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Tomorrow I fly long-haul on a TAM (theoretically now LATAM) flight. To my surprise eventually after chasing and chasing them on the cost of an upgrade to business I was told that it wasn't possible due to the kind of ticket I have (purchased via a 3rd party internet low fares site).

The actual wording used by someone from LATAM in an email to me was "because it has been issued with private /hidden fares from your travel agency".

I don't understand the logic in simply denying customers that want to pay for upgrades if the airline still has available seats in the requested cabin.

Anyone that can assist and has experience of this, tips on how to get the upgrade or can explain why this kind of policy exists would be greatly appreciated!

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    You bought a fare in a certain fare class, which is different to cabin class - an economy cabin ticket can be one of several fare classes, including "fully refundable", "refundable with change fee", "nonrefundable", "non-modifiable" etc. The more restrictive the fare class, the cheaper the price tends to be. It sounds like you were sold a ticket in a restricted fare class, one that the airline may be forced via agency contract to not modify. – Moo Dec 11 '16 at 0:55
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    @Moo this needs to be an answer. Indeed, 3rd party is irrelevant here, the cheapest fares are not upgradeable. – chx Dec 11 '16 at 1:20
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    @Mehrdad because thats the ticket he bought in the fare class that denies changes. If he was willing to pay $1million for the seat upgrade, he would be willing to bin the existing ticket and buy a brand new one. Why have the fare class if its meaningless? In the OPs case, the cost of upgrading to business class is ... a business class ticket. Thats it. If you want the option of changing the ticket later on, make sure your fare is purchased in a class which allows changes. – Moo Dec 11 '16 at 12:20
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    @Mehrdad I dont think you know how many companies and businessmen buy tickets on a "I might travel that day" basis and get a refund when they don't fly. Those tickets are bought in bulk very early on, when the price is cheap and reserves a place on the aircraft - when travel is guaranteed to happen, most of those tickets are upgraded to a higher cabin class but if travel isn't guaranteed until late on, the traveller still has a seat even kf they have to slum it. The non-changeable ticket the OP bought is even cheaper than those tickets and allows airlines to manage revenue better. – Moo Dec 11 '16 at 12:26
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    @Mehrdad yes you are allowed to buy multiple tickets for one traveler - the airline will simply allocate the seat to another passenger (they oversell flights to compensate for tickets that are sold but not used). Regarding the risk of losing both seats if the traveler had to cancel one before buying the other, well thats simply a risk the airline doesnt care about as it doesnt affect them. As for my second comment - it explains why these unchangeable fares exist, so it is relevant to your comment. – Moo Dec 11 '16 at 12:38
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There are many different "fare classes" of economy fare. Some cost more, and all you are paying for is "this is a class you might be able to upgrade from." The cost of the ticket plus the cost of the upgrade is less than the cost of a business class ticket, but you can't always upgrade because there may not be space available in business. There's a luck factor, and sometimes the airline just keeps the extra money you paid for that upgradeable fare class, and you don't upgrade.

You want to upgrade from the very cheapest class, and perhaps you're even willing to pay the difference between your cheapest class and this more expensive one in addition to the upgrade class. But unlike someone who bought that upgradeable fare weeks or months ago, you know there's space in business. There's no luck factor here. If the airline went along with your request, nobody would ever take their chances with that more expensive upgradeable fare. They would all buy the super cheapest and then only if there was space available would they spend any extra. While that might be great for the person buying and upgrading, it isn't so great for the airline. As I've said before, their pricing structure is not a public service, it's a way to make money. And one way is selling mid priced fares to folks who are gambling that they may end up in business class. That only works if they stick firmly to their policy that you can't upgrade from cheaper fares.

And yes, there are airlines that will go out with empty business class seats rather than giving them as free upgrades to frequent flyers (something people often think they should get) or selling them as paid upgrades from the cheapest fare classes. They do so because they believe doing anything else would induce their highest-volume customers to take their chances rather than paying for business class immediately, or paying for an upgradeable fare. Systems can be gamed, and frequent flyers put a lot of thought into getting the most comfort for the least money. It's not just about this flight, it's about your next ten flights.

  • What's confusing here is that they're not just saying he's being denied the upgrade for the price difference; they're saying he's being denied it quite absolutely. That seems kind of stupid, doesn't it? Surely at some price it should be worth it for the airline to allow the upgrade? – Mehrdad Dec 11 '16 at 12:19
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    Maybe it would be worth it on this flight but once a flier knows they can upgrade from the cheapest fare, they will buy the cheapest fare for the next flight and probably dozens after that. The revenue loss because someone never buys anything but the rockbottom cheapest fare can far outweigh whatever upgrade fee was collected on this flight. – Kate Gregory Dec 11 '16 at 13:23
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    And the airline isn't truly refusing to sell the business class seat at any price. Assuming there is inventory, they'll gladly take his money and give him the seat, but the price they'll charge for that is the cost of a brand new business-class ticket. Expensive, to be sure, but that's what they're pricing it at. – Zach Lipton Dec 11 '16 at 20:05
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If it is a private (or “hidden”) fare then the price your travel agent pays for your seat is a commercially private matter between your agent and his liaison at the airline. (It is probably not the fare that you paid him.) It is, to put it succinctly, a secret.

