6 tips on getting upgraded to first class… for free

 

With the increase in airline prices it is unfortunately becoming something of a distant dream for any of us mere mortals to fly first class. But after years of research and real-world testing, we’ve come up with some great tips to help you get the first class upgrade you’re looking for – here are our five most reliable tricks:

Act fast in an over-sold situation

If you’re on a flight and they are offering to bump people to a later flight, act fast and ask for an upgrade rather than being bumped. In order to save money and not lose passengers airlines often abide by these upgrade requests. It helps if you have something to offer the airline – such as upgraded or gold status with the airline. If you are a frequent flyer, they will definitely be in more of a mood to go along with your request.

Hint that you might go to the competition

If you are late for a flight and have also flown on any competitor airline make this point known at check-in. Airlines are always trying to outperform each another and in order to you be your preferred airline they may give you a first class seat upgrade. It is somewhat unusual, but it has happened – and once again it’s more likely if you are a frequent flyer on the airline in question.

Be kind and courteous to airline staff

This is simple and surprising to some, but airlines often reward passengers who make extra efforts to accommodate other passengers. For instance, if they are asking for volunteers to change seats, offer to do it. In some cases this seat change will result in a an upgrade. This means you do not have to do much; a little kind gesture can give you more than you expect. Besides, it’s the nice thing to do, right?

Sign up for airlines rewards programs

Always enroll in airline rewards programs before you fly, even if you don’t expect to fly often on the airline. If an particular flight is oversold and they are looking for people to bump, they will often inspect the reservation list to look for people with airline reward status to get the upgrade award. If you are on the list it will not be uncommon for you to be immediately moved into first class. This does not cost you your points as this step of yours is creating a favor for the airlines, and the frequent flyer programs are generally free of charge to join. The more miles or points you have, the higher your chances are to be upgraded to first class.

Dress for success

Take care with what you wear, dress well – good grooming and dress enhances your chances to get an upgrade. People who fly first class tend to be wealthy or business travelers, and the airlines don’t want you to look out of place. The airlines also don’t want to offend those already in first class by upgrading someone who will be disruptive. Some airlines actually have a special dress code for flying first or business class!

Just ask

Perhaps our least obvious tip, but definitely our most successful tip, too, is to just ask for your upgrade. Be very polite – the desk agents are the ones with the power to issue upgrades, and they won’t upgrade jerks. Politely say something like “I have a lot of work to do on the flight, is there any chance of getting a first class upgrade?” If they say that there’s nothing available, respond with “Well, if something comes up, I’d love the option. Thank you!” They’ll remember you if someone doesn’t show for the flight, and no shows in first class happen on almost every flight!

Randall Pinkston is Founder of Neotravel.

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Comments (22)

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  1. inez says:

    I don’t agree with you at all. I have been flying for years for over 10 years over 50000 miles a year at least, have been a gold status passenger with star alliance for over 10 years. I never ever had a upgrade in all those years and I followed your points 1 to 6 for years. However my kids whose last name starts with a c (mine starts with a s) gets upgrades almost half of their flights and have been a gold status for less than 4 years….. Not fair though.

  2. Dick says:

    Nice article. Especially the first point which is true. I was stuck at Narita and they wanted to take the other timeslot but I pushed for a better class seating on that flight and got it.

  3. Faith Pepper says:

    Hi Randall,

    I totally agree with what you said in this article. As soon as the aircraft company announced they are overbooked for this flight some people start to get immediately aggressive which is a difficult situation for the people who have to deal with them. By contrast, I have been nice and explained that I MUST get to my destination on time and what else can they do to help me. Every time that this is happen I have been found an alternative solution and arrived on time.

    Being nice does pay.

    Kind regards

    Faith Pepper

  4. Randall says:

    Hi inez, that’s amazing that you’ve never had an upgrade – which airline do you fly with? I’d say my wife or I get upgraded 50% of the time. It depends on the route and the airplane in question, too. If the plane is always full (flights to Las Vegas on Thursday and Friday, for example), you’ll almost never get an upgrade!

  5. Randall says:

    Hi Dick, I’m glad you got the upgrade! Yay!

  6. Haloastro says:

    Most of this advice isn’t accurate anymore – similar articles always seem to appear on the web every few years. The days of getting an upgrade just for asking or dressing up are over. Having status, miles to pay for it, or volunteering on oversold flights are the only reliable ways to get an upgrade.

    The suggestion to indicate you’ll fly another airline was amusing – the airport agents hear that everyday from disgruntled once/year flyers and they couldn’t care less.

  7. eric says:

    Over the last two years I had been lucky enough to get some 7 or 8 transatlantic flight upgraded. Thanks to a simple act of patience and friendliness toward the gate agents.

