April 15, 2016

How to get an upgrade on Etihad or know you got upgraded on Etihad?

How to get an upgrade on Etihad?


Since I am an Abu Dhabi based frequent traveler with Etihad Airways. I would like to share with you a few tips and hints on:

How to get upgraded on Etihad?

There are many ways to get upgraded on Etihad flight. The most common wayis to redeem your miles and get a confirmed seat before hand or at check-in. But this cost your hard earned miles...

Another way to get upgraded is leverage on your status and hope you will get a complimentary upgrade at check-in or boarding.

If you're Etihad Guest Platinum, Gold or Silver, the chance to get an upgrade is higher depends on how full is your flight. You can calculate it and it works for me on 90% of my flights with them. The upgrade is called Operation Upgrade (Op Up) and it is given out to the elite frequent flyers on oversold flights.

Use a pay website such as to check flight availability in advance.

For example flight from Bombay to Abu Dhabi is showing very full in economy class on EY205 and EY203 and completely sold on EY213.


An Op Up depends on how full the premium class and how full economy class is. It also depends on how many stand by passengers are. (staff travel sub-load passengers)

On my recent flight from Bombay, i booked Economy Class using Etihad Guest Miles. It cost 11,200 miles and 70 USD tax/fee in Coach. It cost 22,400 miles and 120 USD in tax/fee in Business Class.

Knowing Economy is almost fully booked and many seat available in Business on Expertflyer. This is the scenario you are hoping for and you can save half the miles and cash and still earn yourself sitting in Business Class!

This works extremely well if you're flying to/from most Indian sub-continent and Asia as the flight always get oversold including sub-load waitlist passengers. With your Etihad Guest elite status, you will be among the first to be upgraded.

I once was the only paid passenger in Business Class while 15 out of 16 were upgraded from Delhi to Abu Dhabi, it sucks to know!

Flight to Europe are under strict EU law which airline have to compensate passenger heavily if they overbook to such an extent passenger are denied to travel as per their ticket.

The key here is knowing the load and have a status with Etihad Guest.


How do you know you got upgraded on Etihad?

Update: as of Dec 2016, Etihad don't show OS code on their boarding pass anymore.

On your boarding pass top right corner, if it shows a code OS3, OS4 or OS7, congratulations, you're the upgrade candidate!

OS stand for oversell, 3 stands for Platinum which has the highest seniority to be upgraded, 4 stands for Gold and 7 stands for Silver.

Recently I flew from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco, the flight was full in both Business and Economy Class. So I've got upgraded to First Class at check-in. If you're travelling with a companion, if he/she is ticketed together on the same booking and there are enough seats available, they will also be upgraded with you!


Recently I've got another upgrade from Bombay to Abu Dhabi, this time the upgrade is done at boarding gate. You will hear a "Magic Beep" and red color on the boarding scanner. That means you've been upgraded and the agent just cross out your old seat and write the new seat on the same boarding pass.


The only downside of an Op Up is you may not get the most preferred window/aisle seat choices and there is no extra baggage allowance and limousine transfer. But consider you didn't pay extra, it is still a bonus.

I've lost count on how many times I've got upgraded. With the right status, you can as well!

Tips on Smart Travel and finding the best airfare

I use Momondo to search extensively across the best airfare before buying it. Have a look at this post to see how it is working for getting a cheaper ticket! Momondo definitely features the best First and Business Class deals of any Flight Search Engine out there.  I have put together many useful travel tips and airfare promotions in my Smart Travel section to guide you travel in more luxury with lower price!


  1. Shiraz Chughtai

    Agree with you. I have silver membership and have always nearly 4 times out of 5 been upgraded to business between Dubai and Islamabad based on the same criteria you mention. Juamst make sure u look like someone who should be upgraded. Smart shirt and trousers and not looking like a ferret..

  2. Michael Walbrach

    Hi Sam, interesting post. Do you know if there have been recent changes to EY’s upgrade procedures?
    I am traveling 3 to 4 times a year between Europe and Australia, mostly on EY, and received the Gold status in mid 2015. Since then through Sep 2016, my upgrade chance was about 50% which is obviously great. I was even upgraded on a AUH-NRT leg with 13 hours or so with an eco ticket for under 600€ FRA-NRT-FRA roundtrip. Wow!
    Now, the downside is I quite expect it now and am disappointed if I am not upgraded.
    Well, on my recent trip in Dec 2016 from Europe to Australia, with a *really* high fare (almost 2k Euro), I didn’t receive a single upgrade on 4 legs. Very disappointing. Do you know if they changed their policies?
    And, is there a higher chance to be upgraded on EK if I switch my travels there?
    Thank you and best regards, Michael

    • Sam Chui

      Upgrade depends on whether the premium cabin have empty seats, and economy cabin need to be overbooked. It also depends on how many Platinum status, Gold status card holder are travelling. It is BEST not to anticipate in advance to avoid disappointment.

  3. Mohammad bari

    To be honest. I am gold member and close to becoming platinum. Past 12 months I travelled many GCC, 4 times to Europe 3 times in sub continent and Asia and recently North America.
    Never got upgraded even when flight is full so I totally in agreement with Valentino. I have seen with my own eye that they upgrade their own staff and spouses and when ask why “it’s policy…”.
    So I’m bit upset with Etihad’s attitude towards their loyal customers (maybe you are one of the exception or I am)
    Anyway, that’s my two cent on experience with Etihad.
    On the other hand, Emirates is very much like what you have explained and frequently upgrades their loyal customer when when sometimes when as with flight half full. I myself was one happy emirates loyal customer.

    • Sam Chui

      Mohammad, there is definitely a system in place on Etihad. Staff getting upgraded owing to reasons and some have certain priorities. My post is to tell you if you have a “Code” on your boarding pass, you’re the upgrade candidate. If you don’t have it, your chance are much lower.

  4. Franklin

    Hello Sam,

    Is it easy to upgrade from point to point? Let say Kuala Lumpur to AUH on Etihad? Or from AUH to AMS? or Vice versa. If i bought an economy promo fare, what is the chances?


  5. Daz

    Key question – does one NOT check-in until the very last minute on the flight they want to chance getting the upgrade? Thx

    • Sam Chui

      No, you check-in as per normal. The upgrade will be granted at the gate before boarding. The computer will sort out your chance to get upgraded base on status and fare paid.

  6. Valentino Fenutzini

    Hi Sam!
    I’ve read your explanations, but it doesn’t work all the time; there are airlines that built in an algorithm in cutomer’s records, so that an upgrade is randomly offered. Why: Exactly because of the experience you describe: Frequent Flyers that always get a free upgrade will not buy Business- or First Class tickets anymore because they expect the upgrade anyway. Another reason is that some airlines have the policy to randomly upgrade passengers with lower frequent traveler status in order to offer an experience and in that way attract them to buy Business or First in future occasions.

    • Sam Chui

      Well. So far my understanding on Etihad is rank by status. If they randomly upgrade passenger, it would made those loyal frequent flyer worst off and even more unfair.

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