Airlines and their complimentary upgrade policy

Yesterday I had tickets with SAS to Miami in their premium economy «Plus» class (review will follow soon). I was supposed to travel with a friend, but a few days prior to departure, he received the following email: 

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A lovely gesture from the airline, as my friend is Eurobonus Diamond and spends a LOT of time onboard SAS and Star Alliance. Unfortunately the same courtesy wasn’t extended to me, as we weren’t on the same booking number.

We were, however, supposed to be seated together, and this meant that our travelling party was split up. We were hoping that the situation might be resolved at the check-in counter by having me bumped as well.

I didn’t expect to be upgraded, but thought that maybe the airline would stretch a little extra when dealing with their valued Diamond customer (The Eurobonus program has Basic, Silver, Gold and Diamond levels, in addition to the fabled «Pandion» on the very top).

That was not the case, however. The woman at the check-in counter told us rather non-smilingly to discuss the upgrade with the service manager on the next desk. The service manager then spent a whole of three seconds saying no, even after confirming that the first upgrade was given due to his Diamond status.

«I cannot defend upgrading a Basic member», she said. That is understandable, as I haven’t exactly been known to generate a lot of revenue for SAS in the past, mostly traveling on awards with points from my credit card.

From my point of view she was coming at it from the wrong angle, however. If we had been on the same booking number my Basic status wouldn’t have mattered at all, so she could have looked at it as extending the Diamond member some extra flexibility, not as primarily upgrading someone without any status.

I was instead offered to upgrade using cash or points (around 4000 NOK or 25000 EB points), an offer I graciously denied, as this was a day flight and I would rather splurge on the night flight going back. In regards to capacity the Business cabin was pretty empty, with only about 10 out of 32 seats taken, so there would have been no problem in upgrading me.

What do you think? Is this just standard airline policy, or are there airlines that would have gone the extra mile here?

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