It’s the holy grail of an international trip: the flight upgrade. We all want it, yet most of us never get the chance to smile with satisfaction when enjoying the perks of business or first class fares without outlaying a considerable amount for the honor.
However, while we can’t guarantee you’ll have the chance to travel in style for no extra cost, you can give yourself the best possible chance of hearing the magic words.
Be Loyal to a Single Airline or Group
The first thing you want to do is be loyal to one airline or airline group. The people more likely to be offered an upgrade are those who staff can see have racked up plenty of miles with the company and remained loyal over the years. If you’re both a high-mileage and a high-dollar-spend flyer, you should find that your upgrade options soar significantly.
It also pays to use a credit card managed by the airline you want to focus your attention on. The more you use your credit card, the more miles and loyalty status tiers you can obtain, helping you be seen as a favorable flyer to offer upgrades to.
Accept a Flight Bump
Being a helpful person can reward you with good karma, too. If a flight is oversold, consider volunteering to give up your seat. When you make this sacrifice, you might be offered an upgrade on the later flight you get bumped to. It’s worth mentioning to staff that you can volunteer to give up your seat if you receive an upgrade on a replacement flight. You’ll generally find that the closer it is to departure time for the oversold flight, the more amenable gate staff can be about offering upgrades for those who are prepared to wait around for a later flight.
It’s also helpful to be traveling alone if you want to enjoy an upgrade. There will only be a single seat in business or first class that staff can fill on most flights. If you’re a solo passenger, they’re more likely to ask you if you’d like the premium seat. Couples or families are much harder to seat, but a single person can fit anywhere in a higher-class cabin.
Don’t negate the importance of simply asking politely and directly if you can be considered for an upgrade. Letting staff know you’d appreciate the opportunity if they can upgrade any passengers on the flight and being friendly, smiley, and saying please can go a long way. Don’t be demanding or demeaning to airline staff, as this won’t help your cause, but simply stating what you’d like makes you more likely to be in with a chance if an upgrade does become available.
Dress the Part
You’ll also do yourself a favor by dressing nicely when you go to the airport. Staff won’t want to upgrade someone who doesn’t look the part and seem presentable enough to sit in business or first-class cabins with other passengers. Generally, there’s a certain expectation of outfit style and cleanliness that will help you stand out for all the right reasons.
Your clothing should be clean, tidy, ironed, and not overly casual. Avoid wearing cargo or bottom-showing shorts, a tank top, an overly revealing dress, flip flops, or other gear that some people might deem inappropriate for a cabin that is mostly filled with professionals wearing smart, elegant outfits. Instead, consider wearing tailored pants, quality women’s shorts that sit just above the knee, a blazer, a nice top, dressy jeans, a collared shirt, etc.
Show Up Early
Timing can also make a difference to your chances of getting an upgrade. It pays to check in online at the earliest possible time, often 24 hours before your flight. Early birds have a better chance of nabbing a seat in a higher class when there’s only one or perhaps two on offer. You may need to pay a bit extra for an upgraded seat when checking in online but are more likely to be able to grab one.
Alternatively, if you want to try your luck for a completely free upgrade, head to the airport early on the day of your flight. You won’t have much chance of an upgrade when you’re one of the last people to stand in front of an airline staff member, but you will be more likely to get a yes if you make a request with plenty of time to spare before boarding. At this time, there’s less competition and people clamoring for the chance to sit in business or first class.
Sadly, none of the above strategies guarantee a flight upgrade, but they do increase your chances of getting the result you want. Be proactive about trying these tips each time you fly, and hopefully, before long, you’ll be sitting in a premium seat, sipping on champagne.