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Shopping for a better seat? Virgin America sells first-class upgrades in flight

May 25, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Travel & Deal blogger
(Screen grab from www.jaunted.com )

I've read countless stories about how to get a free upgrade on an airline ticket. "Ask nicely," one strategy goes. Another says, "Ask casually" and "never directly ask for one."  Maybe one of these tactics worked once upon a time, but clearly it's not something to count on.

Passengers who crave more comfort in the skies have abandoned the freebie quest and often rely on using frequent-flier miles or paying for discounted upgrades at the airport kiosk at check-in.

Virgin America has an even handier solution: on-board upgrades. I found out about this from a recent blog post on Jaunted:

"It's a relatively new extra, and it's surprisingly simple. If your flight has an available seat up front — one of those wide, white leather seats with massage functions and the perks of free food and entertainment — then a crew member will verify it's open you can grab it with a swipe of your credit card on the TV. Move on up at any time during the flight, although there's no discounts as the flying time ticks on."

The upgrades, which started last June, are discounted according to distance and fare type. The prices increased slightly as of Tuesday from those cited by Jaunted, spokeswoman Abby Lunardini told me via email.

For example, an upgrade on a medium haul -- say, Los Angeles to Seattle -- would cost $69 to go from coach to business (called Main Cabin Select) or $139 from coach to first class. And you can upgrade from coach to business for as little as $39 on short hauls, such as L.A. to San Francisco.

Of course this all presumes there are seats available. But what a great impulse buy when you want to escape a screaming child or a blathering seat mate in coach.

And you don't have to ask (or not ask) nicely. Just swipe your credit card and it's a done deal.

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