How to Upgrade to Virgin America First Class
Hilary Stockton

My Award Booking Service helps travelers book first class and business class with miles and points. As an independent affiliate of Cadence, I also have access to Virtuoso, Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Peninsula Hotels PenClub, Dorchester Diamond Club, Belmond Bellini Club, Ritz-Carlton STARS, Starwood Luxury Privileges, Rocco Forte and other 5-star hotel partners, so I can book, for no extra cost, your perfect luxury hotel or luxury cruise with VIP amenities not available anywhere else. Become a client and upgrade your stay!

Have a travel question we haven't covered yet? Want to share your secrets for traveling well for less?

How to upgrade to Virgin America First Class? As I sit here on seemingly indefinite hold with Virgin America’s call center, I’m pretty sure I’ll have enough time to write an entire blog post on this topic before I manage to speak to an agent. First piece of advice: don’t count on getting through to a Virgin America agent quickly.

A few posts ago, I wrote on How to Book a Business Class Award Ticket to Hawaii, which was how I booked my husband’s ticket there (award on Continental Business First from EWR-HNL, then stopover on the way back in SFO with the SFO-JFK flight on United’s premium service flight, with flat-bed seat). Since there was no way I could get other award seats for the same flights (just getting one that worked for our dates was a small miracle) I’m using some Virgin Main Cabin Select vouchers to get my son and me from JFK-SFO, then purchasing cheap economy tickets from SFO-HNL. On the transcontinental I’d really love to try to upgrade to Virgin’s First Class seat, mainly for the additional comfort: larger seat, greater recline—and even a massage function! I have yet to fly in an airplane seat with a massage function, so that would be a welcome first.

While it remains to be seen whether I’ll manage to snag upgrades for the two of us, here are tips based on what I’ve found out:


1. Know what you get in First Class vs. Main Cabin Select vs. Main Cabin

Main Cabin: Seats have 32 inch seat pitch. You'll pay $25 for each checked bag and expect onboard fees for just about everything (except network TV), from $2 for headsets to $5-8 for full-length movies, $2-7 for premium TV options, $4-9 for sandwiches, $6-8 for alcoholic drinks and $10 for pillow/blanket

Main Cabin Select: These 12 seats are located in the bulkhead sections of the Main Cabin and are exactly the same as standard seats except with 6 more inches of legroom (38 inch seat pitch), free 1st checked bag, complimentary food and drinks, all movies and entertainment free. You'll still need to pay for WiFi and pilllows/blankets, however.

First Class: The 8 First Class recliner seats have a massage function and 55 inch seat pitch. You get 2 free checked bags, all food, drinks, entertainment complimentary, but you still need to pay for WiFi and for extra blanket/pillow: "Virgin America offers a limited number of standard pillows & blankets to First Class guests on all flights"

2. Know the fees required to upgrade

The cost to upgrade on a long haul flight from Main Cabin to First Class is $299 each way ($79 for short haul and $139 for medium haul), and from Main Cabin Select to First Class $169 ($39 for short haul and $69 for medium haul). Upgrading a long haul from Main Cabin to Main Cabin Select is $129 ($39 for short haul and $69 for medium haul). See Virgin America's complete list of fees

How to Upgrade to Virgin America First Class

3. Look for flights where there’s plenty of First Class availability

Make sure to click the “View Seats” link of any flight you’re considering, and try to book a flight where none of the First Class seats have been taken yet. Of course, if your flight is a long ways out, there’s no guarantee it will stay that way, so that leads to my fourth tip.

How to Upgrade to Virgin America First Class

4. Take an early morning flight

If possible, take an early morning flight. Very few people take 7am flights if they can help it. And unlike the legacy carriers, such as United, American and Delta, there are likely to be fewer business folks flying Virgin and forced to take the early morning flights. That means that you stand a higher chance of being able to upgrade to First!


5. Look for flights where there’s plenty of Main Cabin Select availability

This is a corollary to the first point: you want to avoid heavy competition for First Class upgrades. While of course Main Cabin passengers can also upgrade to First Class, they face a bit of a dilemma, as I’ll describe below.


6. Set your alarm for a little over 6 hours before your flight

Ok, so this is the part I like least. Virgin America only opens up First Class upgrades 6 hours before the time of departure. So, sorry to say, but for that 7am early morning flight, you’ll want to go online at 1am to try to snag your First Class upgrade. I completely understand if on reading this you decide it just isn’t worth it, especially if you’re not good at getting back to sleep.


7. Don’t count on calling the Virgin America call center for your upgrade

See my intro—about an hour later and I’m still on hold (for a completely separate reason related to the voucher codes I’m using, not upgrades).


