How I Upgraded Economy Seats to $14,512 First and Business Class Beds


Hanging up, I felt like the guy from The Wolf of Wall Street.

The guy who creates money out of thin air.
The guy who makes magic happen over the phone.

One call increased the value of my parents’ return flight almost five-fold.

Using an extra 65K American Airlines AAdvantage miles, I upgraded their original $3,295.60 Economy seats to $14,512.57 First and Business Class beds from Hong Kong to Denver, with a long layover in Osaka.

My dad's ticketed AAdvantage reservation

My dad’s ticketed AAdvantage reservation

Below are screenshots of the upgraded retail prices vs. the miles redeemed for two people.

Hong Kong, China to Osaka, Japan


Cathay Pacific First Class retail price: $5,397.53
Flight Cost with Miles: 135K AAdvantage + $101.60

Osaka, Japan to Los Angeles, California


Yen to USD

Japan Airlines Business Class retail price: $8,930.84
Flight Cost with Miles: 135K AAdvantage + $101.60

Los Angeles, California to Denver, Colorado


American Airlines Economy Class retail price: $184.20
Flight Cost with Miles: 135K AAdvantage + $101.60


5 Reasons Why This Is NOT the Perfect Upgrade

Hong Kong Departure Too Early to Enjoy First Class Lounge, The Wing

The Wing, a luxurious, all-inclusive restaurant and spa lounge, opens at 5:30am. My parents depart at 7:55am. I’ll recommend they leave the hotel early for a champagne breakfast, but they won’t have time to take advantage of the marble tub and other amenities. Only First Class passengers can access this lounge.

Cathay Pacific Not Flying Entire Journey Across Pacific

Unfortunately, none of the six Cathay First Class seats were available across the Pacific, only to Japan. If availability opens anytime before departure it’d be possible to reroute via SFO, YVR, or ORD or switch to Cathay First Class on the LAX route. According to Lucky, some First Class seats open up 14 days out, with more likely available within 36 hours of departure. I’ll be clicking refresh on the 36th hour.

Long Osaka Layover But Not Long Enough to Leave Airport

This isn’t a big deal. My parents have free lounge access and “Japan is the only country I’m not interested in visiting.” My dad’s words, not mine. I love Japan from top to bottom.

Japan Airlines Business Class Beds are Angled, Not Fully Flat

Nine thousand dollars is expensive for an angled bed (or any bed, donchathink?). Angled bed trumps Economy seat, but Cathay’s First Class is unbeatable in this area of the world. Cathay First Class should be THE mile redemption goal when flying from Asia to the States.

No First Class Availability Between Los Angeles to Denver

Should two seats open, I’ll call to book them. Fee free.


How to Upgrade with American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

For Business or First Class redemptions on any OneWorld partner book the best available seat then upgrade later. This upgrade is free as long as the departure and destination airports remain the same.

In my parents’ case, I originally booked Economy in hopes that Cathay First Class would open up.

Once the above First Class Cathay Pacific and Business Japan Airlines seats opened up I booked them immediately. Now I’m simply awaiting the better and more expensive First Class to become available.

Assuming you have the miles, below are the exact steps for upgrading:

  • Search availability on or
  • Book online on or call AA at 800-433-7300
  • Continue searching for upgrade availability on
  • Call AA again when Biz or First Class seats become available
  • Book by feeding agent upgrade flight information
  • Forward email reservation confirmation to TripIt
  • Brag to The Internets about First Class redemption

So…$14,512 for 135K AAdvantage miles and $101.60.

Why are you paying Economy when you can fly First for less?

I can help upgrade you.

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