Scoring a Free Upgrade

Whenever I check in at the airport there is only one thing running through my mind. It’s not the Duty Free shopping. It’s not the movies I will get to catch up on during the in-flight entertainment. And it’s not whether I will be able to find my departure gate.


‘Will I get an upgrade?’

That is the one thing going through my mind. It happens all the time on television shows. You hear about it on airline reviews. And if it has happened to a friend, you will know because they will never shut up about it!

It happened to me once on a one-hour domestic flight. It made my flight. No, it made my day. Actually I would go as far as saying that it made my month. And whenever anyone asked me about my holiday, what was the first thing I would mention? My wonderful experience in business class on the airline.

I think that there is a lesson here for service providers. Especially those in the theatre which deal with the exact same issue of graded seating.

In an airplane there is First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy (i.e. that small space at the back which makes you nostalgic for the luxurious amount of space on a peak-hour train). It is the same in the theatre. There is the exclusive Premium section, A Reserve, B Reserve and then C Reserve – or the ‘I didn’t want to see that half of the stage anyway’-section.

Imagine if you turned up to the theatre with you A Reserve ticket only to find that when your ticket was scanned by the usher it had received a free upgrade to a seat that would have cost $50 more than what you paid but remained unbooked. Instant value. Same thing for a C Reserve (behind-a-pole) ticket which was upgraded to a B Reserve ticket where you could actually see the stage. Instant value to go and tell all your friends about.

It seems like a no-brainer especially when the current option is to sit in an A Reserve seat with a number of unoccupied seats in front of you (which you may or may not move into an interval). If this was actually encouraged by the show through a free upgrade then the upgrade would, in essence, be a gift from the show increasing the enjoyment and value of the entire experience. And it would also encourage word-of-mouth afterwards similar to an airline upgrade which changes the entire experience.

But the theatre actually has one great advantage in upgrading compared to airlines. It doesn’t cost them anything.

Unlike First Class which comes with better meals, better alcohol and the hot towel on arrival, all seats in the theatre receive equal treatment. The difference is the audience experience from them. So why throw away that extra value an audience member could receive?