In order to compute the cost of your upgrade, the airline employee needs to know what the difference between the old and new fare is, but that information is not available to him. That applies whether he is selling you up to a public business fare or the business fare on the private tariff. However he is not on the very small list of people entrusted with this highly sensitive information. So in general most employees cannot interfere with private fares.

The logic is that the exact details of the private flight tariff are worth a lot more than the $1000 you were willing to pay for an upgrade. Airlines enter into negotiations with many businesses to sell them private fares, and keeping the prices they offer other businesses under their hats is part of the negotiation position.

It is expected that you would go through your travel agent to reprice the journey, not the airport ticket desk. It may be that the fare is indeed not upgradeable. But a lot of dirt cheap private fares are actually a lot more flexible than the fares on the public tariff: you just have to go back to your agent to sort it out.

  • This does not sound right, because there is no need to disclose the private price. Airline sells the cheap fare for 200$ to the public, offers it for 100$ to the travel agency, travel agency sells to the OP for 150$. Now, if the first class passage is worth 1150$, the airline could simply charge 1000$ to the OP. Yes, they would lose 50$, but they already did lose those and they have 1000$ to win, and there is no need to disclose the price. – SJuan76 Dec 11 '16 at 19:43
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    @SJuan76 The fact that XYZ inc pays only 150 USD may also be information the airline would prefer was not common knowledge. The agent doesn't get to decide the price he sells the tickets for, this is all part of the negotiation. – Calchas Dec 11 '16 at 20:04
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It's rather common for unpublished fares to subject to special rules including a "no upgrades" policy. These are discount fares offered through travel agents and consolidators, generally for the leisure market. They offer a way to airlines to sell cheaper space to price-sensitive travelers without having to cut prices for those who may be willing to pay more. Restricting upgrades (and sometimes things like frequent flyer mile accrual, changes, etc...) helps to ensure that these cheap fares stay in their intended market and aren't being used by, say, big-budget business travelers.

For example, LATAM won't give you any frequent flyer miles for unpublished fares (you'll have to check to see whether this applies to your tickets):

Nor shall kilometers be credited for any ticket issued as a LATAM Pass award, nor other free ticket such as promotions or reduced-price or free tickets or free companion tickets, charter tickets, discount tickets for travel agents or industry employees, infant tickets, tickets purchased for items that occupy a seat, unpublished fare tickets, including consolidation rates, or tickets issued subject to special provisions.

And on their page about upgrades (I think this is only about using points for upgrades, the rules for using money may be different) they say:

Only tickets paid in full, on fare profiles Y, B, H, K are eligible for cabin upgrades.

Some tickets purchased from travel agencies are not eligible to use points for cabin upgrades. Check the Sales Center, Fidelidade and Services to find out whether the ticket purchased from a travel agency is eligible for a cabin upgrade.

Simply put, you've bought a rather cheap fare. That's great; nice shopping! They're willing to sell a seat that cheaply because they believe it would otherwise go unsold. Since the marginal cost of carrying an additional passenger is low, while the fixed costs for operating the flight are something they're paying anyway, they'll take your money. But the airline wouldn't be profitable if they sold all the seats at that price, so they can only afford to do this on seats they think might otherwise go empty. As such, they put restrictions on these tickets that make them less attractive, and no upgrades is one of those restrictions.

They would rather sell the upgrade to someone else who is a more loyal (and profitable) customer of the airline, or as Kate Gregory notes, deny you the upgrade in the hope that customers buy more expensive fares in the future.

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BA (also One World) is consistently inconsistent about upgrading tickets booked through travel agents. Upgrading with Avios, 30% of the time, I get told I can't as it was 'booked through an agent and I have to contact them' (the agent is often uninterested in helping and/or can't do Avios upgrades). Upgrading with cash, this happens 70% of the time. I've learnt the solution is to say thank you, and ring back and get another agent, for whom this will be no problem. I've even done that and got it to magically automatically update a booking via the travel agent, that then sent me (via some automated system) confirmation of the booking change (most odd). I had lunch yesterday with someone who flies BA a huge amount (Gold card holder for ten years), and he verifies this is par for the course even for Gold card members.

What has always worked for me (subject to availability) is to pay for the upgrade at the airport. This also allows you to skip the checkin line as the agent will check you in / do the passport check / whatever at the same time. These 'promotional' upgrades (according to BA staff) have fewer availability restrictions, and are cheaper than upgrades in advance, as they are apparently not worked out on difference in fare-class, but just different in booking class (i.e. economy to premium economy is the same whatever fare-class economy ticket you had), and they are issued first come first served.

There may be ultra-cheap economy tickets which are not upgradeable at all, but (at least in the BA case) I suspect that may not apply to airport-bought upgrades.

I have no idea whether the above also applies to TAP.

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