option to choose between a prepaid, unconfirmed, or confirmed ticket.

Standby passengers are prioritized based on various factors, such as their fare class and frequent flyer status. If a seat becomes available, it will be assigned to the standby passenger with the highest priority.

When flying standby, you should arrive at the airport early and check the flight’s availability. Airlines usually finalize standby assignments shortly before boarding, so be prepared to wait until the last minute to receive confirmation.

Changing to a different flight or destination on the same day as your original reservation might involve a change fee. However, some airlines waive this fee for certain fare classes, military personnel, or elite frequent flyer members.

Keep in mind that passengers with basic economy tickets may not be eligible for same-day standby or flight changes.

Elite Status and Benefits

Earning Elite Status

Earning elite status with an airline typically requires a combination of flying a certain number of miles or segments, and spending a minimum amount on airfare. This demonstrates loyalty to the airline and results in access to various perks and privileges.

Elite Status Benefits

Priority boarding: Elite members receive priority access during boarding, allowing them to enter the plane before general passengers.

Free checked bags: Airlines often waive baggage fees for elite status members, saving them money on every flight.

Mileage bonuses: Elite members earn bonus miles on top of their standard mileage accrual, making it easier to earn rewards flights or reach higher status levels.

Seat upgrades: Preferred seating or first-class upgrades may be available to elite status members, depending on availability and the airline’s policies.

Standby privileges: Elite status members can enjoy standby privileges, making it easier to change flights without additional fees.

Please note that specific benefits may vary by airline and elite status level, and not all airlines may offer first-class upgrades to standby passengers, even those with elite status. Additionally, standby fees might apply for some passengers, with the exception of elite members or airline employees and their travel companions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to standby for first class upgrade?

To standby for a first-class upgrade, arrive at the airport early, preferably on the day of travel and mention your interest in the first-class upgrade to the airline representative at the check-in counter or boarding gate.

What are the chances of getting into first class on standby?

The chances of getting into first class on standby vary based on factors such as flight occupancy, frequent flyer status, and availability of first-class seats.

Can you upgrade to first class while on standby?

Yes, standby passengers can get first-class upgrades, but this is subject to seat availability and airline policies.

How to check the standby list for first class?

To check the standby list for first class, you can inquire at the airline’s check-in counter or at the boarding gate. Some airlines may also provide this information online or through their mobile apps.

Are first class standby upgrades first come first serve?

First-class standby upgrades may be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, but they are also influenced by factors such as frequent flyer status, fare class, and seat availability.

Which airlines allow first class standby upgrades?

Airlines’ policies regarding first class standby upgrades vary. It’s important to check with your specific airline for their rules and procedures for first-class upgrades on standby.

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