If you have traveled, you have seen someone who is a frequent traveler be offered an upgrade but decline because they are with someone else and want to stay together. This is rare in other species. 

Yet not all experiences get equal treatment - if a parent is traveling with a child they may take the upgrade to give it to the child - and a new paper sought to understand how consumers make trade-offs between experience quality and togetherness. The authors write that consumers prioritize physical togetherness with relationship partners over opportunities that would improve an experience in real time.

A desire to “create shared memories” drives this behavior, according to five experiments conducted by the team. Framing an activity as functional rather than pleasurable increased the likelihood that close partners would choose a higher-quality experience over togetherness. For example, a train ride stated as a fun part of an excursion got a different response then when they positioned it as a utilitarian part of an excursion that would simply get them to their destination. 

Credit: Storyblocks

This dynamic is more pronounced when a consumer and their partner are offered “asymmetrical” or different experience qualities – with one person receiving a better quality option than the other. In contrast, the authors found that people are less likely to sacrifice experience quality when they are with someone to whom they do not feel close. In one experiment conducted at the university with undergraduate students, students chose to eat two chocolates together with a friend rather than four chocolates they each could consume apart. In another case, more participants chose two adjacent seats very far from the stage over two non-adjacent seats close to the stage when asked to imagine attending a Cirque du Soleil performance with a close friend as opposed to a casual acquaintance.

A train ride that is merely functional isn't evoking potential for shared memories so people are more likely to accept an individual upgrade.

What might that mean for amusement parks or concerts?  Companies behind those would love to unlock the secret to creating a consumer experience that is just as enjoyable alone, but it hasn't been done yet.