Does checking in online prevent me from getting upgraded?

Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Whether you’re boarding a long flight or checking into an upscale hotel, complimentary upgrades are one of the most sought-after perks in the entire travel world. There are plenty of ideas circulating on the internet about what you can do to help or hurt your chances of scoring one, but the truth is much of the process is either automatic or based on elite status. Put another way: It’s out of your control.

TPG reader Vladislav wants to know if checking in online hurts his chances …

Is it true that if you selected your seat ahead of time you’ll never be upgraded since you’re assigned to that seat, as opposed to checking in at the airport?

TPG READER VLADISLAV

It’s important to note that when you buy a plane ticket, in most cases you aren’t buying a specific seat on a specific flight. Rather, you’re buying a guarantee that the airline will transport you from point A to point B, which is why they can legally change your flight schedule and even involuntarily bump you off an oversold flight. This is true even if you’ve selected a seat, whether you paid money to do so or were able to do it for free based on some combination of your fare class and elite status.

To answer Vladislav’s question, not only is it not true that selecting a seat blocks you from getting upgraded, but in some cases the opposite might be true. Depending on how you’re trying to upgrade your ticket, you may not be added to the upgrade list until you check in for your flight. Speaking from personal experience, I currently hold American Airlines Gold elite status. I select a free main cabin window seat as soon as I book my ticket, and will try to move to a main cabin extra seat at check-in if one is available. I’ve received many complimentary elite upgrades, some automatically on flights under 500 miles and others where I’ve applied my 500-mile upgrade certificates. In every case I’d pre-selected my seat through the AAdvantage app, and in most cases I’d checked in online as well.

If you’re curious about how specific airlines handle their upgrade policies, make sure to check out TPG’s guides to getting upgraded on the following airlines:

This myth that checking in online gets in the way of an upgrade tends to be more commonly applied to hotels than to airlines, but again I can confirm from my own personal experience that it’s not true. I’m a Marriott Bonvoy Titanium elite, which means I spend anywhere from 60 to 80 nights a year in Marriott hotels (after factoring in the 15 elite-night credits I receive from holding a Marriott Bonvoy credit card). I try to stay on top of the various logistical elements of all my international travel, so I check in on the Marriott app before every stay. Sometimes I receive an upgrade in the app before I arrive at the hotel, other times I’m upgraded at check-in, and often I need to gently nudge the agent at the front desk to see if the hotel has any suites available during my stay.

Checking in online doesn’t hurt my upgrade chances, and if anything it confirms to the hotel that I’m actually going to show up for my reservation. Some hotels block off premium rooms in advance for elite upgrades, and checking in online helps them prepare for my arrival and guarantee I get an upgrade if one is available. Other hotels may wait until check-in to upgrade an elite member, but since you have to stop by the desk to get your key (and provide your ID and a credit card for incidental charges) anyway, you don’t lose the ability to ask for an upgrade just by checking in early.

Bottom line

With upgrades getting harder and harder to come by for both airlines and hotels, the last thing you would ever want to do is inadvertently sabotage your chances of receiving a coveted golden ticket. Vladislav can rest assured that checking in online and/or preselecting a seat for an upcoming flight won’t hurt his chances of getting an upgrade. If anything, it’ll guarantee he makes it onto the list.

Thanks for the question, Vladislav, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at [email protected]thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo of the JW Marriott Singapore by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy