How My Seat Upgrade Became a Downgrade — Reader Mistake Story

May 18, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Melissa, who ended up in a middle seat after an unwanted upgrade to first class. Here’s what she had to say:

Melissa was moved from an aisle seat to first class, and then back to a middle seat.

I had a business trip planned to Anchorage, and I decided to tack on a few extra days and invite my father, who had never been to Alaska. I’m a loyal Alaska Airlines MVP Gold member living in Seattle, and my father is a United 1K member who had never flown Alaska, but was interested because of their recent merger with Virgin America. 

I was able to book him an Alaska Airlines flight from LAX to ANC with a stopover in SEA, where I joined him on the SEA to ANC leg. After booking my ticket, I called customer service and had my father placed in the exit row with me (aisle seats across from each other) at no additional charge.  The trip was booked!

I got bumped to first class at check-in, which would usually be a fantastic upgrade, but not when I only see my father a few times per year. I called customer service to decline the upgrade, but someone else had already changed to my exit seat and no others were available. I was instructed to speak with the gate agent at the terminal. 

When I arrived, the gate agent said that a middle seat had opened up next to my father and I could move there. I asked if I could offer the upgrade to the person who booked my original seat (so I wouldn’t have to sit in a middle seat for the 3+ hour flight), but the gate agent explained that since I didn’t want the first class seat, it would be released to the next person on the upgrade list.

I ended up sitting in the middle seat up to Anchorage — yes, I progressed from an aisle seat in the exit row to first class and then to a middle seat. I have since learned this situation could have been avoided if I had unchecked the complimentary upgrade box at the end of my booking process on Alaska’s website. Now, when I travel with someone I’d like to sit next to and whose ticket was purchased in a separate transaction, I always make sure to uncheck that box!

Forgetting to uncheck the upgrade box cost Melissa an aisle seat, but that wasn’t the real mistake here. By taking advantage of the upgrade rules and/or Melissa’s elite benefits, both her and her father may have been able to sit up front.

Alaska Airlines offers complimentary companion upgrades to MVP Gold and Gold 75K members (assuming space is available). Companions must be booked on the same reservation and in the same class of service, so Melissa’s father wasn’t eligible. However, booking his LAX-SEA flight separately would have enabled the two of them to be on one reservation for the SEA-ANC portion of the trip. The additional cost would likely be negligible, and that strategy would put the complimentary upgrade in play.

Another option would have been for Melissa to use her MVP Gold guest upgrades. Assuming her father’s layover in Seattle was less than four hours, and that they were both booked into an eligible fare class, guest upgrade coupons could have helped make the trip more comfortable and kept them seated together.

Alaska Airlines' updated signage at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 26, 2016. This month, Alaska Airlines revealed the most substantial updates to its brand in a quarter century. Beginning Jan. 25, Alaska fliers will see the visual updates in new signage at the airport, an all-new airplane paint job, a refreshed website and mobile app, and more.
Don’t wait until check-in to update your seating preferences.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Melissa for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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