8. Decide your risk tolerance, if you’re trying to upgrade from Main Cabin to First Class

Here’s the dilemma, if you’ve purchased a Main Cabin seat but are trying for a First Class upgrade: 24 hours prior to departure, you can check in online and, if there are any Main Cabin Select seats available, you’ll be given the option to upgrade to one of them. But note: if you do this, you *won’t* have the option to upgrade online to First Class 6 hours prior to departure. You’d have to try to do this via the call center (good luck with that!) or at the airport—and run the risk that the First Class upgrades have already been snapped up online by either Main Cabin Select passengers who have upgraded, or by other Main Cabin passengers who did not upgrade to Main Cabin Select and instead waited to check in until 6 hours before departure, in hopes of grabbing a First Class upgrade.

So you’ll need to pick what you’re most comfortable with: be assured of a Main Cabin Select Seat (if any are available 24 hours prior, when you check in) or wait until 6 hours before departure to check in, and take your chances that you may have to sit in coach if you don’t manage to get an upgrade.

While I’m not facing this dilemma, since my vouchers are already for Main Cabin Select, if it was me, I’d probably risk getting stuck in coach and try for First Class at 6 hours out, assuming there seemed to be good availability in First Class. But if there were only a couple First Class seats available and the rest of the flight was pretty full? Probably not—someone else would probably manage to grab those upgrades before I did.

Oh, and the Virgin America call center? Yep, still on hold with them--over an hour and a half later. About to give up and call it a night...I just hope those First Class seats work better than Virgin's call centers do.

Related Posts

Virgin America First Class Review

Virgin America Main Cabin Select Review

Virgin America New Flights to Hawaii

Virgin Atlantic 65K Credit Card Bonus Offer Worth It?

Need Award Booking Help? Our fee is as low as $75 per ticket if you book your hotel through us.

If you enjoyed this, join 150,000+ readers: please follow TravelSort on Twitter or  like us on Facebook to be alerted to new posts. 

Become a TravelSort Client and Book Your Hotel with Virtuoso or Four Seasons Preferred VIP Amenities!

  • |
  • Print
    print |
Related Articles
  How early should you arrive at the airport? For sanity's sake, I recommend allowing plenty of time for potential traffic delays in getting to the airport, time going through security (sometimes even the TSA Precheck line is long), and...
  This Etihad First Apartment Review on the A380 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi is part of our trip from Sydney, Australia to New York JFK via Abu Dhabi. For the prior Australia-related posts, including Emirates First Class on the A380 and...
Leave a Comment
Get Free Email Blog Updates
Popular Articles
  This review of Etihad First Class Apartment on the A380 is from my 7 year old son, who just flew with me from Abu Dhabi to New York JFK. I'll be posting my own review, as will my husband,...
NYC Holiday Windows are fun to glimpse, and 2015 is no exception. It was a beautiful warm day in New York City today (high of 65 degrees!) so a short walk took us from Saks Fifth Avenue to Tiffany's to...
Kids and jet lag--for other parents out there, don't let worries about this stop you from taking a long international trip, at least if you're able to book the flights as first class or business class award travel. We're currently...
  This Royal Ontario Museum ROM Pompeii Exhibit Review is part of a Toronto trip report on Toronto luxury hotels and dining. We were intrigued to see that a special Pompeii Exhibit, "In the Shadow of the Volcano," is at the ROM...
  Happy Holidays from our family to yours! We wish all of you a very happy holiday season and upcoming New Year 2016. I hope that wherever your travels this holiday season take you, you're able to spend quality time with...
  This Etihad First Apartment Review on the A380 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi is part of our trip from Sydney, Australia to New York JFK via Abu Dhabi. For the prior Australia-related posts, including Emirates First Class on the A380 and...
  Welcome to Winter Storm Jonas, NYC. I think the NY Times opinion writer David Dudley has it right, in his piece today "In Case of Blizzard, Do Nothing," with choice quotes such as these: "Gloriously, if briefly, [the snow]...
  This Things to Do in Akaroa post is from our visit to this small but picturesque town on the Banks Peninsula, during our stay in Christchurch, New Zealand. We visited Akaroa as part of our trip to New Zealand's...
This Featherdale Wildlife Park Review is from our visit on a recent trip to Sydney, Australia. For the prior Australia-related posts, including Etihad First Apartment to Sydney and Qantas First Class to Melbourne, please see: Review: Qantas First Class A380 London...
  This Manly Ferry from Manly Beach to Circular Quay, Sydney Review is from our recent trip to Sydney, Australia. For the prior Australia-related posts, including Etihad First Apartment to Sydney and Qantas First Class to Melbourne, please see: Review: Qantas...