    Of course it helps to be the high ranking mileage status. And that Delta gives medallion members vouchers for rewarding their staff. If only more airlines offered such oppurtunties for reciprocity to pay forward kindness.

  8. inez says:

    @Randall I have gold status with Singapore Airlines, and therefore the whole Star Alliance group. Probably most times they will have PSPmembers as well flying with them, and they “deserve” it probably first.

  9. Steven says:

    Great advice. Got an upgrade to emirates business class as the flight was over booked. There was 4 of us as well

  10. The simple answer is ask, if you don’t ask you don’t get.
    Also smile a lot and be nice, most people do it anyway but it sure helps.

  11. Jack Oujo says:

    I used to be a minor league baseball umpire. My strategy for first class upgrades was to hand the agent a baseball, explain I was a pro umpire, and say THANK YOU for all the great service. I never mentioned the words “First Class”. My success rate was off the charts. So my advice is to buy a couple dozen boxes of baseballs.

  12. TBS says:

    Good advice, but you forget the most important thing, your BN (Boarding Number), on most airlines upgrades in overbooked flights automatically go to the lowest BNs, so check in as early as possible to get the lowest BN possible.

    If two persons have the same FF status, the BNs will determine the op-up priority.

  13. Marybeth says:

    In my experience (traveling to over 90 countries on 6 continents) and as a travel author, the days of getting an upgrade just for asking or dressing up are over.

    THE ONLY WAY… is to have a HIGH status, miles to pay for it. OCCASIONALLY volunteering on oversold flights may get an upgrade, or, a middle-seat by the bathroom.

  14. Jaklien says:

    Or just quit your current job and find one with an airline!! Not only first class, but you can cheap tickets in business and eco class.

  15. Rain says:

    Hello! Great article. I always purchase economy tickets, I’m not a gold member to anything, and I’m far from wealthy but I’ve been upgraded quite a few times to first class ( my how the other half live) just by asking and being grateful. I always dress for first class seats, in the hopes that I may get one if available. I also converse at the desk if checking luggage and always say hello again when at the boarding desk if the same person is there and a bit of cheeky precociousness has never gone amiss. X

  16. Brent says:

    Sorry to say, but none of this is applicable these days…maybe back in the 90s. Any available domestic upgrades will automatically go in the system to those with status in loyalty programs, as they should. International upgrades vary, but, again, will likely go to those with status…again, as they should!

  17. Elaine says:

    The part about being well-dressed is instinctive; I’ve been upgraded to first class several times from business and I always make sure to dress business-smart just in case. Being a high-miles member of the airline rewards program is a no-brainer. Another key thing is to patient and polite as the article mentions. One time, after arriving very well dressed and with membership status in good standing, there was a bottleneck in line boarding and fellow passengers grew irritable and impatient. I figured this was my chance and I went out of my way to be polite and understanding, hoping I’d be singled out as a possible upgrade pick. What’s the rush to get on a plane when you’ll just be sitting there? When it was finally my turn, I was told to step aside and wait, and I took advantage of the opportunity by being especially nice about it, telling the attendant to take her time, with a smile. Meanwhile people going ahead of me were grumbling and even complained about the slowness. And need I mention all wearing jeans? After a fairly long wait, the gate attendant came to me and sure enough it was a free upgrade to first class. I think that the tips in this article are right on target.

  18. Joy says:

    As someone who works for an airline all I can say is why do media and bloggers continue to make passengers believe they’ll get free upgrades? Some of the US carriers will do it for their elite passengers, ie. those with top level status in the airlines frequent flyer programme. But here in the UK, we only upgrade if absolutely necessary, ie a flight is oversold, etc. it’s done behind the scenes and not at the check in desk. A certain criteria is followed.

    It’s one of the biggest pain questions we get on check in. It’s my honeymoon, it’s my birthday, the cat has died, etc, etc you name it we’ve heard it all before.

    If you want an upgrade then, simple, pay for it. A supermarket doesn’t give you a bottle of Moët Chandon for the price of cheap plonk. Stop expecting airlines to give expensive seats always for nothing.

  19. David Lawrence says:

    Or grow very tall. I’m 6″7 and get upgraded most times when I fly overseas without even asking for an upgrade.

  20. Paul Johnson says:

    Haha, good tip, David!! I’m only 6 ft so have never been given an upgrade for that reason but would imagine it’s always very welcome for you, if only for the leg room…

  21. With more and more airlines subcontracting out their check in at all but their home locations you don’t get the chance to make requests!

  22. Aziz says:

    Hi

    I missed my business class upgrade because of “dress code” i was wearing short and T-shirt lol
    well if you are frequent flyer and member of any airlines just wear casual dress and enjoy .

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