McCool Travel Tip: Save Money by Paying More

“You must spend money to save money.” is a common shopping axiom.

The other day, I bought a $100 one-way flight between South Florida and Virginia. On the payment screen, I was offered a $149 first class upgrade.

In my mind, it is silly to pay that much for first class service for a 2 to 3 hour flight.

… but is it? …

Save Money by Paying More

Let’s take a look at the amenities that come with the first class upgrade:

  • free drinks. Let’s say you have 2 (alcohol) drinks during the flight. That is worth $10 – $20.
  • free food. The snacks and meal you will receive might save you up to $50.
first class meal
first class entree
  • seat assignment. When I booked this most current flight, there were only middle seats available. An aisle or window seat costs $35. Included in the first class upgrade would be a seat with much more legroom.
first class legroom
first class legroom
  • free checked bags. You know I do not check bags (carryon only for me) but this can be the real money saver. With the first class upgrade, the carrier does not charge for 3 checked bags. They typically charge $25 for the first checked piece, $35 for the second, and an astonishing $150 for the third.
  • other amenities. You are also entitled to a dedicated security line, early boarding, early exiting (based on your seat at the front of the plane), and free on-board entertainment. You might also be entitled to amenities such as double frequent flyer points and lounge access.


If you checked three bags on this flight, your baggage fees would be $210. You would save money by paying for a first class upgrade. How cool is that?

How about if you check 2, 1, or 0 bags?

On a similar flight last year, I paid $90 for a first class upgrade but definitely felt it was splurge (since I do not check bags). The upgrade did save me aggravation (and provided some 1%er luxury) but not money.

Based on the above fees, if you checked two bags and had two drinks, you might save $135 with the first class upgrade. I would choose the first class upgrade (and pay the extra $14) for the first class experience—mainly the comfortable seat.

Otherwise (checking one or no bags), I would not spend the extra $149 on this splurge.

How about you? Would you pay for the first class upgrade? And under what circumstances (checking how many bags, traveling with others, etc.)?

Have you read my traveler interviews?

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12 thoughts on “McCool Travel Tip: Save Money by Paying More”

  1. This is a McCool way to look at the upgrade fee. I’m going to remember this next time I am presented with that opportunity. I think I will definitely use this next time I need to lug extra items/suitcases stored at my house to my daughter’s new house.

  2. My husband travels so much for business, he gives me his upgrades! I think your tips are super helpful, thanks.

  3. Interesting post. Usually we travel economy style and have to really psyche ourselves for the “ordeal.” For longer flights we’ll look at and pay for the extra legroom upgrade but we’ve only upgraded to first class a couple of times and that was when we both were working. Unless we had a few suitcases to haul it would be hard to justify the expense…

  4. If I had two drinks on such a short flight I might start to behave like Kate Moss so I would only pay for the upgrade if for some reason I had enough bags to make it worthwhile. I always think paying more to get better quality shoes makes sense for a traveler but I have a harder time squeezing a first class upgrade out of my wallet!

  5. Actually that’s smart – I would never even look at the first-class price but now I will – and I do sometimes check bags!

  6. For such a short flight no I wouldn’t pay for the upgrade. For a long haul flight, if i could get the upgrade with 1 checked bag at that price, I sure would.

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